It may be the “most famous avenue in the world” (at least outside of the single-digit-as-name category), but trust me: whether visiting or residing, you have no business venturing anywhere near the Champs Elysées.
Of my previous residing years, I don’t remember ever setting a foot there in broad daylight. Even our recurrent late-night excursions to some of the ridiculously haughty Parisian nightclubs that seemed to flourish in the area were never an excuse to dally around. And neither should they be to you, unless you are a bored teenager making it your ambition to crash through as many bitchy door policies and crappy discopop tunes as humanly bearable in one night.
By day, it is an endless sea of tourists walking the avenue in either direction, past the alignment of prominent international luxury brand boutiques and much-less-prominent but no less expensive greasy food stalls. Shopping-wise, nothing you won’t get in a dozen other neighbourhoods or department stores in the city, and about as typically Parisian a sight as the Ku’damm, Omotesando or a dozen other similarly lined high-end avenues in the world. In fact, I am quite positive you will see less Japanese walking down Tokyo’s version of the Champs Elysées.
But it’s not all tourists and tourist traps.
For some unfathomable reason, the avenue is also favoured by an important contingent of the suburb’s youth as the ultimate romantic getaway evening. On paper, this touching display of puppy love might bring back some dear misconceptions about the place as the altar of all things romantic in the most romantic city in the world… Until, that is, you remember what the conception of “romantic” entails for pimply teenagers out on a date. Unless yours is also of the latest Star Wars movie with THX surround sound, Nike sneakers shopping, followed by a slice of pizza to-go or (on lavish nights) a shared giant coke at Mc Donald’s, you might want to stick with the usual candlelight dinner and violins in another part of town.
Yesterday, time and location being of the essence, I compromised with Pierre on a meeting point near his workplace, which happens to be at the heart of aforementioned touristic hellhole (large corporations also go great lengths to get their main French office digs on the Avenue).
First time in years.
It took merely a glimpse out the metro station for all the above points of dislike to come back to me. Palpable amount of carbon dioxide from all the car exhaust, densely packed crowd of intertwined bermuda-wearing and thug-dressing morons (not the sort of urban melting pot you really wanna see, trust me), an absolute lack of anything remotely resembling a soul amidst the spread of ridiculously cliché’d cafés clinging to last century’s fame, but above all: relentless attacks on one’s delicate sense of smell by a combination of cheap perfume, rancid tourist sweat and enough musky cologne to overpower the entire Cosa Nostra.
Honestly, I am baffled: do all these tourists make a special effort to shower themselves in perfume before taking to the streets of Paris? Are they all coming from specific areas of the world where it’s customary to announce your presence 20 feet out of sight? Are they trying to compete with the already fiercely odorant locals?
To be fair, I suspect many attendants in that unholy cologne jamboree count among the sharp-looking breast-suited males attending work in the vicinity, or the adidas-clad local youth and their apparently smelling-impaired date. The results remain the same: olfactory death quickly awaits the sensitive nostril at a rate not even attained by the occasional foul stench of sewer so characteristic of certain Tokyo street-corners in the Summer.
Perhaps I would have more easily forgotten that brush with death by queasiness, had I not come home later that night to my neighbour’s half-hearted attempts to remove the pungent remains of what apparently used to be an entire bottle of cologne, before it dropped and smashed in the narrow hallway leading to our doors. Yes, this neighbour. No, I don’t think it was voluntary retribution. Ten hours later, the smell of what I would venture could be Paco Rabane’s or some similarly mediterranean cologne, still pervades every last corner of my apartment, all windows open and heavy ventilation non-withstanding. Neighbour is nowhere to be seen today and therefore unavailable for a second go at cleaning with some stronger tools and better results.
I leave by train tomorrow morning until the end of the week, let’s hope by then he will have gotten tired of coming home to an Italian whorehouse and taken to the bleach.