The Champs Elysées has a new set of Christmas lights. Not before time. The old ones resembled the sad, tangled strings which are dug out of cupboards by millions of households each year.
There is nothing original about the new silver and gold illuminations but they are, at least, not an embarrassment to the “City of Light” and to “the most beautiful avenue in the world”. Parisians have an odd relationship with the area. Most never go there. On any given day, the crowds thronging the avenue are mostly tourists. This winter, half of them seem to be shivering but jolly Chinese. The French press and the avenue’s ruling committee of proprietors and lease holders are constantly worrying about the Champs Elysées. Is it going down-market? Are there too many clothes shops? Can the cinemas survive?
The latest plan considered by the avenue’s management committee aims, among other things, to attract Parisians to the most celebrated thoroughfare in Paris. Little is going on above street level, the plan points out. Why not turn some of the wasted upper floors of the buildings, even the roofs, into trendy, upmarket cafés, restaurants and night clubs? Too late, I thought. The Champs Elysées is a mecca for foreigners but irretrievably lost to Parisians. I was astonished, therefore, on a recent Sunday morning to see a crowd of glitzily dressed people waiting on the Champs to enter the Lido night club. At 11am on a Sunday? I glanced at a programme in someone’s hand. It read: “Grand final, Belgium’s Next Top Model.”
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