Saturday, 7 February 2009

Paris - City of Light or Grey old Lady?

The French call it 'la grisaille parisienne" that awful greyness that hangs over the city in the winter and is picked up by the greyish stone of the Hausmann boulevards. Given this tendency, whatever possessed the Mitterand government, or more specifically the old egomaniac himself to impose more grey on the capital? Two examples: the Bastille Opera and those absurd columns in the Palais Royal courtyard. The latter were pretentious and pointless when they were commissioned by that pretentious and pointless Mitterand clique back in the 80s. Now both they and the Bastille Opera are delapidated and tatty and quite literally falling apart. Those nasty great grey slabs of tile on the lugubrious opera house have started dropping off and, because they could kill someone, nets have been draped around a relatively new structure. Buren's soppy columns need 'restoring' and the old boy has done us the honour of 'creating' more black and white stripes on a bit of screen that conceals the restoration work being done on his black and white-striped columns. He must be exhausted - coming up with the idea of black and white stripes twice in 25 years! How does he do it???

Today, it snowed in Paris. It didn't stick just whirled in the air and made the city greyer and colder than ever. I was in the Louvre and in need of a cup of tea. I saw that there was a cafe Richelieu on the floor that I was visiting so headed into it, ready to cough up the standard 5 Euros - £4.50 for a cuppa - I was that desperate. The Cafe Richelieu has a terrace in summer overlooking the great Pyramid Courtyard. That might redeem it but in winter, there is only the room itself and the room is, surprise, surprise - granite grey bordering on black. Nice that - sitting in a black room looking out on the grey day. 

Anyone visiting the Louvre should ignore all their restaurant offerings and settle instead for the Cafe Marly on Richelieu side, tucked inside the colonnades overlooking the Pyramid. It's cosy with red velvet banquettes and can safely claim to be the only restaurant in the world that looks right into a sculpture hall of the Louvre. On a even mildly warm evening, it's possible to sit on their terrace, gaze out at the Pyramid and ask yourself, as I often do, whether this was the one thing Mitterand got right on his commissioning rampage through Paris. Or is it just possible that the courtyard would have looked fine without it? I think I'll head over there, buy myself a glass of wine and ponder the question again.

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