It was 93 degrees in Paris, and I was on day five of my solo European adventure. The romance of independent travel was wearing off and my simple desire for someone to talk to was setting in. I had been awake since 3 a.m., running face-first into a cruel series of travel-induced roadblocks, least of which was my laughable attempt at speaking French. I wandered “les rues” weary and wilting under the heavy air, desperately needing water, a functional ATM and a bathroom. And then there it was.
When I was eight, I fantasized about seeing the Eiffel Tower one day. Europe seemed galaxies away – completely inaccessible to a country mouse like me. But 22 years later, the imposing icon was right in front of my face. My weariness turned into a whirl of giddiness and awe. I wanted to share this with someone. My eight-year-old self wanted to turn and say, “Can you believe we are here?! Do you see this?!” But everyone around me were strangers and seemingly unaffected.
To make matters worse, the expansive lawn leading up to the tower was congested with friends sitting around baskets of food and bottles of wine. A serious jolt of envy and loneliness set in. I wanted to lounge with my friends while snacking and watching the afternoon slip away. These picnic people were everywhere in Paris! The picnic lifestyle was so ubiquitous here, but somehow a rarity at home. I was inspired. At that moment, I vowed to picnic whenever possible.
I wasted no time. The day after returning from Europe, I was up before sunrise – a pesky side effect of overseas travel. I walked around town an hour before the rest of the world began to stir, and stopped by the store for a baguette, a jar of Nutella and some salami. I sat alone in the empty park that morning and practiced my picnicking skills, ripping chunks of bread and alternating between meat and sugar. I was ready.
I had picnics whenever I could, using my specialty “picnic backpack” complete with a built-in four-piece place setting, cutting board, wine holder and insulated compartment to keep food cold. I had a picnic in honor of my birthday that summer (pictured above), and every summer after that. I organized regular picnics in the park, inviting friends, acquaintances, and strangers from the Couchsurfing community. These lazy summer evenings meant new friends, a bizarre mish-mash of food and the simple togetherness I craved that day in Paris. In some circles I was even known as “the picnic girl.” This was my definition of success.
This picnic girl was recently back in Minneapolis and managed to squeeze in a Saturday afternoon picnic with the crew. My park was right where I left it. Sunny, spacious and welcoming after a year since my last visit. Sissy and I ate a baguette and butter in the shade, making bets on who would be the first to arrive. (Gwen!) Mosquitoes taunted us and circled the perimeter like knights protecting a castle. I could have done without their chivalry.
One after another, people trickled in, took off their shoes and found an open spot. A picnic is the best kind of party – intimate conversations volley across a patchwork of blankets, table manners are nonexistent as people crawl over each other to grab cheese and sausage combinations, strangers instantly become friends, and friends laugh harder than they have in a long time. This party was no exception.
My summer wouldn’t be complete without a visit to my picnic park with my picnic people. It’s reassuring that even as so much changes around you, some things always stay the same. And just as I realized that day in Paris, it’s the friends you surround yourself with who make life so much more beautiful.