Monday, 1 April 2013

Paris; or a tale of two cities

The Eiffel Tower is truly a modern wonder. The modern elegant sweep of metal, the solid mechanism, the symbolism and history that surrounds it makes it a product of the modern time. Compared with the neoclassicism of the architecture there, the glory of the modern stands out. Just being the most modern structure in the area, ensures it becomes the most you look across to La Defence, the thought process suddenly turns.

Having looked at the art of the Modernist period, seen the Delaunay paintings, the tower's place in art/architectural history etc, takes on a new significance when you are standing within its structure. It stands on the grave of an old world, proudly proclaiming the arrival of the new. The ultimate showcase at the height of an age of industry, engineering and science, a sign that enlightenment and rational thinking had prevailed.  The irony is that modern is 120-odd years old. The more more I think about why this is, the more I realise how old fashioned the idea of 'Paris' is.

And nothing seems to have moved on since the late nineteenth century. This is both a curse and a blessing; on the bright side, you can go for miles and see no Starbucks and no MacDonalds. The sad thing is the poverty amongst the riches.

It's hard to think of a period of French history in Paris when there wasn't some kind of upheaval. So just as the 1880 were a time of change, once again Paris appears to be in the throws of something quite profound. Buildings such as the Pantheon, Eiffel tower, Arc de Triumph and so on, stand as monuments to people and worlds which will never be forgotten. A civilised touristic veneer masks a sense of distinct unease. Like a Braque painting, fragments of colour are getting ready to explode the familiar, making it uncanny and recognisable only from a distance.

Whether this skin prickling sense of growing turbulence is due to an influx of refugees, a failure of under pressure state funded social services, the national, European global economical crises or simply usual problems of people without friends, jobs or support in a big city, I don't know. Probably a mix of all of the above. London has its share of disastrous personal lives on the street but in Paris it feels more obvious. All I know is, perhaps there has to be a looking to the future modern, rather than a past modern; embracing the cultural change enriches a city, rather than the contrary.

This wasn't intended to be writings on observations on the darker side of Paris but the dichotomy between revolution and freedom, 'live free or die trying' government sponsored murder, European propaganda and the social reality is hard to understand so here I am debating with myself. It's made me deeply thoughtful. Are the poor people dying by trying to live free? Amongst the rich signs of a glorious past, wealthy foreigners, the contrast is extremely apparent.

It's not a city of love, but I still love it as a city.

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