A Visual Atrocity

Letter From Paris

It used to be a pleasure to cross the Seine from the Left Bank to the Right, and to pause for a moment by the Louvre to take in that glorious vista, admired by innumerable busloads of tourists and many others besides: the view one gets, framed by the graceful central arch of the diminutive Arch of Triumph of the Carrousel, of the fountain-filled Tuileries Gardens, of the Place de la Concorde, and up the sloping Champs-Elysées to its crowning monument. Napoleon's Arc de Triomphe. But the pleasure—for me at any rate—is now marred by the sight of a cancerous growth of grayish concrete smudging the distant horizon. I can never view this visual outrage without asking myself how such a thing could come to pass. Can it be that the French, who from the late Renaissance on and through most of the 18th century succeeded the Italians as the finest architects in Europe, have totally lost that sense of aesthetic elegance and measure that so long distinguished them?

Years ago, in a blistering article entitled "The Gangsters of the Appian Way," Niccolo Tucci tore into the vandals who, he claimed, were disfiguring that ancient roadway with neon signs, gas stations, and other modern commodities. The Appian Way, he pointed out, did not belong to the Romans, nor to the Italians, nor even to the Europeans; it belongs to history, to mankind, to the world.

I feel the same way about that incomparable Carrousel-Tuileries-Champs-Elysées...

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