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«Paris vaut bien une messe,» according to Henri IV. He meant, as far as I remember that he would compromise his Protestant principles to gain the French throne. But Paris, per se? «Le jeu ne vaut pas la chandelle!»

It's very simple: as a whole, I don't like Paris. There are individual museums I enjoy, and I have a soft spot for some of the older métro lines with their characteristic smell of warm chalk, but if I had a sudden day off and a magic carpet I wouldn't say "Carpet! take me, if you please, to Paris!" The architecture is in the main grandiose and intimidating, the scale either Hausmann or rabbit-warren, and the welcome...

When I was working in Provence, the results of an opinion poll were published in the national press. One of the questions was something like "As a French citizen, what do you dislike about France?" Top of the list, outstripping even the police and the inland revenue, "Parisians". Individuals, as always, must surely certainly belie the stereotype once you get to know them. But consider the following snapshot from my most recent visit, when I most politely asked one of the staff at a specialised second-hand book-shop near the Quai St Augustin whether he might perhaps know of any second-hand book-shops nearby specialising in sheet music. "Non!" he replied with what can only be described as disdain, going on to add with scornful precision that shops like that were not to be found anywhere in the quartier or indeed anywhere in Paris. His tone made it unnecessary to add the rider that I'd be lucky to find anyone who could even read outside Paris, let alone shops.

Sourly amused by this confirmation of all my prejudices, I crossed the road and turned left along the quays. Not two hundred yards away, I saw exactly the sort of shop I was looking for, easily identifiable as such without even crossing the road. Let us leave him crowing on his own dung-hill, monarch of all he surveys by dint of keeping his eyes tight shut.

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