By the time I reached Paris, the Bastille had disappeared. The map supplied by the tourist agency clearly showed a ‘Place de la Bastille’ in the east of the city, but when I emerged from the Metro at the station called ‘Bastille’, there was nothing to see but an ugly green column. Not even the vestige of a ruin remained. On the base of the column was a date in dirty gold lettering – ‘JUILLET 1830’ – and an inscription praising citizens who had died in the defence of ‘liberte´s publiques’. The French Revolution, I knew, had taken place in 1789. Evidently, this was some other revolution. But if the King and the aristocrats had been guillotined, who had massacred the defenders of liberty in 1830? The monument offered no explanation. Later, an older boy at school told me of yet another revolution, which I had missed by only seven years.
For my birthday, my parents had given me a week’s holiday in Paris. The package included a room in a small hotel near the E´ cole Militaire, some clues to monuments and cheap restaurants, a voucher for a boat-ride on the Seine, and a coupon to be redeemed at the Galeries Lafayette for a free gift. My suitcase contained what seemed an excessive amount of clothing, some emergency provisions, and a second-hand copy of the works of Charles Baudelaire. This was my guide to all the mysteries and indefinable experiences that filled the space between the famous sights. I read the ‘Tableaux parisiens’ and the chapter on ‘L’He´roı¨sme de la vie moderne’: ‘Parisian life is bursting with wonderful, poetic subjects: the miraculous envelops us; we breathe it in like the atmosphere, but we do not see it.’ Deciphering Baudelaire in a cafe´ near the Tour Saint-Jacques, with the rain blurring the faces on the street, dissolving the Gothic stones into misty air, I was quite certain that I could see it.
Graham Robb, Parisians: An Adventure History of Paris
Think Paris and you may think Eiffel Tower, Champs Elysees, little cafés, the Seine. But what truly forms the essence of Paris? It would be the Parisians, I guess.
I’ve had this book sitting on the shelf long enough for it to be showing (to my horror!) signs of those awful yellow spots developing on its fine pages. This recent discovery is a wake up call for me to really start paying attention to the stacks of neglected books on the TBR shelves. And they are such good books in there, too. It would definitely be a shame if those yellow spots get to them before I do! Anyway, after reading the opening paragraphs above, I know that this is the book I want to read next. Besides, I think this will also tie in very nicely with my upcoming trip to Paris in September. 😉