As I took a taxi last weekend from the Gare Montparnasse, crossing the Seine via the Pont de la Concorde felt almost like coming home. And Paris at this time of year is hard to beat.
Contrary to what you might think, August is by far the best month to get around there. It might be crammed with tourists, but they are a fraction of the Parisian population….and most of them don’t hire cars. The citadins themselves pour down the autoroute du sud, heading either east or west depending on their choice entre deux mers. They don’t start drifting back until around the 24th August.
The capital they leave behind has calm cafes, quiet roads, half-empty buses and ever-eager taxi drivers. For an explorer, it couldn’t be more ideal…..and being that bit further north, Paris is fresh rather than humid, but sunny rather then damp.
At such a time, there’s not much that can top the Jardin du Luxembourg. Yesterday, we took a bus along the dead-straight Boulevard Raspail, zooming past the chic apartments of St Germain des Pres to the magnificent Church of St Sulpice. Depending on your direction of approach, the 84 or 89 drops you right outside the Jardin.
Calling it a garden is a bit like calling the Seine a stream. The jardin spreads formally over forty acres, and is dominated by the royal pied à terre Palace du Luxembourg commissioned by Queen Marie de Médicis in 1612. Given she was married to Henry IV, the lady was not short of cash: it’s a pretty spectacular outcome, but for me the best thing about the place is its amazing collection of rare and old trees.
While there, you can people-watch to your heart’s content: artists at easels, serious young and old men at chess boards, and even athletic women at their kick-boxing practice under the ancient bandstand. It’s a journey back in near and distant time, and thus both civilised and fascinating.
The entrance door to our apartment block features passworded door locks, and as with all electronics these days, there has to be an android voice involved. The voices that techies choose never quite work; the synthesised robot announcing “door open” pronounces “pert avert”, which at first I heard as perv alert.
The voice is amusing, but unnecessary: the click is loud and the door easy to push, so you’d have to be severely disabled not to realise you’d pressed the right code. When one arrives at our floor, the voice says “derzy-em airtage” – which is bloody obvious, as there’s a light saying ‘2’.
It collapses me, because I immediately think of Peter Sellers, and The Pink Panther clip about needing to get a leesance fer yo minkey and a rerm fer you sairtiffika. Sadly, it also makes me aware of the act of giving a pointless job to a robot, but not an important job to a human.
Even worse, it reminds me of just how severely stupid technology companies think the average citizen is. In the Place de la Concorde here, there is one particular crossing which (for some reason obvious to them, but inexplicable to the rest of us) the authorities have employed a synthetic voice in addition to the little red man opposite. It’s the pert Ms Avert again, telling us how to avert danger.
“Red man” she says, or phonetically in Robofrench “Erm rerge”, adding “Atternshe-ern trerfeek a gershe” and then, halfway across the road, “Atternshe-ern trerfeek a dwert”. Now, unemployment is still high in France, and the acting profession is always worse hit than most. Equally, the sound of this voice is usually drowned by the noise of the traffic she wants us to avoid. So it would be so much better if the Paris council employed a clown capable of attracting attention and speaking real, ironic French, along the lines of “Utilisez vos yeux et oreilles” while pointing with sarcastic emphasis to both left and right.
Ms Avert could then become the first female android made redundant by a male human. If nothing else, it would be a start.
I have finally decided that the entire Japanese nation suffers from a desperate fear of being stuck with only themselves for company. Perhaps this comes from so many of them living on such a small land area – I don’t know. But if the country’s tourists are anything to go by, they are all hyper-morbid about the idea of being alone.
The most common sights in Paris right now are a queue of Japanese, a coachful of Japanese, and a crowd of Japanese. There is almost no point to having a collective noun for them, because they are collective at all times. The group term for the Japanese is, quite simply, a group.
A few decades ago, the Japanese discovered Burberry. Within twelve months, they were all covered in the stuff. In London at the time, I remember once seeing a mass of Burberried Japanese waiting outside the Ritz for the inevitable coach. They looked for all the world like a Mondrian meets Pollock convention: lots of brown, red, black and white geometric patterns somehow thrown together. As they boarded the coach, the resemblance to paint running off a canvas and into a pot was uncanny.
I’m sure that, to the parroting classes, all this reads like unreconstructed racism. So I’m now going to make matters worse by saying that the Japanese remind me a great deal of the Germans. They do things to extremes (austerity and QE), they’re a little vague about other people’s borders, they’re good at barking orders, never apologise, see themselves as a master race, have a penchant for sanctimonious cruelty, are widely disliked by most of their neighbours, and tend to enjoy the comfort and wisdom of crowds.
I could point out similar (and different) flaws in the British, American, Chinese, Swiss, Argentinian, Russian and Islamic cultures. I could write parallel things about Parisians, Yorkshire folk, Edinburghians, Athenians, Muscovites, Momentum supporters, Jews and Tory ministers.
But I would far rather be discerning about archetypes than blind to them; and I refuse to dismiss such databased and oft-experienced characteristics as stereotypes. The use of the term ‘stereotyping’ is an attempt to suggest that certain attitudes or behaviours don’t exist. It is beloved of the multiculturalists, and rightly condemned by radical realists. It leads to fundamentally dangerous and muddled agendas like federalism in Europe, globalism in business, American world hegemony, Communism, Jihadism, and other dystopian ideas keen to suggest we are all the same. Worse still, it creates appeasement of – and denialism about – the aspirations of extreme cultures.
Real, universal tolerance starts when we value responsible individual fulfilment above any other consideration. It ends as soon as enough determined people embrace a systemic mass belief system.