Paris seemed to me a very conservative city. Firstly, it has preserved immaculately the grandiose facades of France in her most triumphant imperialist hour. “Its” money is very old money and there’s a well cultivated elite quite adept at preserving this money. On the other side, you have unions who are adept at preserving the 35 hour week: and those they represent are evidently adept at preserving old Renault Clios, by the thousand. And beyond securing stability between the monied and the waged, the country which Paris rules is legendary in Europe for the unflinching preservation of its agricultural base too.

On the final night we visited the Kinder Surprise Butlins Disney World Sacre Couer Cathedral (Catholicism being not here not so much preserved as zombified). In the early evening light we looked down on the city and were depressed. But our hearts lifted as we descended into a neighbourhood behind the Gare du Nord. It was energetic with postcolonial Pariseners on the street; late-night patisseries selling tartes, eclairs, sweets, breads and cakes; the street bars and cafés; jazz clubs in buildings only half dilapidated… for something had been preserved here too, a neighbourhood near the city centre which had not been gentrified and yet did not feel like a hostile and miserable ghetto (it was friendly).

France will preserve itself: its sense of human dignity, its pride; its certainty as to the greatness of European culture, and of its centrality to European culture.


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