It is a very warm evening and it has been a hot day here in Paris. It feels like it is about 35 degrees C and rather humid as well. It is 11.30pm and I can’t sleep. Most of the young residents at the Cité are chattering outside in the courtyard, enjoying the balmy evening. So, a good time to perhaps catch up on correspondence.
I spent a wonderful few days in the country last week, but those experiences will have to wait until my next exciting chapter! Let me first catch up with the week before …………………….
Colonne de Juillet at Place de la Bastille
During my first 2 weeks in Paris, one thing I have done to excess, in spite of carrying a Navigo ticket everywhere with me (that and a map), is walk. I have trekked from Place de la Bastille, down the aptly named boulevard Beaumarche and boulevard des Filles du Calvaire. Central to Bastille is an imposing column, the Colonne de Juillet. From his mighty perch, a winged, very gilded Juillet looks down on humanity (he just can’t be missed – talk about over the top). Seriously though, la colonne is a monument to the fallen. It is beneath this column that the victims of the 1830 and 1848 revolutions are buried. Apparently, due to some mix up at the Louvre, where the victims were lying in state before their burial, they were joined by two Egyptian mummies, who were also buried with full military honours! And of course the area is the place where the infamous Bastille once stood. What I never realised was that when crowds stormed and destroyed the Bastille on 14th July 1789, there were only 7 inmates.
Apartments down ave Beaumarchais
The first time I walked down boulevard Beaumarchais and boulevard des Filles du Calvaire, I marvelled at all the beautiful old doors. Most parts of Paris have, I’ve since discovered, hundreds of them and every one different. Some are elaborately carved, some are wrought iron with gilded decorations, some are painted bright red or blue, some are quite dilapidated and others are in very good repair. I am fascinated by them. I also love the wrought iron balconies adorning the apartment windows, all opening inwards to accommodate the shutters. And so many flower boxes adding a bright splash of geranium red to elaborate facades.
Hôtel de Sens
I have walked the streets of the Marais, especially the quaint Village of St Paul, right on the door step of the Cité and admired the medieval gem, Hôtel de Sens, which has an intriguing history. Apparently it was built at the end of the 15th century for the Archbishop of Sens. Here Henry lV banished his first wife, Marguerite de Valois, when he objected to her promiscuity. Marguerite happily continued her rather questionable lifestyle, but in a dramatic twist to the sorry tale, a jealous ex-lover murdered her current beau and so she promptly had him beheaded outside the house. Mon dieu!
Back of St Paul
Red door and florist on rue de Rivoli
I have traversed both sides of the Seine for miles; I have walked down avenue des Champs-Elysees, along avenue Winston Churchill, past le Grand Palais and le Petit Palais, over the beautiful Pont Alexandre lll and then on down to the Hôtel des Invalides. I have been lost many times and once found myself at the architecturally grandiose Opéra and imposing église de la Madeleine, which that day had the grand front steps almost entirely covered in red andwhite flowers – stunning!
Galeries LafayBalconies and part of stained glass cupola inette
I happened upon Boulevard Haussmann and stumbled into Galeries Lafayette. Now that was a mistake – and I thought the streets were busy. I was immediately engulfed by a tidal wave – no, tsunami, of thousands of people and couldn’t get spat out of there quick enough. Not before I managed a photograph of the beautiful circular domed cupola though.
I have walked down rue St Antoine and rue de Rivoli (full of very expensive shops) to the sumptuous Hôtel de Ville. The rue St. Antoine, a wide straight road, was once a site for jousting tournaments. In 1574 Henri ll was knocked off his horse by his Scottish Captain of the Guard, Montgomery. He suffered a severe blow to his eye and in a drastic bid to save his life, Henri’s physician ordered the immediate decapitation of every prisoner on death row so that he could experiment on their heads. Unsurprisingly, he didn’t succeed and Henri died 10 days later. Montgomery also lost his head!
From Hôtel de Ville I walked to the famous Louvre (again, hugely impressive buildings, amazing fountains and Peϊ’s spectacular, iconic glass pyramid) and the Arc de Triomphe du Carousel, a really quite beautiful pink and green marble arch, topped with a massive bronze statue of horses accompanied by gleaming gold attendants or gods of some sort!
Jardin des Tuileries
From there, I ambled through Jardins des Tuileries to Place de la Concorde, central to which is an elaborate fountain (as I said, so much in Paris is over the top) and the Luxor Obelisk, with its impossibly sharp gilded tip.
I have strolled across Pont Marie (our nearest bridge) to île St Louis, and then on to île de la Cité, staring in awe at the exquisite Notre Dame, warmed by the setting sun.
I have explored the charming Latin Quarter, seen the Sorbonne and Panthéon and been amused by the name of a little café – Le Chat Huant. I thought it might mean the haunt of the cat or something. Anyway, there is a giant wrought iron flea perched on the wall outside! I will have to find out more.
Walking aside, I have also used the metro and bus to get around. I prefer the bus, since it is more scenic and one really does get more of a sense of place. It is slower, but then, I do have the luxury of time! I have travelled to the Tour Eiffel and Place du Trocadero, St Cloud and Montmartre, all places I need to visit again and explore. Thus far a fleeting visit to these places has had to suffice.
I have also had the pleasure of visiting many parks and gardens. In fact, Paris is full of parks and little gardens, which you suddenly happen upon, all beautifully manicured, flower beds ablaze (all colour co-ordinated of course) and always decorated with beautiful statues. Surprisingly, these are not often defaced with graffiti! I find these havens a delightful refuge from the bustle of life on the street. It is in these pools of calm that I have often sat and quietly sketched and had time to think and just ‘be’. A rare luxury.
Statue of Louis XIII at Place des Vosges
Some I have visited include Place des Voges, a charming square on which Victor Hugo lived from 1832 until 1848. Four lovely fountains surround an impressive central statue of Louis XIII. It also happens to be one of the few park where one is actually allowed to walk on the grass!
I discovered Parc Montsouris, situated on the south east of Paris, right near the Cité Internationale Universitaire de Paris. This is a large undulating park with plenty of trees and a lake. Apparently on the day the park opened, the lake suddenly drained and the engineer subsequently committed suicide. I however, spent a lovely afternoon there, languishing in the gentle sunlight.
During my first two weeks in Paris I also visited the famous Jardin des Tuileries and admired the lovely statues situated around the gardens, including a Rodin (le Baiser) and a Moore (Reclining Figure).
Flower beds in Jardin du Luxembourg
And of course, I loved the Jardin du Luxembourg. The flower beds are exquisite and the many beautiful statues are quite something. I was particularly struck by the statues of the queens of France. Around the central pool children rush about with long sticks, trying to push and prod their little sail boats into action.
Statue of a queen of France, looking down from the terrace
Pumpkin in the garden at the Cité
Right on our doorstep is a small but charming garden at the Hôtel de Sens, and the Cité also has a pleasant garden, sporting not only flowers, but herbs, fruit trees (apple and pear) and vegetables like pumpkins, chillies and even corn! And the little sparrows are everywhere.
Flowers in the garden and the Cité building in the distance
Jardin de Reuilly, off Promenade Plantée
An interesting park was Promenade Plante, a raised park which runs almost the entire length of the 12th arrondissement. Leading off this are smaller parks and a shady forested area, where I managed a sketch or two.
Lit tunnel in forested area of Promenade Plantée, below street level
Square Charles-Péguy, off Promenade Plantée
Whilst walking along Promenade Plantée, I suddenly noticed a bit of activity in the street below. From my bird’s eye view I spied a fire engine and police and pompiers rushing about. Now you must understand that the pompiers are revered as heros here. And not without due regard either. These brave young men are called to fight fires, help trapped people, administer first aid and save cats from trees! One evening as I was strolling along the Seine, I came across a pompier station, opposite the Square De Vert-Galant. I was treated to the sight of delightfully muscled young pompiers undergoing strenuous training. They were pulling themselves up onto platforms bolted high into the wall along the river – no mean feat! Where was my sketchbook! Anyway, I’m becoming distracted.
Pompiers to the rescue!
Back to Promenade Plantée, where the action was in full swing. Traffic was stopped as far as I could see, in both directions, outside Gare de Lyon. Busy at the best of times, but this was Saturday morning. I couldn’t see smoke and wondered where the fire was. Then through the trees, I spied a car with the hood up. It appears that it had started smoking and in two ticks and much pulling out of hoses and bustling about, disaster was averted!
Garden at Port de l’Arsenal
There is also a pretty park alongside the Port de Paris-Arsenal, situated just below Bastille. A place where yachts and houseboats are moored, so plenty of interest to sketch.
But the most magical for me, was the little Square du Vert-Galant, a triangular park, right on the tip of the île de la Cité. A very good place to watch the sun set over the Seine.
Sunset from Square du Vert-Galant
A lovely interlude on my first Saturday in Paris, was a piano concert at église St Merry. Whilst wandering around the Place Georges Pompidou, admiring the great mechanical fountains, I heard applause. Upon investigation, I discovered a concert, free to the public. What an unexpected pleasure to listen to Chopin, Debussy and Liszt played so beautifully in the quiet coolness of the high domed church.
Wow –all too much. I haven’t even begun to relate museum and gallery visits during my first two weeks in Paris. Now I’m really tired and must get to bed.