So I kind of have a good excuse for why I haven’t posted in a couple weeks – I was in Paris.
This was the second time I’d been ever, and also was the second time this year. The first time was over New Years’, and fell so much in love with it that when my initial plans for July fell through and I was trying to think “where to”, I knew instantly where. I didn’t post in here – but over on Facebook there are gushing posts about chocolate tarts and black currant sorbet and watching the Bastille Day fireworks from my window and exploring Versailles and Monet’s garden and wandering in a sun-dappled park and buying way too much at a cooking shop and nearly eating fish roe because of a translation mishap and bursting into song whenever I saw reference to the Marquis du Lafayette.
On my last afternoon, I went to a little cafe alongside the Place des Vosges and just had a dish of ice cream while I sat and people watched. They brought it to me with a small wrapped cookie alongside. I ate the ice cream, but – as is my habit – I put the cookie in my purse, to save for later. I also went on a pilgrimage to the chocolatier Jacques Genin, where I bought one of their smallest boxes – it only held nine bonbons – and painstakingly selected my choices, the clerk forgiving my faltering French and carefully picking up “une des fraise….non, deux des fraise….et deux de la menthe….” in her white-gloved hands and placing them in the box. I also asked for four different pate de fruits which she carefully nudged into a small plastic bag. They tucked everything into a small thermal bag to protect it all from the heat, because I had a half-hour walk back to my AirBnB; but even though they warned me it wouldn’t last much longer than that, I still decided to save it for later.
On the plane ride home, I finally dug into my bag to retrieve the chocolates and the cookie. But those nine chocolates, nestled so carefully together, had started to melt. The pate de fruits were all sticking together. And as for the cookie – it had been a flaky thing, and had gotten so beat up in my bag that it was nothing more than a pile of flaky crumbs.
I realized I have a very, very bad habit of denying myself pleasure. I don’t think that’s what I’m doing – I save cookies and delay gratification because I think I’m being virtuous and careful; I may not have this option later, so let me save it for leaner times. But somehow I never get around to actually enjoying those delights until the cookie is broken, the chocolate is melted, or the chance has run out. Or I get something and then never use it, and it sits there, waiting for me to actually let myself enjoy it.
Part of this, I’m sure, is a fear of scarcity. I do get to travel, but that’s only because the rest of the time I live super-frugal; making all my own lunches, counting change to make the subway, calculating the exact best date that I can send my bills in the mail so that they won’t beat my paychecks. I can’t be as free-and-easy with my money as I’d like, and that means that the splurges have to be now and then. I can’t be frivolous, I think; these are investments, and I have to make them last.
But that doesn’t explain why I’m also that way with the things I get for free. Those cookies were free alongside the ice cream. I could have had them right away. I even already had more cookies at my flat that I was already going to have to bring home on the plane. And yet I put them in my purse, not letting myself enjoy them right away.
I thought about that a lot.
I met someone in Paris my first visit and saw him again this time. My…friend (sure, yeah, let’s call him that) is an almost stereotypical French romantic – rhapsodizing over wine, swooning over the ratatouille we had for our lunch, gushing about les fleurs in Monet’s garden and exhibits in les musees. At some point I joked about how much money I’d been spending on shopping, and on how indulgent I’d been at some of the patisseries; and he just chuckled. “But this is Paris,” he said. “You have to indulge!” Let yourself actually enjoy pleasure, is his watchword; spend money on yourself. Be good to yourself.
He showed me a recent indulgence he’d given himself – he’d selected five or six pictures he liked, famous photos or paintings, and copied the images from online and brought them to a print shop to have high-quality prints made, simply so he could hang them up in his apartment. He showed me each one, explaining why he liked each one and pointing out that he really wanted good quality prints and that this was the only way to get them. “I could not get them framed,” he added with a shrug, “so I will just make the frames.” I nodded – thinking that I was going to be doing something similar, but realizing that I was just going to hit up the color printer at work. Investing in good prints, I had to admit, would make a difference.
Letting myself enjoy pleasure will make a difference. I have to be frugal in my daily life, but there’s a difference between being frugal and feeling deprived. I have things I can use and enjoy. I get opportunities for pleasure all the time. But I don’t use them. If I used them, perhaps I would feel the sting of frugality less – and perhaps I would enjoy myself more. Because even though I squirrel away moments of joy, afraid that another one won’t come soon, they always do. The only way I miss out on moments of pleasure is by not experiencing them.
Everyone knows what “Carpe Diem” means; sieze the day, don’t let the opportunity slip by. But perhaps I need to focus on something a bit different; what I need to work on, I think, is siezing the joy.