Today is the first day of summer, and for the twenty-sixth time, all of Paris will come out into the streets this evening to celebrate by making music. On every street corner, amateur rock groups will set up their loudspeakers and do their thing for little gatherings of listeners. Here and there, a solitary oboist or accordianist or violinist will serenade the night air. Down by the Seine, the toffs, all dolled up in formal wear, will assemble on a barge for a luxury music and dancing cruise up and down the river, watched from the quais by hordes of on-lookers. At noon, the early music group Ultraia, whose concerts we attend faithfully, will give a free concert in the courtyard of the Cluny Museum of the Middle Ages. At eight p.m., those who can wangle the tickets will gather in the auditoreum of the splendid Musee D'Orsay to hear Kurt Mazur lead the national orchestra in a free concert of Beethoven's Fifth.
This is what the public life of a nation is supposed to be. This is what Paul and Percival Goodman and Jane Jacobs were trying to teach us in the United States when they wrote their beautiful books about what makes cities great. I have already posted my analysis of such dry subjects as comparatuve unemployment rates, but tonight here in Paris we can see and hear what makes Paris a city so much superior to New York or Chicago or San Francisco or Dallas.
It is not just this once a year festival, of course. Every time I go to the market to shop for dinner [as I will later today], I am reminded that shopping in Paris is an entertainment, a delight, an adventure, while shopping in Amherst is a chore. To be sure, one can go to Whole Foods in Amherst and endure the high prices and atmosphere of political correctness to get slightly tastier provisions. But the tuna still looks as though it had been genetically engineered in a factory. At the open air market half a block from our apartment, every Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday, I can have the fish man slice a piece from the hind half of an enormous tuna, so fresh that it drips with blood. I can buy thirty different spices in little packets, or splendid heads of lettuce too big to fit into my knapsack, or a whole Dorade Royale which is filleted for me on the spot.
In the Place Maubert, Susie and I can sit for hours in the cafe Le Metro, nursing a tiny cup of "deca" or a kir, and enjoying the street life of a quartier hundreds of years old. At lunch time, the cafes are full of people enjoying two hour mid day meals. Incidentally, all the statistics show that French workers are actually a trifle more productive than their American counterparts, measured on an hourly basis. They simply do not believe that the purpose of life is to work oneself to death.
There is, heaven knows, a great deal very badly wrong with France, as the riots in the banlieus made painfully clear. This is a racist society, an elitist society, and when it had the chance, an imperialist nation to boot. But they do know how to live!
Tomorow -- the gardens of Paris