September 21 2016. Rhythm and Blues
Time is life. Time is one of the essential variables in travel. This time in Paris, as previously, our first days are consumed with shifting biological rhythms. Unfortunately, jet lag becomes more challenging as one ages. And we are jetlagged — as is true at the start of each Paris stay.
Our bodies require rhythm and regularity to function at their peak, and as a result, we are attuned to a daily pattern of play, work, eating, and rest. We mess with that rhythm at our peril. Travel stimulates us to perceive anew and to notice all to which we have previously become accustomed that we therefore ignore.
I was surprised last evening when, after dinner and our after- dinner shopping for basic necessities, I felt sleepy and ready for bed. At home it was only three in the afternoon! I slept well, and awoke at 7 am Paris time, ready to get up. So far so good. But now at 12:30, I feel ready again, not for lunch but for sleep. My body seems a bit confused. But I’m on vacation – Maybe I should take a nap! The only problem is that, whatever my body may require, my mind expects to plunge into doing and experiencing. I find myself in judgment mode, thinking I can sleep at home! What a waste of vacation time! Really??
I find myself surprised, too, that even after all these years of practice, switching contextually to a second language drains energy, even as I find it energizing to have the opportunity once again to dust off and polish up my skills in speaking French. When I first came to Paris, as a new college graduate in 1961, speaking only French – although I had learned well in the US – felt exhausting every day for several months. Back then, there was no jet lag, because one crossed the Atlantic by boat. On my first transatlantic trip, aboard the “Flandre”, a smallish ship of the French Line, the seven day crossing provided ample time, while ship’s time moved ahead an hour each day, to be on Paris time when we arrived here. I didn’t feel a whole lot better though, after being seasick for a week! I’ve read stories of Americans who loved to travel to Paris in the 17th to the early 20th centuries – by sail! Everyone seems to have survived the rigors of traveling that distance.
Another aspect of rhythmic switching involves the unconscious task of synchronizing with the human community that surrounds us. Not only languages, but also cultures, pulse at different tempos. After less than 24 hours, I’m still attuned to the relatively languid pace of the southern US. Within a week or so, as with my now topsy turvy physical functioning, I’ll also be ready to interact and respond at the rapid pace of Paris. At the grocery store this morning, I got to the register, put down my selection of purchases, and was still looking down as the clerk (someone we knew from preceding years) was already in mid-welcome. Finally, I looked up and recognized our friend. Also, we had to call a doctor today, to check Nancy out, as she had rapidly become ill after we arrived. My tempo was also too slow in my interactions with him. He expected me to respond much more quickly than I was able to do. My brain isn’t yet used to thinking that fast.
As is true with many international visitors to Paris, I’m all too aware that I’m also not moving at the agile and rapid pace of Parisians. Oh, well. That, too, will change over a week or two. On the one hand, this experience of temporal disarray is uncomfortable, unpleasant, and downright challenging. On the other hand, I can also see its benefits, as it requires me to adapt by tuning up basic mental skills. By the end of the trip, I will find this very challenge to be one of the experiences I will enjoy most about our visit to Paris.