Well, I must admit, from a Francophile youth I’ve evolved into quite an anglophile. With even a soupcon of amused disdain for the persistent French “délusions de grandeur”. But nevertheless, part of me does remain loyal to my youthful infatuation.
And infatuated with Paris I was! Oh how I fantasized at age 15 about life on the Paris left bank. Sitting in cafés, clad in black, smoking gauloise cigarettes, drinking coffee, reading the papers and feverishly discussing the latest events in the political and intellectual world. Yes, that definitely seemed like an alluring life program at the time. But despite having spent in my early twenties quite some hours sitting in those cafés, drinking black coffee and smoking numerous cigarettes, no exciting bohemian life has ever revealed itself to me. So maybe it’s because of those spurned youthful advances that I turned my back to Paris for so many years.
I rediscovered Paris in my thirties – in a more detached and aesthetical mode. Because really, about urban aesthetics the Parisians are never wrong. It’s a city of an amazing beauty. Just take those boulevards, such harmony of colors (the soft beige stone of the façades, the black of the balustrades, the luminous grey of the rooftops) and the sheer orderly rhythm of the façades! The soothing regularity of windows and balconies saved from blandness by all those slight variations that are so entertaining for the eye.
And then, how astute the French are with their use of red (1) everywhere - from the “Tabac” signs to the many awnings. And how elegantly that perpetual Xmas red contrasts with the distinguished grey & beige of buildings & plane trees alike. Not to mention the many red reflections on wet pavements. And that soothing skyline of grey-blue rooftops against a grey sky - how caressing those delicate variations of grey and blue (worthy of a Whistler painting). Oh yes, trust the Parisians to turn northern gloom into another opportunity for refined color-harmonies.
So it’s a good city to wander about in these dark December days. With its illuminated café-windows so generously open to the streets.
And though I no longer feel like emulating Simone De Beauvoir, and even though I’ve quit smoking, I still love sitting at one of those little round tables in a smoky café, reading a French paper, looking at the people hurrying by in the streets.
And I wonder whether it’s the French commitment to politics with passion that made the French articles about Benazir Bhutto’s death so much more empathic than the British ones. With even a tremolo of drama and moral indignation in the comments (notably the Bernard-Henri Lévy comment in La Libé).
And for one who cannot bear much Glühwein cozy-ness or Xmas-markets bustle, the Paris way of spending those December days at art exhibits seems so heartwarmingly civilized. Even if it means queuing outside a museum for an hour and getting chilled to the bone. One feels solidarity with one’s fellow-queuers, equally red-nosed and stamping their cold feet, trying to hold a book with numb fingers. And how welcomed one feels then in the warm buzz of the museum – the murmur of muffled voices and shuffling feet. Roused by the expectation of a major cultural Event, which is always faintly thrilling in the Paris air. Yes, I suppose I do love Paris more than I usually care to admit….
(1) red, the city said