City Journal Summer 2014

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Summer 2014
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Claire Berlinski
Joie de Decline « Back to Story

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Wonderful, charming and enriching glimpses of the near and beyond.
Thanks!
THY? When I was in Turkey in the late '80s, we referred to it as "They Hate You" airlines. The rumor was that the pilots were former fighter jocks who still thought they were flying second hand F-104s and the flight attendants were trained by Joe Pesci. Glad to hear they've improved somewhat.
Six days of comments and only two screen-cleaning-cloth condemnations? And of those only one screen-cleaning-cloth-carbon-footprint condemnation?

Come on! We are better than that!
I'm sold. I have my bib on and passport in hand.
Liam, as another Canadian who happens to spend rather a lot of time in Paris, and have done for decades, I can tell you (1) I am a retired University professor and I know a lot about the French education system. I do not have to be told by a "French guy" that it is good, and, indeed, much better than the several systems we have. (2) We must move in different circles in Paris. I do not know any French who are provincial, coarse, and unsophisticated. I presume that there are some among the tradespeople with whom one has transient commercial dealings, but even among them, I have not noticed those characteristics as particularly salient, so I am somewhat skeptical regarding your broad and vulgarly expressed claims.
A pleasant read. But what's the point of this?
Don - how the hell have you (obviously English speaking & probably American) determined that the French couldn't possibly be narrow or provincial since France has "one of the world's best education systems"? Did some French guy tell you that? As a bilingual Canadian, I can assure you that the French - and Parisians in particular - excel at being provincial, coarse and unsophisticated. Oh, and by the way, you don't want to know what the French think of the likes of you.
Only an American would believe that instant gratification of one's desire for a screen cleaning cloth is a testament to the the greatness of a city. Why do so many articles like this conclude with such trite remarks ?
Ditch them all and come to Sydney where the weather's better, the people laid back, the beaches good, the Harbour delightful and the prices high but not unaffordable. Yes, we have some of the smae socialistic government types trying to boss us about, but we don't let them bother us too much.
John, please tell us how in hell you, who do not speak French, determined that non-English-speaking Parisians are less sophisticated and intelligent than the English-speaking foreigners you met in Paris. This is especially puzzling since France has one of the world's best education systems.
I suspect that you are the one who is provincial, narrow-minded, and, I add, stone-ignorant.
Spent 10 days in Paris (one of which was visit to Chartres Cathedral) 3 years ago. Parisians seemed pleasant enough to me, though I don't speak French, so my contacts were with English-speakers who tend to be more sophisticated and intelligent tha non-English speaking Parisians. I tried very hard to somehow feel Paris as the City of Love, but the city reeks of hustle-bustle, no different than London or New York. The real problem for me was that I had just come from six weeks in Italy, 8 of them in Venice, a city of great beauty that actually has depth and conduces to long walks that are allegedly part of the Parisian scene. The canals create a unique kind of magic. Paris seems tawdry and run-down by comparison. My wife, who was with me, visited Paris 30 years ago when she was just out of college. She noticed a great change in Paris--and not just because she was indulging in pleasant nostalgia about her younger days (She is 51; I am 54). Paris is a faded, elderly dowager, down on her luck. Years of not teaching Parisians about the world outside of Paris and France has yielded provincial, narrow-minded, boring (chief characteristic) denizens of a city that is now only great because of the Louvre and of some fine church stained glass windows. London and Los Angeles are alive and stimulating cities to visit (and live in). Paris is dull by comparison
I lived in NYC for 20 years. I remember learning how to be assertive after coming up from sleepy Florida. I remember learning to ask a hundred questions and get on the phone for 3 days if necessary to find what I wanted. I remember running in Central Park when I was in grad. school, and going out with my friends at all hours to see amazing things and met amazing people. I remember running the NY Marathon 4 times and having tens of thousands of people cheer me on. God I miss the City. The problem was and is that you can live in NYC as a student, as a poor person, or a rich one, but you can't live there if you have a middle class job. That's why I moved away. I had had a good life there as a student, but I saw people out working in my field after graduation--they were all struggling to eek out a living and never had one extra dollar in the bank after rent, bills, and especially taxes. I didn't want to remember the City in any other way--the best time of my life--so I left. But God, I miss that place.
RichardLukin, I suspect Claire Berlinski found the cloth in Walgreen's, CVS or Duane Reade. Several of their NYC branches are open 24 hours.

Perhaps Tokyo is the only other city outside France that could match Paris in a high level of execution in its French pastry, but New York has the best Austro-Hungarian cakes and pastries in the world. I think Cafe Sabarsky, which is inside the Neue Gallerie on 86th and Fifth, makes better cakes than Demel.
I agree completely with Ms Berlinski about the decline of my beloved Paris (on my last visit I was physically attacked on a Metro train by an obvious Middle Easterner), but I think she is too generous to New York. My New York assessment is of a widening gap between the hoi polloi at the bottom (many living off welfare) and the nouveau riche people at the top who have accumulated huge amounts of money in recent years which they love to throw around in very uncultured ways with little concern for anything else. Not a good omen for the city's future.
One reason France has trouble paying for its generous system is the rampant tax fraud. Peter Mayle described years ago the two-level system of housing prices: the official price (on which taxes are paid) and the under-the-table price that isn't. When you have tax fraud celebrated and encouraged, you have the type of breakdown you see in Europe, and the rising sense of entitlement to those benefits no one is paying.
Meant to say "couldn't wait to get back to Bangladesh"
I like the general comments but at the end of the day life shouldn't be about finding products for your computer screen at 3:45 AM, or any other time for that matter. Life should be about relationships with people and the basic congeniality of communty life. I met a guy from Bangladesh years ago who had a house in the US but couldn't get back to Bangladesh because of the people. Not that I want to live in Bangladesh but there is a point-of-view that's worth listening to.
Giovanna Visconti March 19, 2012 at 8:26 AM
"Of the three cities, New York is the only one where everything works reliably."

Good grief, Claire! CLEARLY, you don't live here! BUT...she IS comparing us to Europe. And we're still behind them on the road to ruin. Soon.
The French pay high taxes but they can see what they get for their money. Virtually every foreign visitor comments on how pleasant France is as a place to live. As far as I can see there is still consensus in France on the role (and cost) of the state. It most likely isn't sustainable, but it hasn't been for at least the last 30 years and this topic has been live for at least that long. Sweden managed this kind of change without a revolution. I wonder if the French can? Sixth Republic anyone?

BTW I wonder what the carbon footprint of a city that provides non-essential services like screen cleaning cloths at 0330hrs is?
But no mention of New York's obvious decline? Talk about a country that can no longer pay for its comfortable way of life...soaring deficits and shrinking exports. The difference between New York and Paris, on the one hand, and Istanbul on the other is that Istanbul is not in decline...which gives it a different atmosphere at this point in time.
Life may indeed far less chaotic than it is in Istanbul but if you are a businessman or woman, things get a lot less pleasant in France than in Turkey. Turkish entrepneurs are not constantly harassed by civil servants, smothered by Marxist-minded taxes and never subjected to the "boss snatching" practices of over-powerful unions.

yes, one is endlessly charmed by the pictoresque marchés, boutiques and l'odeur of freshly baked bread in the morning. But for all the douceur de vivre, French people are constrained by the state in their every daily most mondaine steps to a level unwitnessed here in Istanbul. Vraiment, an ecology police? Little did i know.

how far will it go? i wonder how French people will react to their monitoring citizens' compliance with idiotic carbon footprints rules?! Citizens by and large don't care about it. but thankfully green madness may be dying of its embarassing death (intention de vote at 1%). The French people are finally realizing that the verts have nothing serious to offer other than collectivist (ser)verditude....

Selamlar from a French Istanbul resident
Ah, if only this decline would be limited by Paris only – during my business travels I see it nearly everywhere, be it Melbourne or Amsterdam… By the way, I suspect that the author’s capricious “desire to find at 3:30 AM the special kind of cloth that Apple recommends for cleaning my computer screen—and fulfill it by 3:45” is also a fine example of this omnipresent decline: the cities’ sad doom is pre-programmed just by that kind of brave new desires. Rostislav, Saint-Petersburg, Russia
Roy Smith, they tell you BS. That does not happen in Paris proper. It does happen in some of the entirely Muslim inhabited banlieus (subburbs of Paris, largely slums) where nobody cares about it in the least.
So, when does France wind up with their Attaturk? Unions everywhere choke to death their source of income, then complain bitterly that the body smells. And, the rest of us have to put up with it.
They tell me the streets of Paris are sometimes blocked by praying Muslims. They also tell me; this is against the law but nothing is ever done about it.
Huh? Can't help wondering, as a lifelong NYC-er, where the lady found anything like that cleaning cloth at that hour! Best Buy wouldn't be open. Whole Foods....?
Defense? Against whom? Nobody threatens France, nor the U.S. What on earth are you talking about? As it happens, I spend rather a lot of time in Paris and am, often enough, there on Bastille Day when there is always an enormous military parade showing off French military equipment. As a former military man (U.S. Marine Corps)I can tell you that it is extremely impressive. If I were an aggressor contemplating war with France, the tank corps alone would scare me s***less.
France, like the rest of Europe is parasitic relying on the U.S. for its defense.

If France paid its 'fair share,' the flowers and pastries and much of the rest that you find so enjoyable in P:aris would be gone. Fact