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).
There are so many church concerts that some aren’t even listed. I popped into a local church in the 15th arrondissement where the Choir of St John Paul II were giving a well-attended concert of varied sacred music.
This is a terrific use of church spaces, especially throughout the summer. Many of the musicians and choirs seem to be comprised of young people, and it’s uplifting to see them use their talents in this spiritual way.
President Macron spent almost an hour with Pope Francis at the Vatican last week. Later he was made an honorary canon of the Basilica of St John Lateran – an honour going back many centuries and acknowledging France’s role as “the eldest daughter of the Church”.
It was judged to be a very warmmeeting, with close hugs exchanged. Madame Macron’s hand was kissed by more than one cardinal. Nothing was said about her having been divorced prior to her present marriage.
Macron has said that he wants the French state and the Catholic Church to have a positive relationship – though there are always some tensions. There is a handful of hardline political secularists who are always ready to protest about any alleged impingement upon Republican principles.
The French Church, for its part, hasn’t been comfortable about the state’s sponsorship of gay marriage, and a current conflict focuses on whether assisted reproduction should be formally available for lesbians.
One shrewd commentator noted that Macron and Francis shared a dilemma: Macron is more right wing (notably on economics) than most of those who voted for him, while Francis is more left wing (notably on immigration) than most of his Catholic flock.
They also share a background of being Jesuit boys, of course.
I’m not that interested in the World Cup as a football championship, but I like the way it can bring people together, provide harmless pleasure, and express a benign form of national pride.
Outcomes also illuminate a key life lesson: that you can always be surprised. Big, famous national teams – and celebrity football stars – can be defeated, and small, lesser-known squads can win.
New football stars can surprise, too. It seems that England’s captain, 24-year-old Harry Kane, is a clean-living young man who abstains from alcohol during football seasons and prefers playing golf to visiting nightclubs.
The Irish are debating whether it’s permissible to cheer for England. It’s perhaps worth knowing that Harry’s father comes from Galway, where Keane is an alternative spelling of Kane.