Just back from a few days in Paris where I’ve been doing research for a new project, and I was struck by how much better the French capital is than our own stinky, slow-moving London. Not so much in the cutting-edge abstracts of ideas – the two cities are pretty equal on that front – but in the basic, bricks and mortar structures. Paris feels like a capital city, grand and weighty with a rich, powerful history. Looking up the Champs Elysee to the Arc de Triomphe from the Place de la Concorde, you get a sense of awe that London never really evokes. It’s there throughout the city. The French have held on to their history well, but wtihout letting it get in the way of modernity and innovation.
The Pompidou Centre is head and shoulders above Tate Modern in my view. The design of the building matches form with function so much better, and the exhibitions just seem so much better curated.
And then there’s the Louvre. London has nothing like this. A temple to art and history that is as big as a village. With that great glass pyramid surrounded by those grand, ancient buildings, this is the point that shows up where the French are best at moving forward while holding on to the power of the past. The Louvre itself is just breath-taking in design and function. The big downside, as I’m sure others have mentioned, is that it’s a victim of its own success. So many people swarm through the warren of rooms that it’s impossible to appreciate the art and artefacts. Hot, sweaty, constant, blinding camera flashes… Seeing the Mona Lisa is like standing just before the stage at a gig, swept back and forth by the crowd and fighting to get close enough to get a glimpse. Dan Brown Tom Hanks and Ron Howard got to film here at night, and were allowed to wander through the rooms at will while making The Da Vinci Code movie. I envy them.
But still…good food, good wine and an abundance of surliness – what more could you want when you’re travelling?