PARIS, France – Hemingway called Paris “the moveable feast” and I can see from where he got the idea. It seems there is nothing the French like more than cooking up some gourmet meal and then lugging it down to the Seine, out to the Atlantic shore, or up on the mountaintop. The other day I saw some youngsters – of the age in America where all one knows is how to pop the top off a beer bottle – toasting around one of those enameled cast-iron pots in which they had carried their no-doubt sumptuous meal down to the river.
I myself devoured “The Moveable Feast” when I was an adolescent and for a while there I got trapped in its 1920s version of Paris. As much as I loved it (the book and the version), I had to reject it to be able to see the Paris of today. I marvel at the city’s complexity, its pulsing waves of cultures, its celebration of the past and its mutations into the future.
It occurs to me that cities are the great human creation. They are our collective works of art, impossible to fathom in their intricacy, made by countless artists working with and against each other. Nothing can rival the creative accomplishment that is a city.
There was a heatwave this week in Europe and it hit Paris just as I arrived. Fortunately, tango is a nocturnal sport so I hunkered down out of view of the sun and only emerged after dark. Paris is a running party – heatwave or no (and a heatwave might just be the excuse you need to cook up something tasty and eat it out of doors). I would not be exaggerating if I said that there were many places along the Seine where you couldn’t get a spot overlooking the river because it had already been taken.
Such is the case especially where the dancers gather near the Jardin Tino Rossi in those little amphitheaters that give onto the river. It is my favorite place to dance in Paris but I had never seen it so crowded with dancers and non-dancers alike. Everyone was out enjoying the summer night. It didn’t matter that it was a weeknight: the party was on.
Milongas happen every day there or at the Trocadero when the weather is good. It takes a lot to deter the tango dancers; they are the most loyal crowd you will ever find because their need is always stronger than the obstacles you can throw in their path. But in Paris there are also pop-up street milongas in improbable places. Not quite a flash mob because they are more introverted, these milongas catch unsuspecting people unawares. This week I went to one on the undulating Simone de Beauvoir bridge with the glistening bateaux mouches moving beneath us. There was a cardboard dance floor and people had brought food and drink to share. People stopped their promenades to watch, then moved on. They held that space for tango for a few hours on a summer night during a heatwave.
It was just one small eloquent piece in the throbbing work in progress that is Paris.