15 November 2012

La Ville-Lumière. Quoi de neuf?

I keep giving Paris another chance. And I remain unimpressed. I ask myself, when can I authoritatively pass judgement? It's Paris--it's supposed to be incredible. Instead, I rank it alongside Barcelona. Fascinating respective countries but lesser cities in which to explore their national vibrancy. What happened Paris? Where did we go wrong?

The people, white French and colored French, they're the locus of the problem. You French nation, you're hardly French--or at least in any definition of what it means to be French. You're populated by immigrants. Your French citizens have identities trumped by the color of their skin. Your French Arabs are labeled Arabs and French Africans are labeled African. In similar perception, although I'm American in America, in France I become Chinese.

Hey France, your imperial activities of the 19th century have demographically displaced your cultural leadership of the 18th century. While French culture of fashion, wine, cheese, art and je ne sais quoi manages to persist, it is no longer the foundation of national identity. Rather, it is a foundation you wish for. But demographics, cholericly visible, says otherwise.

So Paris, you are the center of the French world yet you have become diluted, overpowered, no longer French. If I want to discover the  18th century France, I must search in less international cities.

And then you, immigrant: friendly, periphery of French culture, in the surrounding suburbs. Tourists don't visit you; you may feel minimized. While we, Americans or other international tourists, may be less pointed in our ethnic labels, we are just as guilty as the French in considering you other than French.

Finally, Paris, your third population: namely the youth who flock from far away towns to your metropolis. It's impressive how quickly they become haughty. Yeah, I speak to you in English. Fine, castigate me. Now I speak to you in French and you address me in English, arguing I should have approached you in French. Hmm. Had I visited your hometown, you would have welcomed me as an uncommon tourist. Yet in Paris I'm persona non grata. You quickly developed rude habits. Impressive.

What is the Paris effect and the French effect, rendering otherwise amicable people monstrous? I've read broadly and deeply into your history. I have an impressive collection of names and dates that not only halt your must strident attacks against stupid American--in fact you retreat when you realize you can't stump me... But I digress. An exploration and study of your nation hints at a few conclusions. Your unfortunate retreats in 1871, 1914, 1940, which allowed foreign occupation of Paris, has left an indelible mark on your collective conscious. How could it not? As Americans we're pompous, no doubt a result of our success twice reversing the tide of German aggression. So what is the effect of military failure, the reverse of our turgid pride? You cling ever stronger to your golden age, squirming to preserve it. But no, you must evolve, move on. Had you twice triumphed in the 20th century you pride would have updated. You wouldn't need to overlook the last 150 years to demonstrate excellence. But you do, in a feat of clumsy legerdemain. Though no need! Exclaim your pride and and exhort your difficulties. Say, "Bonjour! This is me!"

If we consider the Dutch, they're a bit like you. They too had a golden age. But they no longer cling to that period of excellence. Admittedly, they had no Louis XIV, whom all of Europe looked to for cultural advice; but they did have grand colonies and famous artists before you later outshined them. The Dutch have moved on. They too acted and suffered ignominiously in 1914 and 1940. But they look forward, with the immigrant question central to their identity. Their culture of tolerance leads the world. They've updated themselves from their liberal, merchant and protestant past.

Though who am I to critique? You continue to draw more tourists than anywhere in the world. While the magic may be dead for me, it's clearly not over. Though a word of caution: you might be the Mona Lisa. Think, what was your first thought upon seeing her?

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