We'll always have Paris

A visit to the iconic city sparks some thoughts

What can be said of Paris that hasn’t been said before? It is one of those few cities, like London, or Rome, or Chicago — well maybe not that last one — that live in the world’s imagination, so much that even those who have never been anywhere near them may have an idea of what they look and feel like — at least, we all have seen their streets and cafes in the movies, or read about them in a book, or heard tales of wonder told by a friend who visited.

Paris is justly regarded as a the most romantic of cities, the home — natural or adopted — of poets such as Apollinaire and Verlaine, and of several famous painters from Modigliani to Renoir to Picasso. But did it change in recent years, another victim of the globalist juggernaut, and of the economic changes brought by the engineered “pandemic” response and the no less engineered current “energy crisis”? Is it, as some say, no longer what it once was?

Well, I had been to Paris a few other times before, but the last time was ten years ago or more, and since I had a few days before going to Barcelona, I thought it was a good moment to check out how the City of Lights was doing.

“I love Paris in the summer when it sizzles / I love Paris in the winter when it drizzles”, Cole Porter memorably wrote and Ella Fitzgerald memorably sang; but I was lucky enough to have a sunny and, if not sizzling, at least not too cold day at the very end of December.

My visit was short, one day and a half. When I arrived the main news was about a retired railway employee (no ethnicity or identity was provided by the media) who had shot a Kurdish Cultural Centre and killed three Kurds. Then over the next few days the local Kurds in Paris protested and destroyed shops and burned cars. But except in the television and computer screens, none of that confusion was apparent in the city, at least in its more fashionable, touristy arrondissements.

After a failed visit to the Musee d’ Orsay (the line was too long) and an obligatory picture taken next to the Eiffel tower, I spent most of my time walking around the Marais, now my favourite Parisian neighbourhood. I tend to like old neighbourhoods with narrow, cobbled streets, which is why I also like the Barrio Gótico in Barcelona, Stare Mesto in Prague and Gamla Stan in Stockholm.

I saw no Kurds protesting, but plenty of immigrants or people of immigrant background. In some parts of town, such as in the 18th arrondissement, they were clearly the majority: there was hardly any face in the street that wasn’t African or Arab. But this is not too different from most European capitals today, from Sweden to Sicily, and not just in Europe, too. The whole West has become a new Babylon, and whether that’s good or bad, we shall soon see, but it’s a reality we cannot deny.

The streets did not feel dangerous, however, even in those ethnic, slightly ran-down neighbourhoods, and even there, there were plenty of shops and cafes, but not too many tourists hovering around. Ironically, or perhaps not, that quarter has a church dedicated to Jeanne la Pucelle — Saint Joan of Arc, patron saint of France, who fought against the English invaders and was later burned by them at the stake. There is a statue of this Saint, religious symbol of France, right in front of the church, looking sternly at the people passing by, many of whom are probably neither French nor Christian. It is not an old church, as it started to be built in 1930 and concluded only in 1964, but right next to it there is another, smaller chapel, Saint-Denys, which was built originally in 1204 and where Saint Joan is said to have spent a night in prayer during her visit to Paris in 1429.

Near the hotel where I was staying there was another church, Saint-Ambroise, built in the 19th century. Its most distinctive feature is the Chapelle du Souvenir, a section of the church with statues created in the late 19th century but now dedicated as a memorial for the victims of the atrocious Bataclan terrorist attack of 2015, supposedly committed by ISIS/Daesh members and which killed 130 people who were there watching a rock concert. The Bataclan club is located a mere 100 meters away from the church, and it is still in activity, but now with new owners. Supposedly the reason for the attack was because the club had Jewish, pro-Israeli owners, and because of France’s involvement in the Syrian civil war.

I say supposedly because a lot of details about the attacks and the reasons behind them are still unclear. They were immediately used as an excuse for the French government to bomb new ISIS targets in Syria; and France is to this day still involved in the conflict there, supplying weapons or aid to rebels fighting against the Assad government, and therefore acting in support of other Islamic rebels which do not seem very different from ISIS/Daesh — even if a lot of those rebel groups are enemies against each other, supporting any of them seems to contribute to the general chaos in the country. It is not clear, at least to me, why France is in Syria, and much less why its people, who do not support or probably even know what their government is doing there, should pay the price.

Further away by the Seine, the most famous French church, Notre-Dame de Paris, is of course all covered in scaffolding, still being reconstructed after the mysterious but probably accidental fire of 2019. Reconstruction is expected to last at least until 2024.

The central parts of town along the margins of the Seine are mostly filled with natives and tourists in equal measure, and, as mentioned, there are long lines to enter the Musee d’ Orsay and the Louvre. The city changed, for sure, but more in parts than on the whole. Tourists are still coming in droves, and its romantic myth — or reality? — still lingers on.

I said before that the French don’t like to keep detailed statistics about the ethnicity and religion of the country’s inhabitants, and the reason is that they see themselves as a secular society of total equality based on the ideals of the French Revolution — you know, that liberty-inspired bloodbath the consequences of which we are living to this day. So in some ways it is fitting and adequate that France, of all countries, would become the topmost multicultural and globalized nation in the world. Well, after America, but isn’t America and its Constitution also influenced by the same ideas? The French enlightenment influenced the American Independence, which in turn influenced the French Revolution. There is a statue of Thomas Jefferson — U.S. Ambassador from 1784 to 1789, and spectator of the storming of the Bastille — by the Seine, right next to the Musse d’ Orsay.

The Parisi were a Celtic tribe that inhabited the region of Paris in 300 b.C. and eventually gave their name to the city. It was conquered by the Romans in 52 b.C. and called Lutetia, then Parisius, then Paris. It was raided by Vikings in 845, occupied by the English from 1420 to 1436, shaken to its core by the revolutionaries in 1798, besieged by the Prussians in 1870, and of course occupied by the Germans in 1940. It survived all that, and remained Paris. There is no reason to think it won’t survive many other calamities. As Humphrey Bogart said, “We’ll always have Paris”.