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Archive for July, 2007

More on the virtue of moderation, as practiced by the French. Tonight, I took the girls out to a small restaurant in the Latin Quarter. I was struck again by the size of the portions, just enough to satisfy our appetite, and not so much that we got too full. We all finished our plates, and no food went to waste. It makes so much sense, both from a personal health and environmental perspectives. Yet, it seems like a habit, that is difficult to embrace for Americans. Bigger is better permeates much of the American life, from cars, to houses, to food, to spending. I am no exception. With this trip to France, I have become even more aware of the power of one’s environment on personal decisions.

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Cars in Paris are all small, for the most part. There is a lot to be gained from having a small car. One obvious benefit is, it is much easier to fit into tight parking spots. I am always amazed at how good all my Parisian acquaintances are, with what I call the ‘bump’ parking strategy, the technique of squeezing one’s car into what looks like an impossibly small spot, by repeatedly bumping into the cars behind and in front. Nobody seems to mind, and as my friend Linda said, that is part of the course for Parisian car owners, all cars here have dents.

Small cars are also incredibly efficient. Not a negligible feature in France, where gas prices are outrageous compared to the States. I notice French people are a lot more careful about how much gas they use. Something to be said for high gas prices. Small cars simply make it easier to be green.

My last point about small cars, is they allow for hilarious group rides. Try piling up a foursome in the back of a small car, and I guarantee, you are in for a ride full of laughters. It helps if you are a bunch of petite girls like us, in which case we were able to all actually sit on the back seat. Otherwise, it takes some negotiating about who sits on whose lap. This is not something I recommend for highway driving, but in the city, it works.

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There is some advantage to not having access to the comfort of modern appliances. In our Paris appartment, I still have not figured out how to use the wash machine. The dryer appears to be even more of a mystery. One unforeseen consequence has been how little dirty laundry we have generated as a result. Back home, I cannot even count the number of loads we go through in a week. There, the temptation is just too great, knowing that doing laundry is as simple as: 1) drop some detergent, 2) dump the dirty clothes, 3) press the start button.

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Last night, walking around the Marais, we were met by swarms of bicyclists at every corner. I learned from my brother, that the City of Paris just released 10,000 bicycles for people to use as they please. There are stations in every neighborhood, where one can rent a bike for only one euro a day. Riding the bikes seemed like so much fun. We are going to have to add this to our list of to-do things before we leave. Which brings me to my point, that being green does not have to be a chore, proof in point with the bikes initiative. This is where the American could learn from the French. The French have the innate ability of turning pretty much any activity into pleasure. They don’t diet, they just eat right. They don’t exercise, they walk on their way to places. They do not work at being green, they just have fun with it.

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Being on vacation, made me realize that, being green is work. Why is it that all that is worthwhile, requires work? One needs to work on relationships, work at work, work at being a good green citizen. . . Here in Paris, I just want to enjoy, indulge, and be lazy. This morning, I played tourist with the girls, and rediscovered Montmartre. We had lots of fun looking for bargains at the Marche St Pierre, where the Petit Bateau shirts went for 3 Euros. The Sacre Coeur disappointed us with all its tourists, and its Las Vegas makeover. In the shop, Catherine bought a medal for herself and her sister. Everything was for sale there, even the candles, at 10 Euros a pop. It is easy to take a vacation from being green, not so much from consumerism

The one good thing about Paris, is the transportation. We are learning to rely on our feet again, to go from place to place. In two days we have walked, taken the subway, the bus, and the Batobus on the Seine. No car, with the exception of my brother giving us a ride from the airport. We are eating so much, and still, we are losing weight from all the exercise. I wish California was not so dependent on cars. The people would be healthier, and the air would a lot more pure.

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Still jet lagged from the plane trip, I find my green consciousness waning. This morning, at the market, I did not protest when the cheese man insisted on wrapping his goodies into double plastic bags. I had done my share, by taking one of Christine’s big wicker baskets along with me. Once home, I did not bother with recycling, and threw it all, plastic bottles, newspapers, and used paper bags included, into the garbage. Thoughts about looking into the ifs and hows of recycling at Christine’s building, quickly brushed aside, I went on with my business of preparing a real French breakfast for the girls. It is harder to be green, when one is tired, be it physically or emotionally. The environment also plays a role. Here I do not feel the same pressure as I do, back in California, to be a good green citizen.

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Getting ready for trip to Paris tomorrow. If I was pure green, I would not fly, but lets face it, I need a France fix once in a while. A more realistic option, would be to buy carbon offsets. The question I need to ask myself is, why didn’t I bother looking into it earlier. The answer is, . . . actually there are several answers: 1) I did not think of it, 2) It costs money, 3) It takes time and effort to research.

In the end, it boils down to, what do I really value? Talk is cheap, and I do plenty of it. Making changes and active contributions is a lot harder, a lot harder.

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Living with Green Guru – Prad’s nickname, of late -, is not easy sometimes. This morning, I had the unpleasant surprise of my electric toothbrush running out of electricity, half way as I was trying to brush my teeth. Without telling me, Green Guru had decided to unplug it the night before. Little did he know, that it needed to be recharged. I was not pleased, and I let him know.

Yesterday, we had another squabble, after he informed me of his intention to unplug the dryer. His plan was to have us all quit using the dryer, cold turkey. It was met with plain outrage on my part. Yes, I do plan, some day to make the shift to a clothesline, but not yet. Give me some time, I need to psych myself up, for such a radical shift. There is also the issue of the kids, and of bringing them along in the decision. Ours are teenagers, still protesting from the recent blending of our two families, and going through some major angst of their own. I suggested to Green Guru, that maybe he could first install a clothesline in our backyard, and inspire us all through his example. In the mean time, the dryer will stay plugged in.

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On our way back from the farmers’ market, Charlotte wanted to show me the new shoe store, the one where she got her pair of red sandals last week. I had been meaning to visit anyway. Charlotte and I, both delighted in how good the prices were. “Look, these are only $35!” The Mystique ballerinas on the sales rack were very tempting. I tried them on. It turns out they did not fit. I could walk out, with my green conscience intact, kind of. My earlier musings about simplicity were still fresh, and I began to wonder about the real price for the Mystique shoes. I am pretty sure they were made in China. The way I see it, there should be two price tags: the usual tag based on costs of goods and merchant markup, and another one for carbon footprint. Maybe, it could be like the Energy Star system for appliances, but instead of stars, it would show footprints. Without a footprint tag, it is too easy to forget the real price of the Mystique ballerinas.

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Why this need for lists all of a sudden? I woke up thinking of Tulani‘s list, The Five Rules of Happiness, the one I read in her blog yesterday, and I immediately had to make it mine:

1.Free your heart from hatred.
2.Free your mind from worries.
3.Live simply.
4.Give more.
5.Expect less.

#3 would go a long way towards helping me become the green girl I want to be. It would, and it is also very hard to achieve. I suffer from always wanting more. Closely related is #2, and the fear of not having enough. The bag lady syndrome is a part of me that refuses to go away. How much will it take for me to finally feel secure?

Going to the mall is always a spiritual experience, the time to get in touch with my fellow human beings, and to take in the painful reality of our collective emptiness. I become both actor and witness, in an existentialist play about the absurdity of life without meaning.

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