I just returned from a trip to London and Paris, and it seems to me that something is going on. The two cities seemed, somehow...alike. Or linked. On the train and on the streets, on the Eurostar and in the office, I couldn’t help noticing Londoners on their way to Paris and Parisians on their way to London, the two cultures living, working, chatting together like the good neighbors that they are. In fact, I’ve concocted a theory. I believe that London and Paris are growing together, merging into one fabulous super-city, a big, hip, chic, welcoming megapolis shaped like a dumbbell, connected by the slender line of the Eurostar and channel tunnel.
If you’re French or British, you may find this suggestion as preposterous as cats and dogs living together. But it seems to me that the open, diverse atmosphere of London, where you can see three world-class performances on one night and go out for a curry afterwards, is infecting the narrow, insular (but oh-so-perfect) streets of sister Paris. And Paris style has certainly infected London, bringing a sweet harmony to what was already a great city.
I spend my first evening having drinks in the lobby of the Waldorf hotel on Aldwych in London. It’s a big marble building in classic 19th-century Imperial style. The doorman still wears colonial livery; the brass is hand-polished every morning. But step inside, and you may be surprised. The bar is furnished with low, asian-influenced tables, green ostrich-skin duvets, and flower arrangements in Indochinese style. The menu features foie gras, roast beef, and oysters. The curtains are elegant and strange; made of steel wool. The atmosphere is serene, self-confident, welcoming and restrained. In a word: chic.
On the Eurostar the next morning, I spied on my fellow passengers. Two girls with London accents, wearing funky casual clothes, chatted to each other and talked on their mobile phones, setting up a photo shoot. When lunch was served, one of them ordered in perfect French. Across the aisle an elderly British gentleman looked out the window with evident pleasure, and drank a glass of red wine. The family two seats down were French, except that the mother-in-law was English - or was she German? The friendly African woman pushing the drinks cart - was she Manchester or Martinique?
Paris is always Paris, but I noticed this time how much English is spoken there. And the great marble buildings, the statues and columns, which lay claim to a classical heritage, just as London does. In fact, you can make a good case for Paris being Athens to London’s Rome - with the EU playing the role of Hadrian, whose benevolent interference brings the two closer together.
If the London and Paris are indeed cross-pollinating then the result can only be good: for Britain, for Europe, and most of all for us lucky visitors. In fact, why not move the European capital from Brussels (itself a fusion city) to the new conglomerate? I nominate Londis (or Paron) as the new capitol of Europe...