On Paris and Romance. Bah.

I recently saw what is probably the Frenchest movie ever made, Amélie.

The colour filter! The fresh produce! The gamine hairstyle, gratuitous clips from Jules et Jim and the 19th century architecture! It made me want to gaze soulfully over a windowbox full of geraniums and wear clompy shoes. (As an aside – why is it that only someone French could get away with that clobber? An Aussie chick would be laughed back to Fitzroy where her kind are tolerated)

Indeed when Amélie first came out, the film copped a lot of flak for those very qualities. And for ‘not portraying enough racial diversity’ in the typical French landscape. Whatevs. Anyway, Amélie is not what I’m bitching about today, I enjoyed it. What gets my goat is how the word ‘Paris’ has become synonymous with the word ‘romance’. For the short on ideas, Paris has become an instant shortcut to elegance, class and “what we all want”.

Now why would that be d’ya think?

Could it be the centuries of history? There are thousands of cities that are chockers with fascinating tales. How about the classic architecture? What about Cairo, Bombay, Prague, Shanghai etc. The streets filled with cafés and slender aesthetes in black skivvies? Melbourne does a bit o’ that.

But whatever je ne sais quoi that Paris has, it seems that everyone wants a bit of it.

During a mercifully short-lived romance of a few years ago, the unfortunate dickhead chap wanted us to fantasise not only about our kids’ names, but – drumroll – our holidays in Paris. This did not impress me, particularly as it was only the 3rd date. Did he really think I was that corny? Did he really think that my whole life I had been dreaming of being whisked away to France and proposed to atop what Madame L’Amour (My grade 5 French teacher Mrs Love – her real name) would call ‘La Tour Eiffel’? Blech, ptui. Nothing more romantic than having to elbow another 1,000 people aside, all of them wearing Crocs.

I felt the insult keenly.

I put the Paris fantasy in the same file as gondolas in Venice, the top of the Empire State Building, the Sydney Harbour Bridge and any other thoroughly unoriginal ‘must-see’ location, in short, places for PEOPLE WITH NO IMAGINATION. A quick Google shows consensus that Paris is ‘the most romantic, interesting place in the WORLD’! I’m sorry, but has everyone been everywhere in the world?

It’s a fantasy that seems to be (largely) the province of people who neither speak French, nor read French authors, nor enjoy French music or artwork of any kind. I’m thinking of the buffoons who present Getaway, work with me here. It’s not a culture that particularly resonates with everyone, yet for some reason, everyone wants to go to Paris! I like French things, but god I’m not going to spend every last dollar getting there before I die. And are there no other cities in la France? What’s so unromantic about Lyon or Nice?

By its very nature, romance should flourish spontaneously, and in any setting. Nouakchott. Tawau. John O’Groats. That scummy end of Elizabeth St with the Maccas and the backpackers (and boy have I witnessed a lot of romance there ZING). You shouldn’t have to put a label on it.

And the idea of romance is not confined solely to those of us who are ‘taken’, goddammit. Romance could be a chance conversation on a train after three days of no sleep. It could be getting up before everyone else and strolling through the empty streets. It could be going for a skinny dip under the moon in the tropics or being curled up in bed with a new book while the rain pelts down outside.

I’m open to ideas on this one – can anyone explain why there’s such a universal preoccupation with Gay Paree? And before anyone makes a stinging retort, I have been there. I can report that Paris is nice, but has not cornered the market on romance.


12 thoughts on “On Paris and Romance. Bah.

  1. BBBJ,Mais, ma chere amie, how can you criticise Paris, the very city where my Dad met and courted that Lady of the Night , la belle Celeste? The city where his ashes, along with his kirpan and kara, were tossed into the River Seine in the dead of night by 16 Sikhs trying to look inconspicuous?Of course, my Dad, Celeste’s Monsieur le Sicque, lived there during that mythical bygone age la belle epocque. Does that make a difference? These days we Sikhs are most annoyed with France, Dad’s Francophilia (No, that’s not felonious) notwithstanding. They have decided our turbans are no-nos. My second youngest brother, a long-time resident of France, has packed up his whole family, four generations (I believe there is one great-grandchild) and departed! Nowadays, one can’t get a French driver’s licence while wearing a turban Asking a Sikh to remove his/her turban is akin to asking anyone else to drop their pants. It feels like a strip search. Highly humiliating.[aside] I suppose to be fair, I should mention that this law was actually aimed at the Muslim hijab, not the Sikh turban, but we’re caught in the crossfire. So much for the small, but dynamic Sikh community of France.

  2. Yes yes yes, but that still doesn’t answer the question of why everyone is obsessed with the romance of Paree!And I am not criticising Paris, just the world obsession with it!!

  3. BBBJ,OK, OK, OK, You asked for it!It is a nefarious mindcontrol plot of the head gorput schizyac of the outer reaches of nedularch-coomin -but that’s a closely held secret. Don’t tell anyone. Ever. Or else!You have been warned.

  4. Paris is lovely, but I agree, on the face of it, it is as lovely as many other cities (mainly European) I’ve seen; Vienna, Prague, Stockholm are all up there. Why is Paris different? Well, it’s large enough with enough attractions so that the tourist hordes are mainly dispersed – UNLIKE Prague which is hideous in this regard – except in occasional corners such as the line to the top of the Eiffel tower or the Arc de Triomphe. So you feel as if you are visiting a real city, where people actually live, instead of a film set. The food is tasty and relatively cheap – you can get a formule (set 2-3 course meal) for less than 25 bucks nearly anywhere. This is in marked contrast to Stockholm. But the thing I really noticed when I was there last was that people really do kiss a LOT more in public than anywhere else. Young couples are perpetually to be found PDA-ing on every corner, in every park, on the metro and I can’t think of any other city where you see that. They also look happy and are without exception well dressed, and the men all have well shined shoes (makes SUCH a difference). To be honest Aussie men have no idea how shabby they look (and women too) in comparison, and how churlish they look.So I think Paris may be the most romantic city in the world; at least, Parisians are probably the most randy people.

  5. Oooohhh, I do love a good ol’ myth-debunking railing-against-the-prevailing-wisdom post. That was great reading.I found San Francisco a fairly breath-taking total experience(couldn’t take my eyes off the silvery Oakland Bay Bridge, which no-one knows exists vecause it NEVER gets shown in movies) and as per Katoi’s point, didn’t feel like I was in a tourist trap even amid so many attractions.

  6. as Katoi said: ” same as Prague Vienna Stockholm “, … but with the addition of perfumes fashions and food; and because it is easier for Americans to find ( cross Atlantic and go to next stop)and they run all the films which have romanticised it.

  7. and Tom Cruise fell for it too.I wondered why Katie Holmes needed the extra zing of La Tour d’Eiffel for a proposal from the zillionaire No.1 movie star she had adored since she was 14.another reason for the romantic depiction of Paris might be the large number of rich but arty americans who went there after WW1Scott & Zelda, Gertrude Stein’s gang and Menny Moore who all wrote about it and went to Josephine Baker shows at night.

  8. Aha! I think we are getting to the bottom of it!!Kateoi – PDAs? Really? That sounds somewhat offputting, although the shiny shoes might even it out somewhat. Are you sure they aren’t well-dressed Amerikans putting on a show?LL – so you reckon a romantic destination needs a bit o’ room to move eh? I think you’d have an amusing tale or two to tell about it, I’m sure!Dysmythiac – hmmm so the glamour of cinema is romanticising it too… Food? Don’t they have great foord all over l’Europe? (Madame L’Amour, againe)BWCA – Aha! I reckon this is it! It hit popular culture sometime after the ‘belle epoque’ that Mai was talking aboot. Via art wankers. And art. And black skivvies. It’s all making sense.Now I need to have a lie-down – have been at a large but unnamed brewery head office all day, which was covered in pics of Warnie. Frightful.

  9. Agreed, but I think it’s also got something to do with Francais being the universal “language of love” and the French being themselves known as the most gifted, progressive lovers (soixante-neuf, anyone?). Paris is what pops up in my head when I think “European city” – not because I personally think it’s romantic, but more the combination of old, dirty architecture (churches, art galleries, appartementes) and chic locals is unique world-wide and yes, the banal general populace do equate it with “romance”.
    Just saw a vile offering on tv last night purely by accident – “Under The Tuscan Sun”. I think Italy probably has the same reputation – for newly single middle-aged women everywhere wishing to escape the world and be swept up by young hungry Italian spunks. Isn’t that what we all want?

  10. I flicked past it too! We watched about 5 mins then had to immediately commit hari-kari. It had the same bogus sepia filter that Woody Allen has used for all his recent rubbish “films” that tap into the same Anglo/American obsessions and prejudices about Europeans. Excitable Spaniards, moody Frenchies, poetic Italians. Bleurgh. Vicky Cristina Barcelona was nigh on unwatchable. I need to write an open letter (cause it’s the thing) asking the person who keeps financing his movies to step forward and explain him/herself.

    Ivy and I had a heartily satisfying discussion this week on the bogan obsession with la France. This is an old blog post, and I think it was inspired by seeing Catriona Rowntree presenting something on the City of Lovers.

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