|Eiffel Tower, Paris, seen from Trocadero|
My latest novel, To Eat the World, places two characters from the food and art worlds into one of this planet's great cities, New York, and a race against time to save us all. I'm constantly thinking about my creations, Sophie and Jacob, and where they should experience their next adventure. I've just enjoyed my first visit to Paris. So now I know where my characters will go. They will walk the hills of Montmartre, then eat croque monsieurs in the shade of the Tuileries Garden. They will get up close to the greatest art in human history. They will be stupefied by a multisensory assault, every sensation tickled, every cultural and gastronomic yearning embraced.
|Inside the Louvre's pyramid|
|Blanche metro station, Art Nouveau at Montmartre|
Well, I have woken from a bad dream and have seen the reality. Sure, Paris can stink, but so does every major city. Yes, Parisiens can be rude, but Londoners tend to be ruder. Certainly there is not a McDonald's on every street corner, and that can only be a good thing. Of course France has no place in her constitution for kings or queens or popes or mullahs. And that is only right. Ireland, smothered by the insidious blankets of empire and religion, lost her greatest talents to Paris, among them James Joyce and Samuel Beckett. And the contrasts with dowdy, backwater Dublin could not be more pronounced.
|Venus de Milo, Louvre|
It is precisely because Paris is so successful at what it does that it has become a target for the haters. Rightwing US media buffoons hate that France didn't help to destroy and dismember Iraq. Cheese-eating surrender monkeys? Give me Camembert de Normandie on crusty bread over genetically-modified junkfood any day. And the evil spawn of US foreign policy, al Qaeda, with their hideous attack on Charlie Hebdo magazine, hate the very idea of free speech and their brothers-in-arms, Islamic State, despise the values of secularism that are at the very heart of what France means.
|Gary J Byrnes at Bouillon Chartier restaurant|
France is not perfect - nowhere is - and that nation's colonial experiences are every bit as shocking and destructive as Britain and America's. But Paris, the birthplace of the Age of Enlightenment, is the only city I've experienced which has the potential to foster a new enlightenment. With secularism, true republicanism, technology and culture at its heart, Paris must step up now and offer a clear vision of a better world. We can't all live in Paris, so Paris must come to us. France tried to save Ireland once, despatching thousands of troops to assist in the 1798 rebellion against British rule. France must once again come to our rescue by taking the lead in the European Union, challenging the austerity dogma and putting people first.
Je suis waiting...
Find out more about Gary at www.GaryJByrnes.com
Taste Paris at Bouillon Chartier, more details at http://www.bouillon-chartier.com/en/
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