Sometimes, readers, a 60s roll-out bidet just isn’t enough to keep a gal entertained. And so this week, rather than trying to understand a bygone decade by studying its porcelain contours closely, I decided to take a long-overdue dive into the world of Mad Men where the retro scenery is a huge part of its charm, not unlike chez moi. Hardly Parisian you might argue, but what with the chain smoking and penchant for extra-marital affairs, it seems that in 1960s Manhattan, the spirit of Paris was alive and well.
Which got me to thinking. If Don Draper (the central character and creative director of a New York advertising agency, for the uninformed) was given the account for the city of Paris, what kind of marketing spin would he pull out of his Brylcreem-sodden hat to show off the city in its best light? Can-can dancers on every spread for sure, channelling the party atmosphere and old-time glamour in a sumptuous print show. A slogan? ‘Paris: Because even New York needs a mistress!’ I can only imagine.
As history would instead have it, the original guardians of Paris’ image didn’t know how this unique urban flower would bloom, and the original symbol of the city is as head-scratching today as the Eiffel Tower would have been back in its days of creation in the Middle Ages. The first chosen emblem? A ship. As the city has grown and the importance of the Seine as a source of industry has faded, a big ol’ ship floating through the city today would seem as out of place as Francois Hollande attempting a high kick on stage at the cabaret.
But sure enough, look closely as you meander around the place, and you’ll spy this municipal symbol, these days a fully-fledged coat of arms, on many public buildings, mairies, stations, schools and bridges; and displayed proudly on the gates and doors of the Hotel de Ville. But what’s a snazzy image without a carefully considered slogan to go with it? Well Paris has one of those too (though it would probably make Don Draper wince into his whisky), the far-from-elegant-sounding ‘fluctuat nec mergitur’. Hmm.
Sticking with the boat theme, translated from its original Latin it means ‘gets tossed around without sinking’, just like a wooden ship being battered by waves in a storm. You’d hope that they were better sailors than that in the industry’s heyday, but on a metaphorical level it fits old Dame Paris perfectly if you sail through her history. Revolutions, slaughter, floods, starvation and death; it’s easy to see why our old friend Baron Haussmann officiated the motto in 1853, and it now sits proudly upon the city’s emblem, a reminder of every tempest she’s had to endure from past until present.
So sometimes when Paris kicks me in the chops and the dark clouds of gloom roll in, it’s nice to remember that the old gal has had her dark moments too, but has bucked like a mule back, and survived every hardship and tumult imaginable with her head held high. Love, light and advertising are all well and good, but isn’t that what life is really about?