Bucket List

 

#1 on my “bucket list” is arranging a private concert by Diana Krall for me and 30 or so hand-picked friends and family.  (Ella is no longer available.)  The playlist will be chosen mostly from her “Live in Paris” CD and her “All for You” CD.  The finale will be Diana’s version of Joni Mitchell’s “A case of you.”  The champagne will be French; Kentucky will, of course, supply the bourbon.  Mr. Dave and Ms. Betty will put together the menu. 

There must be at least one dream on your bucket list….

#2 on my bucket list is living abroad for a year.  At the moment, I am two months into crossing that item off my list.  I am definitely not in a hurry to get it crossed off.  Toulouse is a great city in which to live and is conveniently located for one who finds Europe a generally pleasant place to spend some time.  Being in France on a sabbatical leave is, perhaps, the best of circumstances in which to spend time abroad.  I am expected to spend a year focusing on the part of my job for which I was trained; I am meeting new colleagues who share many of my interests but bring different perspectives to our common ground; and I have a great deal of freedom in deciding how to use my time.  But the biggest advantages of living abroad are the consequences of the constant mundane challenges to routine.

Most of us spend a good deal of time operating on auto-pilot.  I am most aware of this in my own life when events knock me out of mechanical mode.  I admit to being a creature of habit.  I find great comfort and security in habit.  But when I am taken out of my routines, I usually find myself enlivened.  Things that I take for granted receive closer examination.  Thoughts that I did not previously take the time to develop seem worth the effort to elaborate.  In the context of a sabbatical, some of this is simply a matter of slowing the pace and having the extra time to contemplate concepts and ideas.  But if the leave is taken in a new environment, it is not simply a matter of having more time.  It is being forced to grapple with unfamiliar circumstances that bear family resemblances to circumstances with which I am familiar.  It is seeing familiar things in unfamiliar settings and perceiving them in a new way.  I’m not talking just about the big stuff; mostly I have in mind the items of everyday living.  Consider some very loosely associated examples from the domain of grocery-shopping.

  1. We do not have a car in Toulouse so – like most people in the city -- we walk to the grocery store and must hand-carry our purchases back to our apartment.  So:
    1. We shop every day or two; we spend a greater proportion of our time shopping in Toulouse than in Lexington (I think).
    2. Our refrigerator is about 1/3 the size of the monster that sits in our kitchen in Lexington.
    3. We make wiser (healthier) food choices because we don’t have the luxury of loading our hand-carried basket.
  2. Because we must pay for every bag we use in the grocery store, we bring our own canvas bags to the grocery store.
  3. Milk and cream are stocked on unrefrigerated shelves in the store.  The sell-by dates are generally about 2 months from the date of sale.  Really.  I’m not sure what it means.
  4. In the land of Louis, I have yet to encounter Pasteurized cheese.

You notice these sorts of things because they entail relatively major changes in daily living.  And you notice that these challenges to your routines cause you to re-think other things.  The spillover extends all the way “up” to the much more abstract domain of my research expertise.  An attitude of examination and re-consideration of long-held practices and beliefs takes root.  That is a good thing for anyone.

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