Gray Paree

Editorial note: If you have not yet read our mission statement above, please do so in order that you can put our blogs in context. 


Paris, 12 June 2012

The last time I saw Paris

Her heart was warm and gay,

I heard the laughter of her heart in ev’ry street café.


Oscar Hammerstein (1895-1960). US songwriter.

But let’s not get carried away. Yesterday 11 June we referred to Hemingway’s rose-tinted nostalgia for the Paris of his youth. As always with Hemingway, the language was unadorned, the sentiment baroque. But, of course, he was romanticizing. War-reporter though he was, his forte was fiction, not fact.

We left Athens yesterday where the temperature was 28° C at eight o’clock the evening before. The sun had shone for a week. Nary a cloud in sight. We spent our last evening – where else? – libating at the foot of the Acropolis. Ahead, the Propylaia, the Temple of Nike and the Parthenon itself. To our left, the bare craggy outcrop of the Areopagus, the last redoubt of the oligarchy that was ousted at the birth of democracy in 462 BC. To our right, the 5 000-seat theatre built in 161 AD by Herodes Atticus and still playing to the gallery today some 1800 years later. At our back, beneath a westering sun, the great fan-shaped Pnyx, meeting-place of the people’s assembly (“η Εκκλησία του Δήμου”), the great rostrum (“ το βήμα”) still extant from which Pericles addressed the citizens of Athens in 430 BC in the first flush of the Peloponnesian War. No creature moved. The air was still. The song of a myriad crickets the only sound in the scrawny bush.

Less than 24 hours later we were back in France. Sixty million visitors a year – equivalent to the entire French population – supposedly the most visited country in the world, Paris the jewel in its crown. 2.00 pm. The temperature 16° C. The sky an unbroken slate of cloud.  Rain now, rain again. The café terraces three-quarters empty. Isolated figures flailing, homeward bound, through a chill wind. Leaden light in pavement puddles. The squelch of tyres on wet carriageways. No Hemingway, no Scott Fitzgerald, no John Dos Passos. No Sylvia Beach swapping incunabula with Adrienne Monnier as they trade repartees in the rue de l’Odéon. No, this was no summer in the City of Light. Rather, it was a drab afternoon in late October in the city not of Victor Hugo but of François Hollande, the bleak ambient grisaille reflecting only too accurately this second decade of our grim forlorn century.

Voyage à Paris


Ah! La charmante chose

Quitter un pays morose

Pour Paris

Paris joli

Qu’un jour

Dut créer l’Amour

Ah! La charmante chose

Quitter un pays morose

Pour Paris

Guillaume Apollinaire (1880-1918). French poet.


 You might perhaps care to view some of our earlier posts.  For instance:

 1. Why? or How? That is the question (3 Jan 2012)

2. Das Vierte Reich/The Fourth Reich (6 Feb 2012)

3. The shoddiest possible goods at the highest possible prices (2 Feb 2012)

4. Where’s the beef? Ontology and tinned meat (31 Jan 2012)

5. What would Gandhi have said? (30 Jan 2012)

Every so often we shall change this sample of previously published posts.


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