top of page
  • Writer's pictureTony Herbert

Paris in (Wet) Autumn

Updated: Nov 21, 2023

27-29 October 2023


This is hardly a travel journal, just a note of a short weekend in Paris, to which we hadn’t been for some years, even decades.

We had been invited to a birthday party at the Ritz Hotel in the Place Vendome - no less.

Obviously worth making the effort of crossing the Channel!

Baron Haussmann

Paris was perhaps not at its best, being mostly grey and overcast, with the occasional outbreak of torrential rain, particularly as we made our exits from the hotel after the festivities. But the sun did break out during our last afternoon, as indicated by the photograph above. Paris can look very dull in very dull weather, but the sun displays its magnificence as presumably the Baron Haussmann and others had hoped and intended.

Paris v London

I find myself thinking endlessly of comparisons between Paris and London. The cities are certainly different. Most obviously, on the aesthetic front, London’s skyline is now defaced by bizarre highrise monstrocities, whereas in Paris the skyline is still largely as the Baron would remember. One reason is that we never had the equivalent of the Baron Haussmann or, at his time certainly, in the days of Louis Napoleon, the political environment that would have allowed such massive destruction and rebuilding. Actually, we almost did, some 200 years earlier, when in 1666 the Great Fire of London did the destructive work for us, but the rebuilding that Christopher Wren had started working on never happened.

I was also having the thought that London suffered from Hitler’s bombs in a way that Paris avoided by not - or at least not successfully - resisting the German occupation in 1940. Enough of these reflections! When the sun comes out, central Paris is magnificent.

Traffic

One of the other comparisons is more mundane - traffic. Again, Paris is very different from London - partly, I suppose, because the streets, at least in the centre with the Grands Boulevards, are so much wider. No question, apparently, of congestion charging or the kind of ruthless speed limits that we have succumbed to. The taxi drivers we came across drove like maniacs, not noticeably observing any speed limit.

Who serves my morning coffee?

Another little comparison - the staff in cafes and restaurants. In Paris, old tradition still rules. In all the cafes we went to, the waiters were male, French and dressed formally in traditional black outfits with those long white (sort of) aprons that take you back to the paintings of Toulouse-Lautrec and Degas. In London, by way of contrast, they are female, foreign and dressed much as they please.

Sightseeing?

We did almost no sightseeing. Mainly because there was no time, but I did think about a short visit to a museum. What about the lovely small Jacquemart-André Museum? Pas possible! - closed for refurbishment. I wandered over the river to the Musée d’Orsay, hoping I might sneak in. The queues were so long that they extended way into the neighbouring streets, many hundreds, possibly thousands, of hopeful art-lovers strong. I gave up.

Place Vendome

We did make a minor exploration of the Place Vendome, partly as we’d been there for the

dinner and partly because it was round the corner from our hotel - not the Ritz! I hadn’t

realised that it goes back to the eighteenth century, pre the Revolution, pre-Napoleon and pre-Haussmann. But it was Napoleon who put up the famous column in the centre: modelled on Trajan’s column in Rome - but (I now read in my ancient tattered guidebook) covered in bronze from cannons captured at the Battle of Austerlitz. Needless to say, Napoleon had his statue at the top, dressed as Caesar. This got removed when, as it were, he did. Henri IV had a spell up there - to the surprise of his ghost perhaps. Eventually Napoleon’s nephew Louis Napoleon had the original put back. This was destroyed by the Paris Commune in 1870 but after that a replica was reinstated, which, I guess, is what we can now see up there, if our eyesight is good enough.

Statue cancelling

Maybe that story of endless switching of statues tells of another difference between us and the French, although we are in serious danger of going the same route by removing statues of anyone with a connection with slavery. Incidentally, I noticed that the embankment outside the Musée d’Orsay is now the Quai Valéry Giscard d’Estaing. We don’t do that, perhaps because we have monarchs instead of presidents. Margaret Thatcher Avenue - any takers? We have enough trouble with the fourth plinth in Trafalgar Square.

Puttin’ on the Ritz

We were very privileged to be invited to the splendid dinner at the Ritz. Given to celebrate the birthday of an ex-colleague of mine who I have known for close on 50 years. The Ritz, needless to say, lives up to its iconic reputation. The food magnifique and the staff helpful and friendly to perfection. Our host regaled us with a stream of his multilingual jokes, including the one about Mme de Gaulle’s hope for ‘appiness in her retirement (details on request for those who don’t know it!).

Cabaret by Worbey & Farrell

After dinner we were entertained by an amazing comic piano duet, Worbey and Farrell, who displayed their musical talents at the same time as keeping us vastly amused, perched as they were on a small piano stool, playing a range of pieces with all four hands diving furiously over the keyboard. Look them up on YouTube.

Are the French friendly?

We are always met by friendliness from all our French friends and acquaintances, mainly of course in the south of France - and despite the wickedness of le Brexit. Ah yes, people say, but Paris is quite different. There people are much more impolite and unfriendly. I am able to report that our little trip - not I admit a large sample - offered no support whatsoever for this view. Everywhere we were met with helpfulness and smiles, even from the traditionally surly taxi drivers. One of the many myths I don’t believe!

Tony Herbert

30 October 2023

73 views1 comment

Recent Posts

See All

1 Comment


John Fisher
John Fisher
Oct 30, 2023

Tony


Many thanks for a witty note. Although some people may like the higgledy-piggledy streets of the City, personally I don't. I wish we had been like Napoleon. Just bulldozed the streets down and constructed the wonderful boulevards that Paris has. As you say, we had Wren's plan but apparently we were too mean to buy out the freeholders who owned the land. Presumably, Napoleon did not bother with a triviality like this.

Like
Post: Blog2 Post
bottom of page