You can’t have it both ways.
We honeymooned in Paris. It was winter time and very cold, but it was still beautiful. When I say cold, I mean it was extremely cold, brutal, so much so that if you couldn’t see the frost glinting on something like the inside of a mine that’s been “salted” with gold dust by a conman, it was because it was already covered in ice. Nearly everywhere we attempted to visit, variations of the same sign were up. Fermées à cause de la glace – closed because of the ice.
It was so bad, my beautiful young bride’s hip started to freeze, and there I was struggling around Île de la Cité to show her Notre Dame with someone on my arm who from a distance could be mistaken for Quasimodo’s sister limping along beside me. Keep going Esmeralda, if we can reach the cathedral, you’ll get some heat, never mind sanctuary.
All in all, it provided a fine excuse for us to stay most of the time safely ensconced in our toasting hot room in scandalous Pigalle, living on food and wine a mere phone call away by room service, while I as a new husband gently kissed better what thankfully turned out to be a transitory but more importantly, not an incapacitating ailment.
We’ve both got fond memories of the city but to be frank with you, it wouldn’t have mattered where we spent that particular week in our lives. Mogadishu on a black hawk down weekend would have been just as much fun, and received just about the same amount of notice from either of us. It’s quite a noisy neighbourhood, isn’t it? Yes, I think they’re letting off fireworks now.
As a city, it’s been massively oversold as a place to visit and usually by people who’ve never actually spent much if any time there. It’s always overwhelmed in the summer by Genghis Khan sized hordes of tourists, and the Parisians who work in the service industry are noted not only for their abruptness but the sheer rapaciousness of their overcharging. Summertime, you’ll do a lot better out in les provinces. If you have to go, I’d advise you to bring a calculator along or do it in the winter season; they’re desperate for some tourist traffic at that time of the year and consequently both the service and the standard of the food improve markedly.
Since I may have inadvertently punted Paris off your bucket list, I have to admit I still sorta like it. All I’m doing here is managing your expectations of the place should you ever decide to visit. It’s a bit like an old and proud grande dame who hasn’t quite realised the city has long ago sailed clean through any fin de siècle indulgent nostalgia and has yet to find the more relaxed end of empire elegance of places like Vienna. You still have a fondness for her and a certain protectiveness of her brittle delusions creeps in, but you always look at her through realistic eyes.
Once you get over the superficial irritations, it does have a few things to recommend it. The city is arranged into twenty arrondissements, each of which is subdivided into four administrative chunks called not surprisingly quartiers. Each of its quartiers has its own flavour, to the extent that there’s a feeling of several villages hung onto the big boulevards like Faubourg or Mich that are the infrastructure of the city. The war zones of the outer suburbs, especially the monstrosities of the 60’s and 70’s, I’d advise you to steer well clear off for a number of reasons. Here, there be dragons …
There’s a determined lack of uniformity about the old higgledy-piggledy quartiers of the city which is all the more impressive since la France is much more into a crippling Gormenghast bureaucracy than other country in Europe. It’s as if each village, especially the medieval ones, are determined to subvert or completely ignore the straightjacket of crippling regulation. It’s cheaper to bribe someone than to hire someone else to find their way through the bureaucratic maze of petty paperwork.
In many cases, compliance with the more exasperating regulations is never checked, since the local administration chooses not to employ anybody to do any such inspections. The locals would be deeply offended by any such imbecility anyway. It’s a workable compromise which I think most reasonable people there would regard as a sensible anti-corruption measure.
It’s a city of diversity. You turn a corner and find yourself in a cobbled square where a bunch of people are playing chess with fierce silent concentration, and though you might stop to watch a game which catches your eye, you eventually tiptoe away to leave them in peace. Another one, people are out in the sunshine enthusiastically painting and living their dream of being another Matisse or Manet but unfortunately without the necessary talent, though the tourists watching their daubings and giving them a few Euros to support them don’t know that. It’s a fair exchange of kind illusions.
Yet another one and it’s a bunch of wannabe kids from around the English-speaking world on the Hemingway homage trail, arguing about whether the Torrents of Spring was a good book or Islands in the Stream was a terrible one. There’s music, food, restaurants, a huge background hubbub of people chattering away like the gregarious bunch of hominids only recently down from the trees that we are, but above all there’s the laughter.
That’s the city they attacked but what they were really after was killing the laughter you’ll find in a city like it. That thumbnail sketch I did of Paris would equally well fit any of the great cities of the West. All those cities became great because they tolerated dissent, diversity and yes, the freedom to poke fun at each other, rather than killing people because you didn’t like what they were saying.
I did an article recently the essence of which is we’re going to have to man up in defence of our cultural values or hand over control to a handful of medieval clerics and their thugs. A few years back, I wrote another article about how multiculturalism would always be a failing policy. The subsequent developments in the years since have given me no cause to change my assessment and indeed if anything, have unfortunately confirmed it.
True democracy is a two-way street. People are entitled to criticise you, even if that’s being done by taking the piss, but you’re just as entitled to do the same back to them. The one thing all dictatorships crack down on most brutally is anyone who makes people laugh at them. If I work hardest on any type of article here, it’s the funny ones because I know they really drive home a message and it always pokes a stick right up the straight-laced opposition. All totalitarians of whatever political stripe have always had the same humour bypass operation. In a sense, which I won’t even attempt to explain, that’s why they always lose in the long run but a clue is humour is humanity.
Having scanned Charlie Hebdo prior to its now tragic notoriety, I wasn’t too impressed with it. That not because I disagreed with whatever point was being made or indeed its nihilistic politics, the articles weren’t any more perceptive than you’d find in the average sixth form college magazine, and when it was trying to be witty and clever, it was just leaden in a juvenile way. Early twenties I already know everything reading material.
What was actually attacked was a culture of establishment hypocrisy, and though I take no satisfaction in saying it, I believe we’ll be the better for it. Given that the overwhelming part of the true democracies are of the Christian persuasion, it was fine to say vile things about the fundamental values of that belief, but was somehow forbidden to criticise a vanishing small minority religion amongst us that relegated women’s rights back five hundred years to chattel status, hacked off bits of their sexual organs and whose extremist element’s avowed aim is to roll back the division of church and state.
These clowns actually think they can establish a Caliphate of the West.
Yeah, well, dream on Mustapha Ali Khan, née Cyril D Ipshit, formerly of Headzupazztown, care of the nearest guru of low self-esteem losers, who assures them that they’re actually better than the steam rising off a freshly circled out spaghetti string of diarrheic dog shit in the gutter. If you’re getting the impression I definitely don’t like heavily armed cowards who murder defenceless people, you’d be on the right track.
The situation we have here is nothing more than a bunch of street corner thugs who think they can terrorise us into conforming to their frankly pathetic and imbecilic agenda. New York, London, Mumbai and Madrid have all had their wake up call from these cowards, and unfortunately last week it was the turn of Paris.
The reaction will be the same.
Once bitten by a vicious dog, you either put it down or you take out your big stick and beat it into submission. The big stick or getting put down are now the only options facing you, but either way the days of cheap hits in France are over for scumbags like you. There’s no hiding place after Charlie Hebdo and murdering shoppers in a supermarket.
The terrorists attacked a city I love but more importantly our way of life. As has already been shown by previous outrages across the civilised world, they won’t succeed with either endeavour. We’ll hunt you down, root you out, two pops centre body mass and a final head tap to finish you off, and you’ll be nothing more than a minor smear in the underpants of history, if that.
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