An experience can be the gift of a lifetime, think: Galápagos trip or woodworking class

February 25

I was in the States for a couple of weeks recently -- New York, L.A. and Utah. What a shock to the system. New York was gray, California big and bright (this was between the torrential rainstorms), southern Utah so empty. I ate lots of Caesar salads (the French always get those wrong) and went on a shopping spree at Target, saw friends and asked my editors to let me stay in Paris. (More on that later.)

I love the subtle differences between places you notice only when you travel. In the U.S., hotel bathtubs are shallower but wider than those in France. Unlike many U.S. hotels, where you can leave lights on 24/7 if you want, the hall lights in French hotels are on timers and the electrical appliances switch off automatically when you retrieve your key from a holder by the door. And U.S. restaurants portions are gigantic compared with those served in French restaurants.

While I was away, a few of my plants died of cold. My landlord ordered new curtains for the bedroom. And "Sideways" finally arrived in Paris. I'm going to see it at a theater on Boulevard St.-Germain-des-Prés near Rue Danton, where there's a stirring statue of French revolutionary Georges Danton, who went to the guillotine saying, "Don't forget to show my head to the people."

I just finished "Sister Revolutions: French Lightning, American Light" by Susan Dunn and am starting on Simon Schama's masterful "Citizens: A Chronicle of the French Revolution." Both are required reading for anyone who wants to know why the French are different from us.

Copyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times