Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Burning off the nutella and camembert

I never realized how much I grew to love going to the ARC (St. Mary’s gym) last year until I had it taken away from me. Throwing on some sweats, grabbing my iPod and claiming an elliptical for 40 minutes was a great way to burn through SMP and break-up stress as well as calories. A psychologist once told me that exercise for half an hour three times a week is the body’s chemical equivalent to an anti-depressant, and I believe it—I definitely feel fitter, happier and more productive (thanks, Radiohead) for a period of several hours after I work out.

Unfortunately France doesn’t seem to believe in gyms, or at least not the American version. The university equivalents consist of empty rooms for a weird variety of highly sought-after “physical” activities from fencing and body building to clown training and massage (?!?). Sadly, no cardio machines are available and even things like aerobics or yoga classes are hard to come by. I also tried, with little success, to find a private gym I could join. The ones that do exist fall into one of two categories: 1) super-intense-hardcore gyms, whose websites are bursting with headache-inducing flashing images and popouts of Arnold-looking men and which charge an exorbitant amount in annual fees, and 2) women’s “gyms”, which, judging by the pictures, have a few yoga mats and a stretching station to compliment their sauna and a massage table—so more like day spas, really. Curves is starting to exist here, but I think I’m a little too young for a mom gym like that. And so, begrudgingly, I am turning to the one form of cardio left: jogging.

Considering how embarrassingly red I get when I work out and how tricky it can be balance the whole asthmatic thing in an uncontrolled, outdoor environment, jogging takes a certain amount of both physical and moral stamina. I’m not sure if that stamina will endure when the weather turns chillier again, but having an inspiring track helps a lot. Luckily for me I live right across the street from Parc Montsouris, which offers hilly terrain, a pond (with geese!), sculptures and even spigots for a mid-jog drink. At the moment it’s also sporting some pretty fall foliage and that deliciously earthy smell of rotting leaves that makes me want to carve a pumpkin and make spiced cider. It takes me a little less than ten minutes to do a full lap of running down hill and run/walking back up hill, and despite the exhaustion it’s fairly enjoyable.

Paris is dotted with parks. In general, the French envision parks as a series of carefully planned pathways that intersect meticulously manicured collections of flowers, rows of aligned, identically pruned trees and triangles of perfect, off-limits grass (I’m serious…there are bars and signs to remind you that the pelouse is permanently en repose). The nicer ones may also have fountain or two. The result is a space that offers a nice respite from urban architecture for a lunch break, a dog walk or the odd cultural event, such as Sunday music in the park (or the Nuit Blanche installations I described earlier). The people you meet in these parks are, like the parks themselves, stylish, well-groomed, reserved. Being in a residential district, my park is a little more casual, and I love it for that. Along the path I pass playground equipment crawling with children, a woman taking a beaming, elderly grandmother out for a walk her wheelchair, a man giving free fall pony rides to preschoolers, a family feeding geese. Near the back there’s a cute café rumored to have great crepes that is usually populated by a retired crowd. There are also, much to my surprise, many other joggers (the last time I was in France, it was only the ‘undignified’ Americans that went out jogging…I’m not sure if it just took a while to catch on here or if that was more of a reflection of Nice culture). Many of them are other Cité students, but some are Parisians. The Parisians are easy to spot because they jog in style—if they’re just off work they’re still sporting their peacoats and scarves, and if not, they have very official-looking athletic spandex. Even if I’m not dressed quite as nicely, I’m happy to be part of their club, and I enjoy the flicker of recognition or the head nod when we pass. I have this new fantasy that I’ll meet my soulmate jogging—because really, if someone could find me attractive red and smelly than they are probably meant for me. Or just really desperate. Hm, better rethink that theory.


  1. Holy crap, you are incredibly interesting.

    I just moved from the treadmill to running outside two days ago and have learned two things because of this:

    1) Running on the treadmill compares to running on the street about as much as wrestling my Grandmother would compare to wrestling everyone in the state of Texas at one time.

    2) My legs have an incredible ability to feel pain.

  2. Free fall pony rides? I hope they're wearing helmets ;)
    Lol, english is a wonderful language for things you don't mean to say.
    Good luck with the jogging, you're braver than I am!