For years I had been (enviously) reading about the success of food trucks in cities like Los Angeles, Seattle and Sydney while lamenting the fact that none existed in Paris. And then a taco truck called The Cantine California rolled into town in 2012, right on the heels of a burger truck called Le Camion Qui Fume, owned by a California native. And, as to be expected, these mobile kitchens were eyed with haughty sniffs of suspicion and disapproval by the natives here. After all, France is a world leader in la gastronomie française. Buy lunch from a truck and eat on the street with one’s hands?? Que le ciel nous en préserve ! (Heaven forbid!)
Let’s face it, the French are snobs, especially in terms of food. But the good news is there’s a faction who are less snobbish because they’ve lived in London, New York, Montreal, Sydney and other cities. This experience has made them far more receptive to new and different ideas.
These photos were taken yesterday during my lunch hour at La Défense, Europe’s largest business district on Paris’s west side. The Esplanade de la Défense, the long walkway lined on either side by trees, apartments, restaurants and skyscrapers, is dedicated entirely to pedestrians which is why I like to go there.
Walking from my office at the Pont de Neuilly on this beautiful hot breezy day to the far end of La Défense, it was a pleasure to stop at the many shaded squares along the way and watch office colleagues playing boules (pétanque) on their lunch hour. As if they were in a provençal village rather than this important business district that houses the headquarters of multinational giants such as TOTAL, EDF, Areva, Axa, GDF Suez and Société Générale, to name a few.
Many Europeans disparage La Défense and call it stark and soulless. As a North American I’m used to shopping malls and skyscrapers, so I sort of feel at home here.
Here’s what I wrote in my 2013 blog post on the same topic – some people loathe La Défense because of its concrete slabs and dehumanizing uniformity. They say the place is devoid of charm or soul. I happen to disagree. I find a poetic expression in the design of the urban space here. I think the planners have done an excellent job in humanizing the concrete landscape with the presence of outdoor art installations, grassy squares and benches, fountains (one which vigorously splashes up and down in tune with classical music played loudly on speakers), whimsical sculptures, seasonal markets, a summer jazz festival, etc.
How to get there – take the central number 1 metro line to Esplanade de la Défense stop. There are restaurants, shopping galore in the CNIT building or in the huge shopping mall called Les Quatre Temps complete with multiplex movie theater called the UGC Ciné Cité with 16 screens. You can also take an elevator to the roof of La Grande Arche, the Danish-designed white cube, and look out at the stunning view.
Word of caution – I would avoid walking around this area after nightfall.