New York and Paris go toe-to-toe for the urban heavyweight championship
Paris and New York engage in a bare-knuckle battle for the urban heavyweight championship
LADIES and gentlemen, welcome to the main event. In the red corner, with an area of 87sq km, a population of 2.3 million and a history stretching back thousands of years, the romantic champion of the world, from Europe, please welcome Paris “City of Light” France. His opponent in the blue corner with an area of 790sq km, a population of 8.4 million, and a European history of 390 years, the champion of the free world, from the US of A, please welcome New “City that Never Sleeps” York.
Ladies and gentlemen, our opponents are celebrating big anniversaries this month. New York is marking July 4, 1776, the day the US legally separated from Britain and invented the barbecue. Paris is pumped because on July 14, 1789, the French officially became revolting. This is a no-holds-barred, no gloves or other girly-boy protection, fight to the end over three rounds.
The first round is eating, the second is visiting and the third is creativity. Let the match begin. The Frenchman comes out first with more than 70 Michelin-starred restaurants including a set-price dinner at one-Michelin-star L’Agapé in the 17th district for 39 euros ($56). He follows up with a favourite (although invented by an Austrian), a croissant and coffee from the 155-year-old Maison Pradier on Avenue Franklin Delano Roosevelt. New York reels but comes back with 66 Michelinstarred (no irony there) eateries including a $38 meal at my favourite winter stop, the one-star Minetta Tavern in Greenwich Village. And New York has the answer to Maison Pradier’s croissant. It’s a handmade, naturally smoked pork and beef hot dog from Crif Dogs in the East Village. Not only is this the city’s best sausage, but owner Brian Shebairo’s website (crifdogs.com) leaves the Parisian’s for dead. But it’s not enough and at the end of the fi rst round Paris is ahead on points.
We’re back for round two, which will decide the best city to visit. Paris doesn’t even bother with churches, arches and towers, going straight to the chin with La Pagode, the world’s most beautiful theatre. Created as an antique Japanese pagoda in 1896 by Le Bon Marché and Hotel Lutetia director FrancoisEmile Morin as a gift for his wife, and rescued from oblivion in the 1970s, this dance hall turned movie theatre is the home of independent films in the city and it’s Woody Allen’s favourite cinema. But none of that helped Frank; his wife met a business associate at a work function and ran off with him.
Kapow! New York lands a one-two combination with The Highline and The Cloisters. Like Paris, New York has ignored the usual tall buildings, statues and stations. Built on an old freight rail line 9m above the ground, The High Line runs from Gansevoort Street in the Meatpacking District through West Chelsea, and Hell’s Kitchen to West 34th Street. A model for public space in cities, this public park takes you between apartment buildings, cars stacked five high and rail yards.
Bam! In upper Manhattan on 27ha looking over the Hudson, is The Cloisters. Created from five European abbeys and local brickwork, it’s got more than 5000 old European pictures and was the work of Johnny Rockefeller, who didn’t do it for his wife or girlfriend.
Coming up to the end of the second round, Paris realises he’s made a mistake not going with the big guns of the Louvre, the Opera and the Musee d’Orsay, but the bell rings and New York is winning.
The tension is mounting. Ladies and gentlemen, this is the third and deciding round for the heavyweight world champion city of the world. Straightaway New York lands a near knockout punch with even the French admitting the city that never sleeps is the new fashion capital of the world.
Paris is struggling but he comes in low with what he hopes will be a killer punch: Paris architecture. It’s all here: from the earliest buildings to the Renaissance to modernism back to neo-modernism, Paris delivers its birthplace, Ile de la Cité, L’Hotel de Cluny, a jump to Saint-Eustache church, Palais Bourbon, then into the 19th century with the covered passages of La Galerie Vivienne and Galerie Colbert, and finally the attack of modernism with the Fondation Le Corbusier and Leon Azema’s Palais de Chaillot. Man, the crowd is going wild. But has Paris done enough?
New York is in charge. With one massive swing in one massive week he delivers an Italian Futurism exhibition at the Guggenheim, Neil Patrick Harris in Hedwig and The Angry Inch on Broadway, Balanchine’s Jewels at the Lincoln Centre, Ozu’s last film, An Autumn Afternoon at MoMA, Madama Butterfly at the Connelly Theatre, and Ricki Lee Jones at Joe’s Pub.
The bell rings. The referee takes centre ring. “Ladies and gentlemen, in the three-round match to determine the new heavyweight champion city of the world, the umpires have made their decision.” He lifts New York’s hand. “The winner is the city that never sleeps, the Big Apple, Hong Kong on the Hudson, the Modern Gomorrah, the Empire City, the capital of the world, New York City. The French in the audience go wild. Berets and baguettes, snails and sauternes are hurled into the ring. Paris, sobbing, grabs the microphone from the ref. “Mais je suis la capitale de la culture du monde,” he cries.