I’ve been sharing the secrets of this city I’ve called home now since 1999. When I began giving tours in 2004 I tried as hard as I could to stick to this theme. By that time there were already plenty of tours of the Latin Quarter, Eiffel Tower, Louvre and Montmartre. I was never a fan of touristy sights and didn’t want to spend any more time in or near them than necessary. But despite people *saying* they wanted to see the “Secrets of Paris”, 90% of my clients still insisted on an itinerary that included the “Top Ten” with maybe a falafel in the Marais thrown in for “off the beaten path” (which, even in 2005, was already well-trodden).
Can We Talk about Travel Now?
I had a mother-daughter tour in May 2006 on a weekend when some of my favorite events were taking place: the Portes Ouvertes d’Ateliers d’Artistes de Belleville, a locals’ vide-grenier along the Canal Saint-Martin, and a chocolate tasting at a little boutique near the marché d’Aligre. They were glassy-eyed, barely communicative, asked no questions, took no photos, and didn’t seem interested in really looking at anything. The mother claimed it was jetlag and the daughter said she was exhausted after university exams…but by lunchtime I was exhausted myself from having to talk the whom time and the mental gymnastics of trying to figure out what would perk them up besides another espresso. Spoiler alert: I failed. Before we even got to the artists’ ateliers, they asked if we could “go back to the historic part of Paris”. They actually didn’t like the scruffiness of east Paris (this was a few years before the bobo cafés and boutiques took over). So we finished the tour in the Latin Quarter, and they finally perked up when they saw things they recognized from travel guides – Notre Dame! La Sorbonne! Shakespeare & Company! But I was demoralized and wondered how long I could keep doing tours if this is where I’d have to give them, bumping into all of the other tour guides and their groups.
I actually lasted for another decade, trying to at least give my clients a more in-depth understanding of the city’s top sights so that when someone asked why we visited Notre Dame they didn’t just answer “Because it’s on the Top Ten List”. I also tried making it more interesting for myself by researching some of the more complicated periods and characters of Parisian history in depth until I could even beat my French friends in French History Trivial Pursuit. I’ve never been a fan of the “Disney Jungle Cruise” style of tour guide banter centered on bad jokes and anecdotes of questionable veracity that offer zero context at best, and reinforced stereotypes at worst. Don’t get me wrong, I love Disneyland. But Paris isn’t Disneyland. It deserves better.
I stopped giving tours in 2016 except to visiting friends and clients who had become friends over the years. I can’t say I miss it. I still love writing about Paris, though, and am happily surprised that so many of you are still reading. I’ve been working on a series of essays for several years now about the direction I see the travel industry taking, but it would have been unwise to post them when I was making a living in tourism. Even as early as last fall when I considered them again as I’ve been working on the new Secrets of Paris website — which will have a very different focus than the current site — I resigned myself to the realization that the average traveler just doesn’t care, and that my writing would simply come off as a bitter rant or some sort of anti-tourism screed to most people, neither which are true. Perhaps now that we’re forced to stay home, and travel seems like an unattainable luxury, maybe people are ready to look at how we travel in a new light, that Paris could exist as something to learn about, not simply a checklist of things to consume and experiences to book. Stay tuned…
Today’s Dance Number
François Alu is a star dancer with the Opera de Paris. He also has a damned funny sense of humor, seen here in his Instagram video showing his typical day under confinement on Day 1…and fast forwards to Day 20:
For a Good Cause
François is also part of ArtCureCorona, a collective with dancers, photographers, entrepreneurs, and creators who are raising money for the Croix Rouge (French Red Cross) by selling photos, dance shoes, and dinners with the dancers of the Opera de Paris (to be collected/enjoyed after the pandemic, of course).
Walking Your Dog When You Don’t Have a Dog
Having a dog to walk gives you a solid reason to get some fresh air at least three times a day during the lockdown. No dog? Aside from harnessing some of the larger Parisian rats (although since the parks are closed they might be harder to find right now), you can try this clever trick shared on Emily’s Instagram (@Emily_Lykos): https://twitter.com/Emily_Lykos/status/1245076893537271809
Still here? Maybe time to log off for a while. 😉 – Heather