The world seems to be getting smaller as a result of easy access to travel, internet communications and global interdependencies. Living in a profoundly multi-cultural city like Toronto has made me aware of the benefits of merging other cultures with our own but I was unprepared for what I experienced in a recent visit to Paris. In previous visits I had never been to Montmartre, the artist community on the hill dominated by the prominent white dome of the Basilica of the Sacré Coeur, which is visible from most points in Paris.
We arrived late in the afternoon during a torrential rainstorm which made a leisurely stroll along the narrow cobblestone streets a less-than-appealing affair. After purchasing a couple of raincoats and umbrellas at one of the souvenir shops in the main square (the sun had been shining when we struck out), we did our best to see as much of the neighbourhood as possible.
The shops were filled with the predictable Eiffel Tower statues, tote bags, tee shirts and other touristy paraphernalia but what I wasn’t prepared for was the almost total Asian proprietorship of the boutiques and restaurants. At least half of the artists in the central quadrangle were not French but Asian. We ate a lovely Margherita pizza ordered in French at a Vietnamese restaurant and I purchased a kitschy print of the George V Champs Elysées Café painted by an artist with the name of Bin Kashiwa, from a beautiful French-speaking Pakistani girl. Naturally, most of the souvenirs and trinkets were Made In China.
Expecting a quintessentially French experience when you visit Montmartre is not exactly a reality anymore with the exception of the streets and buildings which are still delightfully quaint and Francaise. The culture, like the rest of the world is now homogenized and Paris is as multi-cultural as any other large city in this shrinking world. And if that means a Canadian can get great Italian pizza in a Vietnamese restaurant in a French-speaking country, then that’s just fine with me. À bientôt amigos.