An adventure in Paris as a full-time business owner, traveling solo, studying painting and language, is not the typical trip for a 52 year old mother of 5 and grandmother of 1. Mid-life crisis or making up for the missed college year abroad program? Either one, it is time to regroup and refuel the creative fires. With another 20 years to work, and to continue to LOVE the work I do, I realized it was time to take some time for myself.
Taking a solo trip, anywhere, has never been something I’ve particularly enjoyed. Business trips that involve a flight alone, hotel room alone, and an occasional meal alone, are relished by some of my business friends. Mindlessly flipping through magazines on a flight and spreading out in the entire king-size hotel bed don’t do it for me. I like to fall asleep the minute I board the plane, curled in my window seat. And I still stay on my side of the hotel bed, leaving the other two-thirds untouched. Add a few meals alone, trying to make conversation without looking like a pick-up move, makes me even more eager to get back to the craziness of work and my family. So why have I now booked myself to travel 7 hours to France–alone? And for how long?
It all started in a conversation with my daughter, Caroline, about her upcoming semester abroad in Madrid. After she had spent a year at Tulane and another year at Georgetown, she was still managing to come home far more often than my older boys ever did– combined. “Caroline, you don’t even like to be gone from home for long. How will you make it 4 months in Spain?” I asked. In her typical confident manner, without a moment’s hesitation, she responded “That’s easy. You will have an apartment in Paris.”
This quick retort last March quickly germinated into an idea that I couldn’t release from my mind. As outrageous and ridiculous as that idea sounded, something inside grabbed hold of my daily (and nightly) thoughts for the next 2 weeks. As the words came out of my mouth to share this plan with my husband, Rob looked at me in a supportive, yet unbelieving way. Was a full semester a little dramatic? Maybe 3 months, leaving after the busy work month of September and returning in December. “2 months?” he countered. I hesitated and responded, “Maybe 1 month will be enough?” Yes, a month I could handle and the planning began.
Work or Pleasure?
First practical question: How could I manage a month away from the office? Well, working on JWH projects is a given. Skype, email and my remote access computer would let me continue design work from anywhere. Maybe not as efficient on a small laptop keyboard, as compared to my 2 large side-by-side screens on my desk, but I’ve done it on shorter vacations so I could certainly set up a work routine for this longer trip. We’ve laughed about setting up a blow up doll in my office chair, and propping a pair of expensive heels on my window sill, and passerbys would believe I am working away in Rye, NY.
A quick post on Facebook asking for recommendations on where to stay helped to focus on the “arrondissements” that would keep me safe and centrally located. Adding “laptop friendly workspace” to the search criteria on Airbnb helped to further narrow down the number of possible flats. There weren’t a lot of other filters I required. Blow dryer–optional. Wifi– critical. It seemed like 5-story “older” buildings without a lift best fit in my housing budget.
As luck would have it, the perfect studio jumped out at me. The private courtyard for the building, 2nd floor location, and tiny square footage seemed to guarantee I could make myself feel cozy. The well-known jazz bar across the street, which closes at the mandatory time of 10 pm, sounds like it was set up for my exciting nightlife. And the amazing murals on the studio walls would be my inspiration to start every day in a creative mode. And the bonus: blow dryer included.
Making the most of each day:
So now that I figured out how I would work efficiently every day from Paris, the question remained, what will I do with the rest of my time? I will be awake on a different time zone and my office has not yet come to life? (And then I will be winding down with a glass (or 2) of French chardonnay, and the office will be calling with technical questions.) Brushing up on my French–of course. A great way to meet other people while reviving my 5 years of honors French, not-so-eloquently last spoken 34 years ago at Rye High School. I envisioned ordering my cafe-au-lait with utmost confidence, asking the price on a fashionable outfit and understanding that the answer is not in my price range, and striking up casual conversations with strangers while sitting at the bustling sidewalk cafes. The reality of the latter part is that native Parisians won’t want to start up random conversations with a solo middle aged mom from NY. At least I’m pretty sure the waitstaff or other English-speaking tourists won’t snub me. Fully thinking through this scenario, which is one of my strengths (and weaknesses), reveals that I will STILL have too much time on my hands. Enter the suggestion from my beloved little sister, Molly.
Past or present life:
“Jenny, you’ve always fashioned yourself as an artist. And I know you believe there might have been a previous life as an architect, why don’t you explore this passion in Paris?” Brilliant Molly, who sometimes knows me better than I know myself. Now we are adding structure to my day, and filling lots of time in a creative way. Again, I can picture it clearly: setting up my easel along the Seine, dressed as a Parisian artist with interested onlookers, capturing the architecture on canvas with my paints and brush. The reality? First, I have trouble getting my right hand to relay what I see in my mind so the representation of these historical landmarks will be more impressionist, not to insult my beloved Monet. Second, I’m a messy painter. A full smock was the recommended protective gear to wear over my clothes, as only a BFF could suggest. But I can’t resist the challenge or the experience, I sign up for the 6 day outdoor class, and I realize that I will come home with paint on my clothes.
Housing, work and ideal activities for the trip are “planned”, but far from being executed. Life (and travel planning) always throws some funny curve balls. Please follow along to see how things develop…