After finding that Paris is not just male nudes and manbags, Bronagh Carvill writes about finding a depth to Parisian culture that extends beyond their penchant for bread
I visited the Pantheon last weekend and was in no state to be sightseeing, having had about three hours sleep the night before, but duty called as I was obliged to show my friend from Dublin the sights.
So, in my sleep-deprived state, you can understand why I felt on entering this Catholic temple, where the French had buried their ancient celebs such as Voltaire and Victor Hugo, that nothing inside could compare to the sheer delight of being in bed at that very moment. I was wrong.
Maybe it was the fact that we had the place pretty much to ourselves, but there was something pretty amazing about the Pantheon. There was a beautiful stillness in the temple compared to the bustling city outside, as if those buried down below commanded our silence.
The murals on the walls were as vivid as if they had been painted yesterday and marble figures strained to hold their poses. The crypt turned out not to be a crawl-around-on-your knees affair, but instead a spacious underground labyrinth, in which I may have gotten lost once or twice. To be surrounded by so many great minds, writers and revolutionaries alike, was a truly humbling experience.
But feeling humble in Paris is no strange thing. The Pantheon is just one example of the city’s grandeur, but beautiful buildings are everywhere. Lush gardens and fountains are scattered around every arrondissement and cobblestones pave the narrow streets.
Art is also a huge part of Paris, and I’m not just talking about the Mona Lisa at the Louvre, nor male nudes at the Musée D’Orsay. The street art that can be found all over the city paints a picture of a young generation’s struggle to express itself. Depictions of Pacman and stars painted on pavements, sombre portraits, and political slogans plaster the Parisian walls.
The French people dress to compliment their city’s style, the women toting Louis Vuitton bags, to college no less, and men in smart blazers. The huge emphasis placed on fashion is almost unnerving, and sometimes one has to ask exactly how much effort do the French actually put into looking effortless?
I had to laugh at my brother’s input. He said, “It’s bad enough that they all wear manbags, but why do they have to be Gucci manbags?” The French style is only one way in which the nation fulfils its stereotypes. When I was younger I never really understood what the big deal was when the people had no bread during the revolution.
Couldn’t they eat something else? Marie-Antoinette said, “Let them eat cake” and who doesn’t like cake? Realising the importance of bread to your average French citizen is key to understanding the audacity of the Austrian-born queen.
Bread is served with almost every meal here; indeed, it is the equivalent of the Irish spud. Walking down the street yesterday, I met a man twirling around in circles looking utterly lost. It turns out he was searching for the nearest bakery.
Funnily enough, I’ve found that the French population has a depth that goes beyond baguettes and handbags. The politics of the nation is an ever-present issue, with governments swinging from right to left to right regularly.
It’s quite refreshing to see how every citizen takes it upon themselves to play an active role in France’s political landscape, especially in comparison to the Irish who have been too complacent for far too long. Armed police lining the streets are a sign that a manifestation or protest is imminent, while strikes in the workplace are commonplace.
The French obsession with politics also makes for interesting bathroom reading, with drunken scrawlings and declarations of love in Dublin being replaced with invitations to join the Young Communist’s Movement.
There is plenty to do in Paris aside from observing the quirks of the French people and the nuances of their culture. Live music spots are in abundance, places where an African group could be jamming one night and a set of DJs the next.
In these places the cocktails are served so strong they catch in your throat and the lights are always dangerously low. I’d particularly recommend an electro-pop festival called Pitchfork that was headlined by Hot Chip and Yo La Tengo a few weeks ago.
A cool venue and great acts meant that the craic was had by all! Then there are the hot salsa clubs and the jazz bars that spill the sounds of trumpets and nonsensical scat singing onto the streets. And when all else fails, you’ll find us down by the Seine with a bottle of wine and a view of Notre-Dame like no other.