Wow – Canada!

Canada through the eyes of world literature

Let’s Get Away From It All

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Siobhan Wall, Quiet Paris (2013)

Imagine, for a moment, that you find yourself in Paris and, for some reason, rather than enjoying the constant stimulation provided by that fantastic city, you are feeling overwhelmed by it. (Perhaps this is something like Stendhal Syndrome?) You need to get away from it all.

Siobhan Wall’s book, Quiet Paris, is dedicated to solving this unexpected dilemma: it’s a catalogue of places you can go in Paris when you need to get away from the fact that you are in Paris – quiet places where you can avoid the crowds that throng the Louvre, the Eiffel Tower, Notre-Dame and all the other “must-sees” on the average tourist’s list. (There’s also a Quiet New York and a Quiet London, but no Quiet Toronto as far as I can see – no need, I suppose.)

Can you guess what’s included among those quiet, unfrequented locations that offer a respite from the non-stop Parisian action?

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That’s right: the Canadian Cultural Centre. Shockingly, no one ever seems to go there.

Here’s the write-up:

This often overlooked cultural centre has a very inviting first floor exhibition space where stimulating exhibitions of Canadian art are shown. Twice a year, elegant 18th-century rooms are filled with two- and three-dimensional images by contemporary artists who work in a variety of different media.  (132)

Lovely, charming, sounds wonderful. Where else in Paris are you going to find two-dimensional images?

Wall does what she can to sell the Canadian Cultural Centre to her readers – and if you really were looking for a place to get away, it’s probably perfect – but for anyone who wants to boost Canadian culture overseas, it’s hard to ignore the subtext.

All this apparent praise comes in a book that is specifically devoted to guiding people to places where they can avoid crowds. (This isn’t Must Sees Paris after all.) Put simply: the only reason the Canadian Cultural Centre is in this book is that no one in Paris (whether a Parisian or a tourist) would ever dream of going there. Wall doesn’t give a reason, but I think it’s fairly simple to infer: in a city with as many cultural attractions as Paris, no one has any reason to visit the Canadian Cultural Centre; there’s too much other culture going on for Canadian culture to even be worthy of note. (If the art exhibitions were really so “stimulating,” they would attract crowds, and the Canadian Cultural Centre wouldn’t be in this book at all.)

And those opening words, “This often overlooked cultural centre….” As a Canadian, it’s hard not to feel that our entire culture – perhaps even our entire nation – is somehow summed up in those two words: “often overlooked.”

Special Bonus: Rank Self-Promotion

I do occasionally write about things other than references to Canada in books by non-Canadians. In case anyone is curious, here’s an article I wrote about the Canadian poet Daryl Hine:

http://www.partisanmagazine.com/reviews/2015/4/26/what-about-daryl-hine

Extra Special Bonus: Music

To make up for that, some Paris-related music. Here’s Ella Fitzgerald singing Cole Porter’s “I Love Paris”:

Bud Powell’s “Parisian Thoroughfare” (supposedly written before he had ever been to Paris):

I’m not sure why that one has been labelled “incomplete”: I think that’s the standard studio recording. You can hear Powell say “Okay cut it” right at the end, which seems to indicate he felt the piece was complete.

And there’s just time to squeeze this one in before the end of April:

Lovely version with a great band, including Paul Quinichette and Clifford Brown.

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