One of my favourite places in Paris has always been, inevitably, the Paris-London Café at the place de la Madeleine. I had my favourite seat, my preferred waitress and a cordial relationship with the owner. A few weeks ago, I was dismayed to learn that the café had been sold. Then, even worse, it closed for renovations. Was one of my Paris landmarks about to become a Starbuck's?
Not quite. The Paris-London is open again, and it still looks like a Parisian café. But not quite. In fact, it looks like a movie set version of a Parisian café - a perfect reproduction. Had I not known the Paris-London in its former incarnation, I would think that the mismatched tables and chairs, the tiled floor and the antique mirrors had been there for years. But in fact they've just appeared, bought from a flea market somewhere and screwed to the walls. Even the white wall tiles look artificially worn, like pre-distressed jeans. The Paris-London now reminds me of the ersatz French restaurant Pastis, in the Meatpacking district of New York (another place I can't help liking). But maybe that's what tourists want these days: an American's imaginary version of a French café, re-imported to Paris. In his book Faith In Fakes, Umberto Eco suggested that in some cities, reality was in danger of being replaced by a theme park. And I think that's what we're dealing with here.
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