So what’s the big deal with Paris, then? Sure, there’s the monuments, but if you realize that almost all of Paris was built in the 18th century or later, it’s not really an old city you’re looking at – at least not by European measures. Then there’s those famous boulevards which are nothing more than rather busy and long streets with block after block of standardized Hausmann-style buildings. After one week you realize where the Soviets got their ideas for cityscaping. It’s all grey and white, all wrought-iron balconies and wooden shutters, all broad and bombastic – and all monotonous and repetitive. And you cringe when you realize how much of the original Paris was mercilessly torn down to create this grand style with it’s endless lines of vision. It feels very artificial indeed.
So, apart from the obvious attractions like the Eiffel Tower and the Notre Dame, what is it with Paris then? It cannot be the food. I am sure that you can have fantastic dinners in Paris, but you and I are tourists and we do not know where to go. And so you end up in Saint-Germain-des-Prés with the rest of the worn-out travellers (Paris means walking until your feet hurt – and then some) and eat in the tourist traps. You’ll pay way too much for the next bit of mediocre or even suspect meat, neatly hidden under an ‘exclusive’ sauce, and lined with potatoes – fried, steamed, boiled or baked, you shall have potatoes. Or try the chicken – we’ve had one that was bone dry and devoid of any seasoning at all at the Place du Tertre in Montmartre. With potatoes as a side dish, of course. Meat, sauce and potatoes – after a few days I refused even to enter a brasserie. And so, two of our three best meals were not French cuisine at all, but Italian and Kashmiri – about which more in the next blog.
Is it the women then? Countless songs have been written about the girls of Paris, ever since the city has been surrounded with that ooh-la-la nonsense of the Folies Bergères and the Moulin Rouge. But the women of Paris all seem to aspire a career in classical ballet with their slender silhouettes and their ballet academy student wardrobe. That’s fine when you’re under 35 but above that it gets ridiculous really fast. And what’s in the shops of Paris was in the shops of southern Italy last year. Which means that it’s probably two years out of step with what’s for sale in Milan.
So what’s it with Paris? Mostly the idea that it’s Paris and that you must see it. If you go, bring a well-filled wallet because prices are steep, don’t save space for any of that fashion which isn’t fashion and plan ahead where you are going to eat, to avoid the dead-cow-with-slop syndrome. And watch this space for the final verdict on that fabled French cuisine.