In this series I’ll be looking at places I’ve visited and what meaning they have had for me or my stories, what inspiration I’ve drawn from them or what strange link I have in my head between these places and some of my characters. I’ll be looking at Paris, Corfu, France (including the Pyrenees), Scotland, Lanzarote, Lapland and more! So keep reading for some entertaining rambling and some lovely pictures! (And if you’re here from my Youtube video say Hi in the comments below.)
This week I’m going to talk about Paris.
What I knew about the place?
Well I grew up in France so obviously I knew Paris was it’s capital and I knew about the famous monuments and places, some of the famous people eccetera, but I lived in the South so I never got to visit. To be honest growing up if you’d have asked me what I most wanted to see in Paris and it’s surrounding region it would have been Parc Astérix because I loved those BD (comics) growing up, still do and, quite frankly still want to visit. However being a little bit older there were plenty of things I wanted to see in Paris and I was really glad I got to go because it was the centre of so much culture and history growing up.
Paris is the most populous city in France and the Île-de-France region (colloquially the ‘Paris Region’) represented roughly 18 percent of the population of France in 2016. To accommodate the movements of its inhabitants, tourists and businessmen, the city has two international airports (Paris-Charles de Gaulle and Paris-Orly); the Paris Métro (the second busiest metro system in Europe after Moscow Metro) and multiple impressive train stations such as Gare du Nord. Paris has been called The City of Light (La Ville Lumière); partially because of its leading role during the Enlightenment but also because it was quite literally lit up being one of the first European cities to adopt gas street lighting (numbering some 56,000 gas lamps on the boulevards and streets of Paris in the 1860s).
Paris has long been a centre of the arts, finance, commerce, fashion, and science, but it has also had a long association with war and revolution. Some of it’s most famous museums and landmarks include: the Louvre; the Cathedral of Notre Dame de Paris; the Eiffel Tower; the Arc de Triomphe on the Champs-Élysées; the Basilica of Sacré-Coeur on the hill of Montmartre; and Disneyland Paris (in the Paris region). Furthermore many of the presidents of the Fifth Republic have left their own monuments as a mark on the city, these include Centre Georges Pompidou (President Georges Pompidou); the Musée d’Orsay( Valéry Giscard d’Estaing ); the Opéra Bastille; the Bibliothèque nationale de France; the Arche de la Défense; and the Louvre Pyramid with its underground courtyard (all by President François Mitterrand); and finally the Musée du quai Branly (Jacques Chirac). It has been home to many writers and poets throughout its history, including La Fontaine, Molière, Racine, Voltaire, Victor Hugo (whose story The Hunchback of Notre Dame inspired the renovation of Notre-Dame de Paris itself), Albert Camus, Jean-Paul Sartre as well as expatriate writers such as Ernest Hemingway and Samuel Beckett.
Paris took shape firstly when the Romans conquered the Paris Basin (in 52 BC when all of Gaule was occupied by… oh wait. no, no we’re not doing that…). First they made the island a garrison camp but soon began creating a more permanent settlement which extended over onto what is now Paris’s Left Bank. This Gallo-Roman town was originally called Lutetia and it soon became a prosperous city with all sorts of Roman comforts such as a forum, baths, temples, theatres, and an amphitheatre. By the end of Western Roman Empire Lutetia had instead come to be known by a Latin name: Parisius; this would in turn become Paris in French later on.
In the middle of the 3rd century AD Christianity was introduced to the city by Saint Denis, the first Bishop of Paris. Legends says that when he refused to renounce Christianity before the Roman occupiers he was beheaded on the hill; the hill became known as Mons Martyrum (Latin “Hill of Martyrs”) and is now “Montmartre”.
Later Clovis the Frank made the city his capital from 508 and there was a gradual immigration of the Franks from Western Germany to Paris where the Parisian Francien dialects were born.
What I thought when I was there?
I enjoyed Paris on the whole. I’m not a city sort of person really so I didn’t like any of the times when I was crammed up close to total strangers, for example on the Metro, but I really enjoyed the architecture and the monuments and would have liked to spend more time seeing those (unfortunately the college trip I was on had a shopping trip planned for most of the last day which I didn’t enjoy). Fortunately I did get to see the Eiffel Tower and go up it; I saw the Arc de Triomphe; the outside of the Louvre and it’s glass pyramid as well as just wandering the streets of Paris itself and taking in its awesome statues and buildings. I liked going up the Eiffel Tower most I think because it’s such an iconic symbol of France that it was great to finally go there and to get a real sense for its size and how it was built; I’d definitely recommend going up.
I didn’t have a great camera back then but I did manage to get a photo of the Fontaine Saint-Michel which I talked about in my Influences post and that was me made for the trip! (And if you want to see more photos check out my Instagram or Tumblr, I post more photos there.)
Paris is a very impressive city and a very beautiful one if rather overwhelming at times and I would like to go back one day (hey maybe I’d finally get to Parc Astérix!). I especially liked that we took the Eurostar from London to Paris as I prefered it to flying and it’s great being connected to the continent in such an easy manner.
We also saw the (outside) of the Moulin Rouge and I had to laugh at how traumatised some of my classmates were! I can’t say it seemed so terrifying to me! Haha!
We also ended up staying one extra night in Disneyland Paris because we were supposed to be flying back but a there was a really bad storm and nothing was leaving. We ended up taking the Eurostar back the next day instead. I actually didn’t see any of Disneyland, not even out of my window as it was about 1 am when we got to the rooms and all we were really focused on was getting pizza and going to bed. It was great everyone eating pizza together in their rooms and chatting. I was really happy because I ended up with a room all by myself. So in a strange way I’ve managed to both be at Disneyland without ever actually ever having been in my whole life.
What impact did it leave on me/my characters? Did it inspire anything?
I think the biggest impact it had was furthering my love for architecture and statues. I loved the outside of Notre-Dame de Paris (we didn’t go inside unfortunately) and it was cool walking up to the Sacré-Cœur and, as it was night, seeing all the city lights below us. I loved all the statues; especially the more mythical ones like the aforementioned one of Archangel Michael.
Paris is a city that was designed to look beautiful, with its history remembered in monuments on every street corner and that’s something I want to have present in the cities in my stories (especially London): a sense of it’s history and myth, a sense of deliberate design with beauty and practicality in mind.
In its churches, cathedrals, parks and monuments I can see why Paris was so important to writers, playwrights, poets and all manner of artistic types; but in its cramped metros, busy streets and numerous cars it is less romantic. Paris is a beautiful city, but it’s still a city with all that comes with it (noise, rude people etc.); I’m including this because, while I enjoyed it and would recommend it, I don’t want to do so in a way that romanticises the city beyond all realms of realism. Paris has enough of a cult following so I feel it important to add this small pinch or realism.
That begin said, it was a nice experience and I would certainly go again, especially for the architecture!