Coming to Paris on a weekend trip can be quite a challenge. You think that as long as you tick off the Eiffel Tower, Moulin Rouge and tut-tut about rude Parisians, you can pretty much come back to London comforting yourself that you’ve ‘done it’. In truth, however, did you even need to bother? What single experience among all those cliches really served to expand you as a human being?
Perhaps we have to think like the French to see Paris in a different light. There’s recently been a revival of a French philosopher called Guy Debord, who warns of ‘The Society of the Spectacle’. In essence, Debord says we become so obsessed with living a life that looks like what we’re told we need, that we forget to engage in real human experience. (ie All we need to be happy, is that next: sofa/computer/Sky Box” – we all do it). If ever there was an example of ‘The Spectacle’ it’s certainly the idea of the romantic weekend in Paris.
So what does Debord suggest as a solution?
One of his strategies was the derive, (which means ‘a stroll’ – but with a difference); a way of being ‘constructively playful’ in a city. Instead of following a map or must-do-list for the day, rather make up a random set of rules to follow. For example, when you see a woman with a dog, turn right; a man in a red coat, turn left. If you see a baguette in a window, find some stairs to climb. The idea is that by embracing random events you have real experiences rather than pre-imagined versions.
‘Oh a-Deriving we will go’
On our first day we sat outside the Louvre having fun mapping out our rules, aware that the sheer weight of the museum’s reputation should have drawn us in. To the woman and the dog and man in red coat rules, we added the wildcard that if we got too hungry all bets would be off.
In truth, is Paris is a very logically laid out city, so if you stay within the confines of the centre (i.e. Paris St-Germain and up towards Sacre Ceur in Montmartre), no matter what the rules, you’re not likely to stumble across a modern-day Rimbaud setting fire to his own chest, or be stabbed in one of the dire residential ghettoes on the outskirts of Paris.
We chose the Seine and Notre Dame as a starting point, as it really is the heart of tourist Paris. Our clues came hard and fast and within an hour we had obeyed five separate commands. It is tougher than you might think. Sometimes the rules take you places that are bland and decidedly un-fun but that’s the good part; these now are ‘your’ places.
In truth, we had to stop following rules after dark and followed our stomachs instead. However, the game had done its job. We were released from the belief that our next guidebook destination would make us happy. Over the course of the weekend, we ended up in a shop that sold antique Indian masks, at an exhibition where we felt what it must be like to be inside a large book, playing pool in a football supporters’ bar and eating at the best Tapas Bar in the world. But not once did we stress about where was next.
Conclusion: Find your own Paris
Instead of penning the sort of travel feature where we lovingly describe places and experiences for the reader to replicate, on this occasion we prefer advocating a ‘derive.’ Find your own Paris; by your own rules!
Not ‘must sees’ but ‘maybe sees’
We did visit two things that were cool enough to share… just saying.
Centquatre (www.104.fr) Is a literal ‘creative centre’, where you’re as likely to see hiphop crews learning their skills as cutting edge art shows or street level French food. It’s all very youthful French, democratic and laid back.
Tape Bar ) This graffiti saturated bar is in an area that has just enough grime to take the edge off all that Parisian perfection. 21 Rue de la Roquette, 75011.
Beginners Guide to Deriving
Derive v. (literally: to drift”) A playful-constructive journey that turns the city into a playground of the mind, enriching your experience in unforeseen ways.
1. Invent a game that introduces not just’ random’ motives for moving (i.e. turn left when you see a child crying) but rules that challenge your idea of your place in that city. For example, when you see a seagull, find the highest point you can see within 300m and climb it. Or when you hear a siren, walk for the next three blocks with your ears blocked.
2. Be conscious of how these moves enhance your understanding of your place in the city, or simply how they make you feel.
3. Have fun, be playful and don’t take yourself too seriously.