Useful Notes: Paris
"If you are lucky enough to have lived in Paris as a young man, then wherever you go for the rest of your life, it stays with you, for Paris is a moveable feast."Paris, the capital of France. With All Due Respect to Shattrath City, this is the original City of Light. In its administrative area (the 75 postal area, split up into twenty numbered administrative districts called "arrondissements", although these sort of things exist all over France), also known as "downtown Paris", the population is only about 2 million, but the total urban sprawl has a population of over 10 million (making it the largest urban area in The European Union and the second-largest in Europe, after Moscow). The region roughly in a 50 km radius around Paris is known as Ile-de-France, and its inhabitants are called "Franciliens" - although French people tend to refer to them all as Parisians. It has four ring roads (London Town only has two), the inner most being the division between the main city and the very poor suburbs... Or the very rich: the GDP per capita of the "Hauts-de-Seine" (the rich suburbs to the North West of Paris) is close to the GDP per capita of the district of Columbia, while the GDP per Capita of some parts of the "Seine-Saint-Denis" (the poorer eastern suburbs) is closer to that of parts of eastern Europe: you can go from the posher parts of the city to the poorer ones in 40 minutes by the subway. People of a prudish disposition should avoid Pigalle. Paris is most famous for its wide boulevards, copied in several other cities around the world. There's of course the Eiffel Tower, originally intended as the entrance arch for the 1889 World's Fair and holding the "tallest building in the world" title until the Chrysler Building took it in 1930. Other famous buildings include the Louvre art gallery, the Arc de Triomphe and the Moulin Rouge!. The city was pretty much untouched by the two world wars — the Germans only got into shelling range of the suburbs in the first, Paris surrendered in 1940 to avoid its destruction, the German commander surrendered it in 1944 against Hitler's orders to destroy it if he couldn't defend it, and nobody wanted to bomb the place. Also famous about Paris is its incredible mass transit system, which includes the iconic Le Métropolitain as well as other lesser known but equally functional networks. note See Gay Paree for Paris as a trope in modern fiction, as opposed to the boring facts.
- City of Adventure: It became this in the 19th and 20th Century. Artists coming to Paris to be inspired by its art, culture, women and night-life is common enough to be its own trope, as seen in An American in Paris and Midnight in Paris. In French literature too, young men coming to Paris from the Provinces has sometimes been a major theme. (Of course, "young man from the provinces comes to the capital to seek his fortune" is a story as old as civilization.)
- Dark and Troubled Past: As much as fiction portrays the happy, Shining City of tourist postcards, the darker history of Paris also gets featured in fiction:
- Historically, Paris is the site of infamous massacres - the St. Bartholomew's Day Massacre (with 30,000 dead in three days), the events of the French Revolution (especially the September Massacres and the final months of the Reign of Terror when all executions were conducted in the capital), the Bloody Week of the Paris Commune (30,000 dead in a single week), the Protests in 1961 when the French Police led by Maurice Papon killed 400 Algerians and dumped their bodies in the Seine. These and other incidents are portrayed in works by Dumas, Dickens and in the case of the Algerian massacre, the Michael Haneke film Caché
- During the Nazi Occupation, there was the famous Round Up of Vel d'Hiv where the French Police acting on Nazi Orders arrested 28,000 Jews (including children) and held them in an ice-skating rink before deporting them to the Camps. Only 400 survived.
- In the 21st Century of course, there were the terrorists attack on the offices of the satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo by religious extremists in January 2015. Then there was the November terrorist attacks that took place the same year by Islamic terrorists.
- Eiffel Tower Effect: Take a look at the image there. Like Big Ben for London and Hagia Sophia for Istanbul, it often serves as an instant metonym for Paris/France in the mind of the movie audiences:
- Located on the Champs de Mars built by Gustav Eiffel (who also designed the Bridge Bar-Hakeim, featured in Inception and the interior structure of the Statue of Liberty), it is a triumph of ironwork and was intended by Eiffel to be a monument that is futuristic and modern, to contrast the Neoclassical and medieval structures of earlier eras.
- The prominence of the tower in the city skyline annoyed earlier residents and visitors (famously author Guy de Maupassant who stated, jokingly, that his favorite restaurant was the one in the Tower since it meant he didn't have to see it). During the 30s, the Tower actually was rented out to brands for use as advertising space, famously Citroen. Then when the Vichy established themselves, they put a giant vanity plate marking V on the side of the lower arch.
- Genre Savvy: According to Urban Legend, The Baron Georges Eugene Haussmann created the wide boulevards to avoid barricades in case of rebellion (which happened quite often in his nineteenth century). According to Urban Legend, they had to be large enough to fire cannon down them at the mob. Haussmann himself denied this, the wide boulevards were intended by him to accomodate the greater urban population and carriage traffic.
- In any case, the goal of making impossible-to-barricade streets never materialized: as demonstrated by the Paris Commune of 1871, irate Parisians can barricade anything.
- The wide boulevards also had the rather unfortunate effect of leaving the city wide open to attacking armies - including tanks - who could use the wide boulevard to march right to the heart of the city. This made the infamously brutal suppression of the Commune possible. It also proved useful to the Nazis in maintaining curfew during the Occupation, something which a patriot like Haussmann would probably regret.
- Monumental Damage: Disaster movies often like to show shots of famous Parisian monuments crumbling in post-apocalyptic landscapes. Funnily enough, this is closer to the truth. For all its deserved status as a cultural capital, Paris is a city that has seen severe changes to its city geography and destruction of several landmarks over the last two hundred years:
- It began during The French Revolution.
- The Place Louis XV was renamed Place de la Revolution and a commemorative Equestrian Statue of the King was destroyed by the Revolutionaries. The place was later renamed Place de la Concorde and today has a massive Egyptian Obelisk from the Luxor Temple gifted by Egypt to France in 1833.
- Likewise the Bastille Prison was destroyed carefully over the first years of the Revolution. Relics of the stones were sold as souvenirs. The July Column honoring the July Revolution (who gathered at the former area of Bastille to evoke its memories) stands at its former sites, and surviving stones are placed in an underground train station.
- During dechristianization, Revolutionaries vandalised statues of Kings and Saints at Notre Dame de Paris and converted the altar of the Virgin Mary to worship the Cult of Reason, much of the Church as seen today comes from recreation and restoration efforts.
- The Temple, a fortress of The Knights Templar until The Purge that finished them for good, became the Prison and final home of Louis XVI during his trial. Napoleon, worried that it would become a sacred spot for royalists, had it destroyed on coming to power.
- Baron Georges Haussmann in his remaking of Paris destroyed several old medieval areas to make Paris a 19th Century capital. This was one reason why his replanning was resented by critics; they felt that he, working under Napoleon III, was trying to deprive Paris of its independent character. The wide boulevards he planned supposedly to be hard to barricade is one example of this. Much of the city as it exists today is a legacy of Haussmann rather than the city as it had existed before him.
- Nevertheless the Paris Commune showed that the city was far from pacified. During the Commune, when the Army was closing in, the Communards set fire on the Hotel de Ville (subsequently rebuilt) and burnt the Palais de Tuileries to the ground.
- In the 20th Century, the city survived World War II with little damage. During The '70s, President Georges Pompidou built a new cultural centre in Paris, known as the Centre Pompidou (designed as a modern art museum). To build it, he controversially ordered the destruction of Les Halles. This was the celebrated glass-windowed open-market celebrated in many French novels and films, the subject of philosopher Walter Benjamin's The Arcades Project, the destruction was widely resented and remains quite controversial to this day.
- It began during The French Revolution.
- Powder Keg Crowd: Paris has a history in France for being highly unruly and is often represented this way in fiction where crowds of French protestors from the Revolution to "May '68" still show up in movies and books:
- French Kings often used any chance they could to get away from the city. King Philip le Bel faced a riot from angry Parisians and had to hide in the Temple Fortress (he would later win back his popularity by killing his former Templar benefactors). Poor King Louis XVI's ship was sunk the day the women of Paris led him from Versailles to Tuilleries.
- Republican governments often tried in vain to move the capital out of Paris, when the Girondins tried to do so, they lost their heads and the Third Republic operated from Versailles during the Paris Commune and even after the suppression was afraid of stepping in, with many arguing to shift the capital. It was also a reason why Vichy was chosen for Petain's capital instead of Paris. It was only since the gentrification of the 70s (especially the destruction of Les Halles under Pompidou) and rising costs of living that forced working class and immigrants to live in the banlieues (suburbs) that people felt that Paris had finally become a capital of France, rather than a city cut-off from the rest. Parisians, like post-Gentrification New York, feel that a vital part of its independent badass spirit was traded for neoliberal reforms.
- One reason for Paris' independence was that many of its neighbourhoods were close-knit and fairly communal and this nurtured a long independent spirit of hidden self-government and vigilance. This finally burst through during the Revolution which as Victor Hugo noted was the "triumph of France over Europe and Paris over France".
- Shining City: It's often depicted as shining at night, and brightly colored during the day.