Dear Mr Thomas Chatterton Williams,
You’ve recently written that hipsters ruined Paris. And you laconically end your essay with a fatalistic judgement:
People say you had to be in Paris in the ’20s or New York in the ’80s. The sad truth of our contemporary moment seems to be only that you no longer need to be anywhere in particular anymore.
The brunch is all the same.
I think you’re wrong. I think you’ve dreamt about a Paris which has never really existed, apart for a very tiny group of people. Toulouse Lautrec, la bohème, it’s probably a fantasy which has deeply inspired Paris and its touristic business, and which has never been the core of Paris way of life.
I’m a foreigner in Paris; it basically means that when you were not born in Paris, and despite the fact that you’re French, there’s a social bill to pay before entering the real Paris. Paris is not an agglomerate of villages, as in London, where hipsters are a specific bunch of people who have probably ruined a certain part of London. Paris is made of secret layers, not really geographically-based but which is spread through the diverse Parisian tribes.
You mention how boring SoPi now is, how similar to any gentrified city the French capital became. You regret sex shops that are closing. I don’t really regret them as they’ve always been a trap for – sorry to say that – groups of English or Dutch speaking tourists. You never really had a chance to find something crazy in these bouges. Just the misery of the world, anesthetized in a broken body.
But you could have been more curious. Paris needs to be deserved and if you had walked north from Pigalle, you would have discovered all the new noise from Saint Ouen; you could have smoked a chicha with local guys, who would have told you their daily adventures. Yes, just when you pass Darty, there’s a whole new world going on. A world where couscous meets jazz on Saturday night. A world where locals hide from les puces and found new ways to live and have fun together.
A world where there’s still this mysterious Parisian girl who suddenly rises in the middle of the night, drinking a demi pêche, owning the zinc. The love blurriness of Paris is always on.
If you had gone North East, you could have discovered le Pré Saint Gervais, just after la Villette. You could have discovered all the new restaurants popping in, not made by bobos for bobos, but that are actually trying to re-create this social link you seem to be missing. You could have seen a very melt crowd, made of modern artists: they don’t have the mustache of Dali but they have the wires of their MacBook; you could have listened to the new electronic scene of French guys; you could have discovered the new rimes of le neuf cube. You could have found yourself trapped in a party in a former warehouse, where all the new dreamers now join. And these dreamers are not in their 20s. They are in their late 30s, 40s, 50s: they are this generation of French guys who’ve faced the post 30 Glorieuses era, born with HIV and with the end of socialism as we knew it. They’ve taken their time to shape new sorts of commensality and hives. And to reach them, there’s no banner nor billboard ad; there’s just some friendship starting in a bar.
I do agree that Starbucks is far less powerful than cafés, bodegas, Guinguettes…But when the first fast food happened in France, it did not kill the creativity of our chefs; now even burgers are an artifact for poetry. And if you are serious with that, you’ll know that le steack à cheval was a standard in the 50s.
This Paris is alive, vibrating; these guys are exploring the frontiers of creation, of knowledge. They are probably far less bourgeois than the guys you fantasize about. And let me tell you a secret: Woody Allen has never been French in Paris.
Don’t believe this hype.