When I first went to Paris, in the 1960s, the French capital had something of a reputation for being a bit naughty. “Gay Paree” was represented by the high-kicking can-can dancers – “saucy”, to more innocent visitors – as well as the renowned temptations of Pigalle.
There were always advertisements for the famed Moulin Rouge, where the dancers were bare-breasted (though otherwise much adorned in feathers and glitter), and the sophisticated tourist might be taken to edgy nightclubs like Le Boeuf sur le Toit. And you saw many young people snogging uninhibitedly in public, notably in the Metro.
These days, Paris seems a more wholesome place – even more high-minded. Young people are rather more decorous. Bare-breasted showgirls are old hat, and Pigalle has been thoroughly gentrified.
The indispensable weekly guide to events in Paris – always worth purchasing on arrival – called L’Officiel des Spectacles, now has much more information about church music, and concerts being held in churches, than it has about nightclubs or ooh la la shows. In the current edition of the guide, for example, I counted more than 40 concerts being held in various Parisian churches over a week, from the famed Madeleine to the Église réformée de Port-Royal, from Notre-Dame to Saint-Julien-le-Pauvre.
The music performed is usually classical, sometimes sacred, but often a mixture of both. Saint-Julien-le-Pauvre was offering Vivaldi, Bach and Rameau with flute, cello and harpsichord, while the Madeleine was featuring the South Ayrshire Chamber Orchestra and Choir with works of Debussy, Bizet and Mendelssohn. Beethoven, Saint-Saëns, Gounod, Schubert and Glinka are favourites. Some churches had solo singers, some had choirs.
You could spend an entire week in Paris just attending concerts in churches – and they’re all free, too (though it’s polite to make a voluntary contribution on the plate).
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