Thursday, 29 May 2014

On First Viewing Paris

There is the low hill of Montmartre
And the modest river of the Seine
Carving an elegant curve through the city
And curling around two small islands,
But it is not geography that makes Paris great.

There are lovely, low-rise, red-geranium-dotted stone buildings,
Six stories and then an attic roof of slate or curving metal;
Many little parks; tree-lined wide boulevards;
Winding, history-filled cobbled streets;
But it is not these that make Paris great.

It is along the monumental stretch of the Seine,
Under or across its beautifully arched bridges,
Past buildings grand, golden and rich in history,
Where ancient obelisks stretch into the sky,
The spires of towering cathedrals soar
And the Louvre and Musée d'Orsay
House and shelter their grand beauty
That you can begin to feel the greatness of Paris.

It is a greatness beyond buildings.
Everywhere are the words Liberté , Égalité , Fraternité,
And everywhere the sense that here
A blood-stained tide swept away a past
Based on inequality, justice and oppression,
That the sweep of human history was irrevocably changed,
That the idea of privilege of birth
Should not determine opportunity
And that citizenship should be open to all.
Here you begin to feel the greatness of Paris.
It is in Napoleon's Arc de Triumph,
Not just a victory arch or a monument to ego
But a statement about justice and opportunity;
You sense it in the once blood-soaked Place de Concorde,
Where the guillotine took ruthless revenge
For a thousand years of injustice and greed.
Yes, it is here that you  feel the greatness of Paris.

And inside the great museums that line the Seine,
Musée d'Orangerie, Musée d'Orsay and L'ouvre,
Hang the great paintings of the world,
Not just for a strutting, privileged few
But for a great human throng from all over the world
That stand in long queues to glimpse their beauty,
Their extraordinary representations of the complexity of the world
And the creative power of humanity.
This also is what makes Paris great.

And even if you know as you walk along the Seine
That these grand and monumental buildings
Once stood as the proud boasts of individuals,
Or rose because of the stifling oppression
Of the cruel co-rule of Church and Monarchy,
Which for more than a millennium built and maintained power
By a cruel, ruthless, selfish oppression,
They now stand beautiful, graceful, golden and grand,
Monuments to the greatness of Paris, the glory of France,
And, by extension, to the whole of humanity.

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