Recently, France24 reported the Louvre planned changes to shed their ‘elitism’. Jumping to conclusions merely from the headline, I feared the most memorable part of our Paris honeymoon was going to be destroyed. Perhaps some moulding smashed while dust gathered on the Mona Lisa. The gilt removed from the Louvre and from our fond memories.
For me, Paris has always been where the grass is greener. The colours more vivid. The music more beautiful. The food more delicious. ‘We’ll always have Paris’ is a favourite quote from Casablanca that Rhys and I say to each other when day-to-day life here in Cardiff grows grim.
Happily, I was wrong about the Louvre. France24 went on to explain that the riches of the Louvre are going to be made more accessible to thousands, both near and far, online and in person. What a relief because I believe we all need a ‘Paris’, somewhere we go to in our imaginations where the grass is always greener merely because it’s not our grass to water and mow!
I know the Louvre Palace and Versailles were built on the blood, sweat and tears of the French people, but they belong to the world now. To a native Parisian, life in Paris may be as boring, ordinary and frustrating as the city or parish where you and I live and work. They probably see Cardiff as the Promised Land, but believe me it’s not all Doctor Who!
To a non-Parisian, both Paris’ beauty and even her problems are more fascinating than mine mostly because they’re one step removed from me and because, well, c’mon. It’s Paris.
I need the gilt of the Louvre to remind me that life can be beautiful. I need the ornate wrought iron railings of Parisian balconies to elevate my thoughts. Even as I support the Yellow Vests marching and protesting for improvement, I still need to watch the livestream of 14 July fireworks from the Eiffel Tower, a solid, comforting structure that grounds me when my life becomes phrenetic.
Paris is an idea. A concept. A goal. As long as I don’t have to deal with the nitty-gritty of living and working there, the grass of Paris will always be greener.
When I feared I was bleeding out from COVID-19 while Rhys was dreadfully ill, I thought whimsically about Paris.
When my step-children suffer through another addiction, another arrest, another break-up, I think about Paris. Sometimes I even say that to them, ‘There’s always Paris’.
They know that’s my code phrase and what I mean is, ‘There’s a better life out there. You can have freedom and peace if you choose it. You don’t have to live like this’. They roll their eyes and think I’m barmy.
This world could be so much better if only mankind would imagine how good the world could be and then come to the table and ‘use their words’ as children are encouraged to do, instead of their fists, to accomplish their goals. As the 19th Century American essayist Henry David Thoreau wrote, ‘If one advances confidently in the direction of his dreams, and endeavours to live the life which he has imagined, he will meet with a success unexpected in common hours’.
Life could be better but the responsibility is ours. ‘We’ll always have Paris’ but we must choose it first.