Privilege Blog

Why Do They Call Paris "The City Of Light?"

Why do they call Paris the “City of Light?” All cities have light. And dark, for that matter.

Another look at the neon signs and people on a 5eme Arondissement street at midnight.

I have a theory. I believe that we may shut down our perceiving faculties in the face of too much beauty. Paris is unrelentingly beautiful. It’s only when the light changes that we actually see, provoked by surprise. The city reveals itself, particularly.

Apparently the real answer is that Paris was the first place to adopt street lighting. Well. So they say.

Sunday morning I was intent on showing my friend the Sainte Chapelle. We walked over a bridge. The sun came out.

We walked up into the 2eme etage.

And out, past sandwich carts, and Notre Dame. Some clouds passed by.

Back in Belgium, I think my suitcase was a little sad. The light is a little more routine, in Belgium. Good thing they have red trains.

Images: me

29 Responses

  1. Did anyone think it was odd that you were taking a photo of your suitcase? ;-)

    We have red trains here in Boston too, but they are somehow so much ickier.

    Do you think you experienced your trip differently as a chronicler?

  2. Patsy, I took a photo in the train station in England and was told by a train official that I was not allowed to do so. Verboten.

  3. I would say the expression comes from the light of the laterns which you find on the Seine's quais and bridges – the light is reflected by the Seine. There I find the city of light.

    Also the westwinds coming straight from the Atlantic Ocean seem to wash clean the skies.

    I really like taking pictures in Paris, especially in March.

  4. I have never been to Paris. Reading and looking at the pictures you and so many have posted, has made me curious. Maybe I have missed something? Maybe, just maybe one of these days..

  5. I am pretty sure Oklahoma City is the first city to have parking meters. :)

  6. is this for real?

    i'm not seeing any 'examination' of the 'implications' of 'privilege.'

    all i'm seeing is the eulogising of wealth & greed, in the face of global poverty and crisis.

    where is the 'examination'?

    where is the reckoning with 'privilege' – and the recognition of backs it stands on?

    if your blog claimed simply to be "Glorifying Money, Power, and My Own Special Rank"… i'd get it.

    maybe your next little trip could be to refugee camp in the Congo, where you could assist the women victims of genocide and rape… it might make your position of privilege a little more clear.

  7. Anon- I don't believe LPC has committed to examining the implications of every aspect of her existence. Have you examined the implications of every action you have taken today? Do you really think her audience wants to read about the global effects of her breakfast choices?

    LPC, I enjoy reading your perspective on a variety of topics, and am particularly interested in reading about your views on Paris at this point in your life (I am 25). Please don't let mean-spirited comments like this one get you down.

  8. Patsy – Oddly, I don't think anyone saw me:).

    Class fac – I'm just told I can't take pictures of lipstick displays.

    Paula – Lovely.

    Metscan – I would think that if you planned the trip carefully, so as not to be overwhelmed, you would absolutely love Paris.

    Ms. Givens – That makes it the, um, City Of Compensated Car Stowage?

  9. Anon – It is my hope and usual belief that if you read this blog carefully you will see that I am trying to deconstruct class in America, all the while amusing myself and others. I also believe, and I hope I'm not just telling myself delusional stories, that I do more good by this, something I have a particular expertise in, than I would were I simply another pair of hands in the Congo. Aging ones, at that.

    I could be wrong. I also feel as though if I examined myself any more than I do already here on this blog, I'd either bore everyone or send them screaming with heebie jeebies into some other room. Writing a blog means you have to balance what you want to do with something that provides value to your readers.

    I could be wrong.

    Austyn – Thanks. These kinds of comments do dampen my spirits. But I'm 53, and even if I had learned nothing in these years, the simple slowing down of my nervous system has given me a little bit of emotional equilibrium. Even so, thank you very much for your support. Kindness really can't be underrated in my opinion.

  10. OMG I love the picture of Saint Chapelle–the most beautiful church in Paris!!!

    I love your blog, keep posting!!


  11. LPC —

    What horrible manners some of your readers have.

    I suppose you really haven't lived until you've been heckled, but I do think that "anonymous" is quite enormously rude criticizing someone on their own blog. Such extraordinary venom and vitriole, and how very interesting that she/he chooses to post under "anonymous."

    I think this is a terrific post and have sent it to my friend who leaves for Paris in the morning.


    Miss W

  12. Well, someone's Karma is headed for something unpleasant, no? And anonymous at that; figures.

    I didn't know that's why Paris was the city of light. And I love the red train! Actually, ANY train.

  13. Anon, the truth is, just by being Americans we all are "standing on the backs" of others in the world. Yes, even when we aren't rich by American standards, we are wildly wealthy by world standards and use up a lot of resources.

  14. Pay no attention to the carpers. Living vicariously through your posts allows me to examine the implications of privilege – in a delightful manner!

    I vaguely remember reading somewhere that Paris gained the name the City of Lights because it was the first city to have street lighting. One of the Louises (XIII, XIV…?) had it installed. Such extravagance as lighting the streets had never been seen before in the world.

  15. That's a pretty big suitcase!
    Can you hoist that up into the overhead rack?

    It doesn't look too bad to me. Mine has duct tape where the zipper on the exterior pocket has pulled away. Makes it easy to ID in the luggage area.

    I keep thinking I need to get a new one but then once I'm home I put the suitcase away and don't think about it again until the night before I'm supposed to leave.

  16. Fantastic photographs LPC and thank you for posting yet again a lovely momento of your trip to Paris for those of us who LOVE hearing about this city …x Great weekend to you. p.s. Don't let the bastards get you down!

  17. Paris' lighting budget is $1B per year. It takes its lighting very seriously- in addition to the natural light.

    Anonymous: You know what is an unevolved, safe, smug position? Writing mean anonymous posts.

  18. Your pictures are beautiful! And by the looks of it you are having a great time! Please enjoy your self and don't let others rain on your parade! Yes there is lots going on in this world, and I am sure you are doing your part as we all are in are only special way!

  19. Beautifully written. I confess I'm one of the few heathens for whom Paris isn't the "light" answer – I like it but prefer getting out in the French countryside, particularly Brittany. But back to the point – thanks for this postcard, and glad you had a terrific trip.

  20. LPC – I always thought it was the City of Light because of the quality of light there that attracted (and still does, I suppose) so many artists. I always notice that when we visit Paris — or at least I think I do. We have it here near our house occasionally during the year, something to do with the angle of the sun making everything seem 3 dimensional (no I don't do drugs). I've heard similar stories about the light in Santa Fe, NM, where you'll find many resident artists. Or, perhaps it is all codswollop… I won't give anon any more undeserved attention than already received.

  21. Rachel – Thank you. Glad to hear from another diehard fan of the Sainte Chapelle.

    Miss Whistle – They are as bad as yours are lovely.

    Voice – Thank you for another point of view.

    Tintin- Thank you very much. Also, technology is often an extravagance when it first shows up.

    RoseAG – Ha! When I was younger, no problem. Now? Only if I grit my teeth and think of England.

  22. Semi – Thank you very much. You have a good weekend too.

    Duchesse – $1B!!!! Oh my goodness. That's some serious son et lumiere.

    Kay – Thank you. And I am really beginning to enjoy taking photos. Could be dangerous.

    Mel – Ha! And thank you very much. Brittany may be one of the few places in France I've never visited. Something to put on the list.

    Shelley – I know. That's what I always thought until I looked this up to write this post:).

    Pam – Thank you. I am so glad to know you are still hanging around these parts. Your support has meant a great deal.

  23. Dear Anon,

    Instead of surfing the net dishing out all sorts of boring and critical jusgements, why don't YOU HOP ON A FLIGHT TO THE CONGO AND OFFER SOME PRACTICAL ASSISTANCE????????

    Because frankly, I get the sense that you are not in the Congo.

    I also get the sense that you lack humour or irony and good manners. I think you've missed the point – this intelligent Blogger is actually examining and questioning her roots and the American Class Structure and System- I get that that. It's a shame you didn't.

    Good luck with your own Charitable Contribution in the Congo. Hopefully it'll stop you surfing the net and being a Bore. And a Nuisance.

    Keep Up the Good Work L.

  24. I assigned my own definition to the meaning of City of Light whilst picnicking on the tip of the Ile de la Cite and watching the sun go down. I'm really craving Paris at the moment and considering a train leaves ten minutes away from where I live that would get me there in 3 hours, I really should make more effort. (The very existence of the Channel Tunnel still blows my mind, sometimes!)

    I love your thoughtful writing. Anonymous comments are so cowardly!

  25. After all the years I've lived here, Paris always astounds me with its beauty.

    Sometimes, in the winter when it is a little dreary out here in the country, I go to Paris for a "fix" — it always works.

    I've been told, and perhaps you've heard this as well, that the reason Parisienne women wear neutral colors is because of the exquisite natural light in Paris making bright colors too harsh except for the occasional pop of a vibrant hue.

    Do we have a rendez-vous on your next trip?


  26. I love Paris, and I loved your pictures. You've brought back some beautiful memories for me. Thanks for that gift.

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