I'm sick of people talking about Paris like it was such a great city. Ah, ParisÉwith those pretty bridges over the Seine, those romantic cafés and all that long bread. Well, my family lived there for two-and-a-half gruelling years and I insist the truth be told.
The bridges are traffic-choked and they span a sluggish brown river that smells bad. The cafés are usually located at busstops where the air is blue with exhaust fumes and the din of gridlock. They contain too many pizza-sized tables so that we were always sitting within kissing distance of smokers holding frizzy lapdogs. The waiters are as rude as the prices. And no matter how much you pay for a cup of undrinkable French roast, their washrooms are the foulest in Europe.
We finally escaped The City of Middle-class Escape Legend and moved to Bratislava where, after 15 months of both bizarre and banal experiences, I can report that our quality of life is much better than it was in Paris.
Go to Paris for a short holiday, but forget about moving there to live your normal life. In Paris, everyday life is theater and there's never an intermission.
A typical old Parisian apartment has a 10-foot-high parlor with plaster fruit curling around the ceiling. And, at the remotest possible proximity from the elegant dining room, a disgusting parody of a kitchen. It still alternately impresses me and makes me gag to think of all the sumptuous meals produced in these dim, airless rooms by people who want you to believe they have a fierce love of food.
In Slovakia people also live in cramped apartments, often stacked up in housing developments surrounded by crabgrass and cement. But they are cheap and the kitchens are no more scummy than the rest of the place despite the heavy frying that goes on there.
One of the nice things about living in Slovakia is that no one comes here. Crumbling churches and no shopping malls mean few tour buses and no tourist crush. This is a shame really, because it's a little jewel for sale at beach-glass prices. By sharp contrast, France gets 60 million tourists a year, most of whom seemed to be on the rue de Rivoli whenever I shopped there. Now, if I can't find it in Bratislava's only Western-style department store, I often drive to a tranquil Austrian bordertown, only 20 minutes but more than 20 years west of here.
There you are. Truth is, all the breathy references to the City of Light are sadly misconceived. Life in Paris is unhealthy, dangerous, laborious and unrewarding.
Unfortunately, life for many here is still rather nasty, brutish and short. But for our family, which has a salary, a Slovak-speaker and still-open minds, Bratislava has allowed us to lead a quasi-normal life. Right now, that's romance enough for me.
Ellen Dechesne's column will appear monthly. While The Spectator is proud to present this new feature, the views conveyed in "Double Takes" are not necessarily those of The Slovak Spectator or its staff.
6. Nov 1996 at 0:00 | Ellen Dechesne