When I lived back across La Manche there were no shortage of London stalwarts who’d apparently suffer allergic reactions if they “went south of the river”. These were people who’d inhabited the Big Smoke for as many as three years, five years and sometimes even a decade. And while it’s easy to mock these twits, I never had much affection for the south bank other than maybe the Southbank. That antipathy for the other side of the water was renewed when I moved to Paris.
Lots of places here remind me of London in a strange way, which is why my addled brain sometimes confuses them. I occasionally call Pigalle Camden and get the Champs-Élysées mixed up with Marble Arch and forget that parts of east Paris I’m walking through aren’t east London and the same with the west of both cities too. That’s probably just me. The Rive Gauche however is impossible to mix up with South London on account of it being so ornate and postcard-y; so white and teeming with tourists. I used to be conflicted about the Left Bank, because while many of the writers and musicians I dig had once lived there, the creativity of the place drained away because of the real estate dollar, which inevitably happens to anywhere with a bit of cachet.
Things have changed though. I’m prepared to look past the Irish theme bars and the loud American holidaymakers and the hard-on everyone has for Hemingway and embrace the place. I’m only a 10 minute jog away now, and many of my runs head over the Pont des Arts and then back over the Leopold Sedar Senghor, taking in recondite landmarks along the way. In the last few weeks I’ve visited the Surrealists Bureau of Research, the studio Jacques Brel recorded Les Marquises in (that’s now a plush hotel), the house Sartre lived in with Beauvoir and his mother before being bombed by paramilitaries upset at his stance on the Algerian War and the three houses Marx inhabited, one after the other, in 1844; none of these places carry a blue plaque. There are some excellent English book shops too, like Berkley Books and San Francisco Books, which are far less gap yaaah than Shakespeare and Co. So it’s official, I am no longer a river separatist. I have embraced the other side. I’ve suddenly realised there’s so much more of the city to explore and discover, which makes utter sense really. Leave your prejudices at the pont, you great twot.
I love Paris. I don’t know if I told you that already. People have, in the past, accused me of being a francophile, and I’ve always taken exception to that assertion, though I could never figure out why and argue my case. It thankfully occurred to me recently while reading Julian Barnes’ Something To Declare. Barnes’ claims that a true francophile loves the idyllic France, the bucolic France, the fantasy that many Brits harbour of one day living in the countryside away from all that rancid civilisation. But my infatuation is with the capital city, which is either a rare strain of francophilia or perhaps not francophilia at all.
I couldn’t have been prouder of Paris than on Sunday when it was revealed 90% of the electorate voted for Macron, even though we couldn’t vote ourselves of course. It was 93% in our quartier, and also in the quartier we used to live in. What a splendid, tolerant and liberal city Paris is, and how gratifying that Europe has plugged the populist flood for now, and that President Trump is weeks away from impeachment. Obviously there is still much work to be done to be done regarding the much touted égalité the country claims to embody, but I’m feeling tentatively positive about the future, and even about the future of the EU.
I’ve heard plenty of bleating about the fact the President elect is pro-business by people who had clearly forgotten he was running against an actual fascist. I can no longer identify with the hard left because of this insane idea that a moderate is as much the enemy as the extreme right. The rape-apologism of the SWP, the antisemitism on the left… its a tawdry business. Melenchon is a villain, and there’ll be a special place in hell for him and his holograms for refusing to endorse Macron over Le Pen. I still abhor the exploitation of workers and know that a system that demands growth year-on-year above all else is doomed to failure, but Sunday was a binary choice between mondialistes and nationalistes and I’m on the side of globalisation if that is where the new battle lines are being drawn. Perhaps the left/right thing has seen its day politically too.Follow @jeres