BLOG 1 2017 PARIS: Jet Lag 9/23/2017
I tell myself this jumbling of awareness called “jet lag” is resetting my brain, but perhaps it feels more like clouding it. Nancy says everything feels harder this time. I’m thinking back to our first time here, in 2013, when it took us the whole week we were in Paris to finally, as my French friends used to say, ‘”Get our eyes opposite the holes.” First lesson: For a vacation from the US to Paris, it’s good to take more than a week! A six hour jetlag still takes a week or seven days to totally overcome, but we’ve learned faster and better ways to experience it.
First, the conventional wisdom is to go outside and stay awake our first day here, and then we will easily sleep through the night. That result is true enough – after two days with no more than an hour or so of sleep between them, exhaustion rules! And it takes the whole next week to recover, once a state of exhaustion is reached.
I’ve found that recognizing the fact that our arrival time of 7:30 am or so Paris time is still 1:30 or so am on our east coast bioclock – the middle of the night!! If I lie down to go back to sleep right away, and wake again at just an hour or so short of my usual getting up time on the east coast (say 7:30 eastern time), that gets me up around 1:00 or 1:30 pm on that first day. THEN its time to go out and be in sunshine for as long as possible. The next, second night it’s time to let the body know we’re going to actually switch to French time, at least part way. We don’t want to settle in to days that start at 3 pm. The remedy is to leave blinds open so the first light penetrates the room next morning. This will be a somewhat tired day, but not agonizing. And I’ll be ready to sleep deeply again the third night, getting up close to my usual getting up time, even if not quite there yet. After that, the days are pretty normal.
I’ve realized this time just how much a calibrated circadian rhythm corresponds to a feeling of good health. When waking and sleeping are out of synch with hours of sunlight, life becomes very groggy. In addition, digestion is disturbed. Attention and agility are somewhere out on the moon. Social niceties vanish in a haze of sleepiness. No wonder Americans are seen as “ugly” and unconscious – we’re jetlagged for most of the time most people spend here on the typical vacation trip!
Jetlag also plays havoc with my ability to switch languages. My brain is just slower than the speed of the average Parisian’s speech.. And not only my ear, but also my tongue is slower than my own Parisian speech. There’s a comprehension lag time of several seconds, which means that early in my visit to Paris, my interpreting brain collides with itself after about the fourth word of any conversation. By this time next week, I will have reconnected with my linguistic self.
Another interesting aspect of the lack of sleep from having it take a really long time to get to sleep the second night, because the active day was so short, is the relationship between sleep deprivation and appetite. The second day after our arrival is both sleepy and hungry – ravenously hungry. Every time I have a chance to sit down at a table, I’m about ready to pass out from hunger and thirst , and the feeling of being well nourished is immensely satisfying, even though I’ve eaten about twice as much as normal.
Interestingly, however, after spending a month or even a little more here annually over the past 5 years, this is the first year when it feels as if we’re simply switching homes. We’ve found our stride immediately in terms of how to manage the flow of daily living – how much to get at the grocery store, when to arm ourselves with bus tickets and to schedule excursions, where the ATMs are, how to buy online tickets for interesting concerts and art exhibits, once we’ve gone to our favorite kiosk to procure the weekly roster of cultural events for Paris and the region. We also now know where to find good, cheap meals that have really good food, and what and how much to take home from our first visit to the corner grocery store.
This year, there was an awesome show of portraits by Paul Cezanne that ends three days after our arrival (tomorrow is its last day). It was one of those shows, at a major museum, the d’Orsay, that draws masterpieces from all over the world for the only time since leaving the artist’s easel that they will every be in the same place, so the artist’s whole output can be seen together. One of my ticket searches on our first day here was for admission to the Musee d’Orsay so we could see this show. It was worth getting up before I was ready, and feeling sleepy and hungry all day to see that show. We got tickets and spent this afternoon visiting the exhibit on its next to last day in Paris. The most amazing series was the collection of portraits of the artist’s wife, Hortense Cezanne. Instead of painting his wife as she changed over the years, each time, Cezanne just painted a sort of mask for his wife’s face – a mask that at times looked very much like the masks painted by Modigliani, Cezanne’s contemporary, for Modigliani’s female figures.
It was hard to know from looking at these paintings, whether Hortense Cezanne was intensely unhappy all the time, if she was bored from sitting constantly for portraits by her husband, or if Cezanne just used his wife as a stand-in for a generic female figure and didn’t care about her expressions. Apparently not enough is known about Mrs. Cezanne to know the answer to that question. From Hortense’s face in the dozen or so portraits represented in the show, one might conclude she was chronically unhappy.
The other really interesting moment of the exhibit for me was the last room, where a life-sized reproduction of a black and white photo of the aged Cezanne is juxtaposed with his last self-portrait before dying of pneumonia after he collapsed while painting in the rain, and not being found for five or six hours. His affect in the photo was lively and full of warmth. The painted self-portrait was austere and impersonal. This contrast led me to realize that in fact all of his portraits had been on the impersonal and stylized side. His figures were more elements in an overall scene including the clothing people were wearing and the textiles in the décor of rooms where they were seated.
Interestingly, for the 40 or so portraits of his wife that Cezanne painted over the years, he painted just one of his son, around the age of 12. The son survived, and his descendents, strongly connected with the large and warm family of Auguste Renoir, longtime friend of Paul Cezanne, escaped from the Nazis in France in 1940, and now live in Berkeley, in the Bay Area – ordinary Americans.
We felt self-congratulatory about getting out of the house and to the Musee d’Orsay in time to visit the Cezanne show and to eat a late lunch there before the museum closed at 6 pm. We enjoyed the show despite feeling tired, hungry, and in pain from lack of sleep. And the hearty Parisian ham and egg salad I scarfed down in the 6th floor café behind the face of the former railroad station’s huge clock was most enjoyable and regenerative. I hadn’t previously discovered this eating place in this museum, and it was fun to eat while realizing that, though the original massive mechanical clock works had disappeared, the clock was still working, keeping perfect time as it would have for commuters taking trains there, presumably through some kind of electrification.
It was a first day in Paris worth writing home about. Tomorrow, I have to wake up enough to start taking pictures to accompany these blog entries!