Paris revisited: plus ça change…

MyfrenchLife™ - Paris - VelibWho hasn’t heard that old expression, plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose“Not true!” I say, after a recent trip to Paris.

I had been away too long, for a little over a year. Here’s what I noticed…

Paris Je t’M – (French slang for… I’m sure you can guess)

Communications technology continues to transform the city. I thought it was only in America where you could sit down to a meal and text away rather than converse with a friend. But just as in the US and I dare say many other countries, folks are constantly on their cell phones, or listening to music while walking down the street.

Watch where you’re going! It’s perhaps yet another sign, alongside takeaway cups of coffee that perhaps the traditionally slower pace of life in France is starting to fall away.

Paris on the move: en route

The city also has never looked more écolo. Perhaps it’s the product of an evolving green sensibility in many European capitals. But one senses the change is also the result of France’s economic downturn. It’s arguably made driving a car or even riding the métro more expensive. There’s a plethora of scooters, skateboards, unicycles and bicycles.

MyFrenchLife™ - paris - autolibIf Parisians are not using their own bikes then it’s those of Vélib. Begun in 2007, this self-service rental system bills itself as the largest of its kind in the world. It is equipped with about 20 000 two-wheelers conveniently located at nearly 2000 pick-up or drop-off spots or ‘stations‘ around town.

According to Vélib’s website, vandalism and theft are being addressed, and ridership is up. About 280 000 people now subscribe to the system, an increase of 72 percent since 2009.

In addition to Vélib (short for vélo and liberté), there is Autolib, which started in 2012. It’s certainly designed for commuters committed to cutting down on their carbon emissions. As its name suggests, Autolib is a car sharing system, with 2 000 all-electric Bolloré ‘Bluecars’, rechargeable at hundreds of stops.

Les 3R – réduire, réutiliser, recycler

As for recycling, perhaps one of the trendiest spots underscoring this environmental message is a new restaurant, appropriately called La Recyclerie.

La Recyclerie Paris MyFrenchLife™

Refashioned out of the old Ornano train station at the Porte de Clignancourt in northern Paris, the restaurant’s tables and chairs, plates and silverware are repurposed. The food is billed as ’locavore’, made from seasonal and locally grown products within France, with vegetarian and gluten-free options.

When I went there with a Parisian friend a few weeks ago, the place was packed. There was also a mini-farmers’ market outside with shoppers buying fresh produce directly from the growers.

Up with the new

Paris reveres its old, historic monuments. Of course the city’s preservationist ethic here too is obvious, with at least two iconic French structures under construction. Soufflot’s 18th century Panthéon in the Latin Quarter and the graceful 19th century obelisk in the center of the Place Vendôme are under wraps this autumn. Both are in the process of being repaired and restored.

MyfrenchLife™ - Paris - Louis vuitton foundation

But new buildings are also changing the landscape. The dernier cri is the Louis Vuitton Foundation art museum and cultural center, along the edge of the Bois de Boulogne. Designed by Canadian-American architect Frank Gehry, the building is a gleaming fantasy of glass and metal.

Have you recently revisited France? What changes have you noticed after some time abroad?

Image credits:
1,4. © Ronnie Hess.

2. Autolib, by Raphael Desrosiers via flickr
3. La Recyclerie, by Jordane D. via Foursquare.

About the Contributor

Ronnie Hess

“I’ve had a long and passionate interest in France and especially French food. An American now based in Madison, WI, I’ve lived and worked in Paris as a reporter for CBS News and in Burgundy as a teacher. I’m the author of Eat Smart in France and Eat Smart in Portugal, both culinary travel guides. See my web page for further information.”

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  1. Christina Guzman Dec 12, 2014 at 9:22 AM - Reply

    I will be back soon and will be intrigued to see what else has changed! I recall recycling not being that big of an issue so it’ll be interesting to see how this has changed and what exactly people are doing about it. How did you com across La recyclerie?

  2. Ellen Burns Dec 15, 2014 at 4:51 PM - Reply

    It’s always amazing to see initiatives taken up that look after our environment. I wish we had electric cars readily available in Australia and it’s so good to see emphasis being put by restaurants on local and sustainable produce. There are so many things in this world that give me hope for the future and I’m glad that Paris is being one of the cities to lead the way!

    • Ronnie Hess Dec 16, 2014 at 4:51 AM - Reply

      Thanks for your comments. Ellen, I couldn’t agree with you more.

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