Tuesday, 6 March 2012

Paris: In Need Of A Damn Good Clean

I used to love Paris, part of me still does. All the usual reasons: nowhere does intimate chic like Paris. The city aches with delightful bistros, bars and restaurants like no other. A wander around at night and it sparkles; lit up, it's just magnificent.

But, my most recent visit has confirmed earlier suspicions. Each time I go, each new area I stumble across, brings me back to the same conclusion. This city is quite grubby. It's dirty. The Metro is extremely shabby looking; its stations downright filthy. Paris is in desperate need of a deep clean.

For decades, Parisiennes have turned complacency into a virtue: why need change, do anything different, when we know how much people adore our city, when we are the world's premier destination? People will still come no matter what we do (or don't).

The trouble is this complacency has become a flaw. They have allowed the city to look distinctly grimy. A walk around all its main central attractions will confirm this: litter, cigarette butts discarded almost everywhere, dog mess left, trodden in and dragged around, and its fair share of graffiti. White vans seem a popular target for tags.

On Saturday night, after having had a lovely meal out at a quintessential Paris bistro, located at the foot of the stairs leading up to the Sacré-Coeur, we made our way back to our apartment via the metro.

We were greeted with the sight of about 20 or 30 men laying about, some lying down, others wandering up and down the platform, smoking crack.

Now, I don't pretend this kind of thing probably doesn't happen elsewhere, but I've never seen it before. Not in London, not once on the tube, or at any tube station. I'm just not sure a group of guys would be allowed to get away with this in London. For one, every station has CCTV, and many have members of staff working nearby.

The number of homeless people in Paris also marks it out from London. Now, I know London also has a problem with homelessness, but it is much less overt than in Paris. It's been a while since I've seen so many men or women asleep, strewn across chairs at tube stations, or on the platform, or on their mattresses just outside, or in front of shops.

I also think there's a racial element to many of the problems that exist in Paris, which I won't go into here, but safe to say, Paris, and France in general, isn't renowned for its tolerance to "outsiders," or anyone with a foreign-sounding name, or its non-white population in general.

I'd still count Paris as one of my favourite cities, and I always love discovering new areas and great places to eat (not as easy as it sounds. It does seem to be much more difficult to find good, but inexpensive, restaurants. Although, I'd highly recommend this superb place. Have now been three times and it's always been top notch.)

But, the gloss, the love affair, has certainly worn off. What once made Paris wonderful, now seems to be the thing holding it back. Great capital cities can't stand still. I'm not advocating that it abandons its traditionalism, or that it populates itself with hideous skyscrapers or endless multinationals, but that it at least tries to make an effort and engage with the 21st century. Paris feels like a grand 20th century city.

But, before doing any of this, it just needs to get down on its hands and knees and start cleaning.

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