Two Tales of one City

I've read three books relating to Paris so far this year (and a fourth is on the kitchen table), which seems odd considering I've never really been interested in the city. Even while churning through the history of The Revolution and the decades of Napoleon I was more interested in maps of Austerlitz and Waterloo than I was in even working out what a Tuileries was supposed to be.

I've found fascination in many other cities. London, Rome, New York City, Constantinople, even Adelaide. And I certainly respect The City Of Light for it's significance. I think the problem is I am possibly the least French person on the planet.

The Flânuer, which I finished reading yesterday, was an insightful counterpoint to How Paris Became Paris. The former is reflections of the city from the 1990's backward, a clip show of the history that the seventeenth century promised when the city tore down its walls and discovered urban planning.

The latter was a tale of monuments and infrastructure, entrepreneurs and nobles. The former a perspective on writers, painters, musicians, immigrants and non-Europeans, Jews, the LGBT, and royalists.

Consistent between these two Parises was the designation of the same revolutionary sidewalks being a place to put on a show in the streets, regardless of whether Haussmann had or had not set about bulldozing and straightening the avenues.

While I do not intend to be seen in Paris, these books have given me places to see. Additionally, I have gained an appreciation for the fortune a piece of a city must have to survive so much history in a single place. The ironically named Pont Neuf - now the oldest bridge over the Seine - has stood for over four centuries. The Tuileries Palace, whose construction started in 1564, has not made it so long. In 1871 a far left uprising took control of Paris at the end of the Franco-Prussian war. Before they were subdued they torched the place. They were in power for all of 100 days in the period of nearly five centuries. That's all it took.

Considering all the civil wars, religious wars, war wars, occupations, revolutions, counter-revolutions, fires, civil strikes and general wear and tear it is incredible that so much of Paris is left to see. It's a testament to humanity. I now look forward to some fascinating strolling.

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The woman with the fake tan stepped into my office, sat across from my desk and lit a cigarette.
At least, she would, sometime in the next 20 minutes. Smelling the future has advantages, but precision isn’t one of them.

How Paris Became Paris

I'm currently planning a trip to Europe, and while Top 10 Things To Do In Blah videos on YouTube have been useful, I decided that if I was going to spend a week in Paris then I wanted a deeper understanding of one of the world's great cities than monetized content on Google could provide. So I read How Paris Became Paris by Joan DeJean, which could more aptly be titled "How 17th Century Paris became 19th Century Paris". Nonetheless, this was an excellent starting point for my Parisian enlightenment (far better than Süskind's Perfume...) and it avoided overlapping my existing understanding of French History (also known as Andrew Roberts' Napoleon the Great).

How Paris Became Paris was well structured, centring chapters around specific urban features or cultural changes rather than trying to regale the two centuries chronologically. I admit that I did find the chapters about la mode (fashion) and shopping a bit less engaging than the history of the Pont Neuf and the first attempts at the tree lined boulevards in place of the old city walls. Paris was, according to this book, the first European city to have sidewalks, a mail service, lighting at night, and public transport. They also apparently were the first city to lean into "looking at the river and taking a picture", instead of lining their bridges with houses and shops in order to finance the structure.

I detected that the success of Paris comes down to a few key, raw elements that define human progress. War - conveniently starting and ending at the right times. The end of the religious wars - which provided a monarch a chance to spend money on civic developments to build a legacy as opposed to battled, and then the civil war that accelerated progress in printing and communications. Money. Flirting.

The history of Paris comes down to war, communication, money, sex, and being able to stare at a river. I actually think that distils humans down into their fundamental parts quite succinctly.

What this book didn't cover was the years during/after the revolution (Haussmann, Napoleon, the Eiffel Tower) or the years before it (The Bastille, Notre Dame, the palaces). It amazes me that nearly two centuries before my own city was founded there was magazine advertisements for fashion items in Paris. And that centuries before a city with the size and history of New York City there was Paris doing it's thing.

I recommend this book - a physical copy so that old paintings and engravings can be examined. I do wish it could have kept going, but hopefully later this year I will be able to contribute to the history of the city of Paris, or at least write down some of my experiences in it.

This Is What it Sounded Like

This month I listened to the non-fiction book This Is What It Sounds Like by Dr. Susan Rogers and Ogi Ogas. The blurb pitches it as a neurological summary of how the brain interprets music and how individuals develop listener "profiles" across three conscious and four subconscious musical attributes.

I loved the concept of this book, because I enjoy both music of almost all varieties, as well as thinking about music. Ultimately the book was 30% neurology, 30% listening skills and 40% Susan Rogers biography. None of this was bad as it seems like Susan Rogers has lived an interesting life. Perhaps it's because I chose the audio book, some parts appealed to my book-listener profile and other parts felt unnecessary. I wish I had read this as a physical book where I could have seen the shape of the paragraphs before reading them, and been more easily able to pause and reflect/digest the fact I was just presented.

The seven facets of music I learned about were Authenticity, Realism, Novelty along with Melody, Rhythm, Lyrics and Timbre. Some of this was reminiscent of This Is Your Brain on Music which I enjoyed 13 years ago and which inspired several Rip It Up reviews (and which taught me the word "timbre") but which I've also forgotten a lot of. Perhaps that's part of why I'm recording the lessons here for future reference.

I most definitely would have got a dozen review structures out of this book a dozen years ago. I also confirmed my musical sweet spot is quite broad according to the quadrants prescribed by Dr Rogers. I enjoy personal ballads and swaggering hip hop. I dig an acoustic guitar and an 808. I'm drawn to new concepts and the classics. I'll groove to the downbeat, the backbeat or the high hat. Basically I'm like 19 year or Brad at the bar. If it comes in a bottle, I'm drinking it. There was a paragraph near the end talking about guilty pleasures and I was at a blank trying to identify my own. I don't feel any guilt about Creedence Clearwater Revival, JT featuring Timberland, Party Favor, Falling in Reverse, Taylor Swift, K-Pop hip hop, Diplo mash ups, or Kid Kenobi dropping Purple Funky Monkey. None of those will have the longevity of oral histories passed down for generations and stored across hemispheres, but they all work for me. Thanks to this book I can now also more accurately assess why they bring me pleasure.

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Living in 2022 and attending technology conventions makes it all the more clear that the future has not turned out the way Philip K Dick imagined it back in the sixties.


Books Can Be Deceiving

Today I was yet again asked by a stranger who saw my wrist cast if I had punched someone. And I finally managed to shave on the weekend too... I told them, No. Do I really look like the kind of person who would punch someone? Do I not look exactly like the kind of person who would fall uncoordinatedy off a push bike at low speed and shatter?

Anyway, today my book was The Truth by Terry Pratchett. During my lunchbreak I sat in the sun in the botanical gardens and it was pleasant.

Don Quixote is an Inspiration

Wouldn't it be better to stay quietly at home? Instead of looking for better bread than what’s made from wheat, and forgetting that many a man’s gone out shearing and come back shorn?

It's also very long so I haven't finished the second part after starting it in 2016.

Long live the memory of Amadis, and let him be imitated as well as is possible by Don Quixote de la Mancha, of whom it shall be said what was said of another: if he did not achieve great things, he died in the attempt.

What Did I Learn From 1300 years of European History This Week?

I've had a lot of free time this past week to consume nearly all of Dan Jones' summary of the middle ages: Powers and Thrones, and what I have learned is that every human in history has been born into a life of violence, suffering and a meaningless search for purpose before fading into the obscurity of statistics. And also about the Mongols which is cool I guess.

The Left Hand of Darkness

I was passed a copy of Ursula K. Le Guin's The Left Hand of Darkness by one of my early writing mentors a few years ago. It is a classic of Science Fiction. I remember taking it home, opening the first page and immediately being disgusted by this fact. My copy lacked any introduction, and the story immediately lurched to a halt in my mind as a cavalcade of invented words spilled from the page. (I think it was the Gossiwors which triggered me). Why was this a classic of Science Fiction - so immediately dry and unwelcoming - and not some dumb thing that I had written, like what if time travel was powered by love maybe? And there were some good jokes?

Since that day both Le Guin and that mentor have died and then I found myself picking up the copy I still had on my bookshelf last weekend when I had a big salad that needed eating outside. This time I persisted, reading the first 100 densely packed pages (single-spaced, no margins) over the course of a week, and then the final 100 pages this weekend. Le Guin really was a Science Fiction master, and it had been my younger self who was disgusting with his haste to dismiss this. It was, in fact, everything I've been lamenting about modern day Science Fiction. It's an adventure, enriched by lore and gibberish - sure - but it stands on its own as an exciting, intriguing tale of an envoy on a mission to a foreign planet. It touches on some big themes like gender, sexuality, politics and religion. Themes which have only grown bigger since. But none of these themes are imposed or foisted upon the reader. They're buried in the complex world building and well-crafted dialogue and you digest them purely through the consumption of the story. I was very impressed.

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