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.
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.
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. . .