Thursday, March 19, 2009

Is Paris Paris?

There's been a sharp decline in visits to my blog since it became too photo-ish. I succumb to the public's demand and am preparing to provide a text.

But see, part of the problem is that writing about Paris is difficult, it's so overdone, and you're always going to run into the cliches. If you try to break them or disregard them, you end up sounding like some orientalist (or rather, occidentalist), someone who's trying to artificially reinvent Paris as a city of high rises and skateboarders. If you give in and use them, you'll end up sounding like a pretentious name dropper. What's to do?

One way to deal with it is to examine these cliches, and some prejudices too:

Eiffel Tower - Gorgeous, really there, makes you stop and stare whenever it appears over rooftops or down the boulevard

Champs Elisee - Weekend hangout of suburban kids. Cheep-o atmosphere. Jean Seaberg is dead.

Frog Legs - Haven't had any yet, missing very much the ones I had in Brussles and Louisiana.

Snails - Yum.

Coffee that costs 4 Euros a cup - Only if you are the dumbest tourist on the Rue de Rivoli. Otherwise it's 1-1.5 Euro, and well worth it.

"Gitans" cigarettes - Make you sick, avoid at all costs.

Berets - not fully non-existant, but certainly not as common a sight as Itka claims they are, (I made her leave her own at home).

Antisemites - That's a common Israeli prejudice of the French. Haven't met any. In fact most people turn out to be somehow Jewish.

Plenty of Muslims everywhere - Another Israeli prejudice, spoken with an air of fear. Yes, this is a very Muslim city, but that was equally true ten and fifteen years ago, when I first visited. What's interesting is how old immigrant neighborhoods have not been gentrified at all. La Goutte D'or is still a slum, the same slum it was then. It's the same old Paris for better or worse.

City of lights - Only up to a certain hour. Paris closes too early. Everyone vanishes around midnight to catch the last Metro. In this case NYC wins big time, as its Subway never stops running.

Beauty - Yes! Thank you Baron Housmann.

Stuck up - Not too badly.

Unfriendly - Depends whom.

Elegant - More like dry-styled. The French like wearing black so much that they have a special laundry detergant for black cloths.

No English language skills - Yes, but it's even worse in Madrid, and I mean a lot worse.

Latin Quarter - Lovely as ever.

Le Marais - Lovely as ever.

Montmartre - Lovelier than ever. the whole slope between Metro Anvers and the peak is not touristy and full of great little places.

Pigalle - You want it, you got it.

Quays of the Seine - Full of public displays of affection. Paris never fails to amaze with its Parisianness, and that's part of its problem. No place would be so authentic without being somehow, despite its cosmopolitan, big-city openness, also very conservative and inaccepting. See under "elegant".

And yet - it's so good, so good, so good, an inexpensive lunchtime "formule", a stroll down an unknown street that turns out to be yet another heartbreakingly beautiful avenue, shops full of books, hands full of books, minds full of books. The gracious park and the Chinese neighborhood at night, smokestacks in the distance as the train crosses the river, a song by Brel playing somewhere, another evening drawing in.

1 comment:

Yaelian said...

Well, I like the photos too and wished there had been some to accompany these sentences..