Friday, September 30, 2011

On the primacy of Paris

Paris obviously reigns supreme over all other cities in France in terms of size, global reputation, tourism, musuems and galleries, political influence etc., nesting like a spider at the centre of the transport network. And plenty of people like it that way. I've never (as a grown-up as opposed to a 13 year old starting to learn French) really wanted to live in Paris, but I know many people do. I think when I was that 13 year old starting to learn French, we were only given the vaguest of ideas that a country existed outside Paris. I remember learning about the different arrondissements of Paris, how to purchase a carte orange to travel the metro (probably via screenshots of the Minitel, which seemed such a futuristic wonder to us at the time), about the pooper-scooper scooters and much more about Paris, but I have absolutely no memory of learning about any other city other than Paris, and from what I can gather, nobody else does either. I've lived now in 4 different regions of France, but it's guaranteed that if, outside of France, I tell someone "I live in France" they'll instantly come back with questions or anecdotes about Paris. It's a bit like when you tell someone you're from New Zealand and they tell you they used to have a mate called Bob who lived somewhere in Auckland. Well, it's not really, but in both situations people somehow assume that an entire country is collapsed into a tiny zone of connections and you really ought to have something to say on the subject of Paris (or Bob).

Anyway, today I came across a particularly flagrant example of this in an interview with Rem Koolhaas, architect of the Euralille complex. In case you're wondering where Euralille could possibly be, the clue's kind of in the name. But here's how the interviewer described it:

"Euralille, the massive urban development you finished building outside Paris in 1994"

Outside Paris?? Allow me to illustrate just how "outside Paris" it is:

By these standards, I live "outside Paris" too. "Massive urban development next to Belgium" would have been more accurate! And getting back to that transport system thing, it can be extremely difficult to get from A to B in France by train without hitting Paris. I was just looking at tickets to maybe take a trip to La Rochelle. On the map above, you can see Tours around the middle south-west of Paris. Where's La Rochelle? South-west of Tours, on the coast above Bordeaux. Does the train website suggest you get there via Paris? You bet it does!

Anyway, this is just a reminder that this is a big country, relatively speaking (and yes, I know it's still only the size of Texas) and there is life outside Paris!

And I probably don't know Bob.


  1. Ah hahaha. So I live in the northernmost banlieue de Paris then.. excellent.

  2. Riddikilus to have to go via Paris!

  3. In fairness, you don't *have* to go through Paris on that route, it's just a suggestion.


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