Ignore the naysayers – socialists are not ruined by the romance of Paris

Paris travel France - Getty

Paris travel France – Getty

For the second year in a row, Paris has been named the best place in the world for a city break. In Euromonitor International’s annual index, the French capital scores more points for “attraction and infrastructure” – so why are so many commentators neglecting and bemoaning the city’s descent under its longtime socialist mayor? One of my fellow contributors to this newspaper has even gone so far as to describe the “woke” city as “a battered old lady on her way to a shabby care home”.

I have to admit that I am sad. I’ve been living in Paris for five years, after popping two and fro from London for many years before that. If the city fell into ruins during that time, I must have lost.

Maybe it was me picking up a bunch of flowers at my favorite florist. Or maybe it was when I was running through the beautifully maintained Parc des Buttes Chaumont. Otherwise, it might have been there when I was lost on the Left Bank last week and decided to walk home, headphones in, just for the joy of sunrise in Paris. I guess it could be somewhere between that second bottle of wine and the 10 minute taxi ride home along traffic-free streets.

Forget rack and ruin. It is easy to describe life in Paris in two words: spontaneous, delicious.

Eleanor Aldridge says Paris is as romantic as ever

Eleanor Aldridge says Paris is as romantic as ever

However, the demands being levied against Paris and the mayor Anne Hidalgo are still intensifying. It is said that architectural treasures are being destroyed by modern communions. The streets are piled high with rubbish. Some seem to believe that Paris is a Hogarth-esque horror, with pockets of homeless people and crumbling buildings.

Hardly.

The root of the problem is a strange kind of nostalgia, which leaves out the actual history of the city in favor of misty-eyed sentimentality. It doesn’t matter that even the city’s most famous monument was criticized as a modern monster, widely criticized when it was completed by Gustave Eiffel for the Exposition Universelle in 1889. Or that the city’s turbulent history includes the heavy guillotine ornamentation of the Revolution itself to the short -day. Live in Comune. Paris is the city where Édith Piaf sang, Picasso painted and the Belle Époque brewery flourished.

How did we end up with the idea that Paris is defined by fancy boulevard cafes and exclusive art fairs, where anyone who actually looks like an artist is struggling to be kept out by security?

The cafe in Saint Germain hasn’t been chic since Hemmingway’s day. Nobody has shops on the Champs Elysées. It is a strange notion that a city, which is multi-layered and constantly changing, should be preserved forever as a time capsule of one era of its history.

The 'beautifully maintained' Parc des Buttes Chaumont is Parisians' favorite summer hangout - Bruno De Hogues

The ‘beautifully maintained’ Parc des Buttes Chaumont is Parisians’ favorite summer hangout – Bruno De Hogues

Today, Paris is flourishing. Investment is pouring into France, with a record €13.5 billion raised in 2022, according to La French Tech, making it the only European country to see significant growth. Paris itself is becoming more international, and you can find a great omakase just as easily as a great omelette. Dense suburbs such as Pantin and Montreuil are gradually being incorporated into Parisians’ view of their city, just as Belleville and Ménilmontant were before. Paris is slowly embracing its diversity.

Some streets could be cleaner, but I’d rather have a great market there three times a week than the mess.

It’s still a city for lovers – the perfect foil for a Valentine’s Day getaway. Romance is not found at picnics on the Champ de Mars or an evening stroll through the Tuileries. He is ordering burgers to the park to watch the sunset, champagne splashed into plastic cups. It is stopped in your tracks by unexpected views of the Sacré-Coeur from the Grands Boulevards. He is walking up many flights of stairs to wobbly-floored apartments above a hidden courtyard. It’s a long summer evening near the Bassin de la Villette, as the heat finally breaks and pétanque battles take place.

I fiercely protect the spots I love the most. Wisteria covered cobbled lanes in the 20th. The jazz club where you’re shushed to speak above a whisper (and where you’ll find the scariest toilets in Paris). The bistro with the most beautiful Art Deco design and a mirror-backed bar but rarely for tourists (ok, you can have that one, it’s Le Chantefable near Gambetta).

The multicultural Belleville district is typical of the new face of Paris - iStockphoto

The multicultural Belleville district is typical of the new face of Paris – iStockphoto

I could go on, but if I haven’t won you over yet, Paris might not be the place for you.

In Paris, you live in the very fabric of the city. Getting coffee at the weekend is easily an hour’s business. Shopping every few days is a pleasure. You walk or cycle everywhere, on streets slowly reclaimed from car traffic. you eat out often, thanks to the return tickets given by almost all employers to their staff. You watch the game in a bar, not from your sofa. You spend rainy days at the cinema or at an exhibition. You rarely sit at home. You live very well on comparatively little.

Sure, some Parisians are leaving. Just as residents have started to leave every other big city it is now possible to go skiing before breakfast and skiing on weekends because of remote work. But they are attracted to opportunities elsewhere, not driven.

If and when I leave, it will be the constraints of living in a tiny apartment that will finally tempt me to change, not the richness of Parisian life outside. For tourists, there is still no city like it.

Leave a comment