This is the fifth night in Paris for me and my wife, our 10-month-old and our three-year-old and none of us want to leave.
I just walked to the Pompidou area – an urban, edgy area surrounding the audacious contemporary art museum, Centre Pompidou – and I found it still full of life at 10.30pm. That may not seem odd but keep in mind it is a Monday.
The crowd hanging out in the wide pedestrian plazas was a mix of students, the homeless and adults acting younger than they are. It was all very refreshing and tells me that I have missed out on much before I have even boarded a plane out of here.
The city’s architecture is astonishing. The town planning is a marvel. The cohesion of the population – a truly diverse multitude – makes me feel warm inside, and the art gracing every green space adds a richness to French life that residents appear unable to respond to except with public snogging matches.
I love it all.
Today we visited a compulsory cliche, the Eiffel Tower. It was twilight with a cool breeze starting to bite, the kids were over it (the three-year-old didn’t notice the 300m structure until we were literally under it) yet all that and the throngs of immigrant salesmen bothering us to buy hideous trinkets didn’t diminish the tower’s grand gesture to stay fixed on it throughout the sunset. I had no expectations of the tower and had barely seen it poking up across the city all week, but when we arrived, I found it reached well beyond all the postcard artlessness. I found it majestic.
All week we have been surprised by the French.
Rollerblading is still cool here and many people are very good at it. A pack of the skaters seem to own the square across from the Louvre, one of the world’s most famous art galleries. Our apartment lies at a corner of the square and the ballet of the skaters performing each afternoon (they start about 1pm, does anyone here work?) is pretty mesmerising. It’s great to watch and not just for the tricks. Locals and tourists all stop. It’s a free show. No one says that about skateboarders in Martin Place. And the cops regularly move them on anyhow. Here, the police, or ‘gendarmerie’, are more likely to applaud.
From our window yesterday I watched a street washer get into a shouting match with a high-class couple whose shoes he had obviously hosed. They yelled complaints, he yelled back louder no doubt something about having a job to do before they trotted off to tell two policemen nearby. The policemen clearly made them feel better as they left the short chat looking pleased. The police then headed down toward the street washer but passed him by without a word. Huh! I thought. That’s how this city gets along so well. Chilling out is not just encouraged, nor is it a pastime, it is enforced.
Many shops and galleries shut at midday to reopen at 2pm. The parks are everywhere and they are full, all day. And there are free chairs for all. They are quality metal chairs and they are everywhere, provided by the state – gratuit.
Two fire trucks pulled up outside our building last Friday. One had a ladder so it all appeared quite serious. We, on the second floor began gathering our things. A gaggle of young female models at a modelling agency downstairs did no such thing. As firefighters unraveled hoses and strode importantly to and from the fire escape, the agency’s photographer set up on the footpath of the downstairs cafe and resumed his photo shoot.
We now had cafe staff, pedestrians, gawkers, models and a photographer all hindering the firefighters from potentially saving our lives. Did anyone care? Noh. Did the firefighters even complain? Noh.
WE NEED OUR OWN FRENCH REVOLUTION
Why can’t the whole world be as relaxed? Why aren’t we all happy enough to let kids ride in the train driver’s compartment, to eat three-cheese baguettes for brekky, to pash extravagantly on a park bench or stay out late on a Monday without fear of being moved on. If you’re in Paris, you can, and it’s not like you even have work in the morning.