Words by Ellen Mqueen
The trees in the Tuileries are bare and I don’t wake in my bed until nine, when the sun finally decides to yank itself from the horizon and, for the most part obstructed by persistent clouds of condensation, tease us with heat that does not reach this far north anymore.
I do not wake to the sound of birds but rather to the clinking and clanging of radiators struggling to compete with the force of frost outside. I do not know where the birds went, but I know they opted out of Paris, where February is testing the immune systems and newly gifted outerwear of its residents. Frozen fingers stuffed into pockets, forgotten gloves left behind on windowsills or café tables, scarves and hats and coats layering over the identity of the bodies beneath. While many vrais parisiens handle this outerwear and layering in a manner of chicness following modern trends, when I wake in the morning to darkness and the steady stream of snow out of my window it is one hundred percent function over fashion; tights under jeans and three layers of bulky sweaters and the CVS gloves Mom insisted I keep. Building my blankets of protection like the bears do through summer and fall. They are prepared for this. I, even after twenty-three years of America’s Northeast and nearly four years of Paris, never am.
The first few months of the year take me by surprise every time, and throughout its beginning I sort of try to pretend that it simply isn’t happening. Riding the high of the holidays and New Year’s Eve parties and productive resolutions that will, without fail, mould the Brand New Me, I power through those first few weeks, waking up hours before the sunrise, writing lists and checking off tasks, eating quinoa and vegetables and fresh fruit juices. I wear flattering and fashionable sweaters, those concocted by designers apparently unaware of “weather,” and sheer tights with cute skirts and shoes that simply soak through the moment there is any type of precipitation. I make dinner plans and Saturday night plans and productive plans with the others also riding the high, with those continuing the delusion that it is not below zero and that the sun will be with us more than eight hours of the day. At best. When it’s not snowing or raining or hailing. Which it seems to always be.
We (myself and the soldiers of New Year’s Resolutions determined to make this year the Best One Yet) push our bodies, our social capacities and our task-lists to limits that, for the first part of the year, seem reasonable, inspiring, even genius.
And then, inevitably, somewhere along the line, the whole thing sort of falls apart.
The body is the first to go. Walking home at two in the morning last Saturday night without a scarf or a hat and probably even coat in hand because after enough glasses of wine the cold does not seem so biting, has invited into the chest a lovely hacking cough that develops itself into some sort of sinus infection, until you are the walking plague and the noises you make in the metro cause everyone in your vicinity to switch seats.
“Mon dieu,” the doctor says as I walk into his office with a fever and a handful of used tissues, “you’re not even wearing a hat.”
Once your partner and friends and coworkers catch wind of this infectious disease that you’re now host to, the ambitious social calendar you’d designed suddenly goes out the window. Your roommate makes you tea and asks you to please go back to bed without touching anything. Your boss shields himself with a pile of paperwork as he begs you to go home. Your partner sleeps on the couch.
The sickness is nature’s not-so-gentle reminder: you were supposed to be in bed.
Diving head first with determined resolutions and enthusiasm for a fresh start is indeed the ideal way to start the new year, but unfortunately we must face the fact that if you’re living in the northern hemisphere the weather conditions are far from ideal for this type of strategy. I was reminded of this during a Saturday afternoon acupuncture workshop, back in the beginning of January when I still eagerly signed up for workshops and was still resolved to Try New Things. The acupuncturist explained how the state of the seasons massively influences Eastern medicine, how, for example, there were certain acupuncture points to focus on specifically during this cold, dead, uninspiring season of winter.
We are nature, we are connected to the patterns and fluctuations of our planet whether we like it or not, whether we accept it or not. And, therefore, instead of trying to combat with full force the seasons that will unabashedly impose upon us all of their elements, it is more in our favour to emulate them. Do as the seasons do. As they say, if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em.
I observe the trees in the Tuileries and notice they appear how my body is feeling. Achy, lifeless, bare to the elements. It is the season to bundle up, to spend extra time under heavy blankets and be gentle with tight muscles. These months the body begs for hot soups, heavy meals, winter vegetables. Cups of tea and the occasional raclette. Think of the birds and take a trip somewhere warm, maybe even just in front of someone’s fireplace, for the day or the weekend. Think of the bears and hibernate; say no to plans that take place outside of your apartment, get into your bed on Friday night and do not leave it until Monday morning, sustaining on a steady stream of food delivery and Netflix binging. Wear layers, no matter how unflattering, cover every centimetre of exposed skin. Nature is not working hard in January or February. Nature does not care if 2019 is supposed to be ‘The Year’. Nature slowed down, to preserve itself, to prepare for spring, when life will come back, when the trees in the Tuileries will flourish with colourful flowers and the ducks will return to the ponds and we’ll be able to bask in the sun’s actual warmth for nine, ten, eleven or more hours of the day.
It’s wonderful to be inspired, it’s great to have goals. But be reasonable. Preserve your health, the health of your body and mind, so that when winter finally melts into the seasons we’re really all waiting for, you’ll be properly rested, you’ll be eager to socialise and energised enough to achieve. You’ll be excited to dress, well, try to dress, like a chic Parisienne once again.
Ellen is an American writer and yoga instructor currently living in Paris. In 2015 she graduated from New York University with a degree in English Literature and Creative Writing, and since has had the opportunity to pursue her passion for traveling. She hopes to continue teaching yoga to the local and ex-pat community of Paris, and you can stay updated on her class schedule at mcqueenyoga.com or follow her on Instagram @mcqueenyoga.