The French are Smart (most of the time)

Paris, I will love you always, but you have a rival: Bordeaux. Capital of Aquitaine, a port city and Unesco heritage site, this rival for my affections has so much going for it. Where to begin? Bordeaux’s port offers a mile or more of riverfront mansions,that date to the 18th century. The beige stones of their facades are reflected in the  soft light that bounces off the  River Garonne . This thrilling run of  beautiful buildings is not interrupted by anything ugly.  This is the first smart French idea for today’s post: when you build something beautiful, don’t mess it up.

fd7528fc-1abd-44f8-a8ec-f1050e4d8988Photo thanks to

The historic city centre resembles Paris, the Hausmannian part, with massive carved stone buildings and wide boulevards. It is all familiar to a Paris lover, in a very good way.


There is also a beautiful medieval cathedral, to rival those in Paris and Chartes.



But, while la vie Bordelaise has much in common with the good life in other French cities, they have implemented an idea that is really different and really smart. The entire city core is traffic-free. All pedestrian, no cars. It makes you feel like this.



Silent electric trams offer pedestrians an alternative to walking.



The air of Bordeaux is so clean and breathable. Without traffic,it is so much quieter than other cities. And so much more relaxing: you are strolling without having to be vigilant about cars. I have never experienced this in a city centre. Have you?

Another smart idea, this time one also adopted by Paris, the presence of public sculpture.

016d2a538c4c1dfa80aff73d4b78beaa86697ae83f_00001 This one looks much like La Bastille, no? But here’s something different:

01ee590dc595dcb73139079af0c258256373ccb08d_00001 Cool, isn’t it? If you go past on the right, you think it’s an abstract sculpture, still very nice. It’s only from this angle you see the face.

Why don’t we have public sculpture everywhere in our cities? It makes the city experience so much more vibrant and enjoyable. Here’s a modest proposal. How about we take 1% of every construction project that gets approval and put it into public art?

Okay, it’s time to stop fawning and admit that occasionally, the French go wrong. I feel that in the interest of balanced reporting I should bid Bordeaux adieu and point out a couple of things I have noticed in Paris that  don’t seem very smart to me. Here’s #1:

01b4829d914e08314d93d73b155cddb065c658278e 01b86682262b5e4e0e4b5674d922fa9ad5aabe0ce0

PInk socks. For men. Not a good idea.

In my  first week over here I was at a dinner party of distinguished Parisians, and the 60-ish man introduced as an important art expert was wearing pink socks. Then I started seeing them in vitrines throughout the city. I personally am not ready for this. It is  not a gay thing. I can’t imagine my gay friends wearing pink socks. For example, my friend Jordan, who occasionally sports bright blue hair, would not be seen in pink socks. Neither would I. If you are older than ten years of age you should not wear pink socks.

Phew,  glad I got that off my chest. More seriously, here’s another idea that is not very good: sunbathing. No one seems to have explained to the Parisians about the dangers of sunbathing. There they are, everywhere, upturned faces, taking the rays. Sunbathing,_Paris_June_18,_2006

_40676816_paris_203longap This practice is not good and health authorities should take action to inform the public. As I’m sure these doctors will do, once they stop taking the sun.



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