Would you like to hang your hat in Paris? Stay not for a week, but for a month, a year or a lifetime? Many of us have fallen in love with the beauty and culture of the city, and some have stayed love enough to understand the charms of the lifestyle enjoyed by the French. One who did just that, living on a houseboat on the Seine, is my friend Roni Beth Tower, a She Writes Press author, whose recently published article follows. Read on and enjoy!
Roni Beth Tower grew up in Akron, Ohio, majored in religion at Barnard College, earned her doctoral degree in clinical psychology from Yale University, and did postdoctoral work in epidemiology and public health at Yale Medical School. She is the author of “Miracle at Midlife: A Transatlantic Romance,” which tells the unlikely (but true) story of how she, a fifty-something clinical psychologist living in Westport, Connecticut, met her husband David– who was, at the time, an international lawyer living in Paris on a converted barge in the Seine– and how they fell in love, and conducted a passionate, whirlwind, life-changing romance. She and David now live in Tarrytown, New York, and return to Paris as often as they can. [Read Roni Beth Tower on 1960s Paris here.]
Janet Hulstrand: Early on in “Miracle at Midlife” you describe Paris as being for your husband, David, “a city that encouraged him to become the person he liked being.” And you say that, for yourself, Paris “inevitably grounded me, opening my emotions in response to her beauty, her balance, her legacy of being loved.” Can you say a bit more about this? What is that special something about Paris? What is that power it holds for so many people?
Roni Beth: Paris has affected David and me in profound but somewhat different ways. For David, Paris offered attitudes that liberated him from constraints he felt in the United States, and a pace that suited his temperament. In contrast to the East Coast pursuit of maximum efficiency, the French value human relationships in daily life. David found support for his needs that went beyond earning money or flattering his ego by doing work that was deemed “important.” French laws mandate universal healthcare, state-supported education from day care through university, time off for family demands, support for older adults. These are formal manifestations of the importance to the French of human welfare, and of preserving time for le plaisir. In France, people and their needs warrant attention and resources. At the micro-level, the essential “Bonjour, Madame” or “Bonjour, Monsieur” reflects the underlying respect people give to and expect from each other.
In Paris, David could walk more slowly. He could enjoy the experience of both the exercise and the feast for the eyes that paraded in front of him. His clients understood that he was entitled to claim time for his personal life, to enjoy, to recalibrate. New York expectations that he would work and be available 24/7 disappeared. The French explicitly honor restoration: it is the root of the word “restaurant.” They take time off for real meals, to faire le pont (maximize benefits by taking a longer break whenever a holiday falls near a weekend), and to schedule periodic vacations both in schools and at work...