OW: Everybody said, “You’re gonna think the [Georges] Pompidou thing is beautiful. You just have to get used to it.” But the more you look at it, the more impossible it is. It’s a big piece of junk. But I remind myself that half of aesthetic France threatened to leave Paris when they started to build the Eiffel Tower. So maybe I’m just a reactionary. If I am it doesn’t bother me too much, though. I’m perfectly content to be reactionary – to belong to my own time.
HJ: Everybody thought the Eiffel Tower was a piece of junk. Now it’s something so beautiful—-
OW: But, you see, the Eiffel Tower is marvellous because it has an historical meaning. It is the last great work of the Age of Iron.
HJ: Still at the time you can imagine people who wanted the vista uncluttered being —
OW: But now it’s destroyed anyway because all the good views have been ruined by the Tour Montparnasse. If you stand and look through that small Arc de Triomphe – that little miniature, which is in front of the Louvre, and look up the Champs – Elysees, you used to be able to look right through to the Arc de Triomphe into blue sky. Now what you see looks like Detroit.
HJ: But I’m curious. Is taste objective or subjective?
OW: Subjective basically. But it’s an interesting question. I remember my darling Louise de Vilmorin, who always swore that Paris was one of the ugliest cities in the world, a terrible nineteenth-century atrocity. She could only stand the things that dated from before then, and there were few enough of those. If your taste is back there in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, then Paris is an ugly city. The automobile did it, with all those underpasses and the highway by the Seine. Do you remember what the Seine was like when you could stroll along it with your girl? God, that was another world.
I’ve been asked to write some little thing in Paris Vogue, along with a lot of other people who don’t know anything, about why I love Paris. And I can’t think of anything to say. It should be “Why I Loved Paris.” When I could walk on the sidewalk in Paris, I loved it, but now I have to climb over automobiles. Taking down the Halles was the beginning of the end. Les Halles was a good building. The new one is already falling apart. It looks older the Notre Dame! The paint is peeling off. Soon there won’t be any real Paris left, you know. Or real London or real Rome. Because a few untouchable monuments are not gonna keep a city… I think all the cities of the world are in decline. Because the idea of supporting cities has ceased to part of world culture. We’re all moving into shopping malls.