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European Diary : Paris

December 25, 2010

Snow on the domes of the churches and public buildings (Paris has a lot of domes ) but it’s not freezing. I recall that on our first visit in 1974 it was grubbier – like other big European cities, still a center of industrial production (and still a society which had working class political parties). It also boasted badly polluting motor vehicles produced behind trade barriers that locked out Japanese cars . This 70s Paris was still a city where people smoked – often in cafes where with ink-smeared fingers they still read newspapers.

Another era.

On that first visit we found the urban harmony of Paris exciting but walking the streets – instead of going to galleries – even for 10 days, only gave us a taste. And I couldn’t have told you whether rue Rivoli was Haussmann’s or not, or found my way to Place Vendome or dated the buildings that frame it. On our second visit in 1977, industrial democracies still in crisis and industrial grime ingrained in the facades, we left our unsalubrious left-bank hotel on our first night, crossed the river to the Ile de la Cite and gasped at the illuminated, monumental beauty.

On every return you feel you’d forgotten how radically beautiful it is. Later, with some history under my belt, I was to realize this truth : the city of Paris is the greatest single work of art mankind has created. My tributes this Christmas eve to all those responsible including the German military governor von Choltitz who ignored Hitler’s orders to detonate the torpedoes that the Nazis had seeded in all the Paris monuments before they retreated in August 1944. He went into Allied captivity, his honor intact.

No galleries this time, either. The winter streetscapes are the thrilling art here.

The politics ?

The same. A mediocre conservative president who has reformed just enough of the budget to get by for the next few years, mainly reining in excessive pension entitlements, a possibly rejuvenated National Front to be led by Jean-Marie Le Pen’s daughter and a Socialist Party with nothing to say on public sector reform and now having to select its presidential candidate through US-style primaries and in possible danger of losing second place to the National Front in the next elections.

I enjoy the buildings.


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