Wednesday, 17 September 2008

Invisible Cities

One of my favourite books is a little known story called "The Glamour" by Christopher Priest. Without giving too much away, it centres on observation and memory. Basically, it suggests that there are many blindspots in our lives, and plays with our perceptions of what we see and remember.

My theory is that we react with cities in the same way. Paris, where I live, is one of the few cities that most people would be able to imagine even if they'd never visited, and when they do visit, it largely lives up to those expectations. It's like the ‘Paris’ featured in Ratatouille - it isn't the real Paris, but it just feels like Paris when you watch the film. All they needed to do this was put in a couple of iconic buildings, such as the Eiffel tower, a river with a couple of quais, and fill up the rest with vaguely Haussmannian looking blocks.

The reason for this blog though is to celebrate the bits of Paris that don't fit this mould. I think of them as being invisible because most people either visiting the city or living in the city just walk past without even noticing them. To me though, they are the parts of Paris that I take most interest in today. I would compare it to sharing a house with a group of top models. At first you are overwhelmed by the beauty, but after a few weeks, its the imperfections that become interesting. After a couple of years, its the imperfections that become beautiful.

Paris is often described today as being a 'ville musée' or a city museum. I'm interested in the life that exists outside of the museum; the 1960s office blocks, the 1930s garages, the underground canteens that haven't been renovated since they were created. I'll use this blog to chronicle and celebrate these elements before they disappear and become another branch of Starbucks.

I hope that this won’t be confused with the glut of ‘Secret Paris’ books that have appeared in recent years, which have either highlighted areas, shops or restaurants that most people who live here already know about, or which celebrate slightly off the beaten track but still completely bourgeois locations. I can appreciate these places of course, but being secret is not being invisible.

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