THE BLOG

Paris: The Good, the Bad, and the Crazy

06/08/2015 12:41 pm ET | Updated Jun 06, 2016

So you want to visit Paris? You were here 40 years ago as an exchange student. Or you were here 30 years ago on your honeymoon. Or 15 years ago on your second honeymoon.

Maybe you want to bring your grandkids to Paris to show them there is life beyond Scarsdale or Lake Forest.

Maybe you've just seen a re-run of "Gigi" or have picked up a copy of "L'Étranger" at a yard sale.

Whatever the incentive, you're scrambling to get a decent fare on Air France (immersing yourself as soon as you step on board) and buying a couple of guide books.

Far be it from me to dissuade you - that would simply incur the ire of the Paris Tourist Agency, who might send me a box of poisoned macarons. But in all honesty, I must warn you that Paris is going through some radical changes, and is not quite the city portrayed in Woody Allen's romanticized film.

First of all, don't expect to attach a lock on a bridge. The city fathers, and mothers, have finally decided those love-locks were an eyesore and a danger. So the metal railings and their hundreds of thousands of locks are being removed, and plexiglas panels will replace them. Let us hope that disappointed lovers will not spray-paint these new barriers.

You will probably want to take a tour around town to re-acquaint yourself with the city. You will have an embarrassment of choices. (Un embarras de choix.) At times, there seem to be more tour buses than taxis roaming the streets....and they are often empty! Needless to say, this does not improve the quality of Parisian air. There are also little rickshaw-type vehicles that carry two people at a time; they do not pollute, but they look terribly vulnerable pedaling alongside the buses. And of course, there are city bicycles - cheap and numerous. But only for the brave.

Food will be high on your list, but look for the little symbol that is now displayed at the entrance of restaurants -- a saucepan under a roof -- that almost guarantees that the food is made fresh in the kitchen and is not simply pulled from the freezer.

The Eiffel Tower is sure to be on your list, but there, too, caution is advised. The police have just cracked down on organized bands of thieves that have been pickpocketing tourists there, but they warn there are still thieves at large. They will wave something under your nose to distract you, while their partner picks your pocket or pocketbook.

On the positive side, the dollar is buying more Euros these days, so your money will go a bit further. And if you're starting to feel a little homesick, America is making its presence felt in the best way: culturally. The Philadelphia Orchestra just gave a stunning performance under the baton of the young Canadian conductor, Yannick Nezet-Seguin, with the brilliant Emanuel Ax at the piano. The audience at the elegant Théâtre des Champs-Elysées could not let them go: six encores were rewarded with a delightful piano duet by the two men. The orchestra is on a three-week European tour ending up in London, but I imagine their Paris reception will have been the warmest they ever receive.

Currently on view at the Grand Palais is "American Icons: Masterpieces from the SFMOMA and the Fisher Collection". (The Fishers are the founders of Gap, and SFMOMA is the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, currently closed for renovation.) The "icons" include such household names as Calder, Warhol and Lichtenstein - artists who truly have no parallel in 20th century French art.

And American dance will have a return visit by the Alvin Ailey American Dance Company, running for four weeks at the Théâtre du Châtelet. Again, this troupe is unique in Europe, performing with incredible energy and verve.

Thirty years ago, the French Minister of Culture, Jack Lang, decried what he called "American cultural imperialism". He was referring to such American exports as rap, films, and TV serials that were vapid or violent. This summer anyway, America is exporting its very best.