Walking Around, Paris
One of the best things about Paris is that you often come across some great sights just by wandering aimlessly around. We were walking near the Eiffel Tower one day and came across this really cool doorway at No. 29 on Avenue Rapp. It's clearly Art Nouveau in style though there's otherwise nothing special about the buildings - its the entrance to a block of apartments. Avenue Rapp starts below Place de la Resistance at Pont de l'Alma.
13 rue Monsieur - 7th arr - Paris
Did you see the movie De-Lovely about the life and times of composer Cole Porter? It's an underrated great little gem of a Paris movie starring Kevin Kline as Cole Porter and Ashley Judd as his Kentucky-born socialite wife, Linda Porter. This was their Paris home.
It may have been here that Cole Porter brought the decadent dance, the Charleston, to the Parisian elite via American black dance artist & singer, Bricktop.
You may read more about the Porters in this inimitable guide Expatriate Paris: A Cultural & Literary Guide to Paris of the 1920s.
Photo: Feb 2006
110 rue du Bac, 7th arrondissement
From 1892 to 1895, this was the home of James McNeil Whistler, American artist, most famous for his Arrangement in Grey and Black: Portrait of the Painter's Mother, popularly known as Whistler's Mother. He inspired many expatriate artists of the 1920s especially Ezra Pound, American poet, who wrote:
You also, our first great,
Had tried all ways;
Tested and pried and worked in many fashions,
And this much gives me heart to play the game.
You may read more about this in Expatriate Paris: A Cultural & Literary Guide to Paris of the 1920s.
Whistler's home lies not too far from the Bon Marche.
Photo: Feb 2006
This is the Rue Chanoinesse, an historic, ancient cobblestoned street exemplary of the medieval period, which runs off the street that borders Notre Dame, Rue du Cloitre Notre-Dame on the Ile de la Cite. This is the area that once held the cloisters of Notre Dame.
At 10 rue Chanoinesse lived Canon Fulbert, whose 17-year-old niece, an example of intelligence & intellectualism, was tutored by & famously fell in love with 39-year-old Abelard. A most brilliant Latin scholar & philosopher of his age, heo drew students away into his own school in the Latin Quarter from all over Europe. A poet & musician, he played the harp and his love songs to Heloise were played around town. As often happens in these cases, she became pregnant by him & went to his sister’s home in Brittany. Her uncle, fearing Abelard had her put away had Abelard castrated on the streets of Paris; however, it’s been intimated that he was jealous of Abelard’s genius & popularity (after all, he’d drawn the students away to his own school).
Around the corner Abelard & Heloise once lived at 9 Quai aux Fleurs.
Other sites for Heloise & Abelard include 12 rue des Barres in the Marais behind the church St-Gervais-St-Protais which was formerly the women’s abbey of Maubisson, where they are believed to have stayed for a time, considering that Heloise eventually became an abbess. The other site is Cimetiere Pere Lachaise where they repose. For nearly 1,000 years their dusty bones have lain in the same coffin although at present the bones are separated by a lead barrier. Once they were placed in the cemetery it ensured its popularity.
Photo: March 2001
A gem in the St Germain de Pres garden that is easily missed is the Sevres Fountain. It is more a wall produced by the famous Sevres factory. If you look carefully at the first photo you will see these young potters at work. This is an old tradition, including a glimpse of the artist/craftsperson in the work itself.
La Fontaine des Quatre-Saisons is the only fountain I know with its own street address ;) It is located on rue Grenelle right next to Mus?e Maillol. It was built between 1739 and 1747 during the reign of Louis XV. It represents the four seasons, naturally. Unfortunately it has always either been turned off or under repair during my visits. Its function was to improve the water suppy to the district.
My firm conviction is that the life and uniqueness of a city is in the details ... These are just two -- a wonderful carving over a doorway and a brass doorknob with dolphins. You will find these kinds of details in even a run-down neighborhood, maybe not as shiny or elaborate, but Paris IS in the details :)
And a few more from the 7e and the 15e.
The poem is by Yves Bonnefoy and is painted on a wall on rue Clovis in the Latin Quarter.
I have walked by this wall several times, always pleased that it remains.
You can read more about Yves Bonnefoy on the website listed below. I have not been able to find a translation into English -- but here's one into Italian ;)
questo grande albero
e attraverso lui-
Fosse anche rovinato, insudiciato
l’albero delle strade
è tutta la natura
il cielo per intero
l’uccello vi si posa
il vento vi si agita, il sole
la stessa speranza
malgrado la morte
tu hai fortuna di avere l’albero
nella tua via
saranno meno ardui i tuoi pensieri
più liberi i tuoi occhi
più desiderose di meno notte
le tue mani
We wandered around on a Saturday afternoon and came upon an open air market. The vegetables and fruit were fresh and their scents filled the air. While gazing at a stand with fresh strawberries, an older woman who was standing next to us opened her bag and offered my wife and I a berry to taste. It was a lovely gesture and a moment that we remember fondly.
On my arrival day I usually start with a baguette/jambon and a glass of red wine after which I do a couple of errands perhaps and then just wander around my neighborhood. In October 2005 it was, as often it is, the western part of the 7th. These are just a few of the details that caught my eye on and off ave de la Bourdonnais.
Claude Monet (1840-1926) completed the painting La Rue Montorgueil à Paris. Fête du 30 juin 1878 (The Rue Montorgueil in Paris. Celebration of June 30, 1878). The celebration was actually the end of the World's fair that was held in the city that year.
The painting is one of the highlights of the Musée d'Orsay. The painting is a swirl of the countries colours - red, white and blue. Monet apparantly painted it from a window, so although there is the very 'immediate' reportage feel to it, because it is composed froma high level it also feels strangely detached from the festivities as well.
You can still visit the street, its in the 2nd arrondisment and compare the scenes. Nowadays it is an area well worth visting itself witha good mixture of shops, cafes and a street market.
Just to do something totally different, a few years ago we were staying in the Champayne region and headed into Paris for the day. Parking on the outer reaches of the Metro system around Pantin I left my travel companions and headed into Paris using no more than the Canal System and a rough sense or direction.
First i headed along the L'ourcq canal past some modern architecture and the parc Villette before heading through the more industrial St Denis Canal. Once up the periphique again I then headed through the backstreet ending up (eventually) at St Denis.
The canals certainly provided a very different view of Paris and Paris life, especially among the dodgier sections of the St Denis Canal where cheap hookers turned tricks in cars near the waters edge.
Right in front of the famous Notre Dame church, about 20 metres from its front facade, there is a simple bronze milestone. This stone indicates the zero point of France, as it has been for hundreds of years. From here distances from Paris to other cities in France and even outside of France are measured. At the 10th of October 1924 the stone was placed.
The stone is not exactly the centre of France, that lies more to the south of the country, but it is the place where centuries ago the first beginning of the city was built.
Lots of people just walk over the stone, looking at the impressive front of the Notre Dame, but just take a look down, and you can see the official centre of France...
Belleville (20th Arrondissement) and Gare de l'Est (10th) neighborhoods are a wonderful change of pace if you're sick of showpiece Paris, and want to see a real neighborhood with real people. They're rough around the edges, old, worn-down, peeling, full of people from all nations and walks of life. They're also, beneath the wear and tear, quite beautiful. Because they've resisted gentrification, there's an authenticity to the feel of the streets and buildings and people you won't find elsewhere. In a strange way they remind me of the New york city of my imagination--the one I couldn't find in the real NYC. The real Sesame Street is in Paris.
There's a nice park in Belleville, and it's home to Rue de Menilmontant, the namesake of one of my favorite Charles Trenet songs. At the time I was there, the lower rents seemed to be attracting a strong artistic community, so you might stumble onto artist's studios, or a courtyard full of strange sculptures. But then again, it might be bland and gentrified by now, like everything else.
Belleville Metro: Belleville, Couronnes, Menilmontant
Gare de l'Est Metro: Gare de l'Est station
Rue Mouffetard is an ancient narrow, winding, lovely little cobblestone street full of groceries, cafes, theatres, marvellous little squares, and a street market. It's a wonderful change from the grand straight boulevards and stuffy false facades of much of Paris. The Cafe Mouffetard is one of my favorites (you may recognize it from the Kieslowski film Blue), a humble cozy place which, last time I was there, had a strangely charming brown 70's tackiness to it. I could almost imagine it as a mix of American diner and Parisian cafe.
There's a number of metro stops along the street or close by, including Place Monge, Censier Daubenton, and Cardinal Lemoin.