The City

When Homer described the Elysian fields, it was an idyllic place of tranquillity and solace where the great souls dwelt:

to the Elysian plain…where life is easiest for men. No snow is there, nor heavy storm, nor ever rain, but ever does Ocean send up blasts of the shrill-blowing West Wind that they may give cooling to men.

Two weeks ago today I made my way up their Twenty-First Century namesake – Paris’ most famous boulevard.  Early on a Summer Saturday evening the Champs Elysee was a teeming mass of humanity and distinctly lacking in cooling breeze or tranquillity. In addition to the shoppers there were noisy gangs on hen party weekends – all identifiable by their matching t-shirts and raucous laughter.  Occasionally there were ‘pop-up’ break dance shows – two or three lithe young men with a boom box and attitude. Meanwhile the chic galleries to either side were full of window shoppers, or window lickers, as it is more graphically in French. (Leche-vitrine). This all seems a long way from Homer’s idyll, and even from Haussman’s idea of a showpiece processional avenue – but times, and cities, change.

Of course everybody who visits Paris feels obliged to photograph the Eiffel Tower, and if you click here you will find I am no exception. However, my favourite image of this particular visit to that city is below:

Why do I like it so much, I wonder? Maybe it is because of the jaunty colours. Maybe it is because it is on a small scale, an intimate moment in a grand city. I think it is for both of those reasons, and also because the child is so completely absorbed in the moment – reaching up to lay hold of one of those boats and set it off on its journey across the lake at the Jardin de Luxembourg.

In the end, cities are places to live and trade in, rather than places for show. To those of my sisters and brothers who must affirm that fact from city pulpits tomorrow, especially those cities where smoke still rises from the ruins of this week’s rioting, may God be with you.

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