Category Archives: Paris

Boboland and Bongoland do not mix

Apartheid, European-style

Dalrymple writes that not far from his flat,

there is an area that was once a country village, which in the 18th and 19th centuries was an aristocratic retreat but which has long since been incorporated, de facto and de jure, into the city. The aristocrats have been replaced by the bobos, the bourgeois bohemians, with their cafés and restaurants and galleries selling stream-of-consciousness art. Property prices are eye-wateringly high.

On the other side of a road, you cross from Boboland into Bongoland.

Suddenly there is hardly a white face to be seen. The groceries are full of ‘exotic’ vegetables and stockfish of various kinds, as well as long-frozen products whose nature is not immediately obvious to me. The population, at weekends dressed in colourful printed African robes (no doubt made in China or Bangladesh), has been decanted into huge buildings of Corbusian inspiration, of an ugliness, brutality, and inhumanity that surpasses belief, and which are the equivalent of battery farms for chickens. Posters advertise Communist Party–organised demonstrations or collections of clothes for distribution to the poor; anti-capitalist slogans are everywhere.

Dalrymple observes that there is an easy sociability.

There is a certain solidarity. In one African grocery, I saw a woman with a basket of goods, not amounting to very much, who had not enough money to pay for the last item, a few tomatoes. The owner — a Malian — told her to take them anyway. He said to another woman, when she couldn’t find her money, ‘Just give me a kiss.’ Everyone rocked with laughter, with that full-souled laughter that I know so well from my time in Africa.

Boboland and Bongoland do not mix,

notwithstanding a geographical separation of not more than 20 yards and Boboland’s ideological adherence to multiculturalism.

No bobo ventures into Bongoland, and no bongo ventures into Boboland.

There was more mixing in Johannesburg under apartheid than here.

Which does Dalrymple prefer, Boboland or Bongoland? He supposes that he is a bobo, but he feels more warmth towards Bongoland.

My heart is in the latter, but my wallet is in the former.

As a cur to its vomit, an architect returns to his concrete

Thamesmead (1967-72)

Dalrymple writes that compared to the slum dwellers of São Paulo who erect their shacks in a day, the average French or British architect is

an æsthetic illiterate and incompetent, or perhaps moron would be a better word. Æsthetically, if not hygienically, the favelas of Rio de Janeiro are to the modernist quarters of Paris what Fra Angelico is to Damien Hirst.

Perambulating in one of the modernist quarters of Paris, he observes:

The inhumanity of the designs bespeaks a psychological talent, that of the torturer who is able to apply electric cattle prods to people during the day and sleep soundly at night, having persuaded himself that his work is socially useful or even laudable.

Robin Hood Gardens, Poplar (1972)

He surveys

a residential wilderness of concrete in which the small open spaces have the appearance of prison yards. They are surrounded by menacing iron fences. The best you can say of the buildings — dehumanising even when on a small scale, with the appearance of a bunker rather than of a house or even of an office — is that you can usually find something worse in a radius of 200 yards.

The desolation

demonstrates that modern architects have about as as much regard for human individuality as they have for that of cockroaches.

Dalrymple believes the architects

have some subliminal idea of the evil that they have perpetrated. They utter the modernist mantra ‘Form follows function,’ the function in this case being the cooping up of African immigrants, needed as cheap labour, in the human equivalent of battery chicken farms. Yet the architects display some faint awareness that man does not live by function alone, so that, having erected concrete boxes of various dimensions from tiny to vast, they then, as an afterthought, append meaningless decoration to the boxes, say a zigzag pattern painted on a side wall, or a concrete false wall with a hole or a slash in it, the wall sometimes painted mauve or apple green in contrast to the grey behind and surrounding it.

Ronan Point, Canning Town (1968)

The architects

have thus invented something new and unprecedented in architecture, features that are neither functional nor decorative, that is to say decorative in any positive way, any way that might lend grandeur, elegance, charm, or tenderness to a building. It is a sign of a bad conscience and an inchoate awareness that the inhabitants have been treated as no human beings ought to be treated, as inanimate units. No doubt the size of the population, and bureaucratic complexities, ensure that large numbers of people are treated this way some or all of the time; but that is no excuse for incarnating this lamentable fact in architecture.

The political slogans that adorn the outer walls of the ground floor of many of the inhuman buildings are

anarchist rather than communist. Perhaps this is because of some awareness of the affinity of communism and fascism for this kind of architecture, as a factory for the production of the New Man who has only the supposed collective or national interest in his mind and no personality or character of his own. Between these buildings in Paris and those in Russia under Khrushchev or Brezhnev, or in Romania under Ceaușescu, there is nothing to choose.

Hutchesontown, Glasgow (1961-68)

Dalrymple notes that communist iconography glorified construction and was full of factories and smoking chimneys as symbols of progress. By contrast, the anarchist slogans are

much more fixated on the physical destruction of things. Looking round, it is not difficult to see why, and even to sympathise with this emphasis, albeit that Bakuninite anarchism is no more likely to bring about human happiness than is Marxist communism.

He thunders:

The hideousness of what has, on a very large scale, been constructed—at a time of prosperity unprecedented in human history—is shameful.

Alexandra Road Estate, Camden (1972-78)

 

Residential housing in the Bagnolet suburb of Paris

Part of the Tours Aillaud (1977) in the Parisian suburb of Nanterre

Fra Angelico, Annunciation, c. 1445

Damian Hirst, The Tranquility of Solitude (for George Dyer), 2006

São Paulo

Rio de Janeiro

Paris under the shadow of Chinese flu

The doctor-writer reports that the Wuhan virus has emptied the City of Light. Anyone with a country place has left. The bright lights have gone. Père-Lachaise, where he likes to stroll, is shut. La Peste, the Camus allegory, has turned literal. A taxi driver tells Dalrymple that he thanks God

that the tabacs are kept open. To live through an epidemic and have to give up smoking would have been too much.

Dalrymple says that

a few days’ confinement to barracks is one thing, a prolonged period quite another. So far, it has all felt a bit like one long bank holiday or, at worst, a Sunday in Wales in the old days.

You must carry

a laissez-passer that can be demanded and inspected at any time.

Dalrymple’s wife, also a doctor, has been ‘controlled’ three times; he has been ‘controlled’ once. This is

every policeman’s dream. Fighting crime is difficult, demanding papiers is easy but nevertheless a fulfilment of duty.

The police were polite, in Dalrymple’s case.

I had forgotten to tick the box stating my reason for being outside, and strictly speaking, could have been fined. But since no truly bad man wears a tweed jacket such as mine, the policeman let me off.

He explains that Parisians of the type who can work at home

are prohibited from jogging from ten in the morning to seven at night. The authorities feel that there are still too many of them and it is difficult to keep a jogger at the regulation distance of two metres when he is hurtling towards you in his fluorescent Lycra outfit. I won’t miss them: joggers always seem to me to have an expression of reproach of the sedentary on their faces.

As he walks through the streets in which there are scores of shuttered shops and other enterprises,

I wonder how many of them will open again. Will only large companies survive, leading to the yet greater corporatisation of our politico-economic dispensation?

Theodore Dalrymple: no truly bad man wears a tweed jacket such as his

Dr et Mme Dr Dalrymple

We can rebuild it — more beautiful than before

In central Paris, modern architecture is vandalism; in the suburbs, it is hell

Dalrymple writes that the French president’s speech about the Notre-Dame fire

contained a terrible threat: he said that the cathedral would be rebuilt to be even more beautiful than before.

And the French prime minister announced that a competition would be held to design ‘a spire suited to the techniques and challenges of our time’. This, says Dalrymple,

should send a chill down the spine of anyone familiar with the efforts of modern architects in Paris, the effects of which can be seen all around the city.

The monumental public buildings constructed using techniques to meet the challenges of our time include

  • the Centre Pompidou
  • the Tour Montparnasse
  • the Opéra Bastille
  • the Musée du quai Branly
  • the new Philharmonie

Each one of these structures would, says Dalrymple,

gain at least an honorable mention in a competition for ugliest building in the world.

The Bibliothèque nationale de France, too, was largely rehoused using the techniques of our time, which

included failure to notice that the damp caused by a low water table and sun shining directly through walls of glass were not very good for 15th-century books.

Dalrymple notes that the post-Second-World-War vernacular, with its curtain walls and ribbon windows, is

universally depressing, a single one of its buildings being able to ruin the harmony of an entire street.

In view of

the narcissism of modern architects, particularly of the star variety, when called upon to make additions to older buildings,

a strict restoration of Notre-Dame would be safer.

There should be no competition, except among craftsmen and those who can suggest new ways to make old appearances.

Macron said that he wanted the cathedral restored within five years—in time for the opening of the 2024 Olympics in Paris. Dalrymple comments:

It would be hard to think of a more kitsch idea in the Soviet tradition than this.

An American ninny in Paris

A breathless New York Times booby on a visit to the French capital writes that the barbaric Centre national de la danse building (Jacques Kalisz, 1972), at which she

stared open-mouthed

for a long, long time,

radiates childlike exuberance.

Dalrymple remarks:

Anyone who can see childlike exuberance in such a building is capable of seeing the milk of human kindness in a Nuremberg Rally.

 

Handmaiden to the wholesale collapse of æsthetic judgement

A silly woman from the Times newspaper of New York gushes on a visit to Paris as she ‘gazes in awe‘ at the ‘ugly-beautiful’ modern buildings. Dalrymple comments:

They are not ugly-beautiful; they are ugly, without any æsthetic qualification, and grossly dysfunctional to boot.

From fear of making an unequivocal judgment that might cause her to be branded conservative, backward-looking, or naïve, this New York Times nincompoop acts, says Dalrymple,

as a praise-singer to the collapse of æsthetic ability and appreciation.

 

Repulsive, disfigured Paris

The approaches to the city are visually hideous, writes Dalrymple.

Practically everywhere beyond the confines of the centre, the eye is greeted by a modernist mess of gargantuan proportions, and every occasional building that is not a total eyesore was built before 1945.

He notes that there has been

an utter collapse of æsthetic ability, judgment, and appreciation in France.

Odious eyesores in the City of Light

Paris has the distinction, writes Dalrymple, of having constructed three of the worst buildings in the world:

  • the Centre Georges Pompidou
  • the Musée du quai Branly Jacques Chirac
  • the Philharmonie de Paris

 

Lovely climate for a march

REVOLTING SMUGNESS: ‘It was a beautiful day in Paris for a demonstration, brilliantly sunny and not too hot, and the crowds were out: obviously bourgeois, prosperous, well-behaved, and not at all multiracial or even multicultural. It was a marche pour le climat, as though the climate were an oppressed person wrongly imprisoned by a distant dictatorship. Such nice, good, well-intentioned people! I found it all terribly depressing. The organisers estimated the crowd at 50,000, the police at 18,500. I did not actually attend it, my taste for clichéd speeches interspersed with snatches of popular music being very limited. But I watched the crowds on their way to the demonstration, mostly with beatific expressions on their faces, as if aware that they were doing something really good like feeding the hungry or healing the sick. They were both saving the planet and amusing themselves on a Saturday afternoon.’

Postcard from Les Halles

Dalrymple writes that not long ago, the Paris newspaper the Monde published an article ‘inquiring why so many of the young people from the dispiriting banlieues (suburbs around Paris populated largely by blacks and people of North African ­descent) did not venture into the centre of Paris much beyond Les Halles, a huge concrete commercial centre. They said they did not feel at ease in the centre of Paris, they preferred Les Halles because it felt more American — by which they meant pop music throbbing everywhere, and shops selling ghetto outfits with baseball caps to wear backwards and sideways.’