Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Why Paris?

I've just returned from a holiday spent cycling through the Haut-Médoc - a peninsula that produces Pauillac wines, a surprising amount of pizza, and in this case, a sweet tan.

I will tell you about it shortly, but first have to get this out of my system:

Dear Dinaw,

I'm sure you're a lovely person. Being from Kansas, I'm obliged to offer that, and to apologize in advance for not being nice. That's how we tumbleweeds roll, especially when addressing anyone from New York.

An added drop of humility can be a good thing.

The question always in the back of my mind - "am I really qualified to say this?" - prevents me from doing things like, say, writing an article that pronounces Paris to be dead, creatively speaking, without appearing to have ever left the boulevard Saint-Germain-des-Prés.

Dinaw, and those who will follow you, I beg: no more Flore, pas des Deux Magots. There's nothing to see here, please move along.

The scene that you came looking for happened sixty years ago. That moment, and those people, are now dead. Their children - those who were inspired by and learned to make money off that moment - are now talking, as the elderly do, about how things just aren't the same. Saint-Germain-des-Prés is, in effect, a retirement community with very expensive coffee. It is not (did you really not know this?) what you were looking for.

I have a new friend who recently arrived from New York. A clever writer and musician type, she is, I suppose, the sort of person you were looking to find. I was sitting with her and another writer friend (does that make it a scene?) on a roof-top terrace in the 20th, when she admitted that her new apartment would be over there, in the 7th, at the border of Saint-Germain.

We smiled and tried to be supportive, suggested some good markets, assured her that it wouldn't be "so bad." The truth, however, is that nobody very few people doing anything interesting live over there. And what's more, the "anything interesting" taking place these days doesn't look exactly like it did sixty years ago.

But as I said, I'm sure you're a lovely person who, like Adam Gopnik before you, just didn't know where to go.

15 comments:

Irina said...

And for hip placs in Paris, I suggest the Marais or the 11th arrondissement. I don't know, for me, Paris has a whole lot of charm.

KFD said...

Well said and I second that!

Martha said...

I'm really partial to the 19th also Belleville.
I (almost) feel sorry for those visitors who think the Paris they are looking for is in the 7th.

pilar chapin said...

nice dig. does anybody know if dinaw responded to this and maitresse?

Misplaced said...

Nicely said.

David said...

I wait with disagree with what is being said about St-Germain (by "blagueur", I admit I haven't read the article, it bored me after 10 lines)...

First, people have a quite wrong image of what was St-Germain in the 50's, people like Sartre, Vian et al. were not giving shows or whatever. Sometimes when I read Anglos talking about St-Germain of that period, I wonder what they really imagine... The famous people of the time where there living their lives and that's pretty much it. Also, remember that even if they were very famous, TV was not really around these days, and being famous didn't necessarily imply being chased by fans and paparazzi, most people didn't even know what face the famous writers had.

-About today's St-Germain, it's a fact that it has become an overpriced tourist trap, no doubt about it. Thing is, this is still where most of the Parisian intellectual life still happen. All the major literary publishers are still located there (with the exception of Flammarion that moved a couple of years ago) and the famous writers and publishers still hang out at the Flore, the Lipp and the Deux Magots... Thing is that these people are usually unknown by the foreigners that come to the area and even if they know them by name, they rarely know their face... But believe me, I just can't walk in this neighborhood without running into a famous French person.
Also, these people (the few remaining French intellectuals) don't hang out at the terraces of these cafés (well, I saw Arnaud Klarsfeld at the Deux Magots terrace once, but I'm not sure he can be qualified as an intellectual) but inside, or even on the second floor...
The terrace is reserved for the clowns (the tourists that want to "feel like" they're Jean-Paul Sartre and the wannabe and/or has been French stars)...

So to summarize, there was nothing "visual" about what happened back in the days there (if you want visual, you gotta go to Montparnasse around WW1), and the same things happen today, and they're no more visual than back then...

maitresse said...

quite well said :)
Dinaw responded in the comments on my blog.
The Paris Manifesto is coming, boys and girls... stay tuned.

Bliss said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Garrincha said...

I liked Dinaw's novel. I recommend it. I'm surprised by the contrast with this (quite weak) piece.

Le Meg said...

Yeah, I'm totally curious now to read it. Perhaps this is all just a big publicity ploy? Remind me to find out who Dinaw's agent is...

amelie said...

Completely agreed! There are so many fun places to visit in Paris, and yet so many tourists insist on continuing to spend their time either in Saint Germain or in the Latin Quarter. As you said: "move on. There's nothing to see here."

Adrian said...

The 10th is where it's at

Louise said...

Well said Le Meg. He may have written quite a lovely book but alas, alas he has been taken in by the Adam Gopniks of the world.He who did not write such a lovely book about getting to the moon and all that. Disappointing. Maybe it's a New York syndrome....

T.R. said...

I love your posts! This one was particularly interesting to me as I am planning another trip (ssshh!) and want to make this one alone. I have been fortunate in that every trip I've taken to Paris, some friend or another has always wanted to join me. Unfortunately, that means much time is used back-tracking because they want to see the "sites." On my next trip, I plan to FINALLY get out of "tourist central" beginning with the clubs in the 10th. What will i find in the 17th, 19th and Belleville? Not much is posted about these areas. Where else should I go? Any advice would be appreciated! Thanks!

je m'appelle lily said...

rue oberkampf! thereeee you will find the artsies.