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How Many Light Bulbs Does It Take To Be Paris?

Posted by intellisg on March 9, 2007

“We can be the Paris of South-east Asia.”

Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew, 23 August 2006.

Have you ever wondered; how many light bulbs it takes to be the Paris of the East? Whenever I hear attempts to remake Singapore into the Paris of the East, I begin to feel as if I have somehow strayed into an alternate universe where all about me I find people worshipping the light bulb craze. It’s not only Singapore who aspires to the mantle of “la Ville Lumiere” (The City of Lights). Half a dozen other cities all over the world are racing to do the same. Hong Kong is a forest of flaming skyscrapers which boast a computer controlled light show synchronized to Bach’s fifth movement. Shanghai is not to be outdone, boasting the largest wattage per square feet with it garish karaoke throbbing light display.

Do light bulbs alone maketh a Paris? No question about it – it goes long way to create “la atmosphere.” Light bulbs are useful things; I wouldn’t want to live without them, but I would never have thought of them as objects of veneration capable to even lending a patina of greatest to any city beyond the dictionary meaning of the word, “nice.” No it seems, there is much more to the city of lights than just light bulbs, wattage or how computers may play with shadows and different hues of colors.

Besides, the term, the city of lights (la Ville Lumiere) was coined long before the discovery of electricity during the wan of the candle age. Suggesting the appellation “Ville Lumiere” isn’t about physical sources of light. Rather it’s a metaphor for political, spiritual, cultural and intellectual verve. The French have an affinity for anything that glows, hence the enlightened despot Louis XIV, the dauphin was known as the Sun king. Even the age of “Enlightenment” refers to some vague mysterious all seeing and knowing light. Presumably to describe how the likes of Voltaire, Diderot, Jean-Jacques Rousseau and other proponents were the main engine of the enlightenment movement. Till even they acquired the same patina of the likeness of being to light itself when they were widely referred too as – “Les Lumieres” – the Sources.

The first recorded history of any reference to Paris being referred to the city of lights was first penned by the revolutionary historian Jules Michelet in 1850 when he first coined the phrase – “La Lumiere du Monde” – the light of earth. Michelet saw Paris as the center of learning, a cultural mecca. A beacon even for the rest of humanity, one could well agree with him as Michelet lived during the zenith of French cultural, scientific, linguistic and culinary enlightenment. It was an age when even the English nobility and royalty spoke exclusively French in Hampton court and courtiers took the lead of haute de couture from the tailors along the 5th Arrondisment. Even political science was exported whole sale in the form of Montesquie’s “separation of powers” which eventually found its way into the American constitution. And just in case you are wondering why the wide boulevards of Washington DC resemble so closely the Haussmann Parisian scale and grandeur one typically associates with Parisian streets, it was because, it was designed by French engineers. With few exceptions this was the age when the city of lights set the mood for the rest of the world. Its every hue would be picked up no end and the slightest change in timbre of light would be registered by all – Paris, the city of lights was a beacon to all!

Can Singapore do the same? Can we stand alongside the likes of the fabulous fours, New York, London, Paris and Tokyo? What does it really take to earn the appellation the city of lights?

To be really honest with you I don’t know, but what I do know is this – to be a lightning rod that continues to attract the brightest, we simply need to let loose. Yes, I know any city that aspires to even be a “light of sorts” needs to reconcile itself with the moral turpitude, rudeness and brashness that comes with city living. To be really honest with you, we just need to buy into the idea of being true to ourselves, calling a spade a spade or a dog shooter or dog shooter and crazy horses a sex show. It doesn’t take a whole lot of brains to figure out just as the good will wash up on our shores, so will the bad and ugly and we can no more wish it away as we can turn out keyboards into ploughshares. To believe we can regulate morality or the sensibilities of people to the incursion of homosexuality, free sex or even libertarian inclinations is to say that we can pick and choose what comes with the package of buying into the appellation – the city of lights. This remains an unconvincing argument because just as the internet proliferates, it hasn’t resulted in the great erosion of moral values. Neither did on-line gambling spawn a lost generation and this simply tells me we should be perhaps be more open and receptive to the idea of entertaining not only the good currency, but also the bad. To assume the future to be either dystopia or utopia is at this moment speculative, but what the notion of being a city of lights demands of us is to trust the human spirit to do the right thing for country and people, it is one where the individual simply needs to be given the right to choose and what will be as the sages say, will simply have to be. Against this backdrop, it is a relationship with light where doesn’t control as much as bath in it and flow with it. Only this time, its one where neither you or I may be the final decider of what light should be or how it may even eventually transform us all. Is it the light of enlightenment and free speech? This I shall leave to you, but before concluding let me just share with you and intimate moment when light was firmly in the palms of my hands, one moment in time in Paris. This excerpt, explains it all or nothing at all, but rest assured, it resides in you to decide as you so wish to draw your own conclusions as to what it means to be a Paris – so here it goes.

I don’t know any city in the world that has such an intimate relationship with light except Paris. In the evenings when the sky turns a gentle rose color over the river; casting dusky shadows on the water, she looks almost serene like an indolent cat napping away – in the cut glass of the morning light, when the contours of all things are etched suitably precisely to this sort of leaching light, buildings look like colossal elaborately decorated cakes with their exquisite details of gargoyles, cupola’s, spires and baroque columns – and at night, when a languid harmony reigns along side the exquisiteness of the faint glow so much is insinuated, it seems as if this is the only city in the world where electricity should be rightly squandered – I say this as a man who once visited her only to find myself conquered and struggling to find a pretext to stay: there is a charm to French living that is noticeably smooth and slow. If you don’t understand why the French don’t see the need to globalize or jump of the free market wagon, it’s probably because you’ve really wasted enough time in Paris watching the smooth and slow passage of the Seine.

The virtue of that slowness has deeply impressed itself on the French spirit – how deeply can it be sensed. I remembered saying to myself that the Seine’s course is literally a demonstration of how a little can be made to go a long way. I guess this languor even permeates the language itself: French vocabulary is extremely limited when compared to English, but every word is made to bear a maximum weight. Racine’s tragedy seems a trifle sparse next to Shakespeare’s, but they compensate in intensity for what they lack in extensiveness.

To the French less is somehow more, its one that speaks of confidence in the face of the future, for what may come. Though politicians may choose to plan to intercept the future, we all know there is cadence to reality which may shape the final outcome of the future, plan you can, but ruled by accidents will be the case whether you like it or not.

The city of lights has seen it all before – it can even be said, it’s a veritable rite of passage which can only come from having seen revolutions, the reinstatement of the republic, its demise and its overtures only to say; I will survive, I will in this world of uncertainty where I float as I do bobbing endlessly to the wimps of fancies of man.

One morning along a café in the 5th arrondisement as I sipped my coffee with these thoughts: what does it take to the city of lights, casting long shadows in my mind – I stared out into the eternity of the Seine in the background a radio blared about a Anglo French project to dredge and widen a section of the rivulet to increase it’s speed, I smiled only because I knew better, they can surely try I said to myself, she (the Seine) like the French or the city of lights simply has a mind that she calls her own, she lives by her own terms and knowing her, she’s be the last to bow: That in my view is what it means to be the city of the lights: to be allowed the permission to be your own and to determine your own destiny without fear or favor.

“Elle flotte, elle hesite; en un mot, elle est femme…..elle s’endormit du sommeil des justes.”

(1) This is based on an article by darkness entitled, “A Singaporean in Paris.” Brotherhood Press 2005 / EP 990437 -2005 – The Brotherhood Press 2005.

(By Agnes P & Harphoon / Socio / Politics / EP 990438 – 2007 – The Brotherhood Press 2007)


6 Responses to “How Many Light Bulbs Does It Take To Be Paris?”

  1. astroboy said

  2. Tan.B.L said

    I recognize darkness’s hand in the last part when he notes the way the light falls on the city and his references to the Seine.
    Cannot agree more.

  3. jd said

    Beautifully written

  4. c said

    I believe the last part was definitely written by darkness. That guy just has a way of painting with words.I really like the way the serious is weaved in with the artistic, the historical with the present. Its definitely creative writing at its very best, pity about the spelling though. You should all really consider doing something about it. After all if you can produce something of this standard. I am sure you can spend 5 mins just perusing it. Brilliant!

  5. oo said

    I found this only by pot luck sheer accident mixed with a rabbit foot! I dont know who is responsible for the navigation on this site, it horrendous! but it is easier to break the da vinci code that to get to where I want to go. Great write up.

  6. curio said

    Mr Brown is in Paris now!

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