As Normal As Paris Gets

photo: line at louvre pyramid
As long as it may look, the line to get into
the Louvre moves quickly.

Checking To See If It's Still In One Piece

Paris:- Wednesday, 15. July 1998:- Yesterday, on Bastille Day, it was sunny. It was a dot on the 'i' of a day, after the thirty-odd days of the World Cup in France, its final explosion of celebration, and the beginning of this year's Tour de France.

Today is an ordinary day in the middle of July. It is cool and cloudy. It might rain a bit. The Brazilians have taken their colors away and left Paris to its grey skies.

In other words, life has returned to normal. This is, if you can say, life is ever normal in this city. If I start this with, 'On the Champs-Elysées,' is this normal? Yet this is what I am going to do.

On the Champs-Elysées the flags of all the football countries are still decorating the avenue with their bright flashes of solid colors against the green of the trees.

At the Etoile métro exit at the top of the avenue, after the Arc de Triomphe has revealed itself to be solidly placed in its habitual spot, there are large numbers of civilians. By civilians, I mean they are not obviously football fans.

How odd it seems. Ordinary people from every part of the planet. Gazing at the Arc, taking photos of each other, looking exhilarated. How have they managed to change overnightphoto: rivoli arcades from colorfully deranged football fans into ordinary visitors? And I can feel space between them; they are not solid mobs.

See? It's hard to tell. Not everybody on Rivoli is a tourist. Some are 'visitors.'

When you first come out of the métro at Etoile, the first thing you see is the Arc de Triomphe. It is really big. So is the Etoile, but there are usually a screen of people between it and the métro exit. So, I think, the first thing is to turn away from it and look down the avenue. It is so big.

So much bigger than the Arc de Triomphe; it is really the 'breathless' part. Your street, my street, everybody's street; and you own it all. You can't take it with you, but you can have everything on it. The sum of it is worth more than its details; and this is a better way to remember it too.

Over the last couple of days, the Champs-Elysées must have been in the world's living rooms often, with last Monday morning's insane celebration and yesterday's massive turnout for the Bastille Day parade. All the TV shot from helicopters showed the whole avenue, showed the hugest numbers of people.

There is no sign of this on the street today. It is eerie; was it so recent? Did it happen?

For the first time in about five or six weeks, the Paris Tourist Office seems to be full of visitors. It is crowded after weeks of being deserted. This is disorienting.

If I am wondering how 600 hundred thousand or a million and a half can be made to disappear overnight, now I'm wondering how all these obviously different people have managed to get here today. Have they been waiting until the coast is clear? Loitering just over the border? The colorful 'party' sign has been removed, and the 'business as usual' sign has returned to replace it.

Okay, so it's 'business as usual.' I skim the racks for new brochures and outside skim the sidewalk posters for new ones. In summer, even on grey days, the weekly changing 'coming event' posters have given way to less-frequently changing posters for perfumes and for Paris' 'Most Parisian'photo: pont des arts department store. This last one is in English. Although the name of one particular store is on it, it applies to all of them.

The Pont des Arts - expressway to the Left Bank, or picnic spot?

At the end, by George Cinq, the newspaper kiosk's magazine posters do not light my lamp either. In the métro entry, there are a couple - for past events - I wished I'd gotten, but I never saw them elsewhere; never except here where it to too dim to shoot them.

The métro's big posters are nondescript. Brigitte Bardot has her 'dead-dogs' poster up again. It has been modified this year to include the advice not to leave your pets in a kennel, as well as the familiar theme of not abandoning them by the side of the road. I wonder what is wrong with pet kennels.

Avoiding ending up in the mall under the Louvre's entry, I come out on Rivoli, at a surprise exit; on the Louvre side, instead of the Palais-Royal side. I cross over and go around to the Comédie Française place, to a little café here. A tiny place, you can get into if you don't have acute claustrophobia.

Waiting for the 'green man' at the crosswalk, I glance up and down Rivoli. There seem to be thousands scanning the shops underneath the arcades.

This is not the case going through the passage through the Louvre to the Cour Napoléon. Sometimes it is like a crowded métro tunnel in rush-hour. It is always dim, as if it were still before lights were invented.

The pyramids are reflecting the grey skylight. Wind is blowing spray from the fountains to the east. There is a long line of people waiting to get in to the main pyramid. When I have watched this line before; I've seen that it goes quickly - but from a distance it looks like a long, static line.

It is not overly warm, but people are sitting outside at the Café de Marly which overlooks the scene. Everything else is stone, glass, steel, fountains, a lot of sky, and some people sort of dwarfed by it all.

As I pass out the east side, going through to the Cour Carrée, a guy wearing kilts and carrying bagpipes is coming the other way. He winks. I nod. What are we conspiring about? Is he a left-over from the initial Brazil-Scotland game five weeks ago? Or is he part of this conspiracy called living in Paris?

The Pont des Arts has its broad, wood-decked invitation to the Left Bank. The golden dome of the Institut de France on the other side is trying to glitter. If the Institut would change places with the Beaux-Arts, then I think it would improve the hospitality of the bridge considerably.

I don't cross here. Today is a Pont Neuf day and on the way to this the bouquinistes are getting a lot of sidewalk traffic. But it is dark under the trees; when the sun is high this darknessphoto: bouquinistes & pont neuf is only shade and it is different because there is glitter from the Seine and blue between the leaves above.

See that sky? See that umbrella? This is Paris; this is normal.

In one of the half-round bench places on the Pont Neuf, three people are sitting under over-large colorful golf umbrellas. It is not raining; maybe they are hiding from the sky.

The place Dauphine is more deserted than I have ever seen it. One old bicycle is tired and it is lying down. The earth or clay, or whatever it is, underneath the trees looks like it has been combed. Whoever 'they' are, they left the place tidy before they left.

The quai des Orfèvres does not have its sometimes electric feeling as I pass; the police guarding the Palais de Justice seem at ease and unconcerned. The place Saint-Michel across the river looks dark. I am not going over there today. The quai beside the Prefecture seems about as quiet as the last stretch.

From rue de la Cité, Notre Dame looks clean, above the scaffolding screening the whole lower third of the front. Instead of some usual construction clutter, the lower part is a solid sheet of aluminum siding, with warehouse entries slashed in it. A 'trompe-l'oeil' could have been painted on it to make everybody's photos come out right.

On the south side, there are two modest snack stands. I think of shooting one of these with the sign for public toilets in the foreground.

These are probably the most prominent toilet signs in Paris, maybe in France, and they are in a handy place, which is highly unusual. But a good photo they will not make, and I'll wonder why I took it. So I don't.

Right in front of the church, somebody has wangled an exclusive license for a souvenir stand. Just one. It looks like tacky goldmine. It is pure insanity. I must find out the story that surely goes with it. Maybe the church owns it.

The rue d'Arcole runs north with the Hôtel Dieu hospital on the left in one long block and on the opposite side are a line of trinket shops and cafés, broken only by the small rue Chanoinesse.

While I look for the angle that will fit in most of these shops, a whole wave of visitors gushes towards the Hôtel de Ville. This looks impressive, but is a bit deceptive - it isn't an unbroken wave. Mostly there are ripples photo: notre dame de parisor wavelets, and I've been here before when it was deserted at high noon on a sunny day in June.

At the back there is no scaffolding, and there is just as much church.

It still seems, mostly, that a lot of visitors have been hiding - waiting for the 'events' to pass, and now they are here in their usual and familiar mass.

I have not been talking much. People have asked directions and I've known the answers. Some of these seem to have arrived without knowing why they've come. They have two days to see everything - should they 'see' the Opéra at Bastille? And by the way, where is the Bastille? For that matter, where is the Opéra?

I know the Hôtel de Ville looks better from a distance, so I go over to the flower market to catch the métro there. There is an exotic-plant shop with cactus' filling the window. There is also an Irish lady with a stall here, but it is closed. I told her I would come some time.

Here it is. Paris is normal. It is cool and the sky is grey. People have come to see the sights, drink the café, eat the food, and maybe buy a modest souvenir of remembrance. Paris is okay again.

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