Thursday, September 08, 2005

Well here I am in Paris perfecting my mooching skills off yuppie relative. Interestingly, I have finally visited stuff that I forgot to for the 2 years I lived in this place. When you arrive in a town you tend to sort out the essentials such restaurants and boozers and forgo the cultural stuff. This time however, I am a happy tourist.

You might want a plan when visiting Paris as most of it makes for bad strolling material. I have always been a fan of small winding streets when it come to ambling and, in Paris, these are reserved for a small amount of areas. The long and wide avenues that caracterise Paris are not the result of an innate French flair for the grandiose but a more pragmatic need to be able to shift troops quickly around the place and shoot Parisians, a sentiment shared by many a visitor to this place.

So off I trotted to the Ile de la Cite, the central island that held the original tribal settlement before the romans decided they liked the place. The big attraction on that island is of course the cathedral of Notre Dame, made famous by Victor Hugo with his novel about some cripple stalking a gipsy girl and now popularised further by a musical comedy that has spread across the world like syphilis. Notre Dame is quite a dumpy cathedral in comparison with others and I tend to like my cathedrals tall and elegant. To me, spending time around Notre Dame is like watching Dawn French; I know she’s popular but I dont know why.

So therefore my recommendation for the best visit on the Ile de la Cite is a small Gothic Church called the Ste Chapelle and this for many reasons.

Firstly the chapel in itself is quite interesting. It was built by Louis IX in 1248 to house the relics that had been twocked by crusaders in the Holy Land. It is very brightly colored which makes a nice change from the usual grey associated with medieval stuff. If you have time you can look at the stained glass windows that have loads of little scenes of churchy stuff but interspersed with the odd images of knights beating the crap out of foreigners. There is also a very nice balcony with a great little arch engraved by scenes of Judgement day. On the far right there is the customary scene of hell where those who failed to live up to Jaycee’s standards get grabbed by monkey people and worked over big time. Medieval architecture buffs like to point out that you often see a crowned head amongst these figures as a reminder that all are equal in front of God. In this one, I could make out 3 crowned heads amongst the half dozen getting the SM treatment. I reckon St Louis was not very saintly to his employees and the artisans had a very clear idea of what type of folk would head south on D day. The one big spoiler is that the French (remember this next time you hear Chirac waffling on about preserving french culture of the depradations of the free market) have stashed a gift shop right inside the building, blanking the left wall of the lower chapel.

The other reason that the Ste Chappelle is fun is the location. It is in the courtyard of a vast structure that houses the courts, the headquarters of the local CID, and a regular copshop. You might be sharing a queue with the relatives of people about to be sent down. And if you see people crying around the entrance it is safe to bet that it wasn’t the beauty of the stained glass that did it. It is worth walking around the building to see perps being ferried to any of the institutions present in the compound. However, this is not as fun as it would be in the UK. The way the french police treat suspects makes sniggering quite difficult. The complex also has representatives of the different types of coppers that France has doted itself with.

As I would like this blog to be educational I will occassionnally provide little bylines about the various facets of the countries I visit that another traveller might find useful. My first attempt to do this will be:


Many tourist guides will tell you to contact the fuzz for help or directions. They do fail to mention that not all cozzers are the same in France and it is worth knowing who does what.

-The Gendarmerie:
Technically they are soldiers not plod but they do mainly police work. You will also see soldiers patrolling the streets in France but these are just soldiers. In rural areas the gendarmes tend to be quite jovial and are appreciated as they are the only plod about. In urban areas they protect stuff linked to the military .
Liked by: Astonishingly for a law enforcement outfit they are reasonably popular with the French. Partly because they are not as vicious as regular filth but also for cultural reasons. A popular series of slapstick comedies in the 60’s probably gave them a more genial image than they deserve. Also they are familiar to French children as the local version of of the Punch and Judy puppet shows are distinctive by the cries of “ Attention le gendarme” as children barely able to walk learn to help semi-criminal figures escape the clutch of the boys in blue in a great interactive experience.
Disliked by: Other sorts of coppers

-The Compagnies Republicaines de Securite
Known with little affection by their acronym, the CRS are a full time riot squad created immediately after the liberation of France in 1944 to control the population and minimise looting. Their main, if not only function in life is to beat people up and therefore attract high quality applicants. They are easily recognisable in full gear and when dressed down they are distinguishable by the fact that they keep their shinpads for some reason. You can ask them for help but it is probably best to find a regular cop.
Liked by: The state. Leftwing agitators who need to prove that they live in a fascist state. Shop owners unlucky enough to be visited by a rampaging mob
Disliked by: Anyone who has been on the receiving end of their dispersal techniques

-The Police Municipale:
Many towns have their own police force and the quality varies greatly. These are often unarmed and perform community relationshippy types of things as well as crime prevention. Paris is not allowed by law to have their own police force. The last time Parisians did set up some sort of urban militia they got a bit carried away and the subsequent period is known as “The Terror”
Liked by: Not seen as serious enough to be liked or dislked

-The Police Nationale:
The longest of the many arms of the law in France. They have many subdivisions but the basic beat plod are actually OK. By British standards they would be seen as arrogant but if approached (ie: like a big dog who is probably nice but might turn nasty) correctly can be of use. The only exception to this rule are the sections known as la BAC who deserve a dishonorable mention below.
Liked by: It is of good form in France to be seen to dislike the filth but most citizens actually think they are alright. They had a rep for racism and brutality (not undeserved) but are slowly shaking it
Disliked by: Crims and anyone who has been a victim of their racism and brutality

-The Brigades Anti-Criminalité (BAC)
If you live long enough in France you might one day pass upon youths (probably of immigrant origin) being manhandled, yelled at and generally treated like shit by thuggish men wearing red armbands. These are not, as one might deduce, a fascist vigilante group ethnically cleansing their neighbourhood, but the proud boys of the BAC. The Bac are strike teams who target low level criminality with the same methods and subtlety that the apartheid era South African Plod used towards race relations. Perceived by social comentators as having a large role in the dismal state of trust between the plod and the inhabitants of French housing estates.
Liked by: Possibly themselves but as they have a high rate of suicide I wouldn't bet money on that
Disliked by: Everyone else

Anyway that was my little cultural piece. I will now go forth and do what a lot of Parisians do in the summer; bugger all. The French state may be trying to revitalise te economy but the offices of the Mayor of Paris seem intent on encouraging idleness. They even dumped sands on the banks of the Seine to create their own beach. They also litter the many parks of the capital with reclined chairs that are used for the great Paris sport of watching life go by. Actually this is a half truth. Paris women usually take a book with them if they are alone in a cafe or park. It is the men who look at passersby, and by that I mean women (I can’t fault them for this as Paris totty is indeed of the highest quality as far as leering goes)

Quick tip: Paris is not very friendly towards users of drunk radars. I myself like to take mapcheck breaks in the late night bistros on the way to wherever I go. They are populated by many an old drunk who will kindly explain to you all that is wrong with France/the world/you. The North African ones are usually the friendliest.

Next stop Strasbourg

Bises ( French for airkisses on the cheeks)



Post a Comment

<< Home