Tuesday, December 7, 2010

The Last Time I Saw Paris

Image: The Palace of Justice buildings overlooking the River Seine
The last time I saw Paris, was during the summer of 1975. If I say nineteen seventy-five as quickly as possible, it doesn't seem like 35 years ago – but 35 it was! On several very brief visits to France in the early 1970s, I never spent more than a couple of days in Paris itself, so you can be sure I was looking forward to my current ten night stay in this amazing city.

Already I am overwhelmed by the possibilities. Paris is a photographers dream, as well as their nightmare. There is so much history here; so many amazing buildings, streetscapes, wonderful backdrops, and spectacular locales waiting to be photographed that one great image is immediately supplanted by another one, and many others after that. And that’s before one actually enters any of the dozens of famous museums and galleries or visits historic monuments that present tens of thousands of photographic opportunities. Millions, even.
Image: Motorbikes and scooters disappearing under a cover of snow
When I stepped off my flight from Athens on Friday night, the temperature was a freezing minus three degrees. I’d forgotten how cold that is, but Paris didn’t take long to remind me.
On Saturday it snowed for most of the day. That may not mean much to many readers, but it was the first time I had experience the magic of falling snow since my last winter in London in 1976! Yes, it doesn’t take much to keep me happy on a holiday as you might guess, especially since we don’t get much snow where I come from in Australia (in point of fact, we don’t get any). That’s why I was happy to slop through the streets while freezing every step of my first exploratory walk around the neighborhood surrounding the Palace Hotel, which I am calling home during my stay.

Image: View of apartment blocks taken from the Pompidou Centre

Its far too early to give you any sort of useable impressions, but one obvious change over the past 35 years has been the huge influx of new immigrants into France. I can’t give you a breakdown of immigrant figures, but there appear to be large numbers of Indians and Pakistanis, and migrants from former French colonies in North Africa. Then there are Lebanese migrants and of course, Asians.

I don’t know how much of that often talked about French arrogance still persists, but I suspect even that has been tempered by the new migrants who have opened businesses across the city.

For example, the small Boulangerie that I have adopted for my morning coffee and cake, turns out to be run by Lebanese (whose owner has cousins in Sydney and Melbourne, and who speak perfect English, and are happy to use it). The young woman at the Asian restaurant I ate dinner at the other night also spoke excellent English, which made me think they were originally Hong Kong Chinese. And so it goes. In the face of all these new migrants that speak at least three languages, and sometimes more, the French must surely have begun to adapt and change their attitudes to foreign nationals, and to how they communicate with them.

So far, my very limited French has got me through every important encounter where I have needed to use it, and I’ve managed to bluff my way through others when my language skills were totally deficient – which is most of the time. It’s all part of the great adventure that is international travel, and I’m looking forward to the challenges and rewards ahead.

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