Paris, Je t’aime: Research Notes 1

Paris has a reputation that stretches time and space- from the modern day tourists from every continent of the world, to the bourgeois travellers of old, even stretching back to the Vikings and Attila the Hun (although the latter two are marauders, rather than visitors). It’s reputation is of beauty, fashion, music, architecture, sport, style, a certain snobbishness, a revolutionary fervour, but most of all, being a city that can be home to anyone, an example of anything, a welcoming metropolis, while at the same time, being one which can eat you up and force you to find you’re own way out.

It is this reputation which made the first ever family trip to Paris so exciting, and which drew me back to do my year abroad at University. During this year, I read as much as I could about Paris- from Andrew Hussey’s excellent ‘Paris: A Secret History’ and ‘The French Intifada’ to Laurent Deutsch’s ‘Métropole’ and any book I could get a hold of in the English bookshops of St-Michel. That year, I hard the tremendous opportunity of working in a two primary school, teaching English. The children taught me more than I could have ever hoped of teaching them; I saw them celebrate the diversity of France, I saw them singing songs like Zaz- Je Veux and Yannick Noah- Aux Arbres Citoyens in their yearly concert, and I saw the fear in their faces after the Charlie Hebdo attack, where their expression of solidarity and liberty in the form of drawing how they wished to represent what they believe.

I couldn’t put my finger exactly on why I wished to study more about the place. I knew I wanted to, but I could not say exactly why. I had managed to consolidate my interest in Parisian history into a more in depth study of the Paris Commune for my dissertation, having noticed in the books in which I had read on the subject that when women were mentioned, it barely stretched past Louise Michel and les pétroleuses- the supposed arsonists of the commune. I looked into the art scene and its female involvement, of which feminist art history could already assume was minimal. For my Masters, I am looking into the public perceptions of the commune; how it was reported in the press in France and across the channel, in Palmerston’s Great Britain. Did art feature as a part of the Commune in how people understood its structure? Were women mentioned, or do they get shortchanged and ignored, as the misogynist historical records show?

It is by looking into the Commune, a post-Haussman social revolution that I can pinpoint my love for the city. The commune existed in the very same city as the student uprisings of May 1968, and the exact same as we see today, beneath the modern facades, and elements of architectural achievement and urban progress. The city, that has changed gradually since the Romans moved it from modern day Nanterre, to Île-de-la-Cité, is not perfect. It does not function as a city should, it works how it wants to, and it is its historical layering of new on top of old that makes studying it so compelling- new secrets unravel the further you delve.

This blog doesn’t intend to be the love letter it sounds, but more a place in which I can share the secrets I find as I study the city more- the intricacies, the eccentrics and the inevitable obvious. I just hope you, in the end, find it as interesting as I do.

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