Life being what it is, right before the atrocities in Paris last week I’d been reading Luc Sante’s The Other Paris, in which he says this about Paris:
“It virtually demands that you walk its length and breadth; once you get started it’s hard to stop. As you stride along you are not merely a pedestrian in a city – you are a reader negotiating a vast text spanning centuries and the traces of a billion hands …
“The great text of the streets was given voice by those relentless walkers who were also writers. Many of the flâneurs were compulsively garrulous types who played the city the way they’d work a party, (or perhaps in the case of Restif, like a pervert at an orgy).”
He’s referring to Restif de La Bretonne, of course, and Sante’s book sent me off reading and researching many things, among them Restif de La Bretonne’s - Les Nuits de Paris, a preposterous book in many ways, in which our hero walks the night streets of Paris, encountering and surviving all kinds of vice, tut-tutting about it, but also recounting it in salacious, lip-smacking detail.
Also, more or less randomly, if there’s really any such thing, I’d taken out of the college library, William Eggleston’s Paris, which is full of good stuff like these, pictures no doubt taken while walking the streets of Paris:
Paris is indeed a place where the visitor inevitably does a lot of walking and takes a lot of photographs, and I do believe – i.e I’ve said it in print, and in person to a number of photographers, including Martin Parr, and nobody’s ever called me on it, that Paris was the place where the first ever picture of people walking was taken: this one by Charles Nègre.
It goes by various titles, but “Chimney Sweeps Walking” is good enough for me. It’s generally dated 1851/2. More to the point, I think it’s actually a posed photograph, and the people are standing still, not actually walking, otherwise they’d be a complete blur.
Still, I don’t doubt that people in Paris as still walking and will continue to walk, and perhaps to pose, regardless of the danger and the horror that’s thrown at them.