Happy Parisians?

A Tale of Three Cities

September 12, 2018By Stephen O'SheaTales of la Ville
A few happy Parisians dancing on the Quai du Louvre.
A few happy Parisians dancing on the Quai du Louvre. © Paris Update

Is it just me, or is the French capital now the jolliest of the big three? By that I mean Western civilization’s splendid PaLoNY: Paris, London, New York. The trio of major metropoles has long hewed to type: New York, a phallically fascinating show-off exhibiting elbow-sharp energy; London, a sprawling convention of overachieving villages filled with cheery fatalists; Paris, a Seine-scissoring beauty given to chronic crabbiness. Visitors knew what to expect in these places. They were gratified when New York exhausted them, when London made them laugh and when Paris brought them to tears.

Consider the situation these days. Manhattan is now a shopping mall, and a luxury one at that. Across the way, in Brooklyn, bearded youths devour avocado toast while dutifully watching Premier League Football matches on cable flat-screens in woke cafés. But there are few smiles. There’s a one-word explanation for this phenomenon: Trump. In London, the cloud of Brexit hangs over the Thames as a reminder of John Bull-headedness and stupidity. A recent excursion there was an exercise in dodging weaponized umbrellas and random acts of muted hostility. Gone, it seems, is the British bonhomie of old.

And Paris? The City of Light Rain? Why, it’s a sunny place now. Waiters are friendly and salesclerks solicitous. People walking the streets can be seen smiling and laughing, fergawdsakes. What the hell happened? Where did it go, my beloved Paris of the hyper-articulate snarl and the patience of a dying gnat? Whither the blows of yesteryear?

Can the change be put down to winning the World Cup? I don’t buy it – in the blisteringly fast social media vortex now called life, that victory took place way back in the Pleistocene Epoch. Perhaps the smiles stem from the devouring of bushels of anti-depressants? Maybe. But no, seriously, to my mind the explanation resides in a dark place. Following the recent incidents of mass murder (Charlie Hebdo, the Bataclan, etc.), Parisians took to the streets in their millions to mourn their dead – and celebrate their city. They looked at each other, maybe for the first time, really looked at each other. Hey, we are not just hapless atoms trapped in a malevolent centrifuge; we are actually people, individuals, who happen to live in an exceptionally pleasant place, a place worth preserving, protecting and enjoying. Dammit, life is good here.

Yes, yes, there is a deplorable archipelago of misery in the city, particularly in the encampments of the unwanted and displaced. And yes, some poisoned darts of rudeness still fly. Just yesterday one was aimed at me by, of all people, a Genius in the Apple Store. But if you stick to central Paris and ignore the pained faces of people stuck in traffic, or lining up to pay at Monoprix, or staring morosely at their smartphone screens or yelling at their children paralyzed before gelato dispensaries, then Parisians come across as a fairly contented lot. Paris is not Paradise, of course, but it is faring better than its two peers in the outward manifestations of happiness. May this access of cheerfulness last for at least a few more weeks. Because it was a long time in coming, putain de merde!

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