I ponder what this 18th century man of the world would have made of the Olympic Movement while strolling past a park-worker contentedly blowing fallen plane leaves into piles as geometrical as the Louvre pyramids.
At its best, the French capital still has that certain je ne sais quoi.
But, having not visited for a number of years, I was also struck by the quantity of graffiti, the number of sans-abri or homeless people and by how badly some bits of the urban fabric – the RER suburban railway, for example – looked in need of TLC.
And by how relatively little (other than seeming more run-down) the complexion of the streets had changed since I lived there in the late 1990s.
On a long walk from the Gare du Nord to the Boulevard Saint-Germain, the most eye-catching innovations seemed to be the arrival of Starbucks, a sprinkling of electronic cigarette outlets and the contraction of the Monoprix supermarket brand to Monop.
One thing that has changed is the level of support in France for the National Front: this has risen significantly.
I was astonished to glean from breakfast TV that, based on a new opinion poll, the far-right party's probable 2017 Presidential candidate, Marine Le Pen, might be on course to top the poll with a score of around 30 per cent.
Of course, this is mid-term and Le Pen is still short of the sort of ratings needed to give her a realistic shot at becoming head of state of one of Europe's biggest and most influential countries.
Nonetheless, my snapshot impression was of a society that is stuck, on hold, in a bit of a rut, while pressure from those fed up with the status quo gradually builds.
Or, you might say, a society in dire need of something inspirational to capture its collective imagination.
Something like a global pageant of sport showcasing the very best of humanity?
The purpose of my visit was to sit in on an event at which French sports leaders outlined the latest state of thinking regarding a Paris 2024 Olympic and Paralympic bid.
The gathering was long, detailed and well-attended, albeit without the presence of the French Sports Minister, who was away in Canada.
It brought to light some intriguing ideas: an Olympic school not for the elite, but for kids in danger of dropping out; a "citizens' ticketing system", where those who pitched in and did their bit for the national Olympic effort could be rewarded with free tickets and other items; a "Tour de France" of Olympic personalities, bringing people close to their sporting heroes; a telethon to help fund an eventual bid.
But at the end of it, I was left with the feeling that we are still a long way short of fashioning a project capable of lifting a morose, many would say overtaxed, French nation, let alone an electorate of International Olympic Committee (IOC) members who will probably have tempting alternatives, including a strong bid from the United States, to fall back on.
There has been progress since that traumatic moment in Singapore nearly a decade ago when then IOC President Jacques Rogge broke into his envelope and said "London" when most were expecting him to say "Paris".
I have never, for example, heard the UK capital praised so extravagantly on French soil as during Tuesday's meeting, particularly by Bernard Lapasset, President of the French International Sport Committee (CFSI).
We need evidently to add "improving Britain's reputation with its old foe" to the extensive list of London 2012 legacy benefits.
However, overcoming the disappointment of 2005 and acknowledging the qualities of your victorious opponent are necessary but far from sufficient parts of the process of finally stitching together a winning Olympic and Paralympic bid.
You might have hoped, moreover, that French sports leaders would have taken less than nine years to reach this point.
While they are still dwelling on London, their focus is inevitably backwards and inwards when any strong bid needs to project forwards and outwards.
I don't want to sound too negative; London 2012 was very far from the finished article at this point in that bidding process; Paris is a magical and resourceful city; it is still quite possible that a compelling, imaginative blueprint will coalesce.
But I did leave Paris with the feeling that the gap between where we appear to be at the moment and the creation of a project capable of mobilising and inspiring young people, along with the sort of voters who have sent Marine Le Pen to the top of the opinion polls, is uncomfortably big.
For all its contributions to the cause of international sports competition, starting with the modern Olympics themselves, France is far from the most sports-mad country in Europe.
But there was one moment in recent history when sport for a time completely transformed the national mood: that was in summer 1998, when a strikingly multi-ethnic French football squad captained by Didier Deschamps upset the odds and won the World Cup on home soil.
That's the sort of effect that those working towards a bid need to aim for.
David Owen worked for 20 years for the Financial Times in the United States, Canada, France and the UK. He ended his FT career as sports editor after the 2006 World Cup and is now freelancing, including covering the 2008 Beijing Olympics, the 2010 World Cup and London 2012. Owen's Twitter feed can be accessed here.