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Stop the presses! Paris is beautiful!

Updated: Nov 13, 2022

I didn’t notice until I’d passed her three or four times, looming over the small square near our temporary home base like a guardian angel. She stands a full three stories tall on an otherwise typical Le Marais apartment building. Her wings spread across two balconies, with some sort of branch or flower in one hand.

Once I saw her, I looked up every time I passed and smiled, admiring both her beauty and the fact that some real estate developer - or whatever they were called 200-odd years ago - approved this extra expense.

But this is Paris, where beauty overwhelms, and every object in the built environment - from buildings to benches to lampposts to water fountains – seems designed to make you smile, or dance.

Now I am imagining any of the many fine editors I’ve worked for over the years shaking their heads, or worse.

“Paris is beautiful. Is that so?” the great Don Hayner might say, leaning back in his chair. “I wonder if it’s possible to find a less original take?”

But if you’ve been here you know. Paris’ beauty jumps up and hugs you around every corner. It’s no wonder that so many people passing you on the street - from the college girl with her flowing bell-bottom capris pants over laceless Doc Martens, to the the old man with his stylish bow tie and beret, to the professional woman and her couture bag and dolce sunglasses - have a little more style than the average urban dweller.

Before you jump to the defense of the many beautiful urban spots in the United States and elsewhere, please know that I am aware of them. My father was a sentimental romantic when it came to beautiful, uplifting spaces. He pointed them out to us enough times as children that both my sister and I appreciate them more than most. I lived in Chicago on and off for almost 25 years. It is filled with spaces large and small that lift the spirit.

Indeed, many years ago, Chicago’s second Mayor Richard Daley is said to have visited Paris and come back determined to make the “city of the broad shoulders” more visually appealing. Most made fun of him. They pointed out, not incorrectly, that his wrought iron fence requirement added greatly to construction costs, and that that money went into the pockets of Daley-friendly developers.

But what of it? We all know that the reason behind so much urban (and suburban) ugliness we’re all required to look at is the whining chorus of middle-aged managers waiving budgets in the air and chanting that “it just doesn’t make financial sense!”

No, a large carved angel on the side of a neighborhood apartment building does not make financial sense.

Neither does a large iron sculpture with a faucet pouring straight down in the middle – the French idea of a public water fountain. The ones I saw were green and made of iron. Four goddesses stood on a pedestal, holding up some sort of dome. On different occasions I saw people wet their hands and splash water on their face (it was 82 degrees in October!), or reach under and fill a water bottle.

Neither does the ornate steel, glass and limestone arches of the Musee d-Orsay, a former train station. But when I walked in and looked up at the massive clock on the arched glass wall, I caught my breath and imagined how wonderful it must have been to arrive there by train for the world's fair almost 150 years ago.

Neither does the muscular, steel, erector-set radio tower just off the river. But the perfect grace of it's curving path to the sky has become one of the most enduring symbols of any city.

I could go on. But what makes sense about these things is that the inspire feelings of happiness and well-being in those of us lucky enough to walk among them. You are more hopeful when you are surrounded by beautiful things.

On the other hand, maybe I’m just feeling especially sentimental. Today is, after all, the 27th anniversary of the day I married the most beautiful woman in the world.

Joyeux anniversaire, Mary!


1 Comment

Love this homage to true beauty In architecture. More than ever, I long to see Paris.

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