First of all, you need to know that I love Paris. Like: Love as-in-I-would-move-there-tonight-with-nothing-but-a-carry-on-kind-of-love. Looooooove…..
Recently I was asked by an acquaintance to send some information about my most recent holiday in the City of Light. It took me forever to get back to her. Mainly because I knew just how into it I would get, and therefor how much time it would take me to compose an email as full of useful information as I could muster with all of the enthusiasm I have for the city. I enjoyed every.single.second.
I went on about my favourite places, included links and maps, tips and tricks, and loads of my very own opinion. Which, of course, the world needs more of.
Yes, I adore all of the idiosyncrisies of the French. This includes terrible and rude (if not also terribly rude) service and their casual sense of elegance. I love the tiny streets of Montmartre with the colourful shops squeezed together like hippies on a road trip. I love the billionaire-on-a-budget attitude of St. Germain, the connection to great artists I feel when I sink into the reading nooks on the second floor of Shakespeare and Company, and the thrum of those places where new worlds collide and your footsteps become unsure.
Had I only been able to make one suggestion to her though about getting a feel for what to expect, it would be this;
Find a lovely scarf which is slightly too long to wield delicately, and get thee to a crowded outdoor patio in the spring time. Order wine or coffee and a tiny glass of water, and no matter what the menu, expect an exquisite presentation of deliciously prepared food. All of this served to you by the most disinterested and apathetic server that you can imagine while your scarf blows in the wind like a prop from an Audrey Hepburn movie.
As you read in Paris Part 1, I have a bias toward Paris, so let me start there;
The French, like any nation/culture have their own way of doing things. A way of eating, drinking and socializing that has earned them a place in history as gracious host to a generation of writers and artists who shaped the western cultural world. I can respect that.
Merci pour la petite cafe.
What I cannot respect, regardless of where I am, or who I’m interacting with, is rudeness.
As much as I love, love, love Paris, my most recent visit was a much different experience than that of years ago.
In general I find that human interaction during our day-to-day interactions lacks patience, empathy and kindness. More often than not, whether I am the client or the professional, people tend to express an inflated sense of entitlement and lack basic manners. The elements of civilization have been lost, and it shows in Paris.
Wait staff, famous for snooty service throughout recent history, were stretched too thin, and much less charmingly rude as they were flat out over-worked.
This is a global phenomenon rather than a French one in my opinion. The world is becoming more economically divided, with access to security much less attainable. Consumer appetite for more, more, more has replaced any sense of spirituality, and everything is expected at the speed of our mobile browsers. We have lost our appetite for connection as our appetite as consumers has grown.
Paris is a city locked into a nostalgic identity. That’s why we flock there. We are there to see the places where great artists and writers were inspired, lived, worked, and sacrificed for their art. We are not there for the reality of out modern world.
Like any tourist destination the line-ups, pick-pocketing and general collection of human grime is inevitable. The airbrushed photos of the modern city set us up to try to create an unattainable reality, kind of like the airbrushed photos of Beyonce’s thighs.
We like the image of people relaxing on patio cafes, sipping coffee or wine, talking about ideas and art and sensual pleasures, but we find it almost impossible to embody this lifestyle. Addiction to our mobile phones and giant paper-cups full of coffee is a cultural phenomenon unto itself, but it is not compatible with our nostalgic idealism of Paris. And this is why some people hate it there.
My partner described the city as Disney for Adults. Travel has become a collection of passport stamps rather than an experience. Line-up upon line-up of people at historical sites were more concerned with trying to take instagram-worthy photos than enjoying the actual experience. Watching this, I thought that handing out Valium and wine at the ticket booth would likely make the whole experience a lot more enjoyable for everyone. Even I got tired of my own posts with classic images of the city strategically placed in the background.
The idea of a person or place is often not the same as the reality.
The romance of Paris is like a real romance. Quite often we delight in the potential of our partner, but can’t acknowledge the reality; they’re a shitty person. With regard to Paris, we love it, but personalities don’t always mesh with a city so romanticized by history.
Personally, I can linger over a tiny coffee or scrumptious glass of wine all afternoon while writing or daydreaming, or being engaged in discussions about what matters to me in life; happiness, love, the creative process. For others, slowing down and living the ideal is a much harder thing to do.
Yes, ‘Part I’. There may, indeed, be a ‘Part II’ , depending upon how stupid things get before the new year.
Last year the grand ‘we’, declined to see the value in the Occupy Wall Street campaign, that was staggeringly avoided by major press agencies.
We let the dreadlocked-live-our-values-over-charged-for-our-mediocre-educations-and-under-employed youth, fight it out in the streets for the middle class. The middle class, who are losing their ever crippling grip on the edge of affluence as they march to the hypnotically convincing drum of ‘The Man’.
“The top 1% earned more than 65 percent of the total national income [in the United States], ” and, ” …the ratio of CEO annual compensation to that of the typical worker by 2010 was back to what it had been before the crisis, to 243 to 1“.
While the media reports on Miley’s junior-miss sized twerking patooty, in above-the-fold-full-colour-coverage, they give about half of that coverage to reports about unions being vilified (by the powers that be), as unfairly over-compensating workers.
It doesn’t take a PhD in maths to know that the statistics mentioned above impact the majority of folks in not only North America, but everywhere on the planet.
When we treat silver-spoon born Conrad Black as a real journalist, and Rob Ford as a misunderstood ‘average guy’, we’re wrong. Dead wrong. Rob Ford’s Escalade is worth 3x that of the average vehicle (a simple Honda Civic) owned by those living in the GTA, and his assets multiply to have net value in the millions.
Toronto has a mayor who openly flaunts the rules, degrades homosexuals, women and anyone else who thinks differently than him, and uses the excuse that the press is too rough on him to get away with it all. Actually, his big bully brother does the talking. The day I knew we’d lost all dignity as a nation was the one that showed Mr. Ford and his compadres dancing like idiots in council chambers just days after having his mayoral power stripped from him.
Only someone with the wealth of Mr. Black has the gumption to whine about being incarcerated for being a liar and a cheat. Call it fraud, bad accounting, whatever…it’s lying and cheating at the cost of everyone else who shares the same planet.
The worst part is, we let it happen. Yes, read this slowly; we allow this to happen. Instead of rioting in the street, we go to work, pay our taxes, and our over-inflated power, cell phone and health care bills.
Let me get back to the subject of unions. We’ve seen unions vilified by the Conservative government and big business, so much so that we’ve bought into this anti-union perspective.
Unions may have been gauche in the booming 80’s, but today we live a different economic and social reality. The reality is that unions are needed now more than they were needed in the past thirty or forty years. For over thirty years, the average annual income of a full-time worker stagnated, while the profits at the top have multiplied at astonishing rates.
Young adults entering the workforce are under-employed at alarming rates. Not to mention everyone one else. The days of full-time jobs with benefits that sustain a comfortable lifestyle are over. Instead, we have the majority of people working at part-time or contract jobs, unable to sustain themselves, or have any measure of security.
Besides being unable to pay their bills, folks in jobs that are not secure suffer from more illness and social problems than ever before. Economic instability feeds fear, and that creates a downward spiraling quagmire of social issues; homelessness, addiction, abuse, crime, and all of the other wonderful side-effects of poverty.
The top 1%’s after tax income reached an average of $1.3 million in the United States in 2010. That of the bottom 20% only reached $17,000. No wonder big-business-journalism and politics doesn’t like unions. Unions distribute the wealth and offer job security.
Don’t get me wrong, I know there are issues with unions too. Look at the billions of dollars of bailout money that went to Automakers with no conditions to streamline their production or offer more affordable, environmentally friendly products. Despite the obvious lazy-barnacles that infest unions (they also infest non-union environments at the same rate though), I’d rather live with unions to ensure more people with full-time jobs, than with what is happening now.
Canada and the U.S., live in a world of performing-party-politicking that leaves us without leaders in a wild-western-hemisphere black-hole of civilization.
If we leave the world up to those with no social conscience, and a taste for greed rather than loving-kindness, there will be many darker days to come, than this, the longest night of the year.