When we were in San Diego, one of my favorite things to do was to put on a podcast (This American Life being the top choice), plug in the headphones, and go for a walk in the middle of the day. I called them my “podcast walks” because they were about an hour and let me escape my always-hectic workday through the voice of another person. Walking at a brisk pace and smiling at people as I went, I tried to lose myself in whatever story Ira Glass had chosen for me that day. The sun, the breeze, and the smell of eucalyptus tried to distract me from one pleasure with another so I found my attention drifting back and forth between what I was experiencing and what I was hearing.
As relaxing as this sensory exercise usually was, I always seemed to find myself looking at the ground as I walked. Not so much watching the path in front of me as generally fixated on a fixed distance a few feet from my toes. I would have to tell myself to look up every five minutes and take in the sights of Balboa, North Park, and Hillcrest. I was confounded by this strangely involuntary action until I realized what was going on. In order to listen and walk while still obsessing over work, I had to be quite aware of where my feet were at all time. That was the problem: I was trying to productively relax.
Though I found walking to be a great solitary activity, I didn’t always walk alone. Anna joined me on the podcast walks every now and then and we found it to be a great way to spend some time together, enjoy our temporary time in the best weather we’ve ever known, and stay at least minimally active. By the end of our time there, we had one car between the 2 of us and even that seemed excessive. We walked to the store twice a week, walked to dinner, walked for fun… we walked a lot and we loved it. Little did we know that this would just be a light warm-up to our walking in Paris.
Paris is a walking city. Someone told me that before I left San Diego and they were completely correct. If you can’t get there by foot, you walk to the Metro and take the train. That’s not to say that there aren’t a bunch of cars clogging up the road but if you look closely, it’s mostly buses, taxis, and scooters. Since we don’t have any other way to get around, we walk everywhere we need to go and augment with the metro if needed.
We’ve been easily breaking 20 miles per week on foot. We walk to the store a few times a week which probably racks up about a half-mile round trip (4 miles per week). We also walk somewhere random another two times a week to get me away from this laptop, that’s probably another 2-3 miles each time (4-6 miles per week). Then, on weekends, it’s half-marathon time. We walk 5-6 miles each day, either round trip or a meandering route there and a metro back (10 – 12 miles per week).
At some point in the beginning of our trip, I decided to start keeping track of the roads we walk down with a highlighter on our map. We’ve covered a significant amount of Paris on foot but it’s disconcerting in a way how much we have yet to cover. This, I’m sure, is the accomplishment junkie in me (I’m kicking myself for not bringing my Nike+ to record all the miles we’ve racked up).
Walking in Paris is a fascinating, entertaining, and, at times, frustrating exercise. It appears as though both cars and people have the right of way at every intersection. Crosswalk signs are barely a recommendation and there are not lights everywhere it seems like there should be. Anna tells me that it’s pedestrians beware here and if you’re hit by a car while crossing the street, it’s your fault. In the US (correct me if I’m wrong), the pedestrians have the right of way so the system here is reversed.
At first, this system seemed ridiculous. Why would you give drivers so much power in this situation when they are the ones that can cause the most damage? But that’s the precisely the reason. It’s harder to be aware of your surroundings in a car because (a) you’re going faster than everyone else and (b) your vision is always obstructed… by your car. If you tell pedestrians that they have the right of way, they’ll just put it on the drivers and think “well, they have to stop.” But if they don’t stop, you might die and they might get a fine. Tell a pedestrian “these cars can kill you and get off without a fine” then they’ve got more motivation to pay attention. But I digress….
Walking through Paris and highlighting roads when we return has become one of my favorite pastimes these days. I imagine this habit will follow me back to Seattle where I will happily paint the town yellow as I become reacquainted with an area I never really knew all that well to begin with. This habit has not only found us a few new places to explore but it also has cured me of my ground fixation for the most part.
And so we walk, everyday, until this whole amazing city has felt our footsteps.
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Sep 06, 2010
With a haircut by a French barber and just enough French to get by, I’m claiming honorary (though temporary) status as a Parisian.