Snow and Paris have a complicated relationship. Yesterday we experienced a remarkable snowstorm. I’ve seen a few here in the last 25 years. This time the snow came heavy and fast, and stuck. It only started to melt late this morning. So we had a good 10 hours of pristine white. Now Paris looks like Victor Hugo’s “Lutetia, City of Mud”, though the sun has come out, for the first time in about 10 days. The light is back.
My ambivalence about snow in the city comes out in Paris City of Night, my thriller. Here’s an excerpt. This is the dark side.
“Paris was jammed. After 2,000 years the locals still didn’t know how to handle rain or snow. The city hadn’t been designed for a million motor vehicles, and had become a nightmare for drivers. His friends couldn’t understand why he rode a motorcycle in Paris winter weather. The truth was, after boarding school in Vermont, he rarely felt the cold, and he still enjoyed dicing with traffic. Illusory freedom, he reflected. Most freedoms were.
A moat ringed Paris’ spiderweb of streets. He rode west on the Boulevard Péripherique, a beltway built in the 1970s to separate the City of Light from the banlieue. The suburbs. They were blightsville, a no-man’s land scattered with housing projects for the working poor, many of them from Algeria, an ex-colony that had never fully emerged from decades of civil war. Jay hoped he’d stay inside the moat for the duration. He’d done a pretty good job burying his past. But maybe not good enough.”
Now here’s the lighter side, from Paris, Paris: Journey into the City of Light (which is being reissued, by Broadway Books, next April):
“Il fait beau, c’est le printemps, ran the lusciously enunciated, taped dialogue at the Pompidou Center’s language laboratory. “The weather is beautiful, spring is here,” I repeated, joining my own to a dozen eager voices as snow fell beyond the windows. Wherever I went that first April in Paris—now three decades ago—through sleet, rain, wind and snow, I would cheerfully say my bonjours in grade-school French, adding with a wink c’est le printemps.”
That was in 1986, when it snowed on April 5 and again on May 9. With luck we won’t have a repeat. Climate change?