The Mona Lisa has at long last conquered the city of Paris

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I’m in Paris at the moment. Other than the beautiful parks and walks, all different from one another, that I experience daily, I mainly see about me groups and too often crowds of tourists (this is the month of August so the few Parisians who are still working are on vacation and not here).

The visitors, millions just in this month alone, are everywhere, often overwhelming during the day the too familiar tourist traps such as Montmartre, Les Champs Elysées, Le Louvre, Le Quai d’Orsay and the Tour Eiffel, and in the evening settling down again often overcrowding one of the tens of thousands of cafés, restaurants, and night clubs in the heart of the city.

I often ask myself why I’m still here. Well the answer is that we go back, the city and I, a long way. It was here that I found my own way after failing to find it in the American schools and universities I attended for all those  fruitless or wayless years in the 40s and 50s.

Also it was here that I got to know the woman who would be my wife. So now still together after 53 years, my wife and I share told and even more untold memories of this city during the many months we’ve spent here together. And now regardless of what’s going on around us, mostly the crowds of people, we just can’t leave it, for we would be walking away from a still vital part of ourselves.

In any case I like it here. And while there’s no longer any room in the museums the way there was in 1959 when on occasion I was in, I believe Salle 13, and totally alone with the Mona Lisa, the food here in Paris is just great (my wife swears by the French potatoes, says there’s nothing comparable in the States, but I won’t even get into that kind of argument or discussion).

But I agree that there’s no better food anywhere else. We may shop at the open air market stalls, or more often as earlier today at what is called the mini Carrefour market up the street, and take all we can carry of the food items we love, and then return to our apartment and together cook up what can only be described as a feast. We cook because we like to, but also because now the restaurants, like the museums are there for the tourists, or the very wealthy, and we’re neither.

Now again, here’s my question. Is Paris turning into a museum, entry fees being train and plane tickets, and restaurants and hotels being bed and board places while you visit the Eiffel Tower, Notre Dame and the Louvre? I’m serious. Just as some 95% of the farmers have now left the farms and we have more to eat than ever before, so 95% of the real work force has left Paris and the city is wealthier than ever before.

The people who work here now are for the most part producing nothing at all, other than to make sure that the Paris/museum remains clean and beautiful (that it isn’t allowed to go the way of the suburbs or banlieues). For the tourists who come here in droves are the principal source of the city’s great wealth.

Now my question is why, if the city is becoming a museum, why not admit it and work even more to making it the world’s most attractive city-museum? Of course it may be that already.

Actually I’d like to tell President Hollande that in order to grow the French economy, that which he is always talking about, people, that is workers are not longer what is most needed, let alone necessary. What is needed are ideas leading to new technology and still more labor saving devices. And these will as always be the production of a few.

Perhaps for the very first time in the history of man growing the economy will not solve the problem of unemployment. Whereas caring for the museum, the city, and the country might.

What got me started on this discussion? A picture in the Times. This is what’s most of all happening in Paris, and not just now because it’s August. In this picture, crowds of tourists are viewing, or taking a shot of the Mona Lisa.

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Credit Guia Besana for The New York Times

The chances are that Paris won’t ever become the financial center that is London (that is why more and more of the French are leaving to live and work in that city) or the technology center that is Silicon Valley, not without its own share of French expatriots.


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