When you read this, I will be in Nantes, having finished my work in Paris and moved on to a much calmer, more provincial, and ultimately slower French city. I am already wondering where I will find books, and looking forward to wolfing down certain pastries that are hard to find elsewhere in France.
Paris is one of the great cities in the world, which is to its eternal credit and detriment. All of the great culture winds up there eventually and much of it still comes from Paris. One can easily see all of the latest films, go to any number of galleries, and see celebrities walking down the street, all in a weekend. There’s also a certain level of sophistication in Paris that works as an antidote to living in a drab Canadian steel town. On the other hand, I’ve found that you have to be careful where you stay in Paris, or you will wind up surrounded by very chic Parisianer-than-thou snobs whose rules of cultural interaction are cruel and Byzantine. Watch the movie Ridicule some time; something of Louis XIV’s court lives on in the fashionable corners of Paris; just a bit more passive and anorexic.
Having said that, if you come to Paris, just look for the cheaper neighborhoods. Montmartre is always fun, as are the neighborhoods near the Moulin Rouge/ smut district. And the notorious Parisian banlieu is great for getting cheap food and actually talking to people. And actually, as much as I’ve bitched about the rich schmucks near the Champs/ Etoille area, I’ve had good luck basically everywhere else I’ve been in the city. As I look back on the last two months, it does occur to me that I really was living at the corner of Bourgeois and Blasé, which probably explains a lot.
Moreover, I’ve had better luck everywhere else I’ve been in France. And I adored Nantes last time I was there, even though there wasn’t so much to do. I’ll be honest- I think it’s the smaller places where you get a real sense of what the French are like, and a much better image of them.