Wednesday, December 17, 2008

There's been some whining among journalists and bloggers lately about how tidy Paris is becoming, lamenting the loss of the old scruffiness that they found curiously endearing. Frankly, there's still plenty of scruffiness to go around here and anytime these folks would like to get reacquainted with the stench of urine, piles of litter marinating in heaven know's what, and cigarette butts ad nauseam, I know of several places in the nicer parts of town where they can get their fill.

I do understand that change is tough and appreciate that the things we treasure can get swept up in the name of progress. At the same time, some changes (like say, decent lighting in the Métro, one of the major perks of the multiyear capital improvement project now underway) actually do improve people's quality of life or at least the quality of the many hours Parisians must spend commuting on a daily basis. To insist that Paris never change is to ignore the fact that this is a living, breathing city where people are trying to make a decent living, raise their families, and grow old gracefully. It's not a picture postcard, a mirage about afternoons spent over cigarettes and cheap wine at Cafe Flor, or a theme park for tourists and others of us who are just passing through.

For those of you pining for the days when Paris really was Paris (1975 according to one of these complainers), I direct you to the words of A.J. Liebling:

When I returned to Paris in the fall of 1939, after an absence of 12 years, I noticed a decline in the serious quality of restaurants that could not be blamed on a war then one month old. The decline, I later learned, had been going on even in the twenties, when I made my first studies in eating, but I had had no standard of comparison then: what I taken for a Golden Age was in fact Late Silver.

Kinda puts things in perspective, doesn't it?


Isabelle said...

I think that what these journalists or bloggers are sad about is the fact that the popular Paris has almost completely disappeared.
Some quartiers of Paris used to have a real village like life, with everybody knowing each other, kids palying on the streets, all the little "commerces" where people would chat while doing their errands .
Now, due to the very high price of real estate, these families are pushed outside the city limits. The little "commerces" are replaced by clothes or shoe stores.
I was walking around the jewish quarter in the Marais not long ago.
I hadn't been around this place for a while and I couldn't believe my eyes: on rue des Rosiers, a good half of the street is now completely dedicated to boring, all the same, fashion stores!
Where were all the boucheries, boulangeries, épiceries gone? Their owners used to be the living memory of the quartier (and what a history this quartier has!!).
I'm mourning the popular Paris too, I don't want this city to become clinical. And I'm not talking about the cleanliness of the streets here, but about real life...

Starman said...

You're forgetting that main premise here. The French have always hated change.

misplaced texan said...

Seriously, just take a step out of the front of our building and you might find yourself in a pile of dog crap. It's funny because right alongside those modern amenities, I see old men drinking wine in the morning, I cringe at bad teeth daily, and smell urine and BO every single day of my existence in Paris. Personally, I'm amused by the juxtaposition of those elements - the new and the old.

I think it makes for good prose to write about the end of a nostalgic era, but I can't really agree either that all those "pungent" bits have disappeared completely.

Carolyn said...

Paris, tidy?

I wonder where the NY Times reporter has been going. Or what planet he's living on. Or how much time he's actually spent in Paris recently. Dreaming of 1975!??! It CAN'T have been that much worse/dirtier/funkier then!?

My Paris neighbourhood is nice, but it's not tidy, or antiseptic, or even particularly clean.

The reporter would probably hate Sydney. Too much fresh air blowing away body odor, too little smoke, just too clear and clean.

Carolyn said...

Maybe Roger Cohen is just showing his age, and wistfulness for his youth in Paris.

I've always respected his byline. Hope he doesn't turn into a grumpy old journalist.

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