Friday 23 December 2016

Paris 29205

The Paris we all know, or think we know, came into being with the arrival of the Métro, much admired by Proust, who never used it. This was followed a few years later by the telephone (Proust’s number was 29205). The Paris we can remember, or think we can remember, was the Paris of the 1950s and 1960s, when Jean-Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir held court at the Flore, and when a new novel by Simenon appeared regularly every few months. 
These were the last of the glory days, when it was possible to feel like a provincial, newly arrived, and undergoing a longed-for transformation, much as Robb, armed with his map and his gift voucher must have felt at the start of his own apprenticeship. New Paris, the Paris of today, is part of Europe, and its concerns are global. The charms of discovery must yield to a different kind of loyalty, to the planet, to the environment. The true Parisian will, of course, shrug this off, and remain embedded in his quartier, will be on polite if not cordial terms with his or her neighbours, and will continue to dress with an eye to fashion. At the same time, the true provincial will still be able to walk from one end of the city to the other, listen to the café conversations of strangers, and admire Baron Haussmann’s accommodating boulevards. 
'The People and the Place', review of Parisians by Graham Robb, Spectator, 7 April 2010

We see Brookner's Paris, in its 'glory days', in the early novels from time to time, later in Lewis Percy and Incidents in the Rue Laugier (ostensibly beginning in the Seventies, but its time-scheme is far from reliable). Later still, in a new century, we follow Julius Herz on a disappointing day-trip on Eurostar.

I first visited in the early 1990s, walked up and down the rue de Rivoli in search of the Hotel Bedford et West End from Family and Friends. I revisited the city on and off through the 1990s and early 2000s, bought a copy of The Next Big Thing in 2002 in the rue de Rivoli branch of W. H. Smith's, a few weeks ahead of its publication in England.

More recent visits have been less agreeable. The city has indeed become, as Brookner says, global. I was last there in 2009 or 2010. It was tourist hell.

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