Monday, 26 May 2008



Dear all, sorry for the laxness in posting. I’ve been busy. Actually, I’ve been away. Just got back. From Paris no less, my other great metropolitan love. Just had four beautiful days of beautiful weather, beautiful food, beautiful sights and beautiful people. We, meaning myself and K my better half, shopped a bit, lazed around a lot and on several occasions loitered conspicuously in Place Vendome wondering how a space so big and empty could be so unmistakably chic and opulent. We watched the Tour Eiffel sparkling at midnight, strolled Les Grand Boulevards at 1am and rolled our eyes all day long at the Parisians’ new found love for Le Velo. We had a glorious time, as we always do. But I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t glad to be back.

It’s hard to say why. Between the over crowded streets, the gridlocked traffic, the beautiful architecture and the relentless superiority of its inhabitants, Paris has just about everything I’m looking for in a city. The weather was perfect– bright spring sunshine making the garden of Le Palais Royale the best place to come to of a morning; the cooling afternoon breeze making the formal greenery of Les Jardin des Tuileries the best place to waste the rest of the day. The food was exceptional – although you’ve got to know where to go – and the company, was, obviously, stunning.

Yet pulling into London, I couldn’t get off the Eurostar and out of St Pancras quick enough. It wasn’t until we were hurtling along the Victoria Line, desperately hanging on to our luggage and each other, that I felt truly relaxed again. As much as I love London, I don’t normally feel like this on my return. Paris has such a perfect mix of stately elegance and crazed chaos that I’m usually at least a little reluctant to leave, even if it is to come back to London.

But this time something was different. The break was welcome, restorative in the change being as good as a rest way that swapping one frenetic city for another is – if you’re a city type that is, which I am. Beaches and the countryside make me uneasy. I might have mentioned that before.

To the naked eye everything was as it should be. Streets lined with tables and dog shit? Check. Exceptional coffee, even the stuff out of the automatic machines? Check. Shop assistants replying in English every time I spoke to them in French? Check. No, everything was as it always is. I just didn’t feel the same about it.

At first I thought the change might have been in the temperament of the Parisians themselves, possibly a side effect of the smoking ban. But then, from the number of butts in the street, it was clear that they’d lost none of their affection for languidly dragging on a Gauloises – they just do it outside now, laughing with friends and sipping Ricard, making smoking seem even more glamorous than before.

If not the smoking ban then it seemed reasonable to blame the Parisians’ new found love of Le Velo. Last year Paris introduced a cheap, self-service bike hire scheme, dubbed Vélib (velo + liberté, see what they did there?). For just €1 you can hire one of the 20,600 bikes from the racks on almost every street corner. The aim is to cut pollution and improve fitness, the net result is a careering mob of business men, house wives and tourists who haven’t been on two wheels in several decades, bolting through red lights, cutting up the already chaotic traffic and putting the fear of god into anyone on a crossing. I’m not a fan of bicycles or cyclists. I might have mentioned that before too.

Given my unmitigated loathing of the bicycles and their riders, I’d dearly like to hold them responsible for the waning of my affection for the city. But I can’t. I know there’s more to it than that. However, if not the reason, the rise of Le Velo is certainly a symptom.

In truth, the ease with which I left Paris this time has more to do with the sudden realisation that I couldn’t live there. Not full time anyway. It’s long been a given that, if for some reason I was going to live anywhere other than London, I’d be more than happy to decamp to Paris. It is, after all, London with the volume turned down. London with the work/life balance generously tipped in life’s favour. London with artistic flourishes where the business like attitude should be. And that last point, I’ve realised, is the problem.

Paris is, unashamedly, all style. Substance… who needs it when you’ve Louis Vuitton? Parisians are too busy working on their joie de vivre to waste time worrying about international affairs or being a world leading city. And in fairness, that’s why I love it. It has the familiarity of London, but without all the bits that will give you an ulcer. It’s a city lite. A holiday from the daily grind for city dwellers who can’t bare to be away from pavements and traffic lights, but are in need of something prettier to look at. I couldn’t live there because it would feel like I’d opted out. Gone on extended leave. I could do it for a month or so, or whenever real life’s too much. As an escape it’s good to know we’ll always have Paris. But as a fulltime abode…?

The success of Le Velo only goes to highlight the fundamental difference between Paris and London. A similar city bike scheme has been mooted in London on numerous occasions and while everyone nods and says what a good idea it is while bemoaning the fact that we don’t have enough cycle lanes – no, go ahead, take up the whole road why don’t you? – it will never be embraced this side of the tunnel with quite the same enthusiasm. We’re serious people, doing serious business. We haven’t got time to bugger about on bikes, getting trussed up in Lycra and wearing a silly hat. Our cabs are black for a reason, because the people in them have no time for fun and frivolity. We’ve got graves to work ourselves into.

Today in Paris, where life is something to be savoured rather than gulped down while working at your desk, it seems that everyone is already well on their way to becoming a cyclist. In London it’s still a dirty word usually only owned up to by vegetarian singletons with tinkly bells and smug attitudes. Real Londoners haven’t got time to peddle their way to saving the planet, they’re too busy – rightly or wrongly - trying to run it.

So having realised that I’ll only ever be a visitor in Paris, that my long fantasised St. Germaine apartment, barely big enough to swing une chat, would probably never happen – not unless I suddenly strike it rich and can afford the extravagance of a weekend crash pad, a pied-à-terre if you will - I suddenly felt the urge to get back to London and be relevant again.

I’m hoping that this is just a passing phase, that next time I’m feeling fractious and on the edge from life in the bosom of my first love, I’ll be grateful to fall back into the arms of my second. I hope that I will once again be able to see her as that most seductive and caressing city, that last decadent refuge for when a little above average self-indulgence is required. If not though, if for some Paris never feels quite as desirous again, then make no mistake, I will blame Le bloody Velo.

1 comment:

PdH Photography Blog said...

Good to read you are not sure of moving to Paris!!! Will Amsterdam be an option though? ;-)