On Trusting The Travel Writer

Kish did a lot of research before we took this trip to Paris. Among other things, she read and printed out a number of “3 Days in Paris”-type articles from various newspapers, and we’ve used them, productively, as helpful guides during our visit.

One neighborhoods described in one of the articles was Belleville. It was depicted as a charming, off-the-beaten path, upcoming area of new art galleries and friendly wine bars that loved drop-in clientele, so we thought it would be a good spot for a stroll and a glass.

When we emerged from the Belleville Metro stop, however, we found a place that was radically different than the travel writer’s depiction. Rather than charm, we found a gritty place of worn and uninspired modern buildings. We couldn’t find the places mentioned in the article because Belleville is so off the beaten path that its streets aren’t even shown on the map we have carried around the city — and when we tried to leave the main streets to find the charm, we found desolate side streets that made me feel physically insecure for the first time on our visit to Paris. So, after having lunch at a Vietnamese bistro and then wandering around for a while among shops that offered cheap discount clothing, lots of Asian-lettered businesses, and panel trucks covered with graffiti, we retreated back to the center of the old city.

Kish and I both agreed that the visit to Belleville was interesting, because it showed that Paris is not just a fairyland of medieval churches and fountains and beautiful apartment buildings. Belleville clearly is a place where recent blue-collar immigrants to the city go to find affordable places to live. We also wondered whether it showed the challenge of the modern travel writer who must try to find something new to say about a city as oft-visited as Paris. No doubt there are nicer parts of Belleville than what we found, but we wondered whether the travel writer’s overarching quest for the new produced a bit of exaggeration. Next time, we’ll do a Google search, too, before we venture off to a new place.

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