Today I looked over my diary for the remainder of the year, in doing so three things hit me; I have no annual leave left, I can’t afford another holiday anyway, and this means I won’t be able to make my annual pilgrimage to France. This tradition is a decade long now so it feels slightly sad to break it.
I tend to vary my trips around l’Hexagone taking in the sights of Lyon, Marseille, Cannes, Nice, Mont Blanc etc. Predominantly I head to Paris though and one really should not confuse the capital with the rest of France. In lieu of going to the City of Lights itself, I have compiled a list to summarise my ongoing love (sometimes hate) affair:
1. Starting on a bum note…..The Parisians treat their city like a toilet. Consequently about 60% of it smells like a musty old mens’ urinal. The metro is the worst offender, but I’ve seen someone take a slash on the Pont d’Alma next to the Flame de Liberté before. Given this is the unofficial tribute to Princess Diana, obviously nothing is sacred when the need to urinate strikes.
2. Move over Switzerland, without a doubt France really has the best chocolatiers and patisseries in the world. I also challenge you to walk to the end of the road without having eaten half of your freshly bought baguette, impossible! These are works of art and afforded the utmost importance in French society, no Gregg’s round here please.
3. The metro. Women will stare at you with disdain, men will probably grope you (or so says the report by the High Council on Equality), crazy people will talk to you, and buskers will sing at you. All very charming.
4. The Louvre is overrated and the Mona Lisa is seriously underwhelming. Don’t bother. Lose yourself in the gardens of Giverny, see the works of France’s greatest sculptor at the Musee de Rodin, explore Les Catacombes, and if you must go to a “big” museum then head to the Museé d’Orsay.
5. The Bibliothéque François Mitterand. This seems to be one of the most under appreciated, or perhaps lesser known jewels of French architecture, despite having won the EU Prize for Contemporary Architecture in 1996. The four corners dominate skyward, open as if they were books, to reveal the subterranean park and balconies of French teenagers on ciggie breaks. Without doubt my favourite building in Paris.
6. It can be a bit grimy – this is a good thing. Whilst the Left Bank and city centre is dominated with neoclassical and beaux-arts glamour dig a little deeper and you will find a subculture of art collectives, graffiti gangs, punk bands, French hip hop nights, activists and squatters, francophone diversity, barely touched by the tourist trail. Paris has an edge that is worth seeking out.
7. Boutiques. While there are plenty of French people to be found in Primark this side of the channel, I never fail to appreciate delving in to the quirky independents lining the cobbled streets of Paris. Pricey though they may be, you won’t find anyone else wearing those 240 euro pair of pair of hand-made suede ankle boots from Rue de Charonne.
8. Yes, Parisians can be rude it’s true, and they do seem to love a good argument over virtually nothing which irritates me. The rest of the country seems to view the city with contempt. A bit like London then.
9. Green spaces. There are more than 400 municipal parks in Paris, you will never be far from a place to retreat from the constant car horns and passive aggressive pedestrians. For me a measure of a civilised society is providing space for its metropolitan population to breathe. Leading my list are Parc Monceau, Parc de Belleville and Parc des Buttes-Chaumont. Best enjoyed with aforementioned baguette, some cheese and red wine – don’t fight the cliché.
10. When it is beautiful it is breathtaking. One minute I’m walking past the fast food joint Quick in Place de Clichy trying to fend off a homeless man offering me a saucisse, a few minutes up the road Montmartre Cemetery confronts me in its deathly glory. Fortunately the city planners haven’t let developers run riot with 60s style monstrosities as happened in England, beauty exists on every corner in Paris.
This list could go on, but I wouldn’t want to give the Parisians more ammunition for their already too-high self-esteem. Plus I am on the cusp of heading to the Eurostar website to book a ticket! Suffice to say Paris, I’ll be back…for now though I have taken another (Scandinavian) lover.