Paris: All Washed Up?


“Paris is finished!” Francois says as he tears into a plate of choucroute. “Yes, I am a Parisian. I have my business in Montmartre, but Paris that I know is gone. Leave what remains to the tourists.”

It isn’t the first time I’ve heard this refrain. Mme Robin said the same thing as she packed up her bags and left our apartment building – ‘leave it to the Americans!’ She left Paris for good to move in with her children in the Parisian suburbs.

Meanwhile, Francois continues to rail about Mayor Delanoe’s ‘improvements’. “It’s impossible to do business in this town. You can’t even make a delivery anywhere. I do all my business overseas with foreign clients nowadays.”

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Of course the very things that local businesspeople abhor: pedestrian walkways and bike paths replacing major traffic arteries – are in fact, the things that tourists cherish. Fewer trucks on the streets mean less pollution from diesel exhaust. In that sense, Francois is right, Paris is changing – but the question is – in wiping out the grit and the pollution, the acrid scent of Gaulois cigarettes in train stations, will the city become a sanitized, pasteurized imitation of a city? Will it have the leafy walkways, but no quirky shops with eractic hours determined at the whim of its proprietor? Will the city succumb to a succession of pseudo-tea salons and take out fusion food produced for volume and uniformity rather than the slightest inkling of food intended to exude flavor?

I have spoken of these concerns in past posts – but Francois than hits upon a particularly sensitive subject – plumbers. “You hired a Paris-based plumber?”
He looked at me with the eyes of a sympathetic monitor of a dolt.

His pitch raised in waves: “I would bring a plumber in from anywhere else in France, I’d pay for his taxi to the train station. I’d pay his train fare. Feed him in Paris. Pay for his train back home. Pay him his wages – and you know something? I STILL would have saved money. Even after all that, his bill would be only a tenth of a Parisian plumber’s bill.”

This news leaves me somewhat distressed, for I have had no return phone call from the Parisian plumber regarding my unpaid bill. I have sent him a very polite letter requesting that we discuss the bill which I find to be ‘hors de normes’. Abnormal. Now, I am wondering, what is normal for Paris?