01 August 2016

Do Places Change, Or Do Journeys Remain The Same?

I'm back in New York but still living on Paris time, at least for today.  That means I couldn't sleep when I got home, fell asleep after opening my suitcase (at least, that's what I think), feeling too tired to fall asleep (or not tired enough to stay awake?) , then falling asleep again by my kitchen table.

In between, I found myself thinking 

My fourth-favorite sculpture from my favorite sculptor.

about the trip, and other things.

Although some things in Paris change, if you go back to it, you'll find more similarities with the City of Light you remember from however-many-yearsh ago when you first visited, or lived or worked, there.  At least, that is how I felt last year--returning after being away for more than a decade--and this year, more than three decades after I first saw the French capital.

In contrast, New York--parts of it, anyway--can change more in a few years than Paris or other cities can change in decades, or even centuries.  I was reminded of that when the former neighbor I encountered in the Cluny recounted going back to our old block recently and noticing how it was "so different" from what we lived in.

In Paris, of course, there are buildings that stood for centuries before Europeans got lost on a trip to India and found themselves in the Americas.  (No, Columbus did not "discover" America!)  But there are also aspects of daily living that haven't changed much, if at all.  Although it's a major, fast-paced city, people still take time to enjoy meals and passing streams of humanity.  Those things happen to a greater degree in other parts of France (at least they did when I saw them about 15 years ago), but there are still lively street scenes that, I feel, are quickly disappearing in New York--and never existed in the first place in other parts of the United States.

And, let's face it, you are never going to see anything like this anywhere in the US:

New bikes might have technology.  But they--save for those made by custom and traditional builders like Mercian--or those, like Mariposa, who are inspired by them--don't have the heart and style of this:

Yes, it's a Peugeot, and many more like it were built.  But it has all sorts of details--which, like cornices on Victorian buildings or harmonies in Mozart sonatas--that are actually functional and not only aesthetic or merely stylistic. 

OK, so I wouldn't have seen a bike like that ridden to victory, or at all, down the Boulevard des Champs Elysees last Sunday.  And its rider wouldn't have dismounted under the Arc de Triomphe to ascend the winners' platform.  But its owner may well have ridden through this:

La Porte St. Denis is one of Paris's "other arcs" (the Porte St. Martin is the other)--and, in my opinion,  more interesting than that more famous one.   And a lot easier to ride.  I know:  I rode by and through la Porte St. Denis (in the above photo) the other day, and I've ridden round and round the other one!

And I went back, and came back.


  1. Indeed, American and European cities change, but they change in different ways. An old European city (going back to Roman times) is constantly changing, but in a way that it stays the same place. I took a photo of a place in the old medieval center of Florence in 1981, and then again from the same point of view in 2011. EVERYTHING was different, balcony railings, window sizes, placement of doors... But it was the same place, a typical street in medieval Florence. The spirit goes on intact but the details of form may change radically. There is only one way to remodel a building in Florence: the Florentine way. There is also a Parisian way...

    American cities are destroyed each generation and rebuilt. Is there such a thing as "The New York Way" of remodeling or rebuilding structures? One would be hard put to put one's finger on anything specific that would link NY of 1800 and 2000. American cities become different places over time.

    It is a question of how deeply people identify with the place.


  2. Digressing just a little, the Rodin at the Rodin Museum was originally installed at the Paris Pantheon to replace one that was destroyed by a madman. My favorite SURVIVING "Thinker" is the one that is in Cleveland. The Weathermen tried to blow it up, but it is exhibited there to this day with the damage unrepaired.

  3. Steve--Digression welcome. You bring up an important point: Much of what we see in museums--especially sculpture--is not original.

    I don't understand why the Weathermen wanted to blow up "The Thinker." If they really wanted to destroy something to make their point (whatever it was), there were lots of more appropriate targets.

    Leo--"It is a question of how deeply people identify with the place". Yes! Even though Paris is a big city and a lot of people are transient, there is more of a sense of place there than in any American city I've seen. Last year, I went to Paris after being away from it for eleven years. Even in the far sections of the 12th and 13th arrondissements, where there are a lot of new buildings, it was still identifiably Parisian. On the other hand, there are times when I can't tell where I am in my home town of New York.

    Of course, in the smaller towns and countryside of France, Spain, Belgium, Switzerland, Germany and Italy--where I've cycled--that sense of belonging to a place is even stronger. And I don't find that same sense here in the States.