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The Beauty of Paris is in the Eye of the Lens

After almost ten years, the French-English conversation group I co-coordinate called Parler Parlor, is still a fascinating way of learning more about our fellow French compatriots. Saturday, the discussion, which can be about absolutely anything and everything, turned toward comparing the beauty of Paris with other cities in the world. It was not surprising to learn that every single soul in the room, even those who have traveled quite a bit, held Paris as the world’s most beautiful, hands down. Could we think of another city as stunning? No!

This came after a discussion about the photos in the exhibit at the Musée Jeu de Paume of Lee Friedlander’s view on Americana. The French didn’t seem to find this collection of work as inspiring as I had…guess they didn’t understand the nuances of life in the good ol’ U.S. of A. and didn’t see the same “beauty” that one might see from American eyes.

That afternoon, I managed to catch the last opportunity to see Marilyn Monroe as seen by photographer Bert Stern — 59 images selected from 2,571 that were taken during two sittings in 1962 not long before she died in an exhibition at the Musée Maillol. Now, if someone asked who was the most beautiful woman in the world, it might be a bit more difficult than choosing cities, but Marilyn Monroe ranks way up there. Even without makeup to hide her freckles, there wasn’t one single facial expression or movement of her body that wasn’t beautiful.

That’s sort of how Paris compares. No matter how many green and gray barricades there are marking off all the road construction going on, or buildings scaffolded and netted for their every-ten-year cleaning, the city still remains simply stunning.

This morning a friend sent over an article that ran in the New York Times Cultured Traveler titled “In Paris, Photographing a City That Has No Bad Side,” written by Richard B. Woodard and published yesterday. He wrote, “But ‘Paris Photo‘ has one irresistible selling point that none of the more than 20 other international photography festivals can hope to lay claim to. It has Paris. No city has been adored through a lens for so many years or is as steeped in photographic history.”

Today, I never leave home without a trusty little digital camera. Years ago, it was a struggle to get over the embarrassment of carrying a camera — Lord! To think I would be confused with a tourist! “Tant pis.” (Too bad.) There are simply too many photo ops to be missed if it’s not in my pocket.

After “Marilyn,” we hopped on the 63 bus to take a chance that we could easily enter the new Musée du Quai Branly thanks to the holiday week, only to discover an hour’s wait. Maybe the rumors we had heard about the long lines weren’t true — but they were. No matter. While the art and architecture inside is surely worth seeing, the exterior of the building designed by Jean Nouvel is (in my opinion) a photographer’s dream.

In another New York Times article titled “For a New Paris Museum, Jean Nouvel Creates His Own Rules” from June 27, 2006, journalist Nicolai Ouroussoff wrote: “Like its predecessors, the new Musée du Quai Branly should raise the hackles of people who hate to see Paris’s beauty tampered with. Defiant, mysterious and wildly eccentric, it is not an easy building to love.”

I disagree. Paris has never been more beautiful.

A la prochaine…

Adrian Leeds
Editor, Parler Paris
Email [email protected]

P.S. Make your plans to come have a coffee, Kir or whatever with all of us Parler Paris readers at Parler Paris Après Midi Tuesday, November 14th, 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. at La Pierre du Marais. Visit /parlerparis/apresmidi.html for more information.

P.P.S. Parler Parlor French-English Conversation Group will be closed Saturday, November 11th for Armistice Day. Visit http://www.parlerparlor.com/ for more information.

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