samedi 18 février 2012


Above the arched entryway to my girls' school is a holdover from when public learning establishments were sex-segregated: an engraved keystone which reads "Ecole Des Filles". (Above the adjacent door to the left, now leading into the vocational college, a separate entity, is its counterpoint "Ecole Des Garçons".) Although their school is now "mixte"-- part of the movement towards secularism which occurred during the last century-- the overhead epithet remains.

All around this old city are architectual witnesses to permanence: mosaic flooring in shops where the tiles spell out the business' name; stained-glass storefront windows whose motif mirrors the goods one will find within; the signature of the architect and the date his building was constructed chiseled into the Haussmannian stone façade; the lush and erotic caryatids that no post-16th century builder would have the inclination to include his elevations.

Embedding your business name into the flooring means you intend to stay for the longterm
Photo used with permission from Wendy at

This sense of permanence is not only present in the physical. The French homeowner's mindset is one of homeostasis. France is not a nation of movers. Unlike Americans, who think nothing of changing homes, careers and academic disciplines at any and all points of their lives, the French view as suspect anyone who demonstrates perpetual mobility.

Renting my first unfurnished apartment in Paris, I was surprised by the expectation that not only was I required to provide my own white goods (refrigerator, stove, dishwasher),  I had to furnish my countertops and shower curtain rod as well. Neither light fixtures nor toilet paper holders await the new tenant. You are expected to buy and install it all. No wonder the French seem to be the least peripatetic people on the planet. It is too costly and labor-intensive to move.

Renting a French apartment?  Be prepared to install your own  kitchen, from cabinetry to outlets.

While there is a certain comfort in knowing that one’s environment is stable and unchanging (my students love the fact that when they return to Paris years after their studies, their favorite bakers, newsagents and café waiters are still here, loyal to their posts), it can be said that such immutability lends itself to routine. When one possesses a temperament which embraces the idea of constant reinvention, one senses a vitality, a dynamism and a willingness to take a risk which, in turn, can bring enormous societal benefits, and not just economically.

I can't say I have a preference for one ideology over the other. I never tire of viewing all the architectural efforts to put the brakes on tempus fugit: the statues and the engravings and the frescoes; at the same time I find the fluidity of the American nature something to be admired, for it is a sign of renewal and hope for the future.

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