Friday, May 01, 2020

101 Things #99 - An Arrondissement Too Far

With this, the 99th in the almost-completed series of diatribes against things fashionable, we return to the well-worn theme of travel. Worthy of inclusion in the index of impracticability that is 101 Things I Refuse To Do Before I Die is the recommendation on the website Develop Good Habits to

Stay in each of the arrondissements of Paris

Whilst I was browsing the DHG site to find out more about the fascination with the administrative districts of Paris, I spotted something else that nearly diverted me to write a separate piece, and spent some time pondering it before deciding it was just too silly. Rather than deprive you of it, here is the cause of that digression - the suggestion that one should, as part of one's all time bucket-list of things worth doing, 

Sunbathe near the Atlantic Ocean.

Whatever view one takes on the pros and cons of sunbathing (a no-no in the Ramblings household), what on earth does it matter which ocean one chooses to be near to? Why the Atlantic and not any other great ocean, or come to that, any small body of water? Why is the world-renowned Ruislip Lido not adduced as an alternative? And why (and this is the bit that had me fascinated) must one be "near" to the ocean, as apart from being right beside it on a nice beach or maybe on a pleasant hillside a few miles away?

Anyway, I just thought I'd throw that one in as a sort of bonus, to you, my loyal readers, as we near the end of this wonderful journey through B-L madness and personal foibles, and now back to the main event.

To the non-French speaker arrondissement is a lovely word to roll off the tongue. So much more romantic and evocative than, say, district or as we might have in London, borough. But they are just administrative boundaries, part of the system of local government. The map of them does have a wonderful shell-like design because the numbering system moves around in a great spiral, and as the arrondissements further away from the centre are larger than those in the middle, there is a tangible resemblance to the Fibonacci, or Golden Ratio, sequence of numbers found throughout nature (in the design of sunflower seedheads,for example). This map shows it clearly

Pic: World in Paris

Paris is a fine city, Mrs C and I have been there a number of times and anyone new to France (or Europe) should have it on their itinerary. What gives me pause is the idea of staying in each of the 20 districts that denote the central part. If "stay" means at least one overnight, then we are being told to spend three weeks changing our living arrangements every day. 20 trudges up a flight of steps to find a surly concierge or a suspicious desk clerk. 20 luggings of a heavy suitcase (we are in Paris for at least three weeks, remember) up a further three flights of twisting stairs into dark corridors until we finally reach a poky little room, open the tatty curtains and gaze out upon the walls of the apartment that faces us across a narrow, rather whiffy, back alley. 20 rounds of French breakfasts consisting of that sludgy indigestible coffee, an iron-hard roll and a damp croissant with a blob of raspberry jam. 20 rounds of packing, lugging the suitcase back down the interminable stairs and then trying to find the clerk to pay the extortionate bill. And then it's out into the wet streets (bound to be raining most days) and off through the puddles and the hooting, street-clogging traffic to the next hotel in the next arrondissement a mile away.

All these images, (founded, I should add, on bitter personal experiences both on holiday and visiting Paris on business) sprang into my mind the instant that I contemplated what staying in each arrondissement would actually mean. Let me propose something a lot more sensible. Find a decent place to stay and use the excellent Metro to get around to each part of the city. The time saved on the interminable checking-in and out will justify any additional outlay.

I suppose the DHG people thought that one could truly experience the flavour of each arrondissement only by staying there, that somehow the breakfast in the cafe on the street corner (we have abandoned our dispiriting hotel breakfast in this scenario) will be different each time, that the pungent aroma of cigarettes and dog-pee will change as we cross the streets on the boundaries, that the gendarme will take his hand off the butt of his firearm, smile and welcome us to his manor ... No, those of us who have been know that this not going to happen. Sure, each part of Paris has its own character but you'll pick that up merely by strolling through the streets. As with all great cities, nearly all of it is residential or commercial and the bits we tourists relish are concentrated in a comparatively small area in the centre.

So forget the arbitrary lines on the map. Visit Paris, sure. And do it for fun, not to tick off a pointless exercise in political geography.

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