For the second year in a row, Paris has been voted the best place in the world for a city break. In Euromonitor International’s annual index, the French capital scores massive points for “attractiveness and infrastructure” – so why are there so many commentators decrying that the city has been neglected and dilapidated under its long-serving socialist mayor? One of my fellow contributors to this paper has even gone so far as to describe the “awakened” town as “a battered old lady on her way to a grim nursing home”.
I must admit I am baffled. I lived in Paris for five years, having been back and forth from London for many years before that. If the city was falling into disrepair at that time, I must have missed it.
Maybe it was while I was picking up a bunch of flowers from my favorite florist. Or maybe it was while I was running through the beautifully maintained Parc des Buttes Chaumont. Failing that, maybe it was when I got lost on the Left Bank last week and decided to walk home, headphones on, just for the pleasure of enjoying the Parisian twilight. I think it could also have been somewhere between that second bottle of wine and the 10 minute cab ride home through pedestrianized streets.
Forget stretch and ruin. Life in Paris can easily be described in two words: spontaneous, delicious.
Yet the claims against Paris and Mayor Anne Hidalgo continue to pile up. Architectural treasures are being ruined by modern conceit, it is said. The streets are piled high with rubbish. Some seem to believe that Paris has become a Hogarth-esque horror, complete with lurking pickpockets and crumbling buildings.
At the heart of the problem is a strange kind of nostalgia, which omits the city’s actual history in favor of misty sentimentality. Never mind that even the city’s most famous monument was once labeled a modern monstrosity, widely criticized upon its completion by Gustave Eiffel for the 1889 Exposition Universelle. lived Commune. Paris is the city where Édith Piaf sang, Picasso painted and Belle Époque brothels flourished.
How did we get the idea that Paris is defined by chic boulevard cafes and exclusive art fairs, where anyone who actually resembles a struggling artist is turned away by security?
Coffee in Saint Germain hadn’t been posh since the days of Hemmingway. Nobody shops on the Champs Elysées. It is a strange idea that a city, which is inherently multi-layered and ever-changing, should be preserved forever as a time capsule of an era in its history.
Today, Paris is thriving. Investments are pouring into France, with a record €13.5 billion raised in 2022, according to La French Tech, making it the only European country with notable growth. Paris itself is becoming more and more international and you can find a great omakase just as easily as a great omelette. Nearby suburbs such as Pantin and Montreuil are gradually being absorbed into the Parisian’s perception of their city, just as Belleville and Ménilmontant were before them. Paris is slowly embracing its diversity.
Some streets could be cleaner but I prefer a wonderful thrice a week market and the rubbish.
It’s still a city for lovers – the perfect backdrop for a Valentine’s Day getaway. You won’t find romance at picnics on the Champ de Mars or afternoon strolls through the Tuileries Garden. It’s ordering burgers to the park to watch the sunset, champagne splashed in plastic cups. It’s stopped in your tracks by startling glimpses of the Sacré-Coeur from the Grands Boulevards. It’s climbing countless stairs to apartments with rickety floors above hidden courtyards. It’s long summer evenings at the Bassin de la Villette, when the heat finally breaks and pétanque battles begin.
I fiercely guard my most cherished spots. Wisteria covered cobbled streets in the 20th. The jazz club where you’re silenced for speaking in a whisper (and where you’ll find the most terrifying toilets in Paris). The bistro with the most beautiful Art Deco design and mirrored bar, but rarely a tourist (okay, you can have that one, it’s Le Chantefable at Gambetta).
I could go on, but if I haven’t already won you over, Paris may not be the place for you.
In Paris you live in the middle of the city. Drinking a cup of coffee on the weekend can easily take an hour. Shopping every few days is a pleasure. You walk or cycle everywhere, on streets that are slowly being reclaimed from car traffic. You eat out often, thanks to the restaurant tickets handed out by almost every employer to their staff. You watch the game in a bar, not from your couch. On rainy days you spend in the cinema or an exhibition. You are rarely at home. You live very well on relatively little.
Sure, some Parisians are leaving. Just as residents began to leave every other major city, remote work has made it possible to surf before breakfast and ski on the weekends. But they are attracted to opportunities elsewhere, not chased away.
If and when I leave, it will be the constraints of tiny apartment living that ultimately entice me to make a change, not the richness of Parisian life beyond. For tourists, there is still no city like this.