Just Above Sunset
February 13, 2005 - 'Tidy Enough for Bobos'

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Is it really pretentious to say that even though one lives in the heart of Hollywood just off the Sunset Strip one doesn’t get to Paris often enough?  Of course it is.  But I don’t get back to Paris often enough.  Pretentious it is then.  No point in living life halfway.  Someone else is teaching English to bored teenagers in Rochester, New York now, and that was a long tome ago.


So, thinking of Paris and getting back there for a few weeks in October, I ran the following past my friend, Ric Erickson, of MetropoleParis.  What’s up with the city these days?  And what’s up with all they the bobos (bohemian bourgeois) everywhere?


Tidy Paris? Try seething petri dish

Mary Blume  - International Herald Tribune  - Friday, February 11, 2005


Ric replied –


When I read the IHT I always read Mary.  I even contacted her about writing for Metropole - when, if, I could afford to pay her.  It never happened.  I can't afford to read the IHT these days.


'Petri dish' came up recently when I was contacted by a TV production company in Munich, wanting to know about the 'Anti-Kissing League.'  This happened in the '20s, on account of all the germs passed around while - it's more than a bit obscure.  It wasn't a big success.


What ever happened to the art of writing headlines?  This starts out with 'petri dish' and then abandons it.  A lot of people here think Paris is getting too tidy.  Should have been, 'Tidy Enough for Bobos'


Mary brings together several themes that people here are talking about, but she doesn't develop them individually.  It's all true, but...


I wonder where it's going - how Paris will change if trends keep their direction.  Will all the little folks who work here have to move out of town?  Housing costs are leaping up a lot faster than wages.


So what does Mary say?


Here’s the theme –


One image of Paris is more accurate if less compelling than the usual pretty ones: Paris as a petri dish. Not only does its exceptionally high population density suggest quantities of microorganisms but its shape is as round and as enclosed as a laboratory plate, its 20 arrondissements winding out like an escargot from the center around the Louvre, its form enclosed over the centuries by widening boundaries from the ancient walls of Philippe-Auguste in the center to the périphérique, the highway that rings the city today.

Outside the périphérique are suburbs which, unlike those of other capitals, were not charming villages encroached upon by the city. "In the minds of Parisians the suburbs are the place for the banished, they are seen negatively," says the sociologist Monique Pinçon-Charlot.


"It was not a rural population who lived there from the start, but the poor like Zola's Gervaise and Lantier who came to work in the Goutte d'Or section of northern Paris and then had to move on, expelled to the suburbs by Haussmann," adds Michel Pinçon, her husband.

Ah, somewhat the opposite of American cities.


To this Ric comments –


The closest suburbs were settled a long time ago, just as the 14th where I live was incorporated into the city by Haussmann in 1860.  The buildings for bobos were thrown up, and gradually the workshops and factories (one for the Statue of Liberty) were banished - and along with them, their workers. They moved to Montrouge, just across the PeriFreak!


Now, bobos who can't afford the 14th, try to move to Montrouge. The métro already goes there and it will be extended further. Add the tram line that's being built, and the idea of covering the Périfreak! and Montrouge will leap in value.


The remaining artists' ateliers in the 14th will become irresistible to the bobos.


The big name boutiques in Saint-Germain will put in branches - they'll need to build another Coupole to feed them all. I don't know how many it sits, but it was full at 10:30 last night. But then it's probably full every night.


Mary –

Within its exemplary shape, the city divides neatly on north-south and east-west axes; most of the government and cultural institutions are on the Left bank, commerce and trade on the Right. The rich live to the west, the poor to the east. Tidy, just as Napoleon III and his town planner, Baron Haussmann, wished.


Ric –


Amazing.  But 'commerce' doesn't stand still, so the left bank is seeing an invasion.  Saint-Germain has nearly been taken over.  Montparnasse will be next.


Mary –


It was also under Haussmann that the modern real estate market can be said to have been invented with the immeuble de rapport or income-producing building, whether slumlord workers' housing in the Goutte d'Or or the imposing office and residential buildings still profitably owned by institutional investors and government agencies.  (The first apartment house in New York, in l869, was designed by an architect who had worked in Haussmann's Paris).


Ric –


The newest wrinkle is US investment funds buying buildings and then selling the apartments by the piece.  If the tenant can't afford to buy, it's goodbye.  Some resistance has begun.  Try to fight property owners! 

Mary –


Real estate is the new pornography - costly, transgressive, filled with risky pleasure. Manhattan's orgasmic moan, location-location-location, hasn't been heard in Paris yet, but with soaring prices and diminishing space the petri dish is jumping.

… Paris is unique among capitals in being the seat of all power - government, finance, education and culture. And the city itself has a population density that the Pinçons say is unequaled in Europe. According to them, Paris is only 87 square kilometers, about 33.5 square miles, in surface (London covers 321, Madrid 607 and Moscow 879), and has a population density of 207 per hectare as against 76 for London or 96 for Moscow.


Ric -


'All power' means that the government occupies a lot of space.  And government is on the move - the foreign ministry on the Quai d'Orsay is slated to move to Port Royal and the courts on the Ile de la Cité are to move to the 13th, near the Mitterrand library.  The city had its own plans for both locations, so there will be a fight - and concessions.  As far as I know, there are no plans yet for the vacated Orsay of the Palais de Justice - both gems of terrific locations.


The métro makes it wonderful; everything is so close.  Buses fill the gaps, and the tram will run all around it.


Mary -

"When the Bastille opera was built the Bastille quarter leapt in value," Monique points out. The boom in the shabby but formerly grand Marais began earlier, when the city began to refurbish historical homes. Now the movement is further east, to the 19th arrondissement and the 20th around Ménilmontant, which attracts the artists who can no longer afford St. Germain des Prés where, says Monique, Armani has dethroned Sartre.


Ric -


Imagine - there's not much around Port Royal, except the Closerie des Lilas - and the government is going to park 2000 diplos there. It will be a renaissance for Montparnasse - for the Coupole. And all those restaurants around the Quai d'Orsay; what will happen to them?


Mary –


With the movement of artists and writers to Ménilmontant [....] One exception is the industrialist Baron Ernest-Antoine Seillière who has moved to a townhouse in the Marais. "But his wife is an artist," Monique explains.


Ric -


While we have his name here, let's identify him.  Baron Ernest Antoine Seillière is the head of the powerful federation of employers, and he does not appreciate the 35-hour work week.  While Sarkozy may be mostly bluff, this dude is a real bogeyman.  If his limo gets stuck in one of those Marais alleys I won't be sorry.


Mary –


The Pinçons' office is in the poorer north of the 17th arrondissement which is scheduled for massive redevelopment if Paris wins the Olympic games for 2012. [....]


Ric -


Yeah, well, hmm. If this Olympic thing goes through, the north 17th is going to be entirely rebuilt - and a lot faster than the 13th.  There'll be zillions in profits up there.


Mary –


Soaring prices have meant, as in other capitals, that artisans and low earners must leave and their places be taken by the young professionals known in English (and now in French, since the word appears in the Larousse dictionary) as bobos. The Pinçons use the word but say it is not sociologically apt.


Ric –


We needed something to replace 'yuppies.'  'Bobos' is good.  It's easy to pronounce too.


Mary -


The French bobo is a bit different from his Anglo-American counterpart because he wants his quarter to preserve a picturesque social mix or mixité sociale.


Ric -


Maybe so.  I haven't heard of any bobos pooling together to pay the rising rents of the folks they are replacing.  Being 'bobos,' they may wonder where all the quaint characters have gone.


Mary -


Around the Place du Château Rouge, inhabited mostly by Africans, several buildings have recently collapsed and others have had to be torn down for safety's sake.  A debate rages on how to create the proper mixité sociale - could the African housewives, for example, be converted into couturières?  Would the men learn to repair shoes, sell mesclun and open art galleries?


Ric -


Who gets shoes repaired? I guess maybe Africans do.  Mainly it's a market area for African shoppers.  Put in boutiques, art galleries, and it'll be safe for the bobos.


Mary –


Bobos and gentrification literally weigh heavily in the debates on urban renewal. [....]


Ric -


The official word from the Hotel de Ville is about preserving the little folks. Keeping local shops going. The city manages the street markets in the quarters. But the city doesn't pay rising rents; and the city can't stop the 'morselization' of apartment buildings.


It’s true that all chateaux owners aren't rich. They would like to be, but they aren't.


Mary on Paris now –


Yes, charmant and exquis.


Ric –


Just what bobos want.  Why don't they all move to the Ile Saint Louis?  It was built for them about 300 years ago.


Got to get back and see.





Photo Gallery –


Photos Copyright © 2005 – Ric Erickson, MetropoleParis


- Bobo apartments, place des Vosges, inaugurated 1612

Actual size...

- Bobo door, Ile Saint-Louis, 1637

Actual size,,,

- Bobo creperie, rue Montparnasse

Actual size,,,

- Bobo bar, Le Select, the bar 'Americaine,' open 24 hours daily since 1926

Actual size...

- Bobo Le Dôme, pour les bobos riches et tranquiles

Actual size,,,

- Bobo métro, Vavin, former centre of the world

Actual Size

- Bobo La Coupole, the canteen for Parnassians, opened 1927 with 6000 bottles of Champagne by former Dôme owners, 450 seats and dance floor.  Largest resto in France, open 07:30 to 03:00

Actual size...


Copyright © 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006 - Alan M. Pavlik
The inclusion of any text from others is quotation
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