❤️Bordeaux is the Perfect Pause

My adult children, Benson, Natalie and her fiancé, Kevin, and I planned a trip to Europe earlier this year. Barcelona was number one on my list and France was number one on theirs.  Bordeaux became the starting point as my son, a competitive weightlifter, has a following in Bordeaux.  This is the new reality of global connectivity and, even though Benson doesn’t speak French, he has folks some 4,000 miles away that follow his weightlifting career on social media. I was hesitant about Bordeaux since its notoriety is wine and I’ve been sober for over 5 years.  I assumed, incorrectly, that there would be a preponderance of wine tasting rooms. I wasn’t sure how I was going to navigate it but to my surprise and delight, Bordeaux is such a beautiful, tranquil city I never thought twice about drinking and just relaxed into the pace and storybook atmosphere.  It was the perfect pause.

My daughter, Natalie, my son, Benson and I in Bordeaux

Here is why Bordeaux is the perfect pause:

It’s a pedestrian city.   The only car I was ever in was the taxi from the airport to our rental apartment. The rest of the time I was mostly on foot or on the tram.  Between the cobblestones, ancient gates, pedestrian plazas and narrow streets, you are more likely to get run over by a skateboarder or bicyclist than a car.  This makes for a much slower pace. The busiest street with vehicles was along the la Garonne River on the Quai Richelieu. I realized that not being hyper vigilant about cars and constantly looking both ways to cross the street is like a sedative.

Incredible accommodations.  Somehow, when I booked the rental apartment, we scored a fabulous two bedroom apartment with a wraparound balcony, 14 foot ceilings within spitting distance of the Porte Cailhau (built in 1494).  We were there in mid-August with afternoon highs in the mid-90’s and while we had fans, there was no air-conditioning. There were many a lazy afternoon, laying on the couch staring out at the Porte Cailhau waiting for Rapunzel or Sleeping Beauty to appear; somehow the heat just wasn’t that bad. We had an evening routine of opening all the floor to ceiling length shades, 7 sets of double French doors, and letting the river breeze cool off the apartment as the sun set about 9 pm.  The Place du Palais, a pedestrian plaza, was right below our apartment and as the sun set, it came alive with a wandering saxophone player, and the murmur of crowds chatting over food and drink at outdoor cafes.  I went to sleep every night with the buzz of laughter below and the cool breeze blowing in through the open balcony door. I was in the juxtaposition of being a part of street energy below yet curled up in bed. 

The public spaces.  We were in an easy 10-minute walk to many palaces, gates, parks, gardens and walkways.  There was the picturesque Plains de la Bourse de Bordeaux surrounding the Fontaine des Trois Graces next to the Miror d’eau.  The Miror d’eau is the world’s largest reflecting pool and covers 3,450 square meters.  It is quite the attraction, especially during the summer, as children and adults are skipping, skating, crawling and strolling through the water all day long.  It is vibrant and was filled with energy and laughter throughout the day and evening.  The walkway along la Garonne, was very wide and throughout the day there would be musicians, skaters with boomboxes and all walks of life strolling down the thoroughfare.  The Monument aux Girondins sits on one of the largest squares in Europe and has a Lady Liberty at the top of the fountain. There were countless places to wander.

The Place de Palais below our apartment in Bordeaux

Deep history.  Bordeaux was first established in 300 B.C by the Celtics and has been inhabited and/or conquered by the Romans, Vandals, Visigoths, Franks and English. We happened into the Bordeaux Cathedral (Cathedral- Primatial Sainte-Andres de Bordeaux).  This amazing cathedral was initially founded in 814.  Last year I had read several books on English Queen Consorts and had read about Eleanor of Aquitaine. Imagine my surprise when I read that the 13-year-old Eleanor married the future Louis VII of France in this very cathedral in 1137. She became Queen of France, later divorced (when she was unable to bear him a son) and married Henry II and became Queen of England and mother to King Richard the Lionheart and King John of England (author of the Magna Carta).  As I roamed the streets of Bordeaux, I was captivated by who had walked these streets before me.

The food.  There are shops, and pubs, and markets, and restaurants, everywhere.  If you can’t find a boulangerie on this block, walk one more and there will be one.  Or a cafe with cafe au lait and the local favorite pastry, Canelé.  I admit, I gave up on trying to be 100% plant based while in Bordeaux.  We had platters of local oysters from Arcachon Bay and all kinds of cheese.  Natalie managed to go to the local farmers market and grab some amazing goat cheese.  The streets were constantly transforming throughout the day, where in the morning Chez Fred would be set up as an outdoor cafe with coffee and baguettes at 9 a.m., beer and wine with charcuterie by mid-day and by midnight all the chairs, tables and umbrellas would be packed up and gone without a trace and the Place du Palais would be empty.  We stopped by an ice cream shop that made artisan ice cream and Natalie had rose flavored ice cream topped with dried rose pedals.  The array of food was amazing; simply amazing

Bordeaux was the perfect pause because the pace is so laid back. I had no agenda. No place I had to be.  The small television in the corner of our apartment stayed dormant.  The section where we stayed was not a central tourist hub although there were plenty of people taking pictures of the Porte Cailhau throughout the day and evening. In fact, I can’t remember hearing English spoken in shops or in restaurants (except for us). I felt unplugged and floated through the day with hardly a plan.  It’s a place to be present and in the moment. 

5 Reasons to Keep the Status Quo

Status quo is Latin for “existing state.”

When my marriage came to a screeching halt over a year ago, I wanted to escape. I looked at flights to Copenhagen, I checked out apartment rentals in Durham, and I even looked into qualifications to teach English in South America. I was grasping at anything that would get me out of my current state, figuratively and literally. I also looked locally for other avenues to pursue new interests. Luckily, I stayed put. I didn’t want the status quo. I didn’t think I needed the status quo. But looking back, it was the best thing I could have done.

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There is a rule of thumb that you shouldn’t make a major life decision such as moving for one year after a loss like a divorce or a death. I wasn’t thinking about this rule of thumb when I stayed put. I stayed put due to financial reasons. Initially, I wasn’t happy about that. I wanted to escape. I wanted to be on a beach drinking massive amounts of fruity rum drinks with umbrellas in them. I wanted to turn my life upside down and move the hell on. In retrospect, l am happy I didn’t. I’m glad I stuck with the status quo.

Here are five reasons to keep the status quo:

  1. Internal locus of control. I needed to take stock in feeling like I had control over my own well-being. Getting on an airplane or throwing out all my furniture was not going to bring about inner peace. Staying right where I was, in my job, in my house, with my beloved dog, that made me understand the importance of overseeing me. I am sovereign. There is no one else to blame. There is only me. If I had taken off to parts unknown, I would have been blaming the world instead of taking stock of myself.

 

  1. Getting back to homeostasis. As Annie Grace wrote in a recent newsletter, “Homeostasis is defined as the maintenance of relatively stable internal physiological conditions (such as body temperature or the pH of blood) in higher animals under fluctuating environmental conditions; also: the process of maintaining a stable psychological state in the individual under varying psychological pressures or unstable social conditions.” I realized that my homeostasis was vastly (not dramatically) improved when I didn’t drink anymore. I was in a constant state of equilibrium. I didn’t need the fictitious relief of a sip of wine. After several months, I was free from the pull of numbing out the pain. I felt like the ship I was on was stable and that the waves weren’t as high. Homeostasis is your body’s status quo.

 

  1. Tinkering with what works. By staying put and confronting the reality of the separation, I was able to make small adjustments. As Stephanie Vozzo wrote for Fast Company, “Instead of trying to be like someone else, appreciate your own qualities. For example, if you’re an introvert, don’t assume life will be better if you transform into an extrovert.” I made small adjustments. I tried Tai Chi. I tried a Body Pump class. I traveled to Assateague island for a weekend. Some things I liked, some things I didn’t.  But I had my own laboratory of “what makes Cathy happy.” Tinkering with small adjustments are on the fringe of status quo.

 

  1. Decluttering is manageable. When my attic was finally completely (yes, completely) empty, I felt an enormous sense of relief. The thing is, that attic took months to empty, organize, sort and pitch. If I had decided to move to Peru, I might have thrown out something irreplaceable and precious like a book my son wrote for his grandfather or my daughter’s artwork. Being able to take time to selectively declutter could only be accomplished in relative status quo.

 

  1. All you have is you. You can be in Copenhagen, Paris or Lima, but it’s still you under it all. Drastic change or a year of adventure would not have changed the pain that was under it all. As Robert Frost wrote, “The best way out is through.” The best way through for me was in status quo. Keeping my environment the same helped me feel my way through. Escape into something new and unknown would not have helped and likely would have masked it all. At the end of the day, you still have you. It’s still you in there.

 

I’m not recommending that you never engage in adventure again. That you never test the edges of your status quo. I just know that relaxing into what was known, familiar and comfortable over the last 18 months has been rejuvenating and restorative. Do you need to stay in your status quo?