A Layer Of Dust Over Paris

I have just returned from a week in Paris which is the most beautiful city in the world. I don’t see how any rational human being could argue otherwise. And polls agree that the city of love conquers all.

I’m particularly in love with the city’s joie de vivre, which means the “joy of living.” Parisians find joy in what they eat, where they go, conversations they have, and how they spend their time. Everything is beautiful from the food to the architecture and fashion.

But even in beautiful Paris, the menace of an uncertain future jumped out from behind old wooden doors and onto busy street corners where homeless immigrants pitched new tents, undisturbed by city officials. The gorgeous parks, blooming with spring flowers, were filled with hordes of children from other countries who sat in groups on benches, oblivious to the world moving around them, looking lost in a sea of Parisians who shuffled by without acknowledging their presence.

Patrol boats sped up and down the Seine River at full speed, on alert for student protests near city universities, where armed police, three rings deep, encircled small handfuls of students. I think the new crew of protesting students is misguided, not yet wise enough to understand the true breadth of the world’s problems, but still, the way they were encircled and subdued felt ominous.

As in cities in the United States, immigrants have replaced the French as taxi drivers, sales clerks, museum attendants and other menial workers. Your taxi driver no longer knows how to get to the Eiffel Tower or the Louvre. He uses Google Maps.

In Parisian neighborhoods, exploding with elegant cafes and fromageries, bakeries and pastry shops, there are signs of change. Immigrants are opening falafel shops, or Indian restaurants, and the smell of curry wafts through some streets, mingling with the smell of freshly-baked baguettes.

At the airport, custom agents have been replaced by machines. Travelers step into booths where their pictures are taken and their passports scanned.

France has a long history of protest, dating back to the French Revolution, but France has also been a liberal, socialist country for many years now. They’ve been conditioned to accept radical change much longer than Americans and no one seems particularly alarmed by the layer of dust slowly settling over the city. For the first time since I visited Paris more than a decade ago, I saw more garbage on the streets and graffiti everywhere.

I’d love to ask a graffiti artist what possesses them to maim civilization’s most beautiful structures? Why must the world be forced to live with their personal discontent?

One evening, I went to hear four world-class violinists perform Vivaldi in Saint Chapelle church, built in the thirteenth century, with its 900 stained glass windows and ancient relics from biblical times stored in its secret rooms. A young Chinese man sat beside me, there to listen to one of the gifts Western Civilization has bestowed on us through the centuries.

It was hard not to be moved by the musician’s performance as it reverberated throughout the massive church, the acoustics adding an other-worldly sound to the evening. When the music stopped, I asked the Chinese gentleman beside me if he’d enjoyed the concert, and he nodded with enthusiasm.

In fact, throughout the week, I saw thousands of Chinese travelers eating creme brulee, shopping for designer clothes, and looking at paintings created by European artists through the eons. They seemed hungry for it, overwhelmed and enchanted by it.

Sadly, these very accomplishments–the evolution of art, music, culinary pursuits, style, and architecture–things the West has spent all of time perfecting–are the very things our current world leaders wish to de-emphasize. They open the borders in the West to millions upon millions of immigrants which then serves to dilute unique cultures. They stifle creativity by stifling freedom. They watch as hordes of gangs paint graffiti on ancient walls. They replace paychecks with technology, and they stifle those who disapprove of their agenda by encircling them with batons and guns.

I have seen the same thing happening all over the world in my travels–in countries from Nicaragua to Armenia to Sweden and Chile–this theme is being played out over and over again. I’ve written about it here countless times in countless columns for a decade now. But as in Paris, and as in Peru, no one seems particularly alarmed. At least not outwardly enough to put an end to it, or fire the people in charge.

We are not protecting the unique gifts Western Civilization has given the world. Think of the Stataveria violin, or the perfect macaron, or the beauty of Beethoven’s music, or the one seminole non-physical accomplishment which is freedom–think of these things and think of a world without them.


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