Tuesday, May 26, 2015

The Sisters Run Paris!

I'm planning to post later about the differences between the Paris I've been visiting with my husband for years and the Paris I shared with my sister earlier this month. I might also write a short post about the gap between what I hoped to see and do with Rachel and what we actually managed -- the ambitious list I'd imagined, with the help of Pinterest, got whittled drastically in the face of reality. . .

And those two posts could be linked: one of the big differences between Paul's and my Paris and the Paris my sister and I shared gave us a way to compensate for those list items that had to be erased. Because although Paul and I generally manage a run or two when we're in Paris, we would never pull off four runs in a short week (and a short week that included some serious jet lag!).  Even more importantly, we would never be out the door and running before 7 a.m. Rachel and I, both early risers, managed to do that, and it's surprising what you can see when the streets are relatively empty, but the world's already awake and light.
My sister at the Comédie Française -- this plaza is a great place to catch some very talented busking, but it gets very busy later in the day. We were returning from a run up to Boulevard Hausmann where I showed her the Printemps windows we'd missed the day before. Without our morning run, there wouldn't have been time to make a second trip.

Running is not for everyone, I do get that, but if you're a runner who hasn't yet bothered to bring your gear on an urban holiday, I urge you to consider it. Yes, it's probably safest if you have a running partner as I did. And yes, you should probably plan your run with a nod to safety -- I know Paris fairly well, so I felt reasonably confident of areas we'd be running through. But if your time in a new city is limited, there's really no better way to get a sense of it than by getting your feet on the streets, and walking just doesn't let you cover as much ground. (Don't worry! We walked plenty as well.)

If you're not a runner, I think this post might have something to offer as well. To get a wider, more comprehensive view of the city than you might manage through a combination of Metro and walking, you could take a Batobus tour, hop on any of a number of city Bus routes that get you to some of the outer arrondissements, or even hire a guide for a drive around Paris (as my sister did on her earlier 2-day visit with her husband a couple of years ago). As well, I think some of what running taught me about Paris might provide a new perspective to non-runners. Most notably, running through the city in my technical gear further loosened our sense of what should be worn in Paris. This is a very personal sense, part of a bigger picture of my ongoing relationship with the city, but I'll try to see if I can express the freedom I've gained by Running in Paris.

We ran four mornings, 8-11 kilometres except for the morning I needed to "sleep in" and we only had time for a 5k. Out the hotel door before 7 that first morning, we were able to sit down to breakfast an hour and a half later having already broadened Rachel's view of Paris. I've detailed much of that run already in this post. If you look at one of the pictures there, you'll notice that besides introducing the delightfully cloistered Parc du Bercy, the gracefully swooping Passerelle Simone de Beauvoir, and the mammoth and controversial Mitterand Library (with its own forest!), our run also took us past the tents that Paris prefers to keep out of tourist view, tents that shelter hundreds of homeless, many of those probably sans papiers.  We saw two of these "tent cities," and while they clearly point to social and economic and political problems, we were impressed by the order and overall cleanliness -- and the tolerance with which they are apparently being met, at least currently.
Our morning runs always made us aware of Paris' indigent population. Somehow, this attention to class distances me somewhat from all those imperatives about what to wear in Paris. I still love to drool at all the windows, and I admire the way many women dress, especially in certain arrondissements, but I try to ward off insecurity and envy by maintaining a broader perspective.

I also noticed, on this first morning's run, that facilities for runners have improved since Paul and I last ran the Seine. There are more places to get a drink of water as well as more toilets that appear safe and clean. There's also a fabulous park with all kinds of machines to work out on. And, of course, down near the Passerelle there's the Josephine Baker swimming-pool-in-a-barge or barge-that-is-a-swimming-pool with folks doing laps. My (admittedly limited) experience with the city over the past ten years (and two visits 25 and 26 years ago) suggests that more and more Parisians are exercising deliberately in a variety of ways. Certainly, we saw more runners than ever before, and whereas we used to notice the oddest of running gear, now most runners are indistinguishable from any we'd see on the Stanley Park Sea Wall at home.
Running the Promenade Plantée in the early morning -- what a treat!

Nude male Art Deco figures on the gorgeous Police building in the 12th, as seen from La Promenade Planté (also known as La Coulée Verte).

So time now to speak of my own running gear. I gritted my teeth and posted that top photo (taken by my sister at the Fontaine des Medicis, Luxembourg Gardens) for a few reasons:
First, I'm trying to accept my healthy appearance, even when I'm not made up, and when I'm dressed functionally rather than to best flatter my looks. . .
Second, I think it's notable that we did this run later than our others, a short run (because I didn't get up in time for a longer one) that took us right up Boulevard St. Michel as Parisians were starting to head to work. The sidewalks weren't overly busy yet, but there were many folks who saw us And you know what? They coped. We coped. Of course. Because Paris is a very cosmopolitan city, and they've seen all kinds of dress and all kinds of activity, and although I generally like to dress to fit in, more or less, there's a certain release in recognizing that. I never had this Click of realization when running with Paul because he dislikes running around and between people on sidewalks, so our Paris runs have generally been along the Seine.
Third, It's pretty obvious that running requires a dedicated wardrobe. Nothing I'm wearing here could do double duty (in fact, I'd never be caught with a shirt so yellow ever, except that I earned that one in my marathon. So when I wear it, I have immunity and impunity from any concerns about what flatters.) Given the dedicated running wardrobe, especially given the limitation to carry-on luggage, how can a runner manage to pack what's needed? Well, with our original thought of running every day, my sister planned to double up her gear so she could rinse out one set and have one dry, ready to go. I've never done this when travelling with Paul, but I didn't want to be "the smelly one" of the two sisters. Bad enough being the oldest. . . .
 So I sucked it up and made room in my carry-on for a pair of running shoes (an old pair I planned to discard in Paris); two short-sleeved technical tops; a long-sleeved ditto; a running bra (my sister brought two of these -- mine is merino, and it really deters stink -- she agreed that it was virtually odor-free after the fourth run); two pairs of shorts; two pairs of socks;  AND my running belt with its two plastic water bottles! I've always grumbled when running Paris with Paul that it's so hard to find a water fountain, but I've never wanted to use precious suitcase space for the hydration gear. In fact, the bottles, empty, weigh very little although they don't compress -- and I was so grateful to have them on the warm-already mornings. And surprisingly, all that gear condensed itself co-operatively into my case, with the bonus knowledge that I had the to-be-discarded shoes' space for a few purchases.

Honestly, I'm not at all sure that I've conveyed much of what I wanted to here. But to sum up, beyond the efficiencies running offers to quickly learn the geography of a new city, my sister's and my running in Paris affirmed our sense of ourselves as strong, and as doing something that makes us feel happy and healthy. Useful in a new city where one's sense of wonder can be mixed with a big dose of intimidation. That strong sense of self, combined with an expanded awareness of the city's realities (particularly its class/race issues and potential social problems, but also its truly cosmopolitan ability to accept diversity, even eccentricity) lent a welcome insouciance to the rest of our day. I think we packed well and acquitted ourselves sartorially on the Paris streets -- next post will plead my case with photos -- but the importance of What We Wore slipped below that of What We Did, and I think that is a worthwhile result of The Sisters Running Paris! And despite the limitations of carry-on space, a runner can easily fit her gear alongside a week's wardrobe.

If you're not a runner, there are so many other ways you can claim your own place in the city: taking a focused tour (on chocolates or wine or markets or whatever tickles your fancy) or course (Madame Là-Bas fulfilled a lifelong dream of studying at the Sorbonne, and did it post-retirement; my friend Alison's offering an Urban Sketching course in Paris this fall -- imagine the possibilities), seeking out a particular exhibition or sight that's important to you, ordering a meal bravely in French, on your own, as Hostess did recently, going to a concert,. The possibilities are endless. But make the City your own in some tiny way -- or make your own City of the many possible Paris's -- and you may find the (potentially intimidating) fuss over What to Wear in Paris fades into the background.

If you've persevered this long, perhaps you'll let me know if anything here resonated. Runner, non-runner, experienced Paris travellers, those who have never been, those who want to, and those who never would, I'd love to know what you think.

And if I've simply lost you, with my focus on running, next post will be a straight-up What I Wore in Paris. . . Beyond the Running Gear. . .

27 comments:

  1. Hi Mater, as a newly-minted runner, I found this post very interesting! The little bit of running that I do takes me around my neighbourhood, well within my comfort zone, so I'm not sure how I would do with running in an unfamiliar city. However, our next trip will be to Cape Breton in September - I'm sure that running there will be very pleasant indeed!

    By the way, how do you think you'll do with the new Air Canada carry-on regulations - do you usually manage to stay under 10 kg?

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  2. I used to run a lot but let it slide. Am gradually starting again and trying not to compare my present state of fitness with past levels. I loved urban running because of the invisibility factor. In fact, I plan on taking my aging kit with me to London on my next visit. You have inspired me to go for a run later. Maybe uphill...

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  3. Good Morning Frances- I do so enjoy reading your posts and this one about travelling with your sister resonates with me! keep up the good work and keep writing and posting- it makes my day :)!

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  4. What a very interesting post. I really enjoyed reading it and, yet again, you inspire me to take up running. (I know I want to).

    First, as one who has spent a lot of time walking around cities - and always opts to do so if at all possible - I absolutely agree that seeing the place on foot is the best way to do it. We can agree to differ on the speed at which our feet carry us.

    Second, Paris is a cosmopolitan city and the people on the streets there - Parisians or etrangers - look pretty much like those you find anywhere. Some super chic, some not - so no one is going to bat an eyelid at what we wear. OK maybe there is a dress code if you are off to the Elysee Palace but my invitation always get lost in the post, so I just take what makes me happy.

    Third - re the running gear. In an American transit lounge I saw that one passenger was in full on sportskit (the real stuff not some sports inspired loungewear). I thought she looked the most appropriately dressed of all the travellers as she was fully equipped to take on heat, cold, inadequate seating etc and she looked pretty good in it - being lithe and fit like you. Wonder why it is more usually we see the least athletic looking going for this option rather than the most?

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  5. Lots to digest here. As a non-runner but dedicated walker, I nod in agreement at much of what you've said.
    Going to Paris with my sister and mother was very different than with my husband. With the former I was up early and out for a long morning stroll, both for exercise and solitude.
    The most important takeaway from this post - What I Do is much more important than What I Wear.

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  6. After I posted this, quite honestly, I debated going back and deleting the whole thing. I had something significant to me that I wanted to express, but wasn't sure I'd got anywhere near it. And feared I might risk offending non-runners. But you get me. You really get me! Thank you so much for these early and oh-so-encouraging comments.
    Patricia: running in Cape Breton would be a dream. I've never got there, nor to Newfoundland, although my husband's spent considerable time there for work. I'm very envious.
    As for the AC restrictions. I think I would have been okay this last trip -- it's 10kg for the carry-on case and 10 for a Personal Item which would have been my backpack. I don't want to be hefting more than this onto a train or up hotel stairs anyway. If they're going to enforce, I just hope they do it fairly.
    Annie, Yes! I love the invisibility factor. I think it's often underrated when people talk about urban travel, but I recognized it when I was in London at 14 (from a Canadian small city where I went to a very small school). Love to hear how your London run goes . . . and you're right. No sense comparing to what we used to do. We're still doing something and should holler a few Bravas at ourselves just for that!

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  7. Johanna, I so appreciate you taking the time to let me know my posts engage you. It's tough sometimes, just throwing the words out into the universe! ;-)
    Ceri: So glad you take this the way I meant it. Walking is the way I have generally learned a new city and will continue to be my main approach as it's probably more sustainable. You've captured my main points succinctly, though, re the relation between perceived dress codes and the city that has such a mystique about Style and Fashion. Oh, and I love being called 'lithe' -- never, ever happens, and I'll take it, even at 5'3" and never quite able to coax the scales below 130. . . or a higher number, but we don't need to be too honest, do we?
    Lorrie, YES! Oh, you guys are all so smart. That is the most important takeaway: What I Do! Of course, I do it wearing clothes and I find those interesting, but I want to keep the priorities straight, no matter where I am. Some places exert more pressure on the relationship than others. . . Isn't it interesting how the City changes with the companion. Obvious enough, I guess, but still interesting.

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  8. I find this whole phenomenon of obsessing with what to wear in Paris curious and wonder if it particularly relates to non Europeans. So many myths (perpetrated by a body of literature purporting to help us all to become like French women) have built up around the chic french femmes and yes there are many chic women to be seen who have a certain je ne sais quoi but equally there are many very ordinary looking people going about their daily business. I find it interesting that you refer to your sense of what should be worn in Paris. Surely one should simply wear what is appropriate to the activity and one's own style. Running gear when running . Lovely photos and I'm sure running gives you an interesting perspective. What is your take on the myth and reality of Parisienne chic? Mary

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  9. My comment above looks very much like going off on a tangent. Should have qualified by saying while I enjoyed this post, am not a runner myself. However was struck by how after many visits to Paris you still seem overly concerned by what 'should' be worn, something I have noted seems to obsess other bloggers in relation to visiting Paris as opposed to other places. Mary

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    1. Thanks for your thoughts, Mary. I don't see your comment as going off on a tangent at all. In fact, it's rather what I was trying to address here. I do think there's entirely too much preoccupation about "What to Wear in Paris" in a city that I don't think necessarily demands it. If I appear "overly concerned" by what should be worn in Paris, I'd say part of that is rhetorical, for the purpose of this post -- I packed two days before, taking about as much time and energy as I would for any one-week, carry-on-only packing. But I don't think one can completely ignore that Paris is a centre of style and fashion and luxury goods nor that it has a history and culture that complicates its response to visible displays of wealth, consumption, luxury, behaviour codes, etc. Nor the kind of "politesse" in a society with a very clear sense of "comme il faut" that I think someone sensitive can feel judged by. . . and being away from home can often render one more sensitive. . . Overall, I'd say we're rather agreeing, on the whole, although I would say that I feel much more self-conscious of my dress in many parts of Paris than I generally do in, say London, or have in Lisbon, Amsterdam, Barcelona, Rome, etc., etc. . . .

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    2. Back to add, Mary, that I've noted this impatience in the past when I or other (mostly North American) bloggers have addressed the whole What to Wear in Paris issue. Do you mind saying what European/British city you live in/near? Or am I wrong in assuming you're on that side of the pond? Would you say that there is no sense at all among your peers that there's something about Paris. . . . Just curious.

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    3. You are correct re location but not re tone of impatience. I am genuinely curious and interested. Have visited Paris and France many times and lived there for several months at one stage. I think because it's nearby and accessible it's not built up the same way in my head and certainly having visited I know the reality. Of course there is that certain unique glamour which the French have and we are not blind to it just maybe more realistic that it's not as widespread as some of the literature would have us believe. I do think distance is a factor too based on my own perceptions of China and Russia prior to visiting them many years ago (not so much fashion related). There is a pleasure in people watching in Paris or watching the evening passagiata in many Italian cities, a feast for the eyes which is unequalled elsewhere. Goodness this post has inspired a lot of comments hasn't it ? Regards Mary

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    4. Mary, I'm so pleased you came back to comment again -- you've really sparked a lively discussion. So interesting. Honestly, I think my next post shows that I'm not as worried about What to Wear in Paris as it might seem here (and I've spent lots of time there over the past 10 years), but the topic seems to keep surfacing. And I used the word "impatience" partly, I think, because deep-down I feel a bit of that myself. I can only imagine how visiting China and Russia would create a much broader perspective (I haven't been, although my husband has). Thanks again for propelling this conversation.

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  10. I'm not a runner (but am a walker), have never been to Paris (but plan to go in the fall); however!! re: claiming a place in a city not your own, I am with you all the way. An early morning walk works, too, when the day is fresh and new and there are only a few people about to say 'Good Morning'. Any non-touristy type of activity is good...buying groceries, taking a book to a park (or even better, a local newspaper)!

    I am curious about something...how did you convince your sister to smell the bra? She must be a trusting soul!!

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  11. Yes! Absolutely agree -- any non-touristy activity. In fact, I had a paragraph suggesting all kinds of other options, but then I second-guessed myself and took it out. Even just sitting by yourself contentedly at a cafe, people-watching while nursing a glass of wine or a beer -- it's just digging back down to your sense of self and claiming a place.
    Your second point made me laugh out loud! Just remember, I'm the (much) older sister. . . and she did approach with some caution. . . (but seriously, that technical merino is very cool stuff!)

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  12. I am enjoying reading all the comments - and the tangents. I am a European (though, as a Brit, this may not be for much longer should the present government get its way...) and have been able to visit Europe many times due to the joys of geographical positioning. The Paris mystique (French word!) sits rather lightly with us to be frank, probably because London is a very stylish city and with a much less reverent attitude to being consciously chic (French again...). My experience of buying clothes in France is that our high street is very much better in terms of price and selection and we have a greater tendency to individuality. Having said that, my daughter has just returned from living in Nantes (excellent place) and looks decidedly different. It is about self-respect in France, not about being fashionable. Also: try visiting other French cities, further away from Paris. You really won't feel any qualms in Bayonne, let me assure you. Very nice place - but stylish? Non. Bottome line - I have never worried about what people think when I go running since a London Marathon when a fat bystander, shoving a Big Mac down their ravening maw, suggested I should speed up a bit...

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    1. Interesting perspective -- and yes, I find London very stylish but more willing to be playful, colourful, experimental, even goofy and often eccentric. There are certain areas in that city (and in any) that intimidate a bit, but that has to do with class more than anything else. I think you and your daughter are onto something -- the first time I visited a young friend in Paris (she came up for the weekend from Marseillie, where she's been teaching) I was close to shocked by her transformation in less than a year from her overalls-wearing grad-school self.
      I do spend a fair bit of time in Bordeaux and I'm much more relaxed there, but honestly, I'm pretty relaxed about being myself in Paris now. . .Too funny, your London Marathon (and kudos on having run that!) anecdote. . .

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  13. When in Paris in April, I saw runners and cyclists but also serious walkers, some using those trekking poles, often mature women in pairs. Slowing down a bit allows you to talk and (perhaps) take in more of the scenery. (And at this point it's all my knees will withstand, too.)

    re "claiming a city", agree a comprehensive bus or car tour exposes the first-timer to all the "musts' but really being there means slowing down and enjoying the small glimpses.

    What you and your sister did demonstrates the difference between being a visitor and being a tourist.

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    1. I noticed a big increase, as I said, in the dedicated exercise, but so far haven't seen those trekking poles (we get them quite a bit here among walking groups). I do like walking as well, as you know, but it was fun to run with my sister and show her a different version of the city than tourists often see. Paris has so many faces. . .

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  14. To "claim" a destination, I find that I must take my time to enjoy the quotidian activities like grocery shopping, getting my hair cut, taking a class (language or drop in yoga), attending a church service or getting a temporary library card. Retirement has afforded me the time and (if I manage well) the resources to live my life (temporarily) in different cities. Walking or running are definitely activities that can be pursued anywhere but the irregular pavement in some countries could be dangerous.
    I am finding myself a bit more removed from the "what I wore" phase of my life and that is unusual for me. The most "Parisian" woman, she taught at the Sorbonne and lives in a Haussmann building, that I ever met probably showed far less concern for her clothing than for her awareness of what "art film" was playing or where we could find a new exposition on la vie romantique. It sounds as if you and your sister experienced Paris as the healthy, vital women that you are.

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    1. Yes! This is exactly what I mean -- running was an inept analogy in many ways, but it was the experience I had to build from. As I mentioned in my response to Georgia, I'd originally written another paragraph talking about this -- and I mentioned your time at the Sorbonne, post-retirement. But the post seemed in danger of losing coherence so I deleted. Like you, I'm more interested in the Parisian intellectual life, their interest in film and books and attending painting expositions with friends, discussing works with serious engagement. But the outfits are definitely worth studying as well. . . ;-)

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  15. Interesting post! I'm actually in Paris right now: I'm not a runner (old foot injury), but walk at least 4 or 5 miles every day when here. I'm mostly dressing to fit in, wearing jeans, black pants, navy, black or white tops - in other words, pretty much the same stuff I wear at home. But I'm also wearing my brightly colored sneakers, due to aforesaid old foot injury plus aforesaid 4 mile per day minimum. I caught myself feeling un peu self-conscious, and then I thought, really? So what if I'm showing a bit of originality in my footwear - I'm not being disrespectful or inappropriate. Giving myself permission to just be myself was a relief. And yes, in case you can't already tell, I have been one of those previously hypnotized by the mystique of the perfect Parisienne. But really, the truth is that some people are more chic, others less so. There's room for everyone...

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    1. I always have a day, sometimes only an hour or two, that I get that self-conscious thing. My husband says it generally happens when we're in the 1st or 2nd. Boulevard Hausmann is a culprit. . . And then I rally, as you do. I saw those brightly coloured sneakers a fair bit when I was there, and loved the way it signalled some individuality. Enjoy your visit -- walk and walk and walk, and then maybe you'll sit and have a glass of Rosé for me. . .

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    2. You can count on me - I'll toast you and your blog!

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  16. I am a dedicated walker and found Paris such a foot friendly city. What you did is way more important that what you wore....love that fountain in the Luxembourg Gardens.
    Saint Michel was a street that I wandered regularly as my hotel was just off it.
    I saw lots of cute sneakers on women who wore them to navigate the uneven cobblestone streets and many were women of a certain age!

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  17. You've touched on an elusive, but very real, sensation that can inhibit a sensitive traveller's delight in a new environment--that sense of self-consciousness when our normal rhythms and habits suddenly make us feel awkward and out-of-step with our surroundings. I suspect this feeling is what underlies many "what to wear" concerns; the hope that wearing the "right" outfit will smooth our awkwardness so we feel harmony instead of discordance.

    Your experience, though, is a good reminder that feeling in harmony is less about what is on the outside and more about what is inside. I don't see it as "owning" a place as much as it is about making the effort to be a good houseguest instead of an intrusion. To my mind the rules are much the same: be cooperative, adaptable, interested, respectful, and alert. Clean up after yourself and ask permission instead of assuming something is yours for the taking. Show appreciation and express gratitude for help and favours. Don't assume or argue, and be hesitant about expressing judgements and opinions.


    Behaving like a houseguest, instead of a tourist or traveller, doesn't let me "own" the house, but it does increase the chances my hosts will enjoy my stay with them and want me back for a return visit.

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  18. Marilyn, I love that analogy! Yes, the experiences and our behavior are so much more important than whether or not we are wearing the "right" clothes. After our first couple of visits to Paris, I realized that "not looking like a tourist" is missing the point. One's cover will be blown as soon as you whip out that camera and start snapping away. ;-) I now aspire to that zone I refer to as "stylish traveler," not as soignée and polished as (some of )the locals of course, but still appropriate, comfortable and bien dans ma peau.

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I'd love to hear your response to my post. Agree, disagree, even go off on a tangent, I love to know you're out there, readers. Let's chat, shall we? I apologize, though, for the temporary necessity of the Word Verification -- spam comments have been tiresomely numerous lately, and I'm hoping to break that pattern.

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