John Lichfield: When cleaning is imprisonment

Paris Notebook
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The Independent Online

I have been placed behind bars. My entire family has been placed behind bars. All our neighbours have been placed behind bars for three months.

Our pleasant view of streets and roof-tops has been blotted out by scaffolding, ladders and semi-opaque plastic sheets. The time has come for the ravalement or the cleaning of the façade of our early 20th century, sandstone, apartment block: something that every building in Paris is supposed to undergo every 10 years.

This is an excellent idea, as long as it is not happening to the building where you live. My first memories of Paris date from 1964. In comparison with Macclesfield, where I then lived, the city of light was a dark disappointment. Even the Louvre and Notre Dame were dingy, stained by smoke from wood and coal fires and factories just outside the city boundary.

In fact, André Malraux, President Charles de Gaulle's culture minister, had already pushed through a law in 1959 obliging the cleaning-up of Paris quartier by quartier. Thirty years later the then mayor of Paris, Jacques Chirac, amended the law to allow the city to enforce the ravalement of any excessively dirty façade in the city.

As with many things in France, theory and practice fail to coincide. All the same, the ravalement of Paris has been a stunning success. On a sunny spring or summer day, the gleaming city of light now fully deserves its name.

Ravalement is, however, a gold-mine for the 217 businesses which have the right to undertake the work (at €20,000 or £18,000 for the smallest frontages). The companies take on more work than they can manage. They shove up the scaffolding and then come back when they feel like it. We have been behind bars for two weeks. The first square centimetre of the building was cleaned yesterday.

Sarko's imperial ride

At Puteaux, a dull, middle-class suburb just west of Paris, taxpayers were infuriated to learn that the mayor (a Sarkozy acolyte) planned to spend €300,000 on an equestrian statue of the President of the Republic. The story, in a local, investigative blog, was taken up by several magazines and the town hall was bombarded with protests. The newspapers and callers should have checked the date of the blog: 1 April.