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Paris Is Always a Good Idea: Why I'll Always Go Back to France

10/02/2016 17:44 | Updated 11 February 2016
  • Alex Jackson MA Journalism student at Goldsmiths, University of London
Alex Jackson

France has just changed its constitution to extend the powers for states of emergency. Whilst the rules for emergencies are already observed, enshrining the measures in law protects the government from legal challenges.

Three months on from the November attacks, the existing state of emergency is due to expire this month, as is customary. The state of emergency gives extra powers to the police and army, including the right to search homes without a warrant and place people under house arrest. The move has drawn criticism from politicians and public commentators, but was approved by members of the lower house by 103 votes to 26.

Yet against this backdrop, the city of lights exudes endless charm and a certain je ne sais quoi no matter the circumstance, always enticing me back.

the view of paris from atop the tour montparnasse

Between 2011 and last September, I repeatedly returned to France to work, particularly in the Paris region. I got to know the rhythms of the city, acquired favourite places to eat in the Latin Quarter, discovered new bars in the Marais or off the Quai Francois Mauraic, found retreats in parks such as Buttes Chaumont, or strolled the Canal St Martin, and navigated the Paris metro with increasing proficiency. In short, I became Parisien.

At the time of the Charlie Hebdo shootings, I lived in Marseille, and experienced first hand the resilience and determination of the French, who stood in solidarité against the attacks. These were people who would not be moved in the face of terror, and were determined to defend their liberty. They would not be silenced, but brought their culture back to the streets. It's part of the French esprit that I admire the most - their culture dares to be heard.

charlie hebdo demonstrations in marseille

Resistance for the French starts with the stomach. There's a reason that the phrase Bon Appétit has infiltrated the English language, and logic behind the age-old cliché that all the best chefs in the world are French. Some of the best restaurants in the world can be found in Paris all lined up side by side. If, like me, your budget is a little restricted, there are endless 'formules', set menus dotted around the city if you walk a couple of streets back from the main boulevards. The cobbled, winding streets of the Latin Quarter or the Montmartre districts are perfect examples of how to find great meals at reasonable prices (try Gaudeamus behind the Pantheon, or Chez Plumeau near the Sacré Coeur).

Yet, for all the culinary tricks and savoir-faire, the most simple of French fine dining is a good baguette. A fresh baguette from any boulangerie promising that it has been made on site can be paired quite effortlessly with any cheese and wine, of which the French have an abundant selection. The two commodities are amongst the cheapest items in French supermarkets. Picnicking by the Seine in the summer is such a simple affair: no one has room to host a dinner party in their tiny Paris flat, but bring friends to the side of the river with these three ingredients, and the evening writes itself.

the banks of the seine in paris

Evenings by the river are something of a lifeblood for young people in the French capital. Walk along the Seine on a Friday or Saturday evening and the culture is unmistakable. There will be impromptu salsa dancing and entertainment by the Jardin Tino-Rossi for any passers-by to enjoy. Bars line the river, both on shore and on boats. A walk through Châtelet shows all the vibrancy Paris can offer, with its eclectic mix of cultures, restaurants and bars, to its traditional markets (which is still the best way to buy fresh fruit in France).

dancing in the jardin tinorossi

Culture still oozes from every corner of the capital. The Louvre remains the most visited art museum in the world, with almost 10 million people passing through the galleries annually. The bohemian culture around the Quai d'Austerlitz or Bastille, boasting the nearby Coulée Vert (Promenade Plantée), changes regularly. The Garden Walk was opened atop an obsolete railway in 1993, and is the original city High Line (sorry New York).

the promenade plantee or the high line in paris

Whilst the city changes, the grandeur of Paris remains unblemished. Its sweeping boulevards and Haussmann architecture are a testament to urban planning in a modern world. Every avenue is lined with trees, broken with parks. You almost accidentally seem to stumble from one monument to another, marvelling at the history before you, whether in cathedrals, towers, arcs, statues or squares. There is something of a laissez-faire approach: being surrounded by such culture, art, and history, the monuments and the architecture, you feel both as if living in the past and bringing the past to life. You are suspended between time and place.

the view from pont alexandre iii in paris

Perhaps it is this unique combination of factors, the food, the culture, the history, that gives the French their incomparable joie de vivre. Becoming an adult in France made me much more confident, outgoing, relaxed. The people of Paris aren't about to let anything stand to destroy their way of life. In the wake of Charlie Hebdo, there were unprecedented demonstrations behind the #jesuischarlie movement; following the November attacks, #enterrasse and #memepaspeur were similar notions, as Parisians went about their lives, drank wine, ate in squares, met with friends, visited museums, kissed openly, relaxed in parks, walked the river, tried the latest fashions and haut couture, indulged.

on devrait faire une pose strike a pose paris

The real attack on French culture here is the parliament's decision to reinforce the state of emergency, by no way a banner for tourists or French citizens alike. We look at France as the birthplace of modern democracy, and the country's founding call for liberté is something we should not take for granted the world over.

Watching the city shrink below my plane last September to move to London, I felt I was leaving my hometown and headed to an unknown world. Occasionally I hear snippets of French conversation on the tube, or have to walk past a French bakery, or see murals to the likes of Stromae in Shoreditch, and in an instant, I'm back. After all, "Paris is always a good idea", now more than ever.

morning at trocadero in paris

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