Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Paris...the most beautiful city in the world...perhaps

We have been here about 48 hrs. The flight from Detroit was pleasant. The weather is cold (-5 degrees C) but no snow. It is a bitter cold though - feels like Ottawa at - 15 degrees C. We have done some sightseeing - Pantheon, Invalides, Arc D'Triomphe, Champs Elysee, Napoleons tomb and the Eiffel Tower. We are staying in the Latin quarter. Even though Paris is just gorgeous, we are both kinda disappointed with the experience to date. It is phenomenally expensive and the weak USD is not helping (0.66 Euros to the USD).

I am convinced that France as a nation is how do I say this politely…umm…rather backward…I am finding that I am looking down my nose at my Gaullish hosts (ironically a privilege that used to belong to the French for most of civilization).

The hotel rooms are the size of my bathroom (although it’s costing me $165 Euros a night). The internet connection is free except it boots you after 2 minutes. So I get on quickly open up a bunch of sites, download email from my Sapient Outlook, work off line and then log in again to send. If the send takes more than 2 minutes then I log in again…..and the TV….is 14 inches and has 6 channels all French….no CNN, no Beeb no nothing…..not even Al-Jazeera for chrissake!!! (I'm going mad not being connected to the world)

Oh and Heat is optional in most restaurants. You cant pay for Metro tokens with a credit card. You need exact change and the change machine is usually broken. Theres not a Frenchman in sight to help you either :)

My last serious visit to Paris was as a 14 year old when we spent a week here with the family as my dad (a big Napoleon fan) took us traipsing around Paris following in the footsteps of his hero. The big change that I can remember is the vast numbers of Arabs that are present everywhere. I actually like it. The food choices are so much more interesting as a result of the Middle-Eastern / North African / Turkish influx. The choice of halal crepes brought a smile to my face. Kipling was wrong…the twain of east and west have met me thinks :)

So what's good about Paris?

The coffee is fantastic (probably the best in the world…no surprise there). But most importantly I am just overwhelmed by being immersed in historic France and all its contributions to the progress of western thought. We cross streets named Rousseau and Hugo and Montesquieu and Coulomb and Marie Curie and Ampere and Joule and Braille and the list goes on and on and on……To be reminded of Frances contribution to the advancement of mankind and to the European Enlightenment which I adore is a rather overwhelming feeling. This was once a great and serious nation and arguably the most influential culture in history (or at least western history). We enjoy so many of our freedoms today because Frenchmen had the courage to stand up to the twin tyrannies of the Nobility and the Church.

I am also surprised as to how much Paris looks and feels like Washington DC. I know George Washington commissioned a French architect (Pierre L’Enfant) to build the capital city but the similarities are very clear. The Washington Mall looks so much like the Champs de Mars. Both malls have phallic symbols at one end. France has the Eiffel Tower and the Mall has the Washington Monument (subliminal advertising perhaps :). The bridges across the Seine look very similar to the bridges across the Potomac.

More to come...


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