I like aphorisms. There’s one for everything. Let me inculcate on you one that has been invented for Parisians. I’m afraid it’s not going to be one of those overly-discussed ever-flattering clichés like the somewhat imposing Eiffel Tower, the spectacular spectacular Moulin Rouge or the overwhelmed-with-gargantuan-dog-poop cobblestones. No, this peculiar one is a much more down-to-earth view of the city; let’s talk hard, dull routine:
“Métro, boulot, dodo.”
Literally “Subway, work, sleep.”
I was born in Paris in spite of myself. And I began to work there some years later against my better judgement. Over time, I engaged in the experience at the expense of other aspects of life (my family, my savings and my sanity) as I quickly gathered that Paris’s lifestyle came as a package that included mind-blowing carouses, mind-grueling museums and sanity-saving antidepressant prescriptions. If you don’t believe sinking into a depression can be that easy, think again. Think about what you wanted to do when you were a child and then look around as your fellow angry-faced co-riders on the Métro press against your shoulders, packed thus like sardines (funny smell included) … Wait, did someone just grab my ass? Think about the last time you had a real two-week vacation that involved bikinis, sandy toes and mojitos. Listen to “Total Eclipse of the Heart” by Bonnie Tyler. There are plenty ways to get depressed but none is as effectively committed to results on deadlines. In Paris, committing to deadlines is very, very important.
So, yeah, commit to “Métro, boulot, dodo” and you’re good to go.
But my husband is a West Indian, and Paris was not his thing. It soon became evident: lest we were not so good anymore, we had to move (to the Atlantic coast for instance ‘cause where else could we go?).
Then one day I read that antidepressants achieve greater results when taken listening to the water lapping near your hammock on a Caribbean beach. How did I not know that!? Hell yeah, why not? How did my husband not know that!? So we weren’t on antidepressants, so what? I would if I had to. You gotta chew what you gotta chew.
I knew that even just considering a life in the Caribbean was a 180-degree turn and would involve lots of changing habits. But, gee! It was as if I’d been ready to make concessions my whole life. I didn’t think switching refined wine for outright rum would be an issue. Wearing thongs (no, not those thongs. Well, maybe those thongs too) instead of blister-hurting heels was obviously something I could do as well. And I would trade my mother for my mother-in-law. That is extortion, but okay, so be it, not a problem. I couldn’t but I would. Probably with a little help from the antidepressants. I was ready.
“You have a beautiful life: you’ve got some savings, a handsome husband and four lovely kids (in photographs, at least) who love you, and you’re two minutes away from stores and the hospital. What else do you need? Why would you want to move to the Caribbean?” My mother asked, upset, when I told her about the plan.
“I want my daily grind to be a daily dream,” I replied.
So off we went, from the French Atlantic coast to the French Caribbean coast. Oh yeah, France has a Caribbean coast. Do you see where Paris is? Good! It’s nowhere near. You’d be taking quite a detour if you flew out there, although I can’t argue it’s worth the trip too. If, of course, you don’t mind the Métro or the Parisians. Otherwise, to get to the Caribbean, according to Google Maps, you want to travel south from Paris, then take the next hurricane to the west. And you’re there. Basically.
That was two years ago. So now we’re living on a paradisiacal island of 629 square miles. By comparison, Long Island is two times bigger and you can fit ten Parises in here (thankfully without the Parisians; I myself have repudiated my origins long ago, and I can live with myself now). But enough of geography.
We were talking about the grind.
Mingling your leg between your spouse’s while he’s pressing his groin against yours to the Zouk sound of Kassav’ or wiggling your butt against his groin when he’s behind your sensually arched back is not the grind I had in mind. Not all the time, anyway. Although I hold nothing against a good arousing dance every once in a while, your spouse would perhaps end up on a hard grind, and that is rather more suited to a nightly grind than a daily one.
So what does daily grind mean for the Caribbean way of life, you wonder? Does it stand for Gulping Rum Indulgence Night & Day? Good guess. But, no. Despite common beliefs, you still have to work in the Caribbean. I’m sorry to disappoint, but it’s nothing like a Caribbean vacation.
You don’t dirty dance, you don’t snorkel in the 90-degree pool-colored sea, and you don’t drink passion fruit rum all day long. Talk about clichés! You do have rum while you’re in the water, though, and that can be a time saver (and you can wind up having a dirty dance while you’re at it too).
You don’t take the sub either; there is not a single railroad in service. Not that that bothers me anyway. Instead you drive your car to work, the only problem being that there is but one single road to work. I’ve tried shortcuts, but they’re all longcuts.
In order to avoid traffic, you have two options: One, you paddle to work; it will take longer but sharks do not wander a lot around here, so you’re safe. Two, you wake up early. I go with the first. Leave the house around 6:30. Roll down the window to enjoy the coolest 80-degree-ish temperatures of the day, hand irresistibly waving outside the car. Turn on the radio. Sing. Smile like a stupid Cheshire cat; today is gonna be a blast. End up bumper to bumper, packed like sardines again, as everyone else has the same bright idea. Pout. Tomorrow I’ll paddle. Never mind.
Not ready to bear a look of defeated resignation, you still make it early enough to work and you rationalize that you’ll get out of there early too. And by 3:00 or 3:30, you indeed have a new day ahead of you.
I’m not sure I should tell you about that new day. It’s quite indecent. Plus, if I sound too appealing you’d be rushing out here and mess up an already intense (fucked-up) traffic situation. Let’s just say that the new day often involves snorkeling and rumming. I mean, it’s amazing what you can accomplish without incessant meddling or rushing at everything you do.
Our new motto is “Traffic jam, work, other day, sleep (hammock at your convenience).” Looking at it this way, there’s not much of a change from “Subway, work, sleep.” Besides transportation, what else is new?
As for the rum part, I’ve learned with hindsight that it only helps you get warm inside, so that you become less aware of how on the outside you are really melting alive in the heat. The weather is horrible. Hotter than hell year round.
Okay, so maybe I was wrong, maybe it’s not a daily dream. Basically all that has changed is merely that we went from dull and sub to gull and shrub. We can discuss the lull between the storms some other time …
So, anyway, yeah, it’s nice alright (totally a blast!), we’re … okay here. Cheshire cat smile again. Or is it the Joker? Mona Lisa’s smile? Can’t say. I’ve had that stupid grin on my face for a couple of years now, and I don’t know how it got there nor how to wipe it off. Maybe I should be seen.
I do feel a little guilty for leaving my parents and siblings behind. Once again, I’ve engaged in the experience at the expense of other aspects of my life. Sometimes I tell myself I should let them know what it’s like. And then I think of the traffic again. Shit! Well, they wouldn’t like the roaches anyway. (Didn’t I tell you?)
I try not to overthink it because no matter how greater it may be in the Caribbean, I had little choice in the first place. That really was extortion. And now I have but little free time. So I allow myself forgiveness for having left them, and it gets me to think a little about them too.
After all, to forgive yourself is the greatest gift you can give yourself.
That and a life in the Caribbean.
(Drawing from Babelio.)