Paris: Creative Approaches to Meeting Basic Human Needs

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Paris: Creative Approaches to Meeting Basic Human Needs
Paris works her magic through many mechanisms – beauty, sustainability, constant evolution, the message that pleasure is important. One more way in which the city welcomes visitors and residents alike is through attention to and creative solutions for our universal human needs. Here are a few examples that have intrigued me. People need rest. Whether shopping, touring, or walking around the city, people tire and may need to rest. A Parisian tradition is to provide as long a respite as one requires along with a drink at a sidewalk café – coffee, tea, wine, beer, an aperitif or perhaps a citron pressé or an Orangina. No respectable bar or brasserie would consider pushing a client on his or her way once a glass or cup is empty. The unspoken assumption is that the person who paused for restoration will move along once the need is met. Parks are everywhere. Large parks, small parks, a strip-of-grass-with-benches parks. The notion that people may need to stop and rest is implicit in their placement all over the city. Large parks and gardens may be destinations in their own right – the Tuileries or Jardin du Luxembourg, Parc Monceau or Parc des Buttes Chaumont, the Bois de Boulogne, Bois de Vincennes or Parc de la Villette. But equally inviting are the benches appearing along Cour de la Reine, on the Square Jean XXIII behind Notre Dame or a couple of blocks across the river at the tiny Square André Lefevre on rue de la Parcheminerie. Shopping can be exhausting. Not only have les grand magasins added opportunities for weary shoppers to rest their tired eyes and feet from time to time throughout the stores, but the relatively new Centre Commercial, Beaugrenelle, Paris’s interpretation of the in-city shopping mall, has numerous comfortable chairs in prime real estate surrounding the central stairwells and throughout the galleries so that visitors can stop when they need to, rest while awaiting a friend, or take a few minutes to reconsider their next destination. People need to be able to care for their families. Those who are young and agile spontaneously make room on a bus or the metro for those who are less mobile – a child in a stroller or parental arms, the disabled, pregnant, or aging. Signs on public transportation assign specific spots for those with needs for such extra support and explicitly encourage “civilité”, but the alacrity with which a young person will relinquish a seat or assist with a stroller never ceases to impress me. This recognition that people have individual needs and those who can help others runs deep. Add the centers for the care of children that dot the city, ample resources for handicapped and aging people, and other simple supports for working parents, and the message is clear: People are connected and we must care for one another. Families are welcome into public spaces like the Left Bank along the quais between Orsay and Alma, visiting low-cost or free marionette shows, ateliers in museums during vacances scolaires, and municipal events like parades and fireworks displays. People need to get from here to there. Although Parisians are well-known for walking when a strike disrupts traffic, a manifestation requires rerouting, or the weather invites extended contact with the ground, sometimes distances or time make their own demands. Public transportation around Paris is ample but far from the only option. In recognizing the human need to toggle between far-flung locations, everything from scooters to segways can be spotted on Parisian streets. Bicycles abound; motorcycles have parking areas; an expanding tram system helps people connect to other people and to resources that lie beyond the périphérique. On New Year’s Eve, when safe travel might be compromised by an alcohol haze, fares are suspended on the metro. People need nourishment for the body. Paris may lead the world in number of restaurants (and other food opportunities) per capita. That may be impressive – but far more so is the quality of the food. Open-air markets with fresh produce and other products operate year-round across the city. Local bakeries provide fresh and affordable baguettes throughout the day. “Fast-food” remains less appealing to most French than a seated moment, whether a light bite or a meal in the company of friends. The importance of good nutrition and sharing meals as an opportunity to be fully human is emphasized from a young age, as seen in French school lunches. People need nourishment for the soul. Paris is a capital of creativity in so many domains of human expression beyond the culinary – especially the arts, whether visual or performing, architecture or design, fine or applied, as well as technology and urban planning. Whether inspired by others’ accomplishments – be they displayed in the Louvre or on the side of an apartment building in the XIIIème – people are also empowered to express their own internal lives and longings. On the ground, an artist “paints” using dirt; on a bridge, a trio plays Bach; on the steps of Montmartre or in the Centquatre, young people break-dance. Everywhere, wardrobes announce individuality. People pick up the colors of the…

Lead photo credit : Cafe scene in Paris. Photo: David Griff

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Roni Beth Tower, author of the award-winning memoir "Miracle at Midlife: A Transatlantic Romance", is a retired clinical, research and academic psychologist and a dedicated Francophile.


  • Michael James
    2019-04-12 05:29:58
    Michael James
    Yikes, does this mean I get ejected from the club for ex-Parisians? Well, we'd have to see how your average Parisian would fare! Anyway, the reason I came back to visit this page is that the other day on our national radio (Australian ABC) I heard an interview of an English (or at least Anglosphere) woman who lives on a Dutch peniche on the Seine, in the 7th I think. At first I thought it might be you. It was a re-broadcast from a BBC series a few years ago: (15 min podcast): Episode 2 of 4: In The Underwater Gendarme, writer and former lifeboatman Horatio Clare joins the Brigade Fluviale, an elite team which for over a century has been recovering the drowning and the drowned from the River Seine in Paris, along with murder weapons and other criminal evidence. In the second programme Horatio gets a taste of life for the community of barge- and houseboat-dwellers who proliferate along the banks of the river. He meets Jillie Faraday, an English woman who first came to live on her Dutch barge in the centre of Paris in 1969. In four decades she's seen just about everything float past her home - from dead bodies to gigantic cargo barges which have come adrift from their tugs. And whenever anything unusual or unsettling does come past, Jillie always phones the Brigade Fluviale. Over the years she's got to know members of the Brigade quite well and has even asked their divers to retrieve keys and mobile phones accidentally dropped into the river from her barge. Always looking for an opportunity to train, the Brigade are happy to oblige. Horatio joins Jillie as her old friend, Chief Brigadier Pascal Jacquin, drops in on a routine call and they recall the incidents and accidents which are part of the flow of life on the river. Horatio also takes part in a training session on board the Brigade's flagship, the Ile de France, a massive tug which can manoeuvre stricken cargo barges and retrieve sunken cars. Horatio briefly finds himself driving the tug through central Paris and discovers that there's a considerable knack in not colliding with the city's famous bridges! And Pascal tells the story of navigating those bridges in the Ile de France while babysitting an unexploded Second World War bomb.