There are few things more satisfying than a finely exectued bit of contempt; it can be highly reassuring to be firmly put in your place. If you spend your life rattling around the lonely marble halls of intellectual and aesthetic superiority, finding yourself suddenly squashed into the warm little cupboard of contempt is as disgustingly comfortable as sniffing your own armpit. A snug, damp odour of self-pity slowly engulfs you with the sweet, sybaritic smack of disgraced wet dog. Paris is, of course, the haute ville de mépris. Non, bof, merde, alors - grunting, hefting, slamming - those leather-skinned, stub-fingered, bristle-nosed Parisian waiters remain the Euro champs of contempt, surpassing all cliché. Most French women look like tan-wrinkled salopes rather than chic Hepburn sylphs, but disdainful dismissal is nevertheless embedded in their every blank frontal stare, single slanted brow, and meticulous, sour-pussed nibble of Poulaine. Even their ratlike Pomeranian pooches long to leave a tiny shit on your shoe.
So, this weekend 'cross the Channel, when an unseasonal downpour pissed down in the mocking way that only continental precipitation can piss, I retreated, brolly flapping, to that tourist ghetto the Musée d'Orsay, only to be confronted with more hits of Froggy hauteur.
'Mongst the magical madness of the impressionists (so much greater in the glowing, daring flesh than the ubiquitous McMonet posters and postcards would have you believe) I sought out Caillebotte's The Floor Planers. Three shirtless workers, Gallicly grumbling from the corner of their mouths, quietly and masterfully ply their craft in a mote-filled room, lit by the sun and shadowed by the church. Best of all, you know they would detest you. Walk in, and they'd rise to a man, invaded, interrupted, with cracking knees and a contumely glower, longing to throw their sweat-infused wine at your white-handed, brioche-eating, soft-bodied Saxon self.
In a master stroke of misanthropy, at Caillebotte's 1876 exhibition Zola managed to dismiss even The Floor Planers' precise, unpreachy realism as 'painting that is so accurate that it makes it bourgeois'.
Paris, on bended knee, je t'aime. Kick me again.