Down and out in Paris (with apologies to George Orwell)
A very promising and thoughtful ex-student of mind once gave me a book by George Orwell about his early impoverished days in Paris and London called, appropriately, “Down and Out in Paris and London”. The book was an enjoyable read and quite an insight into the depths of poverty that existed in Europe in the early half of the 20th century.
The title and story came to mind as I walked the tourist embraced streets of Paris. This city of lights has little obvious signs of poverty today. This is not my first time to Paris but here again I found myself wandering the familiar tourist route of the Seine, Notre Dame, Champs Elysee etc. Sights I’ve seen before but I was just enjoying the early morning walk.
Then I arrived somewhat accidentally at the Louvre. I have never been inside and had not had any intention to do so today. Not because I don’t like art but because it seemed so de rigeur to do so in Paris that I rebelled against the idea that this could be Paris. I had promised myself that Paris was a coffee in a cafe with a newspaper watching the world go around me. I did not need to say I’d been to the Louvre as if somehow that gave me some cachet of art credibility. But then I dissapointed myself. I saw the queue was short and, on a whim, entered. What a mistake. I found myself in a bedlam of cameras, strollers, t-shirts and bumbags.
Jostling and barely having time to view some of the stupendous works around we eventually found ourselves before a glass enclosed, little picture of the woman with the enigmatic smile. The jostling, the cameras, the security, it could almost have been the papparazzi at work with Madonna to the fore.. Quick we must get a photo, stop, study the painting, you, yes you, put your head to the side, ok now you, finger to the chin. Ok done, I think we still have time for the eiffel tower. I wandered around the Louvre for awhile trying to take in the amazing pieces of art that fill it’s every nook and cranny but I left feeling sullied. Like I’d done something just to say I’d done it. It afforded me little pleasure. I felt down and out in this world famous museum.
So I went to a cafe and read my newspaper and watched the colourful world of Paris pass me by. What a delightful, colourful, character filled city. I forgot how much I enjoy the vibrancy of multicultural cities. Saigon is very monocultural and much of the Spain I’d seen (as fantastic as it was) was similarly monocultural. Paris reminded me of Sydney with it’s people of different hues, it’s colour, it’s vibrancy. Now I know why people like Paris.
— Posted from my phone