Google+ Followers

Friday

Paris, a Shining Beacon for a New Age of Enlightenment?

eiffel-tower-paris-gary-j-byrnes
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.

louvre-paris-gary-j-byrnes
Inside the Louvre's pyramid
Dublin, my hometown, is a quaint little city, capital of a dysfunctional, bankrupt country. Ireland is a broken, depressed nation, certainly, but Dublin has its moments. Contextually, Dublin was the second city of the British Empire for many centuries, on an island strategically important to the Crown and in relative proximity to the capital of empire, London. Dublin's only notable examples of decent architecture are the remaining monuments of colonialism. After a brief interlude of independence, which entailed little more than domination by the brutal Catholic Church, mass emigration and the entrenchment of a new landed gentry of farmers and slum landlords, Ireland is once again a colonial outpost. But this time, our capital is in flux. A tussle between distant Germany, Frankfurt, home to the European Central Bank, our financial overlords. And Washington, which sees Ireland as a convenient military transit hub off the coast of Europe and a convenient tax avoidance location for the biggest American corporations, many of them large political donors back home. Ireland is also a great place for US presidential hopefuls to drink a pint of Guinness and we punch way above our weight in greenhouse gas emissions. Thanks to cow farts, mainly.

blanche-metro-paris-gary-j-byrnes
Blanche metro station, Art Nouveau at Montmartre
Because Irish culture is so deeply coloured by our experience as part of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland and our reliance on the US for jobs, inward investment and export markets for alcohol, we have lost any real understanding of what it means to be Irish. We consume British and American news media, music, sport, junk food and junk culture and we have sleepwalked into the Anglo-American groupthink. This is evidenced in many ways, from our docile acceptance of the open market capitalist mantra to the sacrifice of caring society on the altar of the banks. And we've always had a sneaking suspicion of the French.

musee-dorsay-paris-gary-j-byrnes
Musee d'Orsay
The French are savages - they chopped the heads off their monarchs! The French have no place for organised religion! The French always surrender! The French smell! The French are rude! These are the subtle messages that have been propagated through the Anglo media and into the Irish psyche for generations. The French traits of liberty, equality, secularism and republicanism have been transformed by the British and American establishments into negatives and this poisonous message has been gleefully disseminated by a monocultural media.

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-paris-gary-j-byrnes
Venus de Milo, Louvre
Paris is an epic, stylish city, full of a unique design sensibility, artistic expression, treasures of the the world, glorious architecture and a confident sense of itself. Parisiens are justly proud of their unique and exciting city and it is no surprise to me that Paris should be the world's top tourist destination. It is a genuinely multi-cultural, buzzing metropolis. People sit outside bars reading books. Books! People write, draw, paint, talk. People stroll through the parks in 1920s dress. Couples dance for tips in the squares. There is a fashion shoot around every corner. You can eat wonderfully simple food in a classic restaurant in the city centre for less than you'd spend on a burger meal in Dublin.

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.
bouillon-chartier-restaurant-paris-gary-j-byrnes
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. And France seems to have an unhealthy obsession with nuclear weapons. But these shortcomings could be laid at the feet of her 'Establishment'.

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/

Win a signed copy of Gary's latest thriller with Books Ireland Magazine at http://www.booksirelandmagazine.com/

gary-j-byrnes-writer


No comments: