Sterling qualities that have risen to the top of my bucket list.
As recent heartaches around the world beg us to
focus on what's really important, many of us consciously
feel a real need for self-improvement.
Who I am vs who I want to be is the challenge.
For me, the question is easily answered; now more than ever
it's time to live -- less worry, more happy.
As for the solution, it's not quite so simple; Be This / Not That:
Ditch the routine / be more flexible;
Tamp down anxiety / look for the roses in the middle of the briar patch.
In an effort to better my disposition,
I visualize how to break my own rigid rules.
Even with the world spinning too fast, it's high time to lighten up.
As it happens, my personal development goals go hand in hand
with many of the same qualities that sum up a city
I recently had the good luck to visit.
Located in France's beautiful southwest, Toulouse is my new Happy Place.
Toulouse, 4th largest city in France, is filled
with a youthful, laid-back joy -- and it's contagious!
It cajoled me into a lighthearted, more peaceful state of mind.
Give it a chance and Toulouse will shoo away your doom & gloom demons
in an atmosphere born and bred to be fun-loving and full of life.
Toulouse's Old Town is an exuberant blend of
architectural beauty and endless charm.
It's a big city filled with big city stuff -- monuments, cathedrals, designer
boutiques, restaurants, theaters and museums -- but at the same time,
feels lived in and informal, more Charleston or New Orleans than Paris
due in no small part to its distinctive southern spirit.
*The Pink City refer to the changing colors of the city's blushing rose brick as day turns into evening
One of the first things you'll notice about Toulouse are the shifting colors of
its buildings, seeming to vacillate with the ever-changing light of the day.
The warm rosy brick sometimes seems as if it has been painted with
a blend of rosé wine and pink carnations.
This evolving color wheel morphs from day into evening into various shades
of pink-to-violet hues, an illusion both surprising and unforgettable.
Like so many French cities, Toulouse is fantastically walkable,
its wealth of pedestrian-only streets lined with towering plane trees and
unpresuming buildings with ornamental cast-iron balconies.
Everywhere you turn, you're apt to run into some kind of entertainment.
With its vast student population and large profusion of tech* professionals,
it has the air of a city dedicated to cutting-edge pursuits.
*Airbus is among many high tech companies and elite schools headquartered in Toulouse
Water is everywhere.
The Garonne River and World Heritage Site Canal du Midi spill
through the town; the Mediterranean beaches are less than an hour away
and the Atlantic Coast not that much further.
Wine bars, beer halls and cozy bistros convey a relaxed ambiance.
Tapas are popular -- Barcelona is only 157 miles away -- though local
culinary specialties will put you in the mood for a
mouthwatering taste of Toulouse at all hours of the day and night.
Meeting Toulouse is like gaining a warmhearted companion.
Sweet-tempered and playful, this is a great place to get happy.
"I, not events, have the power to make me happy or unhappy today.
I can choose which it shall be. Yesterday is dead, tomorrow hasn't arrived yet.
I have just one day, today, and I'm going to be happy in it."
brimming with energy, enthusiasm and good humor.
Its intimate center oozes a cool-as-a-cucumber attitude.
Throw in some unique architecture, playful green space and a reputation
as a culinary powerhouse and you'll soon realize you've mined a diamond.
Who but Toulouse could boast a pastry charmingly named chocolatine*?
*the rest of France (and the world) know this culinary specialty as pain-au-chocolat.
Big city snobbery? No way.
If a positive, dynamic demeanor is what you've been
searching for, then you've found the right spot.
something that stands above all else.
There's a moment that sticks in your mind long after you've returned home.
In Toulouse, that distinction belongs to city hall.
A real standout, Le Capitole is both Hotel de Ville (city hall) and a theatre.
It holds court in a charming 19th century square called Place du Capitole.
Ringed by elegant brasseries, cafés and boutiques, this is
the place to be on any given day of the week.
There's always something happening here.
Shoppers dominate daytime hours while
socially connected young adults play at night.
Theatrical night-time lighting makes this one of the most
standout romantic squares in all of France.
Keep a lookout for the dramatic Occitan* Cross in the center of the square,
marked by the twelve branches of the zodiac.
*sometimes called the Languedoc Cross
In 1632, the Duke of Montmorency was executed
for traitorous conspiracy against the king.
A plaque marks the spot, reminding us of the history.
Some say this remains a center for intrigue and drama -- but only because
it's where scores of young pretty couples come to get married....
Toulouse was the center of medieval court life.
Think troubadours, courtly love, and an elite class.
Then came the Cathars, the Knights Templar, the Crusades, the Inquisition
and all the breathtaking narratives that keep history nuts glued to our seats.
When the irrepressible Counts of Toulouse were finally sucked into the emerging powerhouse called France, the region sank back into a more modest existence.
The moment you enter Le Capitole, you'll be smitten.
It's a treasure of artistic perfection, beginning with a walk up the grand staircase. The Salle des Illustres -- Hall of the Illustrious -- traces
the suspenseful history of this beautiful city.
Ornate and dramatic, the hall's paintings and sculpture pay tribute to those who have made history in a city brimming with exceptional accomplishments.
The ceilings and the frescoes are such a far cry
from the modern city just outside the doors.
From the 19th century to today, it's an emotional -- but welcome -- tour.
Don't miss the Salle Henri Martin.
Martin was a post-impressionist whose intimate work represents
everyday life in the region at the beginning of the 20th century.
You'll be well rewarded for taking the time to poke around
this fine snapshot of Toulouse.
Marché Victor Hugo, a historic covered market dating from 1896,
makes a good first-stop the moment your stomach calls.
Every kind of edible calls your name in a place designed for gourmets/gourmands/gluttons/moi.
This isn't just any old market; it's a happening.
Life happens within these walls as everyone meets, greets,
eats and drinks, more block party than grocery.
Upstairs, there are several restaurants to choose from -- easy
on the pocketbook and really good value.
My journal entry notes:
"Everyone was eating, drinking, talking -- a beautiful experience."
A bag full of goodies later (braised endives, cheese, salami and fresh currents) brought the Marché Victor Hugo party home to our Airbnb
for just the kind of food experience you dream about in France.
locally made with violets, the regional specialty.
Candied violets, violet liqueur, violet honey....delicious!
You may recognize a candy that's been around since the 19th century.
Cachou Lajaunie, made in Toulouse, are teenie-weenie black candies that come in a tiny yellow tin (small enough to fit into a 19th century man's watchpocket of course). These strange little breath mints were developed by a pharmacist
though they're nothing like you'd expect if your typical mint is a Lifesaver.
Licorice is the dominant flavor with sort of a menthol afterthought.
They're weirdly delicious.
Tip: Don't tell your spouse you can buy them on Amazon.
Book your return ticket to Toulouse....
that looks like it was harvested a minute ago.
We happened on a flea market too, its treasures straight from grandma's attic.
I haven't touched on the spiritual treasures of Toulouse,
an essential piece of the city's legacy -- the Roman basilica of Saint-Sernin
or the Saint-Etienne Cathederal or the Jacobins Convent.....
Or the non-spiritual such as the Cité de l'Espace (aerospace museum) or
the new Hall of La Machine* to meet Toulouse's newest citizens,
a gargantuan minotaur and spider....
*similar to Nantes' fabulous Les Machines de L'ile
We'll have to save all that for another day.
But that's the thing about Toulouse.
There isn't enough time to do everything in the
usual rush-rush visit of a few days.
must-sees like the Taj Mahal, the Northern Lights and every last street in Paris...
But over the years my list has changed.
Living through and hoping to survive this thunderstorm -- a pandemic, the
injustices and bad behavior that have whipped up our world -- makes me realize the happiness that can be bought with a credit card might not be as shiny as it once was. In truth, it all boils down to living a good life, having a good laugh,
helping others and loving all those who surround us.
I hope you make it to Toulouse one day.
And I hope you get the trip or the Ferrari or the whatever is on your
bucket list -- but most importantly, I hope you hold on to your enthusiasm for living. That's what's really important.
Focus and you may once again feel young-at-heart.
I adore this bit of poetry by Samuel Ullman.
Hope it makes your day a little better.
"Youth is not a time of life; it is a state of mind; it is not a matter of rosy cheeks,
red lips and supple knees; it is a matter of the will, a quality of the imagination,
a vigor of the emotions; it is the freshness of the deep springs of life.
Youth means a temperamental predominance of courage over timidity
of the appetite, for adventure over the love of ease.
This often exists in a man of sixty more than a boy of twenty.
Nobody grows old merely by a number of years.
We grow old by deserting our ideals.
Years may wrinkle the skin, but to give up enthusiasm wrinkles the soul.
Worry, fear, self-distrust bows the heart and turns the spirit back to dust.
Whether sixty or sixteen, there is in every human being’s heart the lure of wonder,
the unfailing child-like appetite of what’s next, and the joy of the game of living.
In the center of your heart and my heart there is a wireless station; so long
as it receives messages of beauty, hope, cheer, courage and power
from men and from the Infinite, so long are you young.
When the aerials are down, and your spirit is covered with snows of cynicism
and the ice of pessimism, then you are grown old, even at twenty,
but as long as your aerials are up, to catch the waves of optimism,
there is hope you may die young at eighty."
Cultivate optimism. Let's all try harder -- starting with me.