A year in Paris: first steps

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The Jardin des Tuileries was commissioned by Louis XIV and built in 1662.
The Jardin des Tuileries was commissioned by Louis XIV and built in 1662.
The Jardin des Tuileries was commissioned by Louis XIV and built in 1662.

It’s a dizzying maze, a discombobulating labyrinth of dead ends, wrong turns and sordid back alleys. No, I’m not referring to the murky indiscernible world of Parisian streets, but its utterly absurd bureaucracy. I’m well aware that it’s an easy and often hackneyed journalistic manoeuvre to bemoan our Gallic cousins’ red tape, so that’s exactly what I’ll do.

The Église de la Sainte-Trinité, located in the 9th arrondissement
The Église de la Sainte-Trinité, located in the 9th arrondissement

Red tape

Don’t get me wrong, I was fully prepared for a heavy dose of red tape but the French really take the proverbial biscuit (or should that be brioche?). Every student at the University of the Sorbonne is required to go through Inscription Administrative et Pédagogique. Despite its typical Gallic grandeur, this is essentially matriculation. Except it’s not. Firstly, what should be as simple a process as picking up a student card has been frenchified into a mad scramble where orderly queuing is guffawed at and those with the loudest voices are served first.

But that’s where the fun really starts. Once said student card is acquired and the oddly unjustified sense of self-congratulation washes over you, a 175 page student guide is thrust into your sweaty palm which seems to present more questions than answers. Needless to say, the tome has done little to allay my concerns and let this be a lesson: put yourself through the rigmarole of French university bureaucracy before taking aim at the divinely simple MMS, Moodle et al.

Paris life

Dating back to 1802, the bridge, the Pont des Arts has seen thousands of padlocks attached to the bridge by couples and lovers. The key is then discarded into the river below, intended to be a symbol of their enduring love.
Dating back to 1802, the bridge, the Pont des Arts, has had thousands of padlocks attached to it by couples and lovers. The key is then discarded into the river below, intended to be a symbol of their enduring love.

In stark contrast, despite the traffic and usual vicissitudes of city life after the bucolic harmony of St Andrews, Paris is easily navigable by foot, and it would be churlish to deny its oddly calming and disarmingly charming qualities. My flat, next to Gare Saint-Lazare, is well located and in close proximity to bars, cafes and all manner of shops. Its excellent transport links and central location are ideal and in general, it’s difficult to complain about Parisian life.

That said, it may still be the tourist season, but some aspects of Paris have become a parody of themselves, a feeling cemented having visiting the Louvre, Notre Dame, the Jardin des Tuileries and others. One half expects to witness a beret-clad-sailor-t-shirt-wearing-and-moustachioed Jean-Pierre decorated with garlic strut along the Champs-Élysées. Alas, no such luck. Not yet anyway.

When you've already paid 20 Euros to redeem yourself, what's another two to remember the day?
When you’ve already paid 20 Euros to redeem yourself, what’s another two to remember the day?

Redemption

A trip to Montmartre’s Sacré Coeur is a fine example of how tourism has crept into every sacred nook and cranny of the city. Not only was I asked to cough up 20 Euros for a candle and, ipso facto, a redeemed soul, I was then exhorted to purchase a commemorative coin to mark the day of my salvation. Strolling out the church’s door, a beggar thrust her hand out, by which point I’d spent all my money on candles and commemorative coins and was forced to join her. Oh well, at least it means I’ll no longer have to put up with the bureaucracy.

Photos: Anna Bucks, Jonathan Bucks

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