On August 23rd 1999 I was killing time in Paris, waiting for the 22.55 overnight train to Barcelona. We were inter-railing our summer holiday from university away - four weeks characterised by baguette eating in city parks and on beaches, red wine drinking in dorm rooms and endless days with nothing more pressing to do than appreciate the minutiae of our fellow Europeans' lives as they lived them out in the places that we killed time between sights, baguette picnics and train departures.
Determined to soak up every possible Parisian minute by the Seine and not waste them away on the platform, so we wandered along the Left Bank. Sharing out the wine, we watched dinner-dance bateaux cruising up river and down river, illuminated with tiny white fairy lights,. Gooey couples, gazing through the glass at us landlubbers. Us, gazing back. Then we stumbled upon two, three, even four impromptu dance floors. It remains one of my most joyful memories of European travels; sound systems playing jazz and swing music by the river, Parisian couples displaying spirit and romance.
In 1999 I wrote: ‘The Parisians know how to live: relaxing in parks, working at pavements tables of cute cafés and dancing to rigged up stereos at impromptu dance floors by the Seine. How to be happy the Parisian way - dance in the open air, free and easy. It brought tears to my eyes to see this gathering of people being so happy. The darkness, the Seine and the reflections of passing boats created this final experience of Paris. Expectations are high for the Catalans in Barcelona. What's their version of happiness?'
I kept this issue of happiness in mind on the whole journey and imagined the book I could write if I researched the recipes of happiness across the continent, tasting tit-bits of joy like tapas dishes washed down with dry fino.
But that book plan was in my mind nine years ago. I'm sure, in the time that has since passed, I could have - should have - written that book. But Eric Weiner has pipped me to the post. I'll be buying The Geography of Bliss: One Grump's search for the happiest places in the world to see if those Parisians get a mention.
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