Walking home from my Carrefour this morning, I passed a young woman in her late twenties. She had a huge smile on her face. In her right hand, she was holding one of those sticks that allows you to hold your phone at arm’s length, camera pointing at you, so you are the focus, front and center, of your own video. She was walking down rue Saint Andre des Arts oblivious to other strollers. Rue Saint Andre des Arts is more a walking street than driving but taxis use it, delivery trucks use it and people who don’t know better use it. If one walks down the center of the street, it is advised to pay attention! The street is also very touristy. It runs from Place Saint Andre des Arts, which is close to the Saint Michel fountain, several blocks and becomes rue Buci. Students and walkers can get cheap food that doesn’t require sitting at a table: pizza, crepes, veggie Libyan fare, etc. It’s a fun street, a noisy street but not particularly photogenic.
I don’t think any of this mattered to the young woman. She video herself in front of buildings, in front of the neighborhood movie theatre, in front of people eating their food never once looking at the sights themselves. I thought to myself “Is there anything more self-centered than walking down streets in Paris videoing yourself?” I find it astounding. it has become common place to walk in Paris this way if you are a tourist. Never once looking at the real thing, younger people go home with a video of Paris in which they are the star.
The other day I was at the Musee d’Orsay about a 20 minute walk from my apartment. I was in the Van Gogh room during a rare moment of low tourist presence. Suddenly a man darted in front of me taking a photo of the painting that I was looking at with his iPhone. Then he took a photo of the description at the bottom and right of the painting. I watched him go around the entire room repeating the same action. Photo the painting first then the name and description of the painting. He never once looked at a painting. It boggles the brain. These people, that man, the young woman, had to have spent a considerable amount of money to get to Paris, the #1 tourist city in the world. They have to be staying somewhere. Paris is not cheap. It is beautiful, extraordinarily beautiful. When the sun is out, it doesn’t matter where in the city you are, one can’t help but catch her breath and smile. They will go to wherever their homes are, show the video, show the photos and friends will sigh and say “You are so lucky that you got to go to Paris” But are they really here?
Of course, I may be totally off base. Perhaps the man was working on a thesis of Van Gogh’s painting in the d’Orsay. He knew the paintings by heart and just needed photos to support his writing. And maybe the young woman was Parisian and walks rue Saint Andre des Arts every day. And today she was playing at being a tourist.