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Back In Paris: This Is What “Retirement” Looks Like To Us

One Of My Favorite Things About Paris

I lay still with my eyes closed wondering if there were any chance I’d be able to fall back asleep.

Outside my window, in our courtyard, buzz saws were buzzing, hammers were pounding, and workmen called to each other in French.

I gave up on the idea of slumber and dragged my still-on-Panama-time body out of bed. Here in Paris, it was a bright new sunny summer’s day.

The workers are at it still, and the sounds of their labor distract me as I try to focus. As much as I enjoy writing to you each day, dear reader, I find the scene of men at saw horses and mixing plaster outside my window irresistible.

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Quaint cobblestone streets make for a great afternoon stroll

Our apartment is in the heart of old Paris, where the classic-style buildings, including ours, are more than 300 years old at least and in need of constant attention. This summer the apartment across the courtyard from ours is being restored. I’ve undertaken the restoration of four centuries-old apartments in Paris over the years. I’m enjoying watching the progress of the work on this one, but I have to admit I’m glad I’m not the one living amidst the dust.

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This city’s architectural traditions are one of the things I appreciate most about it. Paris has long boasted some of the world’s most experienced tradesmen. Carpenters, parquetiers, stonemasons, ironworkers, and painters have sought out central Paris since the Middle Ages. Here they’ve known they’d find work and their talents would be respected.

These trades have been passed down generation to generation for centuries, and, thanks to the skill of those who practice them, this city is like a museum whose exhibits enjoy continual facelifts. Historic Paris is at once always the same and forever renewing itself.

Each time we return after a long absence, we’re suspicious of any changes.

“There’s a new restaurant on our street. It’s Japanese.” my son Jackson remarked yesterday afternoon, a few hours after our arrival.

“I liked the Italian restaurant that used to be there.”

Kathleen picking up take-out at Ming Dynasty

We were glad to find that our favorite local Chinese carryout remains open for business as it’s been the past 13 years we’ve been spending time in this neighborhood. The owner greeted us with a big smile, a warm welcome back, and a beer on the house for Jackson when we explained that the young man has just completed his Bac exams.

We’ve traveled to Paris the past nine summers we’ve been living in Panama. However, this summer we aren’t in town for a hurried visit. This summer, we’re returning home.

At least that’s how it feels. We’re settling back into the apartment where we lived when our children were young together, where Jackson, now graduating, started school.

After spending decades getting to know this town, we feel no urge to rush out to see the sights. Eventually we’ll make our way across the river to the Tuileries, where we like to walk, and down to the Île de la Cité, our favorite spot for summer Sunday picnics.

For now we’re occupied keeping up with our work. From back in Panama City, our team sends email reminders—don’t forget to review Simon Letter issue copy… send your feedback on the preliminary research for this year’s Retire Overseas Index… remember our conference call today at 9 a.m. Panama time…

They seem to fear that if they don’t stay in touch with us in real time, they might lose us to the lures of summer in Paris.

Lief and I have been working toward this day for nearly 20 years. Year by year, working organically, as ideas, options, and opportunities have presented themselves, we’ve pieced together a plan for our lives post the kids.

You could call this our retirement plan, but it doesn’t have anything to do with pulling back from working. It’s not work we object to but routine.

This week we walk away from the routine that has been our lives for decades and embrace a future lived according to a schedule imagined not imposed. From here on out, we’re all about life outside any box.

Should we take a walk through the Tuileries then spend the rest of the afternoon browsing in the bookstore? Should we meet friends for a glass of wine at the café on the corner?

Should we hop on a quick flight to Portugal to take a look at the investment prospect our Lisbon attorney has identified for us or plan a trip to Thailand to check in on progress of our investment in Chiang Mai?

After years of daily commuting and being where we needed to be when we needed to be there, we’re taking our first steps free of those encumbrances.

Maybe our staff back in Panama should be worried.

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