Saturday, April 29, 2017

The Art of The Extra-Ordinary

Among the maxims on Lord Naoshige's wall, there was this one: "Matters of great concern should be treated lightly." Master Ittei commented, "Matters of small concern should be treated seriously."

This week I was in Paris, France.  It's a fantastic city and in the springtime it truly has no equal.  The sunshine warms your face as you walk along the boulevards, and even the occasional spring shower just gives everything an extra shine.

I tried to understand the mystery of Paris' appeal and in doing so found an important lesson for my life.  Parisians have seemed to master what I call "The Art of Making the Extraordinary Ordinary".  What do I mean?

In Paris, everything is beautiful.  Everywhere you look there are sculptures and artwork.  Every building has an intricate facade and detailed columns.  Every street corner seems to have a museum on it and every cafe has a charming, inviting decor.  Even the local fruit and vegetable stand looks like a picture postcard.  You can feel the history of Western culture emanate from every inch.  Tourists like me snap photos constantly, hoping to capture the essence of what makes this city the way it is - and we fail.

All around us Parisians go about their daily business, driving through the Arc De Triumph, around the Eiffel Tower, down the Champs-Elysee.  They drink espresso and stroll along the Seine riverbank hardly taking notice of the majesty of their city - as if they have become numb to it.  The extraordinary (to us) has become ordinary to them.  It is perfectly and completely natural for them to live in such beautiful surroundings.  This casual disregard and aloofness is one of the most attractive and enduring features of what it means to be French.

There is a great lesson here: Expect Elegance
It seems as though the French expect elegance in their daily lives - they demand it.  Simple things are to be done with care and artistic presentation.  We should expect nothing less and never allow the daily routine to become trivial.  There is a simple elegance in a baguette and a coffee breakfast served the way it is done in Paris.  While the service may be aloof and frosty (although I found just the opposite) the attention to detail is undeniable.  The pride of workmanship is not unlike the Japanese craftsmanship that I love so much.

It reminded me to care a little more in the everyday aspects of my life, and to add artistic touches wherever possible.  The French way of life is about elevating yourself a little more than the ordinary, and that makes perfect sense to me.
As much as the French can make the extraordinary become ordinary, the reverse is also true.  That is, making the ordinary something extraordinary.

A day-long conference is brightened by a glimpse of the Eiffel Tower outside the office window.  A walk outside for lunch uncovers the magic of a small shop selling a great quality set meal.  An aromatic espresso sets the tone for the afternoon.  A quick chat with a friend in a cafe helps the day go by.  Even in a busy city like Paris, people find balance.  They eat well, exercise well and are not afraid to go home at the end of the day (or even a bit earlier).  Say whatever you will, I'm envious.  (note--- Parisians seem to enjoy smoking. A LOT.  I can live without that part)

Paris is a good reminder that our lives are what we make them - and that the details matter.  It is up to us to make the extraordinary a part of our everyday lives and to elevate ourselves to make the ordinary a little bit more.

It took me 50 years to get to Paris.  I am sure we'll meet again.

No comments: