Monday, June 20, 2011

Paris Semi-Profonde

Okay, so here I'm reading Andrew Hussey on how Paris has been monumentalized and turned over to tourists as the locals are driven off to god knows where.  It's a powerful and not entirely implausible message, though ever since Dean MacCannell invented modern tourism, it's been pretty standard fare.

I suspect it is also mostly true, but I want to introduce a bit of nuance  Sunday afternoon Mr. and Mrs. Buce indulged themselves with a quiet stroll through the back streets a few blocks north of the Seine, like behind the Centre Pompideau.  One thing we noticed: somebody was going in and out of all those massive double doors opening into all those formidable old piles.  And they didn't look like jet setters, either:  more than in an undershirt, with close cropped hair and a cigarette dangling from his lips.  In the street, there were happy strollers in a holiday mood--but best we could tell, they were virtually all French, perhaps Parisians on their day out.  Finally, the Cafe Rambuteau, the brasserie just northeast of the Beaubourg: about mid afternoon, we popped in for a coffee.  I've been by that place  a number of times over the past few years.  I admit that often enough, you'll see tourists taking their ease at the sidewalk tables.  But Sunday, inside and outside, there wasn't a tourist to be seen (present company excepted).  These were all locals and from the look of the place, some of them have been coming here for years--maybe not since the resistance, but maybe since the great Spring of '68, and at least since before the Museum was there (from the look of the crowed, they might not have noticed that the Museum was there).  The menu confirms the intution: snails, tripe, cassoulet with duck confit.  About the only thing cosmopolitan in the whole venue was the lasagne.

I wouldn't make too much of this.  It certainly doesn't look like the rainbow diversity of the 10th Arrondissement just a mile up the hill.  And it'd not remotely like the soul-killing banlieuex where Nicolas Sarkozy liked to brandish his fire hose.  The real message may be that the patina of tourism, though vivid, is neither very deep not very extensive.   It's a corollary of  the point that, however dense the throngs may be around the Winged Victory, you can almost always find repose in the Cypriot collection.  No matter how long the queue at the Cathedral, Paris  semi-profonde continues close by.

Afterthought: Hussey may have a better point, however, when he argues that the French youth are deserting their country for England. That may be true--I believe it was The Economist that observed a while back that the French are now London's principal foreign cohort. But the French youths in London seem to come not just from Paris but from all over--Lyon, Bordeaux, the works. So I'd surmise their alienation has more to do with the top-heavy old guard French government than with anything specifically touristic.

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