It was great to catch up with friends in Paris, one of my favourite cities, but after 24 hours I got the feeling that it’s a little unwell.
The 20 minute walk from Gare de Bercy up to Gare de Lyon is not the Champs-Élysée but it was a grim welcome. Dingy and dirty, there was an aggressive tension in the air along with 2 or 3 different varieties of weed as I walked through a dimly lit park.
In the station I sat down to listen to a couple of old guys taking turns to play beautiful pieces on the grand piano until they were surrounded by a swarm of youngish teenagers who elbowed them off the stool. It was nothing too malicious – the kids were just showing off – but as the old men trudged away there was a sense of resigned indifference from the disappointed audience.
Parisian waiters are notorious for their attitudes, particularly towards Brits with terrible French accents. It’s usually an entertaining element of the dining experience but, after encountering consistently miserable and rude servers at each of the 7 or 8 bars, restaurants and cafes we went to, it was just unpleasant. Even my French friend got sick of the impatience, unhelpfulness, eye rolls and sighs.
Walking through the streets there was an extremely active police presence, as expected in the current climate. I found it reassuring but the aftershocks of multiple terror attacks are clearly reverberating with Parisians. There was a noticeable lack of buzz, with few people staying out late (even on La Nuit Blanche).
As a British francophile I hate to paint a depressing picture of such an amazing city and must caveat this with the fact that I was only there for 24 hours, spending most of my time in and around the Marais. Having said that, it is clear to me that Paris is suffering from deep political, social and economic malaise; the city will bounce back but it will take time.
While I may not be qualified to give this opinion it is clear that Parisians feel it too. A beautiful, hand-painted piece of satirical street art posted at the entrance to a subway station may be the best way of summing up how many French people currently feel about France:
Next stop: Fontainebleau (trees, chateaus and only happy thoughts I promise)
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