The French may have come up with the word ennui and then elevated it into an art form, but now it seems, some of them are bored with being bored. More than 14,000 people have signed a petition, which closed on Sunday, urging the mayor of Paris to save the city from becoming "the European capital of boredom" as the newspaper Le Monde recently termed it.
The main complaint of an open letter to members of the government is that bars, clubs and other signs of (night)life are struggling to stay open and vibrant thanks to a bourgeois pursuit of "silence". While in Paris last week, I went through the usual touristic trajectory of swooning at the city's architecture, its impeccably dressed inhabitants, and the fact that there are still people strolling through the Tuileries after dark who aren't there to sell crack. But on the train home, a conversation between two twentysomething students seated next to me gave me a different perspective – a more modern value system which judges a city by the elusive quality of energy.
The currency in which city guides deal now isn't the splendour of the architecture or the freshness of the croissants; it's "buzz". And that's what preoccupied this pair. The male student was attempting to impress the girl opposite him by passing off a parallel between cities and women as his own invention. "Berlin is like your crazy best friend," he opined, "London is like your wife, maybe she's not so glamorous on the surface but she holds your interest, and Paris is like your lover; beautiful but ultimately boring."
The city could well be heading that way. The smoking ban is one reason that authorities want to crack down on noise, because more people are spilling out on to the streets to have a cigarette and disturbing residents. According to the petition, the ban has also reactivated statutory restrictions which have hitherto been ignored, such as forbidding people to dance in bars or concert halls, and has increased the likelihood of penalties. I've met lots of young and youngish Parisians who seem bored with their capital. They feel it's changed, become staid, and are drawn to London and other British cities because of their edge.
Admittedly, living in a city day to day, "edge" can sometimes seem like a synonym for crime, dirt and noise in the same way that estate agents use "lively neighbourhood" to mean anarchic crime-ridden hell hole. But at least London feels alive with its mix of late-night museum openings, dive bars and impromptu gigs.
There are actually few things sadder than a city without a heart and a pulse. Take Venice. Even a tourist can practically feel the city sinking under the weight of its own lugubrious listlessness. Of course people flock to cities for economic reasons but it's also because the vitality of late nights and bright lights draws them like moths.
The Parisian authorities should be cautious about clamping down on fun. In an "experience economy", the atmosphere of a city is not only key to the happiness of the people who live there, it also has commercial benefits in terms of tourism and creativity. Once extinguished, a city's soul can't just be conveniently revived.Reuse content