France’s best-known heritage conservationist is quitting Paris because he thinks it’s become a “rubbish bin”, says Giles Coren in The Times. “‘C’est une poubelle!’ I can imagine super-rich Stéphane Bern squealing as he swivels on his handmade shoes, slams the door of his chi-chi flat in Pigalle, and flounces off up country” to the military school he has renovated in northern France. Bern, thought to be the world’s richest journalist (net worth £100m), doesn’t like the ugly cycle lanes put in by “horrid” socialist mayor Anne Hidalgo, or the “feminist” benches that have replaced the old wrought-iron ones (to “encourage women to sit together” – yes, it does sound daft). The city is noisy and dirty, says Bern, and it’s getting uglier.
“No mate, Paris was always a dump.” Grumbling about cities in decline before “swanking off to a vast pile in the country” has long been the preserve of wealthy reactionaries, from John “London is not really an English city any more” Cleese to Hilary “I’m ashamed of Britain and moving to Ireland” Mantel. Paris was disgusting when I lived there 30 years ago, next to a canal glowing green with radioactive algae and full of the “bloated corpses of tramps”. How can the preposterous Bern entertain these Woody Allen-ish fantasies? The truth is that famously beautiful cities never live up to our expectations, but those of us who live in them are always drawn back because they’re home. I bet you, Monsieur Bern, that after six months in the boondocks, you will “haul your little frog ass back to Pigalle”.