Paris: Creative Approaches to Meeting Basic Human Needs

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Paris: Creative Approaches to Meeting Basic Human Needs

Cafe life in Paris. Photo: David Griff

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.

Leaping dancer, street art in the 13th. Photo: David Griff

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.

Green spaces in Paris. Photo: David Griff

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.

Seating in Beaugrenelle mall. Photo: David Griff

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.

Resting on a park bench. Photo: David Griff

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.

Inside the metro. Photo: David Griff

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.

Cafe scene in Paris. Photo: David Griff

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.

Music in the streets. Photo: David Griff

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 moment out of the ether and add a scarf or hat to welcome the season.

Street art in the 13th arrondissement. Photo: David Griff

People need to deal with waste.

No garment is cut without scraps of fabric left behind; no meal is prepared without the scrapings of peels and bones left behind. A culture of recycling and reusing what can find a new application was explained at the first Cordon Bleu cooking class I attended! Today the trimobile circulates among Parisian neighborhoods, allowing citizens to donate what no longer serves them to others who might find use for an item; recycling bins are nearly as plentiful as the transparent garbage bags; public toilets are a little everywhere to allow sanitary disposal of human waste; and buildings are renovated rather than razed. After the holiday season, Christmas trees are collected by the City in an orderly fashion, permitting proper disposal. The same respect that greets human aging is offered to material goods, as people appreciate the wisdom of investing in sustainability. Resale shops proudly display fine apparel ready for a second life.

The Trimobile to recycle among neighbors. Photo: David Griff

People need pleasure.

Finally, there is “le Plaisir”. We humans are hard-wired to experience pleasure, whether the joy of recognizing an experience associated with happiness in the past, or the curiosity associated with surprise or novelty. “Le Plaisir” – de lire, de la musique, de boire, de manger, de n’importe quoi is a subtle underpinning of French culture throughout life. Wanting to provide experiences that bring smiles to one another forms the basis for dressing to bring pleasure, cooking to spark delight, engaging in conversation that actually expands thoughts and perceptions rather than simply impresses.

Music in the streets. Photo: David Griff

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.

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  • Marnie Masuda-Cleveland
    2019-11-05 20:10:08
    Marnie Masuda-Cleveland
    Hi--Interesting you mention that long-ago episode of "The Underwater Gendarme." My husband and I were in the midst of purchasing Jillie Faraday's péniche in 2017. We were staying on the boat, furnishing and sprucing it up, when my husband slipped and fell into the Seine and drowned. Our three children (ages 7, 14, 16) and I were left to fend for ourselves and get home. Jillie refused to come back from her sojourn in Italy to even help us sort through the horrible aftermath. When I returned home I learned that Jillie Faraday had decided to keep all the downpayment (120,000 euros) and all of the furnishings we had purchased for the boat (worth approximately 5000 euros). Of course, without my husband, and with three children to support, purchasing the boat was no longer a possibility (even if I had wanted to set foot on it again). To this day, I have lost my entire life savings and my beloved husband, and Jillie Faraday continues to refuse to return even a portion of the money or communicate with me. She still has full ownership of the boat and has pocketed roughly $150,000 thanks to our tragic loss. The case is still in court, but I can't believe anyone could be this greedy and heartless to profit from my family's misfortune. Please do not glorify this woman or her "romantic" lifestyle. She is a callous libertine who has caused my family great harm. She now has the boat for sale again, and you can see many of the items we bought for the boat in the listing pictures--many more are missing. She must have sold them or given them away, even though the court complaint orders her to return my personal effects. This is public record, but I am finally feeling strong enough to share my ordeal as a warning to others who may be adversely affected by her--or by people like her.


  • 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.


  • Roxanne Summers
    2019-03-01 13:27:03
    Roxanne Summers
    Fares may be suspended on the metro but on New Years Eve 2000, an even greater celebration that year, when the public was encouraged to take the metro instead of driving in to Paris, it closed at 1:00 a.m., its usual closing time. So the trip was free until noon the next day but the stations were closed until 5:00 a.m. Naturally, people did not expect this, since 1:00 is very early after the festivities at midnight, especially that particular year. Police in riot gear tried to deal with the angry crowds at the stations who had no way to go home. Is this still the case?


  • Roni Beth Towr
    2019-02-26 18:04:56
    Roni Beth Towr
    Hello Michael - Thank you for writing, for your great sleuthing, and for nudging me to add some detail. I responded to your great comment days ago but somehow it never posted. Here are the details: 1. Good job - neighborhood café in back of Maison de Radio France. 2. The Ballerina is by Faile (combo of Patrick Miller and Patrick McNeil) on rue Jeanne d'Arc at bd Vincent Auriol in the 13ème 3. Bingo - behind Notre Dame. 4. Yes, Beaugrenelle. 5. Parc Monceau. Central allée. 6. Metro line nine at Chausée d'Antin, exit towards les Grands Magasins 7. The café is at Place de la République, southern side, towards metro at Oberkampf. 8. Taken at the Marathon. They were playing on rue Boulainviliers, as runners came up in front of Maison de Radio France. 9. Art by Btoy (Andrea Michaelsson) "Evelyn Nesbit" on rue Esquirol at Place Philippe Pinel in 13ème 10. The trimobile was parked on rue Gros at Théophile Gautier, where the open-air market takes place on Tuesday and Friday mornings. 11. Yes, the footbridge behind Notre Dame that leads to Ile St.Louis.


  • Roni Beth Tower
    2019-02-22 21:07:48
    Roni Beth Tower
    Hello Michael, and thank you so much for this and for your sleuthing! Great work on most of them! For the record, #5 is Parc Monceau; #6 is the exit from the metro, line 9 at Chaussée d'Antin toward Opéra and les Grand Magasins; #7 - the cafe is on the southern side of Place de la République; #8 the band was playing at the Marathon in from of Maison de la Radio near Pont Grenelle; and #10 at that moment the Trimobile was stationed on the corner of rue Gros and av Théophile Gautier. Thank you for playing! What a fabulous city it is....


  • Michael James
    2019-02-22 03:11:41
    Michael James
    Nice. But you should tell the sub-editor or photo-editor to label the photos with proper location information. Or perhaps have it as a game for readers. Here goes: 1. Cafe a la Fontaine is on rue de Boulainvilliers in the 16th next to Maison de la Radio France. I had to look this one up. 2. Somewhere in the 13th, but where? Not sure but possibly Olympiades/Chinatown, and certainly of that era (70s-80s). 3. Green spaces in Paris: obviously Square Jean XXIII behind Notre Dame; even those who have never visited Paris could guess this one. 4. Seating in Beaugrenelle mall. One of the few informative ones! BTW, this is a 1970s development which looked it (ie. old & tired, the 70s was a terrible period, style-wise) but has been comprehensively been given a facelift in the past decade. (Les Halles was another 70s horror story which has also been given a very expensive facelift, ie. Le Canopée.) Just a short walk downstream from the Tour Eiffel, and opposite the Statue of Liberty on the Iles (Allees) des Cygnes/Ile of Swans. 5. Resting on a park bench. Not much to go by but I'd guess it is Parc des Buttes Chaumont in the 19th. Built on an old quarry and fave place for victims of the guillotine, now a favoured park, especially on Sundays for yummy-mummies, ie. plenty of prams & babies. 6. Inside the metro. Alas I am not familiar with today's Metro but with 'bonjour' too common, it defeats a google search too. I'd hazard a guess at a line 1 station but with not much confidence. 7. Cafe scene in Paris. La Taverne. Again, too many cafes with this name, and not quite enough identifiers in the pic but I'd guess it is more boulevard des Italiens in the 9th, than the one in Montmartre. 8. Music in the streets. (Drummers) That is a modern building in the background but this one defeats me too. 9. Street art in the 13th arrondissement. Same as 2. 10. The Trimobile to recycle among neighbors. Again, not enough identifiers. Could be 13th but ... 11. Music in the streets. Ah well, now you're talking. Pont St Louis and in fact not technically a street but a pedestrianised bridge linking the two islands; this is at the back of Notre Dame, ie. a short walk from Square Jean XXIII and leads across to Ile-St-Louis, my home for many years. Facing the bridge on the Ile-St-Louis is the famous Alsace-style Brasserie de l'Ile St Louis, and another (not the original) Floré.


  • Roni Beth Tower
    2019-02-18 17:48:53
    Roni Beth Tower
    Thank you, Dassi. The city offers such a graceful way of living! I love writing about Paris.


  • dassi citron
    2019-02-16 10:08:09
    dassi citron
    Hi Roni I have been to Paris numerous times. This article makes me want to go back. What a well done and fun article!