Progressive Paris

I was lucky enough to take a trip to Paris over the holidays, arriving on Christmas Day and staying through January 3rd. Though it was my 5th time in the city, a Parisian excursion can never get old – Samuel Johnson might have written his “When a man is tired of London, he is tired of life” line about Paris instead (and made it gender-neutral, while we’re at it). This time around, I found myself with a new appreciation for the beauty of residential buildings, especially the imposing doorways that open up into quaint courtyards. It’s a jarring difference from New York City, where one rarely expects to find such open space where a few obscenely-priced apartments could stand in its stead.

Intrigued to know more about Parisian urban planning, I picked up Joan DeJean’s How Paris Became Paris: The Invention of the Modern City. I’m still working my way through, but this passage from the introduction jumped out at me:

“The Sun King was thus the first ruler to respond to the changing nature of warfare and of national defense: from the seventeenth century on, each European country’s line of defense shifted from individual cities to the nation’s perimeters. Louis XIV replaced an architecture of paranoia with an architecture of openness; he thereby made Paris the first open city in modern European history. This was a crucial step in the transition from the walled city to the modern cityscape.”

These words are particularly resonant now. Throughout our visit, the effects of the November attacks lingered: most days we saw at least one military outfit patrolling the streets. I was buoyed to read this and be reminded that while there have always been threats to civilian life, such threats don’t own the legacy of a people or a place. Rather, the choice to shun paranoia and remain an open society remains the best defense against the darker side of history.

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