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  • Dougie

Quand à Paris ...

Updated: May 19, 2022

... eat bread n cheese n croissant n petit pain au chocolate n fruit salad with tart yogurt --- très acidulé -- n drink café au lait (even though I don't drink coffee). But what can I say? It was breakfast in Paris. Calories? Never heard of them.

Day one. Soak it up.

Then work it off. Paris style.


Our leisurely stroll was not without purpose. The height (in literal and figurative terms) of French art and culture awaited us at the remarkable, formidable Centre Pompidou, near the city centre district known as Chatelet. At the time of its design and construction, the post-modern, insides-out, high tech architecture of the enormous building was deeply controversial. One either hated or loved whatever you decided the building came to represent in your world view --- the horrors of postmodern 20th Century existence where all things were for sale, the death of beauty, the triumph of function over form, the end of civilization as we know it. But me .... Centre Pompidou, je t'aime.

The Pompidou was -- and remains -- nothing more or less than a building ahead of its time. These days, the world over, we take for granted, barley notice, public and commercial building in all our major cities that are direct or indirect descendants of The Pompidou's inside outed-ness. The world has come to love the Centre Pompidou -- visiting it in our hundreds of millions. And the building does spectacularly well what it is meant to do: Exhibit art which at its most dazzling (L' étage 5 mes amis) stops you in your tracks, takes away your breath.

But first, back to working off mon petit déjeuner.

We decided to stroll from our hotel to Place Georges-Pompidou in a delusional attempt to reduce the calorific content of my first hour sitting in my wheelchair this morning. That's a distance of 2.8 kilometres which -- for an ageing quadriplegic -- is not nothing. It's something.

Insufficient physical exercise is the something that it is. But I digress.

We wandered down Boulevard de Magenta where another throng of young men on the make will sell you -- once again -- a good price SIM, a real Rolex, a barely used Concorde supersonic passenger jet.

We crossed over onto Boulevard de Sébastopol to find ourselves in a Parisian version of scenes from Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie: hair salons where never less than two and sometimes three or four employees work on the braids, extensions and colour tones of jut one woman's hair; tiny barber's shops with tufts of hair covering the floor while the solitary barber sits on the entrance steps, smoking as he waits for customers; dozens of men of all ages standing in groups of three or four or sitting on their motor scooters, talking, arguing, joking, laughing all at once in French intermingling with languages I do not recognise. I'd guess Nouchi or Dyula, Wolof or Igbo.

As I amble beyond the inaccessible Metro station the groups of men part like the Red Sea to let me pass without obstacle. They contemplate me as if it's me that's in some way exotic or interesting. But they quickly realise I am not, so they return to multi-lingual secret men's business -- arguing about football, politics, whether or not to disturb the bored barber to have their hair cropped tight.

We avoid the ghastly Hell that is Les Halles (Westfield ... I need say no more) then cross the boulevard to enter the Pompidou and there, via two elevators and a pause on Level 5 to take in the skyline, ascend to heights of visual arts expression that make any more of my words redundant.

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