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Last Updated: Wednesday, 29 August 2007, 19:39 GMT 20:39 UK
Paris rallies against consumerism
As Paris continues to stave off commercial investment from international chains in its culturally rich Left Bank area, Emma Jane Kirby considers the dangers of losing a unique heritage.
The Left Bank in Paris has always been associated with the best of French philosophers, writers and musicians.

Parisians consider some pop-art in a cafe
Cafe culture is central to the artistic heritage of the Left Bank

In the 1940s Django Reinhardt and Stephane Grapelli gave the area its own jazz sound while in the cafes and bars, Sartre penned his theories on existentialism and literary geniuses Orwell and Hemingway were inspired to write novels.

But the heritage of the Left Bank is now under threat as McDonald's, Starbucks and souvenir shops begin to take over the traditional bookshops and cafes.

The city council is so concerned about losing the Latin Quarter's esoteric charms to profit-driven retailers that it is launching a scheme to make sure the Left Bank fights off commercial intruders.

Deputy Mayor of Paris, Lyne Cohen Solal, is adamant that Paris's prized Left Bank should resist uniformity.

"All the cities all over in Europe are starting to look the same. London, Berlin they're going to have the same streets with the same shops.

"If we don't intervene, we are afraid that we are going to have only textile shops and fast food. We don't want this kind of future for our city.

"Culture is a very important thing to create integration, to create a higher quality of life."

A model poses in front of Notre Dame cathedral
The Left Bank is crucial to France's cultural self-image
The city council has set up a fighting fund worth 21 million pounds to try to keep the Latin Quarter pure.

Over the next three years, any commercial building that comes up for sale in this area will only be offered up to those who want to start things like bookshops or arty cinemas.

Big businesses, even those offering to pay high rents, will not be allowed to infiltrate.

Every day here there are guided tours for those who want to know more about the Left Bank's literary history.

Tour guide Chris Spence says his clients love the bookish past.

"We've still got that studenty intellectual feel about the Left Bank. Perhaps it's a bit nostalgic or not very modern but what I love about Paris is that you can walk around some fairly unspoilt historical areas.

"Before getting rid of something you should know what you're getting rid of."

But you cannot get rid of the ghosts of the past.

In every bookshop here, an impressive list of Left Bank alumni stare down at you from the top shelves.

And there are plenty of bookshops to look in - in fact over a third of all the bookstores of Paris are located in the Latin Quarter and St Germain des Pres.

But outside the famous Sorbonne University, the bookshop has already been replaced by a menswear store.

Parisian students in 1950
Housing the Sorbonne, the area has long been a mecca for intellectuals
The state representative in charge of economic development Michel Lalande believes it is time that Paris welcomed in the spirit of the 21st Century.

"If the bookshops are closing down, it's also because they have fewer customers. Preserving these bookshops is all very well, but what would be even better is if tourists and Parisians actually went to them.

"The inhabitants of the area and visitors must actually want to go into these shops in the Latin Quarter to back up initiatives to save them."

So is the Left Bank simply a living museum? Do people really want dusty bookshops or do they want more tourist shops selling souvenirs and fast food outlets?

The city council hopes its protection scheme will preserve the esoteric charm and heritage of the Left Bank for years to come.

In the famous cafes though, where philosophers like Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir and Albert Camus once penned their great thoughts, the clientele has changed from intellectuals to Japanese and American tourists.

Paris is changing and the echoes of the past are becoming ever more faint...


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