Between February 2004 and February 2005 I wrote
twenty six freelance articles for francophile internet magazine Bonjour Paris +
one article with Karen Fawcett (President) and Sarah Gilbert Fox (Directeur
Général), which was published in the guide-book, "Paris For Dummies." Here is
one of the original twenty six, with the original self-penned lead...
History Of Paris.
gives a brief update on all things Parisian from 52 BC through Victor Hugo to
the modern day whilst providing a ‘quick fix’ variety of outings and events for
those fast-lane types who need to see it, do it, buy the T-shirt and GO ! READ
planning a quick stop-over in Paris and know little about it’s history? Be
warned, quite a lot has happened since the official kick-off back in 52BC, when
Julius Caesar first turned up in a teeny Celtic settlement on an Island in the
Seine (the Ile de la Cité), then known as Lutetia. Julius decided that the place
might be worth working on, even though the local Parisii were -- surprise,
surprise -- something of a handful.
Some time later, in the 1950’s in
fact, when Jack Kerouac first dropped in on Paris, he wasted a lot of time and
energy -- and found himself being laughed at quite a bit -- as he desperately
tried to locate the Bastille prison. Maybe he was looking for Burroughs and
figured this was his best shot? Anyway, it does go to show that a little
immersion into the history of the city may well enrich your visit.
if you don’t have the inclination to read a big fat history book, or be dragged
all over town in a wide-eyed gaggle of amateur photographers as some ‘expert’
spells it all out for you, you could try ‘The Paris Story,’ a forty-five minute
sound & vision history that is so sugar-coated you could put on weight as
you watch it.
Story Promo Pic.
So I asked
this Parisii guy did he know any good restaurants? He looked at me like I was
talking a foreign language.
I bought my
ticket from a friendly guy at reception who kindly spoke English as he furnished
me with a post-card sized advertisement for something called ‘Les Visites de
Paris,’ that ‘The Paris Story,’ turned out to be connected to. The foyer of ‘The
Paris Story,’ was quite pleasant, filled with tourist trinkets, guide-books,
photography-books, brief histories and a dull looking exhibit called ‘Paris
Styles,’ designed to help us ‘better understand the Paris monuments.’ My
problem was that I would also have needed to better understand the French
language, which unfortunately I didn’t.
Whilst waiting for the previous
crowd of history buffs to exit the arena, I looked at the ‘Les Visites,’ card
and saw several pictures of different events: boat rides down the Seine; a wine
museum; a cinema complex; a cabaret show; a little train-ride around Montmartre;
a couple of restaurants; tour Montparnasse. A full-on and fun-filled tourist
trap, in fact. On the flip-side were the official titles of these events, along
with addresses, phone numbers, web-addresses, etc., and discount coupons valued
at one to two -- and in the case of the cabaret show, five -- euros.
geezer? It's Julius Caesar!
coupons seemed very much a token gesture to me, but the idea struck me as a
useful one for anybody on a flying visit into Paris; anybody who simply doesn’t
have the time to stroll around and discover things for themselves. First you
stop off at the Paris story to get a quick-fix history of the city -- a kind of
starter on the events menu, to stick to the food metaphor above -- then you
simply go a la carte and start picking off events as they catch your eye, moving
effortlessly from one to the other as it suits.
question is: Is that sugary starter going to spoil your appetite? Let’s review:
Once allowed into the arena I found myself in a cinema-seat with a set of
head-phones attached and a simple little remote-control type device fixed in at
the side. (I had been advised before entering to press the buttons on this
device until the number 1 appeared on the display, which would give me an
English language commentary. The fact that I found this a simple procedure means
that it is fool-proof.)
me to prison, please!'
There was a
main cinema screen with two small screens fixed at slight angles on either side
and when the lights went down Victor Hugo appeared -- as a kind of ghostly
hologram -- on the left screen, and started talking to ‘lady’ Paris, as
we the audience found ourselves immersed in a night-time view of the city
looming up above one of the gargoyles of Notre-Dame.
The music swept
romantically across the night-sky as Monsieur Hugo charmed the lady and the lady
responded, softy delighting him with a tale of how a bunch of people had once
had their heads chopped off on place de la Concorde. I wondered if they’d had
discount coupons like us, but nobody else seemed interested.
Victor Hugo guides.
somehow, through all the glossing over and the smug mood -- I didn’t blame them
for the smug mood; a smug mood is understandable considering the subject -- the
story itself still managed to make itself heard and I actually found myself
interested in it. For some reason, the story of the middle ages and the
innovations in gothic architecture throughout that period, held me
The story gave the secret of the amazing design innovations,
explaining how architects allowed great cathedrals to be built whose weight was
not supported by the walls, thus allowing great walls of glass with light
pouring through; stained glass temples of natural light -- visions, awesome and
beautiful -- telling their own religious histories and tragedies, illuminated
and glorified by the sun itself.
If you put
your football through one of these, kids, don't go and ask for it back.
gothic architecture took off in a major way for a few hundred years, making
itself much more than just a part of the city’s history, then everyone got bored
with it and decided to hold a renaissance instead, during which time simple
little pictures and sculptures of naked young nymphs became the order of the
day! Ah, Paris!
I’m making fun because ‘The Paris Story’ is put across in such a frivolous,
glossy way, that it’s hard not to.
Having said that, the very fact of
having so many powerful and conflicting events and images reduced to forty-five
minutes of post-card pretty history makes certain things stand out to those who
are paying attention.
struck me was that one thing remained constant throughout those years: the
absolute influence of the Roman Empire. Even today, looking around Paris, that
influence is palpable, from all those grand, bold designs to the unashamed
celebrations of sensuality and luxury; from the hunger for knowledge to the
strong-willed push towards progress, that original influence has never left this
didn’t win the battle for its soul.
One major factor that jumps right out
at you despite the limitations of ‘The Paris Story,’ is the battle for the soul
of Paris between the original gladiatorial Roman influence, all military
precision and mathematical genius, swords at the ready, and the starving
artists, with only the soft touch of brush against canvas, the gentle tap of
quill against ink-pot, dreams of a better world against the machinations of
political cynicism; dreamers battling it out against schemers for the soul of
the greatest city on earth. And the artists won.
Actually, you don’t even
need forty-five minutes to sum up this town and everything about it. Jack
Kerouac summed it up in one sentence on the day he first arrived in Paris,
stepping off the train, looking around himself and announcing (and I
“Wow! They really built themselves a city!”
de Paris (Get off the beaten track!) www.lesvisitesdeparis.com
Paris Story.’ 11bis, rue Scribe (just West of Opera Palais Garnier), and
open Nov-Mar 9am-6pm; April-Oct 9am-8pm, playing every hour on the hour (Price:
Adults, 8 euro; under 18/students, 5 euro)
Vedettes du Pont-neuf, 1
square du Vert Galant, Paris, 1er. Tel. 01.46.33.98.38. Metro. Pont-Neuf-Cité.
www.pontneuf.net (Boat-rides down the Seine.)
Departs: Place Pigalle. Parvis du Sacré Coeur. Tel. 01.48.00.90.80. Metro.
Pigalle. www.lesvisitesdeparis.com ( Mini-Train-ride around