When the hustle & bustle of Montmartre wears on your nerves, get away from the crowded Place du Tertre (artists square) and Sacré Cœur; take the time to follow little side streets in Montmartre.
I happened upon this lovely blue storefront on the rue Tholozé while on my way to find Studio 28. Nothing special, just pretty and blue with photos in the window.
Sometimes it's good just to put the guidebook away, wander thru the streets, let serendipity take you. Then you'll discover places of your own. Paris is FULL of these wondrous little places. And that's when Paris becomes yours.
Photo: April 2003
Sure, Paris is a city known for its beauty and culture, but it never ceases to surprise you when you turn a corner and come upon such works of art.
This impressive bronze statue of Balzac, by Rodin, stands proudly at the intersection of Boulevard du Montparnasse and Boulevard Raspail.
Side note: there is another cast of this sculpture at the Hirshhorn Museum in Washington, D.C.
Street entertainers abound in Paris and they all seem to be quite good at their craft. I have read that to perform in the Metro a person has to audition and be licensed. I wonder if that is the case on the street. At any rate, they are always entertaining. We encountered this one as we were leaving Ile de Cite for Ile St. Louis in search of Paris' best ice cream. Their job is not easy - always leave a few coins at least.
Off the Beaten Path in Plain Sight
• The department stores La Samaritaine, Galeries Lafayette and Printemps.
• The Métro stations Abbesses, Porte Dauphine and Place Sainte-Opportune.
• The Grand Palais.
How can these VERY public places be considered Off-the-Beaten Path?! ... for a not so obvious activity -- an Art Nouveau sightseeing tour.
Art Nouveau is a style of architecture and applied art that was popular during 1890–1910 and the places listed here are a few very easily-reached, notable examples of the style:
Métro Stations by Hector Guimard (1867–1942):
• Châtelet (1st arr. @ intersection of Rue des Halles and Place Sainte-Opportune)
• Abbesses (Line 12, 18th arr. at the foot of Montmartre)
• Porte Dauphine (Line 2, 16th arr. @ Av. Foch)
• Galeries Lafayette (Georges Chedanne & Ferdinand Chanut) in the 9th arr. @ Métro Chaussée d'Antin - La Fayette
• Printemps (René Binet) -- just down the boulevard from Galeries Lafayette near Métro Havre - Caumartin
• La Samaritaine (Frantz Jourdain) in the 1st arr. @ Métro Pont-Neuf
Grand Palais des Champs-Elysées (8th arr @ Métro Champs-Élysées – Clemenceau or Franklin D. Roosevelt) Architects: Henri Deglane, Albert Louvet, Albert Thomas and Charles Girault
In 1993 the artist Ben Vautier (born 1935) created this work of urban art at Place Fréhel in Belleville.
It shows two workmen (actually life-size puppets) lowering a huge blackboard with the words "Il faut se méfier des mots" = Beware of Words.
This square, which could also be thought of as a vacant lot, came into being when some buildings had to be torn down during the construction of the tunnel for Métro line number 11 from Châtelet to Porte des Lilas in the 1930s.
Métro Pyrénées, Belleville
GPS 48°52'23.18" North; 2°22'54.28" East
This huge painting of a detective, by Jean Le Gac (born 1936) is also on the wall of a building at Place Fréhel, Rue de Belleville.
"Accustomed to the allusive style of the painter, the young detective understands that the message tells him to continue the chase along the street Julien Lacroix."
This is the street that goes off to his right (our left) and leads up to Belleville Park.
Second photo: Place Fréhel was named after the singer and actress Marguerite Boulc'h (1891-1951), whose stage name was Fréhel. On the link below there is a tiny green square which you can click on (if you can find it) to hear Fréhel singing La Java bleue in 1938.
Métro Pyrénées, Belleville
GPS 48°52'23.18" North; 2°22'54.28" East
This statue is an example of why Paris is known as a city of art. One of the charms of this great city is that you can happen on art and history at every turn. Our hotel in Paris was near the Latin Quarter and there was a medical school nearby as was attested by the number of bookstores with medical texts in the windows. This statue was at the intersection of rue Casimir Delavigne and rue Monsieur Le Prince. Vulpian was a 19th C medical researcher and professor working primarily with the brain and nervous and muscular systems. He was evidently respected and admired by his collegues and students and here is memorialized in this wonderful work. He looks scholarly and pensive, doesn't he?
Walking around Paris you can see these "Hommes blancs" or "Corps blancs", none more so than in the 20th district where Mesnager had his studio until a short while ago. Classed as an urban artist or a "pochoirist", which technically is false because the paintings are done free-hand, Mesnager created his design in 1983 and has gone on to paint them as far as the Great Wall of China. These are just some examples of his style.
Closest metros are Pelleport and Jourdain.
I came across this motto painted on the wall somewhere along rue St-Julien-le-Pauvre. I think it says:
Le chiffon fait le papier, le papier fait l'argent $
L'argent fait le banque, le banque fait le prêts €
Le prêt fait la mendiant, le mendiant fait des chiffons. ¥
Loosely translated or transliterally translated (thank God for Babelfish):
The rags make the paper, the paper makes the silver (money) $
The silver (money) makes bank, the bank makes the loans €
The loans make the beggar, the beggar makes the rags. ¥
And all with the appropriate money signs of the major power brokers of the world (U.S., Europe & Japan), but notice who they put first, either they're placing the U.S. first as having the most power or they're demonizing the U.S. the most, probably the latter. Very clever, I thought, very philosophical & very sage. I approve! I'm so glad I took the photo so that I could unravel the little mystery at home.
Please click on the photo to see the full Motto.
Photo: April 2003
Not sure what category this one should fall under really, maybe it's both. Outside Eglise St. Germain des Pres is a street artist of sorts who pretends to be a statue.
I am not sure what this person really wanted to accomplish but it was pretty amusing to see him. He must have been quite good in imitating a statue as no one approached him (or did not want to).
Here on the rue de l’Espérance (Street of Hope) at the top of the Butte aux Cailles there are several pieces of street art, including this stencil painting by Jana & J.S. showing Jana looking out an imaginary window with her camera dangling from her left hand.
Jana & J.S. have painted similar pictures on other walls in Paris and other cities. Sometimes her dress is a different color and sometimes she is sitting on the window sill instead of looking out. A nice realistic touch is that the bottom of her right foot is dirty, which is what happens when someone walks barefoot around a large city.
According to their website, Jana is Austrian and J.S. is French. They met in Madrid, lived in Paris for several years (but in Ménilmontant, not Butte-aux-Cailles) and are now living in Salzburg. On the walls of several cities they have painted huge pictures of themselves with cameras, taking photos of the passers-by.
Second photo: Lèzarts de la Bièvre is an association that was founded in 2001 for the purpose of promoting cultural and artistic activities in the quarters of Paris that were once traversed by the Bièvre River, from the Poterne des Peupliers to the Seine. The Z in their name is shaped like a lizard, because the name is a play on words between les arts (the arts) and lezard (lizard), which both sound the same in French.
Each year on the second weekend of June, Lèzarts de la Bièvre holds an open door weekend in numerous artists’ ateliers.
Third photo: The kid wearing headphones in this painting is being pursued by a fearful blood-sucking insect called HADOPI, a French government agency created in 2009 to impose drastic penalties on people who download copyrighted material from the internet without paying for it. The controversial HADOPI law was strongly supported by then-president Nicolas Sarkozy, who by coincidence is married to a prominent singer-songwriter. Sarkozy failed to win re-election in 2012, and the new government rescinded the HADOPI law a year later on July 10, 2013 (three days after I took this photo) on the grounds that it imposed disproportionate penalties on small-scale copyright infringers.
(This reminds me of the ongoing GEMA controversy in Germany.)
Fourth photo: A stencil painting by Miss.Tic (born 1956) with the caption: L’abus de plaisir est excellent pour la santé (‘The abuse of pleasure is excellent for your health.’)
Fifth photo: Another stencil painting by Miss.Tic, with the caption J’ai du vague à l’homme. This is a play on words based on the French expression J’ai du vague à l’âme (literally ‘I have some vagueness or emptiness in my soul’), which means ‘I am feeling melancholy’. The word âme (soul) sounds very similar to homme (man), so the girl seems to be saying that she is feeling melancholy because of a man.
Next review from August 2013: Street of the Five Diamonds
The Rue des cinq diamants (‘Street of the Five Diamonds’) is a lively street leading up from the boulevard Auguste-Blanqui to the top of the Butte-aux-Cailles. There are at least six restaurants on this street, all of them evidently quite popular, and lots of lovely people walking around at all hours of the day and night.
At the lower end of the street there is a small but very active theater called the Théâtre des cinq diamants (at number 10).
Second photo: Chez Gladines is a popular Basque restaurant at 30 rue des Cinq Diamants, at the corner of rue Jonas. At the entrance to Chez Gladines there are now two stencil paintings by Miss.Tic, stenciled in 2011. The one on the right shows one of Miss.Tic’s typical sultry women with a caption that probably needs no translation, Alerte a la bombe.
The painting on the left shows a young man with his hands on his head to show off his biceps (or perhaps he has a headache, who knows). The caption here is Un homme peut en cacher un autre (‘One man can conceal another’), which is a variation of that quintessential French road sign Un train peut en cacher un autre.
This is a sign that used to be (perhaps still is?) posted at every grade crossing where a road crossed a double-track railway, warning motorists not to start up when a train has passed before checking to see that another train isn’t coming from the opposite direction. When I was first learning French I was fascinated by this sentence because of the word en, which we don’t have in English at all. This little word en means roughly ‘of the same kind’, so the road sign means literally ‘One train can of the same kind conceal another’. I think the word en was responsible for giving me the impression, which I still have today, that French is somehow an inscrutable and mysterious language.
Third photo: The small shop at number 46, rue des Cinq Diamants, is the headquarters of a remarkable organization called the Association of the Friends of the Commune of Paris (1871). This is said to be the oldest organization of French Workers’ Movement which is still active. Its purpose is to make sure the history of the Commune is not forgotten. The slogan of this association is Le cadavre est à terre mais l'idée est debout meaning ‘The corpse has been buried but the idea is still standing.’
Appropriately, the little square at the top of the hill, just around the corner is called the Place de la Commune de Paris (Vélib’ station 13022).
Fourth and fifth photos: Jardin Brassaï. This is a pleasant park at the lower end of the Buttes-aux-Cailles, just off of the rue des Cinq Diamants.
Next review from August 2013: Rue Corvisart
This ‘Convent of the Ropes’ was founded towards the end of the 13th century by Marguerite de Provence, the widow of the French King Louis IX, who is now better known as Saint Louis.
Marguerite was nearly fifty when her husband died. She had been married to him since she was thirteen and had borne him eleven children. She had even gone with him on one of the Crusades, the seventh (1248-1254), so three of their children were born in Egypt.
After all their other sons had died, their youngest son Philippe was in line to become king. Since Philippe was the one person in the family with the least leadership potential, Marguerite made him promise (solemnly vow, in fact) that she could rule as his guardian until he was thirty, but Louis IX was still alive at this point – and was not yet a saint, just an ordinary male chauvinist king – so he quashed this idea and persuaded the Pope to release Philippe from his vow. He also wrote a sort of handbook for his son on how to run a country.
After Louis IX died in 1270 his widow must have been at loose ends, since she was not allowed to rule France after all. As a second choice, she tried to gain control of her native country, the Provence, but that didn’t work either. So for lack of anything better to do she founded a convent, but this was at best her third choice of what to do with the rest of her life.
Her situation reminds me of the Queen of the Night in Mozart’s opera The Magic Flute. The Queen of the Night also wanted to rule her husband’s kingdom after he died, but her husband thought a woman’s place was in the home, not on the throne, so when he died he left the symbol of his power, the Sevenfold Sun Circle, to Sarastro instead of to her. The Queen of the Night was very bitter about this, and spent her life plotting ‘hellish’ revenge.
Whether Marguerite de Provence was so embittered I don’t know, but in any case she eventually founded a convent on a seemingly idyllic eight-hectare site in the countryside south of Paris on the banks of the lovely Bièvre River.
Although the Bièvre was still a relatively clean little river in the 13th century, it had an unfortunate tendency to overflow its banks after heavy rains in the winter, so in later years the convent was repeatedly damaged by flooding.
Marguerite had a daughter, Blanche, who took over the convent after her mother’s death.
Today the only remains of this convent are some ruins that can be seen on the grounds of a hospital, the Hôpital Broca at 54-56 Rue Pascal in 75013 Paris (Vélib’ 13005).
Second photo: The ruins of the convent as seen from Rue Pascal.
Third photo: Historical sign about the convent, on Rue de Julienne.
Fourth photo: Sign at the entrance to the Broca Hospital, which is not on Rue Broca but nearby on Rue Pascal. The Broca Hospital is a geriatric hospital which was built from 1972 to 1982. It describes itself as a “regional expert centre devoted to Alzheimer's disease (AD)” and palliative care for elderly patients.
Fifth photo: A short distance away is this new fresco, from the year 2013, on Rue Émile Deslandres. It was painted by the street artist Julien “Seth” Malland, who was the featured artist at the 2013 Open Doors weekend organized by Lézarts de la Bièvre.
Next review from July 2013: Château de la Reine Blanche
This is a small scale piece of "guerilla art" -- this artist has placed these small mosaics in a number of locations.
Another "guerilla artist" whose work I have noticed is the person who paints cats on the sides of buildings.
The street that is now called rue Corvisart, (after Jean-Nicolas Corvisart, the personal physician of Napoléon I) was formerly called rue Champ-de-l'Alouette (Street of the Field of the Lark). It is in the Croulebarbe Quarter of the 13th arrondissement.
In the novel Les Misérables by Victor Hugo, Jean Valjean led the child Cosette along here in 1823 on their way to the first place they lived in Paris, the crumbling Masure Gorbeau. Much later in the novel there is a chapter called Le Champ de l’Alouette in which Marius goes to this ‘Field of the Lark’ every day, simply because he has heard Cosette referred to as ‘Alouette’.
Confusingly, a different nearby street is now called rue du Champ de l'Alouette. This is a smaller street that was formerly called rue du Petit-Champ.
The building in my first photo is the Paul Gervais primary school. It was named after a professor of zoology and comparative anatomy who lived from 1816 to 1879 and was well known in his lifetime as the author of an elementary textbook on natural history.
Second photo: This plaque is on the wall of the Paul Gervais primary school, on the side facing rue Corvisart. It reads:
This building was a primary school for girls.
To the memory of the pupils of this school
deported from 1942 to 1944 because they were born Jews
victims of the Nazi barbarity
with the active participation
of the government of Vichy.
They were assassinated in the death camps.
More than 11400 children were deported from France.
More than 150 of these children lived in the 13th.
12 April 2008 We must never forget them.
Third photo: Entrance to the Corvisart Site of the ‘LPR Corvisart Tolbiac’ (Lycée Professionel Régional Corvisart Tolbiac) at 61, rue Corvisart. This is a technical high school specializing in graphic arts and the craft of bookbinding – which is appropriate because there is a traditional bookbinding shop just 750 meters up the street at 77, rue Broca.
The entrance to the school displays a stencil painting and caption by Miss.Tic, stenciled here in 2006. The caption reads: “Poetry is an extreme sport.”
Fourth and fifth photos: The Corvisart Métro station (line 6) at the south end of rue Corvisart.
Vélib’ 13009, 13101
Next review from August 2013: The French newspaper Le Monde