Tag Archives: a day in the life

Open the floodgates! Rouen’s museums are open!

May 23, 2021

Natasha and I have lived in France for almost five full months, and yet today was our first chance to visit museums; they were only allowed to reopen on May 19th. We decided we would prioritize the Museum of Fine Arts and the Museum of Antiquities. The first was a logical choice because Rouen has a distinguished history for Impressionism, in particular. The latter relates to its standing as a city since Roman times!

All that remains of the Chateau de Rouen is the restored Grosse Tour (T1 in the schematic) and the foundations of T9. The maquette image is from the Jeanne d’Arc Museum in Rouen, and the schematic originally comes from a book by Pitte and Gauthiez.

Our first move, however, was to walk to the north of the museum area to see the “Donjon of Rouen,” a massive tower near what was once a massive wall surrounding the medieval city. We were grateful that the road rose gently to the top of a hill. The tower, sometimes tied to the Joan of Arc story, is all that remains of the massive Chateau de Rouen, constructed by King Philippe-Auguste in 1205. It might seem obvious to people today that Normandy is part of France, but this was actually quite controversial during medieval times. Here’s a brief timeline for the city:

A miniature of Rouen in 1525 from the south side of the Seine by Théodore de Jolimont
  • Before Common Era: The Veliocasses found this city near the mouth of the Seine.
  • 58-50 BCE: Julius Caesar wins Gallia Lugdunensis in battle, with Rotomagus (Rouen) being its second city.
  • 486 Common Era: Clovis I of the Franks destroys the “rump state” remaining from the Romans. Rouen becomes a major city of Merovingian Neustria.
  • 912 CE: The Franks cede Normandy to Viking leader Rollo for the promise he would keep other Vikings away, and he makes his capital at Rouen.
  • 1204 CE: King Philippe-Augustus of France reasserts his power over Normandy after the descendants of Rollo become preoccupied with ruling England instead.
  • 1419 CE: Henry V of England reclaims Normandy in the Hundred Years’ War.
  • 1449 CE: Charles VII of France regains Normandy.

In short, this is a popular city for invading armies. The stones that formed this mighty castle protecting the northern border of Rouen were re-used for other construction at the end of the sixteenth century. Ironically, it stands right next to a memorial to honor the victims of racism, antisemitism, and crimes against humanity during 1940-1944, another period during which Rouen was a contested piece of land.

Square Charles Verdrel

Natasha and I walked back down the hill and enjoyed a few moments in Square Charles Verdrel (named after the man who “Haussmanned” Rouen):

With new authority to expropriate city lands for urban reorganization, granted by legislation passed in 1852, and working with the local architect E. Lévy, Verdrel proposed the “percement” of two new streets, one running north–south and the other east–west, to cross at Rouen’s center… Verdrel argued that the buildings were mostly in poor condition and had largely been abandoned, causing their owners to lament their evaporating real estate investments.

Kevin D. Murphy, Journal of Urban History (2011) 37: 278-296.

The mature trees in his square were lovely, and the waterfall played happily in the shade. Natasha and I disputed the type of animal that belonged in the little box on an island; she speculated an otter, but I was holding out hope that it was a beaver. I believe my cell phone read 10:03 AM when the main doors of the fine arts museum opened.

Rouen Musée des Beaux Arts

Jean Revel, the pen-name of a writer who lived 1848-1925, has a place of honor before the Rouen Fine Arts Museum.

Though Rouen was one of the largest cities in medieval France, today it barely cracks the top 40 cities in France by population. Why, then, does it have such an amazing art museum? It might be the result of the “First Mover” advantage! Even before the French Revolution, the arts community of Rouen had begun assembling a collection of art intended for public view. By the end of the nineteenth century, the collection had already outgrown the space it shared with two prior buildings, and it moved to its purpose-built gallery in 1888. Happily, seeing the permanent collection is absolutely free.

Figure allégorique, by Paulus Bor (Image courtesy of Ministry of Culture)

Natasha and I have different taste in art, so we sped up and slowed down for different sections. She loves a good portrait, and I enjoy landscapes, cityscapes, and above all, Impressionism! I think the first image that captured my attention was a 1621 Flemish painting of a young woman on her death bed, while Natasha’s gaze was drawn by an arresting image of Saint Catherine of Sienna from the late 15th century. I would also point to Paulus Bor’s “Figure allégorique,” featuring a woman with a very neutral expression bearing a snake wrapped around her arm. Natasha helped cushion the surprise for me when I walked into a gallery featuring a life-sized figure in a colorful plague-doctor mask. I worried that it was a performance artist who was going to FREAK ME OUT!

Happily, this figure was modern art rather than performance art.

I was very pleased to see Cardinal Richelieu by Philippe de Champaigne (17th century), and Natasha noted that we must be in Europe since she had spotted a larger-than-life work by Paul Rubens right next to one by Caravaggio! I goggled to see a full-size version of Jean-Antoine Houdon’s “Seated Voltaire,” executed in papier maché.

This image at the Rouen Fine Arts Museum comes from a considerable series of paintings by Claude Monet. Image courtesy of Wikipedia

For me, the highlight was always going to be the well-stocked section on Impressionism. The museum had a good explainer on why its relationship with François Depeaux had enriched its collection in this area so greatly. Since the hall on Impressionism came so late in our route through the museum, I was sad to have spent much of my energy already. I still enjoyed it thoroughly. I hoped that Natasha might take a photo of me next to Claude Monet’s painting of Rouen Cathedral portal in grey, misty conditions, but she takes museum restrictions on photography quite seriously.

I am grateful to the heritage architects who continually updated the Rouen Palais de Justice over the centuries! World War II was most unkind.

Soon thereafter, Natasha and I were back on the street. My belly was telling me it was time for a Burger King Whopper, but Natasha showed greater restraint and returned to our lodgings for something healthier. I did capture a nice image of the Palais de Justice (Law Courts) building, completed in 1509.

Rouen Musée des Antiquités

In sunlight, I promise that the Rouen Museum of Antiquities appears quite cheerful!

When a group of museums opened for the afternoon, we had a choice to make; would we visit the museum of iron work in a sixteenth century church, or would we explore the antiquities of this area instead? We opted to hike back to the north to see the Musée des Antiquités. Our route along Rue Beauvoisine showed us a hundred interesting shops as well as some half-timbered structures that clearly had a lot of years behind them. I only realized after we reached the museum that the same structure served for both Antiquities and Natural History museums. Again, the permanent exhibits were free, so we could explore just as soon as I locked away my backpack.

This glassware from the Romans has persisted for 2000 years.

While it is apparent that the museum of antiquities is not perhaps as well-funded as the fine art museum, its setting in the 1691 “Convent of the Visitation” gives both the building and its contents historic gravitas. The grounds of the convent are filled with stone elements from two thousand years of history. What blew my mind, however, was when Natasha pointed to a series of small glass vessels and explained that these were made by the Romans. I hadn’t realized that the technologies for making glass were so old! A macabre mannequin of a plague doctor was once again coolly regarding our progress through the museum.

These faces and animal figures were recovered in ruins from the first dynasty of Lagash.

I always enjoy a Mesopotamian archaeology display, and the museum’s collection had some lovely items. Some tiny clay faces that were molded circa 2500 BCE were really striking. As an inveterate cat person, I was astonished to see a pair of Egyptian sarcophagi for cats.

This praying woman, once part of a set of seven figures, adorned an underground tomb. First part of third century BCE, Canosa, Italy

The Grecian civilization was represented by a striking statue of a woman with upraised hands. At the time it was created, the Roman Republic was still actively aggregating the communities throughout the Italian Peninsula into itself; the bottom of the “boot” held several Greek communities. Natasha and I continued to the room from which we had entered, dominated by two massive Roman floor mosaics. During our honeymoon in Andalucia, Natasha and I saw some other astonishing floor mosaics created by the Romans, both in archaeology museums and at Italica.

These wall hangings are made from leather! 16th Century Belgium

Natasha spent some time looking at some glossy, highly decorated brown squares mounted on the wall in the other gallery of the Antiquities museum. I didn’t know the French word “cuir,” and Natasha was quicker than me to realize that these wall panels decorated with floral and vegetable images were embossed leather engraved with gold and black. They had been created in the sixteenth century, but they were still glorious today.

Patrons of religious institutions freqeuntly requested that they be remembered in the art for those institutions.

I am always going to collect photographs of stained glass, and the convent features some lovely “vitraux” dating as far back as the fifteenth century. For example, this pane featuring a family in prayer was created in 1440 for the church of the Augustins at Rouen.

These “fibules” were broaches intended to pin clothing in place, executed in gilded bronze. They were among the oldest post-Roman artifacts on display.

Natasha spent some time with a reconstruction of a tomb from the Merovingian period (sixth or seventh century). The artifacts such as a shield boss were familiar items for a ceremonial burial. Natasha looked over the skeleton for marks that could tell us about his life. She spotted some partially-healed broken ribs and a break in his temple. After looking at his legs, though, she proclaimed, “I can tell you one thing: this guy suffered from arthritic knees!”

St. Ouen and Rollo

The city hall and Saint-Ouen Abbey Church offer monumentality to their neighboring square.

Natasha and I descended from the museum on Rue Louis Richard, and it gave us a chance to see the northeastern part of the tourist district. I really liked Place General de Gaulle, facing city hall. It offered a cool side perspective on the Saint-Ouen Abbey Church. I think this is the third church I’ve highlighted for Rouen (the cathedral, Saint-Maclou, and Saint-Ouen).

This engraving of Saint-Ouen from 1822 doesn’t show the Abbey at its peak; the French Revolution had already repurposed its buildings to serve as the city hall (to name one example).

Saint-Ouen has been claimed as the masterpiece of Rayonant Gothic design. In other words, the reason the nave and choir are so high is to create lots of space for light to enter the church. The church was begun in a mad rush between 1318-1339, matching a new choir to the remains of a fire-damaged Romanesque nave. The fourteenth century was very unkind to France, though, and the Hundred Years War had particular resonance for Rouen, since it was a capital of sorts for the English invasion. The Rayonant nave was only completed in the early sixteenth century. The restoration of this church is currently underway (we didn’t get to see inside it), but it should be a considerable showpiece for the city in 2024!

I think many people might be interested to learn that a fierce rivalry existed between the Abbey of Saint-Ouen and the Cathedral of Rouen. The eleventh century seems like it would have been an interesting time to have a position in the Norman church!

Rollo, the invader-turned-duke of Normandy

Before we left Saint-Ouen, I made sure we stopped to say hello to Rollo. In American high school classes on world history, we sometimes learned of Viking invasions as occasional events of extreme destruction replaced by the slow recovery of the victims. Rollo is an excellent counter-example. His skill in terrorizing the people of Normandy led the king of France to name him as its duke! Charles the Simple decided that Rollo might be strong enough to defend Normandy from other Vikings, and so he gifted the massive territory to him in 911 CE, after the Siege of Chartres.

With so many activities on one day, Natasha and I were both ready for a nap!

Roaming in Rouen

May 22, 2021

A two kilometer walk past major sites in Rouen

The reopening of museums, combined with a three-day weekend, enabled Natasha’s and my visit to a new city. We decided on Rouen, a city that particularly thrived in medieval times, just a couple of hours away on the train. Unbeknownst to us, however, an upstairs neighbor had planned to host another noisy party until 2AM the night before our train ride. As a result, it was a very bleary-eyed Dave and Natasha that arrived at Gare Saint-Lazare on Saturday morning. Happily we had acquired tickets through the SNCF “Oui” service, and finding the right train platform for the “grand lignes” was not too challenging. A few minutes before departure, the gates opened, and our mob moved aboard the train cars. Natasha and I climbed to the upper level of a two-deck car so we could watch the world flashing by. We were not aboard a TGV, but our train was still able to maintain quite a good speed to the northwest, following the course of the Seine River. We departed Paris at 8:38 and arrived at Rouen Rive Droite just after 10 AM.

Gare de Rouen, Rive Droite

Trundling down Rue Jeanne d’Arc to our Air BNB was no problem; the road is a main artery of the historic city center. We liked the distinctive facade for the train station, and we had tantalizing hints of Rouen’s major tourist sites as we passed Square Charles Verdrel. We arrived at our housing at Rue Ganterie just in time to meet our host and her son, who familiarized us with the place we were staying.

These half-timbered houses on Rue Beauvoisine illustrate the variety and age of these buildings.

Natasha was ready to start our adventure once we unpacked a few items from the backpack. We headed west on Rue Ganterie in hopes of second breakfast at Hygge, a restaurant that offers quite a few gluten-free options. It didn’t take long before we discovered a recurring theme; the historic center of Rouen is filled to the brim with half-timbered buildings! After months of “Haussmann” structures in Paris, we were delighted to be surrounded by something very different. In the early nineteenth century, Paris would have looked quite a lot like Rouen, but in many respects the Second Empire replaced all those street fronts with new structures. To our dismay, Hygge had not reopened in time for this holiday weekend.

Old buildings can certainly be restored to beauty, as these buildings on the south side of the square illustrate! At right, La Couronne Restaurant occupies a building originally constructed in the 14th century.

Instead we continued south past the restaurant to the Place du Vieux-Marché (old market). This bustling square was thriving with people at the sidewalk cafés; I think all of France has been waiting for the opportunity to return to them as the COVID-19 pandemic has progressed.

Église Sainte-Jeanne-d’Arc contributes its distinctive form to the old market square.

The historic market square is really distinctive in appearance. Those half-timbered building fronts (some long-standing and other less so) really set Rouen apart from Paris. The center of the square is dominated by the Église Sainte-Jeanne-d’Arc, a church that opened its doors for the first time in 1979. Natasha and I were both charmed by it. After a steady diet of Gothic churches, I was delighted to see a truly original architecture, as though a medieval Norse carpenter had envisioned a whale beached in the square! The adjoining shopping area had been constructed to match, and we encountered a few folks handing out flyers along with the crowds of shoppers. We parked ourselves at a café to enjoy a coffee or a drinking chocolate and watched the world go by.

We passed southeast from the Place du Vieux-Marché to Place de la Pucelle. Natasha guided me to Hôtel de Bourgtheroulde after reading one of the information boards. The structure was initiated at the close of the 15th century (around the time Columbus sailed). In the early 16th century, its interior courtyard was sculpted with a bas-relief celebrating the diplomatic success of the “Camp du Drap d’or,” a 1520 meeting between Francis I of France and Henry VIII of England. It was nice to see a monument devoted to peace rather than to war. I also peeked around the corner to see the Protestant Temple Saint-Éloi, which could benefit from a powerwasher!

Yes, building each floor a little further over the pavement was a common strategy in the past!

As we continued northeast along the Rue de la Vicomte, we felt the walls closing in around us. It is not an optical illusion; the upper levels of the half-timbered facades are closer together than they are at street level. It does give one the sense that they’re toppling toward you.

Gros Horloge has held pride of place since the 14th century.

We turned right from there to join the busy foot traffic to the southeast on Rue du Gros Horloge. After we crossed Rue Jeanne d’Arc, we could see the Renaissance clock tower for ourselves (my first sighting of it was a photograph print on the wall of our Air BNB). Its clock movement dates from 1389, though it was electrified in the 1920s. Léon-Jules Lemaître painted some lovely Impressionist images of the Gros Horloge in the nineteenth century.

Rouen Cathedral is such a fascinating topic that I believe it will get a post of its own!

As we continued along the Rue du Gros Horloge, we heard church bells announcing noon, and their source was obvious. The Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Rouen was the tallest building in the world when its spire was completed in the late nineteenth century. I will have more to say about it in a later post, but for now I would just like to say that the massive facade of that church and of its towers are ornate. I can see why Impressionist painters would find themselves fascinated by the play of light across its surface.

The square before Saint-Maclou, Rouen

We passed around the north side of the church to do a little bit of gift shopping, passing by the Historial Jeanne d’Arc, which has not reopened along with other museums in the city. At Place Barthélémy we took in the fine view of Église Catholique Saint-Maclou, and then we passed north along Rue de la République to find a sushi place for lunch (quite near Royal Donuts, which is definitely on my itinerary!). We stood in the doorway of Moshi Moshi to protect us from a sudden rainstorm. When our food was ready, we walked west along Rue de la Chaine to reach our Air BNB in a lovely shopping district.

Time for a nap!

Grande Galerie de l’Évolution and Masala Dosas

Even people who live in dramatic world cities have a sleepy Sunday now and then. Natasha, being mindful of my banged-up knee, suggested that we take on a mild walk in the Jardin des Plantes, a public garden we had first seen in the heaviest snow day that we’ve had in Paris! The natural history museum there was hosting a special exhibition of cut and uncut precious stones that had drawn her eye. She purchased tickets online, and soon we were on our way!

Our wander, segment 1

We rode line 8 to La Motte-Picquet Grenelle and then transfered to line 10, which passes through my favorite Saint-Germain-des-Prés district before reaching Gare d’Austerlitz. We were able to find the exit dropping us directly across the street from the Jardin des Plantes. I would give kudos to the McDonald’s site planner who realized that corner was a hot property.

The entrance to the Gallery of Paleontology and Comparative Anatomy also featured a cool stegasaurus bronze, just around the corner.

We entered the park by its south-eastern corner. We first encountered the entrance to the Galerie de Paléontologie et d’Anatomie Comparée (Paleontology and Comparative Anatomy). We were interested in natural history, but this wasn’t the museum for which we’d bought tickets! We continued onwards and saw an amazing array of colored blossoms, spreading just as far as the eye could see. The Jardin des Plantes had been transformed since we first saw it in January!

What a nice place to meander on a sunny day! What a nice place to shelter when rain drops suddenly appear!

As I have mentioned before, the parks of Paris are designed for active use, not passive looking. The many parallel paths of the Jardin des Plantes had plenty of families in motion along with many joggers. The tree-lined paths bracketed a central green just packed with little patches of flowers, each with helpful labels.

The sunlight was answered in these tiny eyes, staring at the sky.

Natasha paused before a lovely space packed with warm colors. “Which of these flowers do we have planted at Turtle House?” she inquired. I picked at my collar nervously, having failed to study for the quiz. “Marigolds!” I suddenly ventured, pointing my finger. “Yes,” she replied, “and calendulas and zinnias, too!”

The massive Grande Galerie de l’Évolution is the centerpiece lying at one end of the extensive flowerbeds.

Moments later, a few sprinkles fell from the sky, and so we made a more concentrated effort to reach the museum entrance. I was distracted once again when I saw the Galerie de Géologie et de Minéralogie, but ironically that was not the location for the precious stones exhibit. We continued just a bit further to the entrance of the Grande Galerie de l’Évolution.

The Great Gallery of Evolution

We encountered a great disappointment when we entered the line for the precious stones special exhibition. Due to our misunderstanding the ticketing options, we had acquired tickets for the permanent exhibition of the museum but not for the precious stones. Compounding the problem, we learned that no more tickets were available for the special exhibition for today. It’s the sort of thing we would have caught if we had planned this visit earlier than this morning! We were crestfallen but continued into the exhibition space.

The Grand Gallery of Evolution lives up to its name!

If you have ever explored a natural history museum crammed with small glass boxes with dusty taxidermy animals inside, please push that thought out of your mind. The Grand Gallery of Evolution occupies a building of 97,000 cubic meters, similar to the volume of Notre Dame Cathedral. Its three upper floors cover land animals, while the ground floor features sea life (it is below the floor you see in the image above). The panels in the ceiling change color from moment to moment, sometimes emulating thundershowers to accompany a soundtrack. It’s a surprisingly open indoor space.

Can’t visit Africa? It will come to you!

Natasha and I felt right at home as we examined the beasts in the parade down the first floor, titled “the diversity of living things: terrestrial environments.” We were surprised to see just how many African beasts were represented in the parade. Since I am writing a manuscript on the spotted hyena right now, I was very happy to see that the taxidermy collection included both a striped hyena (Hyaena hyaena) and spotted hyena (Crocuta crocuta), though I did not see a brown hyena or aardwolf.

At the left, we have the striped hyena. At the right, we have the spotted hyena. I would not wish to tangle with either.

I would draw special attention to a side gallery that appears on the second floor. “Menaced species, disappeared species” shows that man has become a factor in evolution, adding our unnatural selection to natural selection, both by hunting and by destruction of habitat.

It seems unlikely you will ever see any of these species in the wild.

This gallery of extinct and threatened animals is a hard one to visit, knowing that some of these species will soon fade from memory as no animals of those species remain in the wild. Since the logo used to mark each case was a dodo, I was disappointed that no dodo skeleton or taxidermy was on display; I believe that one was previously visible at the entrance to this hall, though it seems to be absent for now. The roll call is extensive, from California condors (fewer than 100 remaining) to Cape Lions (an example of which appears at the lower left in the image above). I particularly loved the Eurasian Lynx, a feline you would have to seek in Asia today.

The Eurasian Lynx can be found in some regions of Asia, but in France, it appears the last sighting was in the 1970s in the Pyrenees Mountains.

A surprising artifact in the extinction hall was a beautifully machined clockwork installed at the Versailles Petit Trianon chapel in 1785 for Marie-Antoinette. It didn’t stay there long, since the Revolutionary government decided to move the machine to the museum in 1794.

This is a gharial. Farewell, peaceful sleep!

I don’t think I would give you a complete account of the museum without mentioning some fresh material for my nightmares. The museum held two different stuffed gharials. That name didn’t mean very much to me, but these are crocodilians that grow up to six meters in length (just under 20 feet). The animals living in Southeast Asia have become critically endangered, with fewer than 1000 remaining in the wild. Some populations are being maintained in the upper reaches of the Ganges River, though. It is important to remember that non-cuddly animals deserve to live, too.

This is a Southern right whale. Does that mean she has a Confederate flag on her truck? No! It does mean, however, that those brown “strings” hanging from her skull are “baleen,” enabling her to filter krill from sea water for food.

…and some lovely extras

The Great Mosque, along with its 26-meter minaret, was inaugurated in 1926.

Ever since I saw that the Great Mosque of Paris was next door to this museum, I have wanted a proper photograph of its minaret. Today the sunlight was beautiful and the cloudy skies were dramatic. I finally had my image!

I rejoined Natasha in the garden, and we would have lingered there if another cloudburst hadn’t come on-scene. We paused at the garden exit (where we had entered earlier) when we realized that the French had erected a statue to the founder of the doctrine of evolution. You might have expected to see Charles Darwin up there, but no, it was a majestic statue of Lamarck! Well, he had the benefit of being fifty years earlier and of being French. We’ll let that one slide.

This image of Chennai Dosa next to Gare du Nord is from a user at Tripadvisor.

Even though Natasha and I had fortified ourselves with brunch before we started our adventure, we knew we would be ready for proper food when we finished our adventure. We boarded the metro again, but this time we used line 5 to move from Gare d’Austerlitz to Gare du Nord. Generally we crave masala dosa, and sometimes WE CRAVE MASALA DOSA! It was our second visit to Chennai Dosa, and we emerged with happy bellies.

A twenty-minute constitutional was just what we needed after a dose of dosa.

It’s not really straightforward to take the metro from Gare du Nord to our place, so we decided to walk off the dosas with a little constitutional down to the Bonne Nouvelle metro station on line 8. Our route was not very demanding since we we needed to toddle down Rue la Fayette, make a turn south on Rue d’Hauteville, and then stop when we ran out of road.

Saint-Vincent-de-Paul’s prominence benefits from being built on a small hill.

I had a bit of a problem when that turn to the south arrived, though. My attention was drawn by the lovely facade of Saint-Vincent-de-Paul. We had encountered the church only at a distance before; it’s a pretty prominent landmark to the left as one looks toward the city center from Sacré-Cœur atop Montmartre. I was fascinated to learn that this church was constructed on the site of the Saint-Lazare enclosure, which once served as a half-way house for wayward members of aristocratic families before it became a prison during the French Revolution. The current church only began construction in 1824.

I may be mistaken, but the Bonne Nouvelle metro station seems a little scruffier than others in the network.

Natasha and I ambled south, occasionally peeking back at the church as framed by the concrete canyon surrounding us. Rue d’Hauteville was a nice place to walk, since the cross streets were all minor and ground-floor businesses didn’t project into the road. When we reached its terminus at Boulevard de Bonne Nouvelle (my brain always translates this as “Good News”), we realized we were in proximity to three notable sites: La Esquinita Mexican Grocery, the Chocolate Museum, and our metro stop. Turning neither right nor left, we immediately descended for our ride home. Our nap awaited!

Out and About in Avignon

It took me about five minutes to decide I loved Avignon. After a long day walking in Marseille, my brother Tom and I reached the TGV train station in the outskirts of the city. We were pretty sleepy, so the trippy white latticework of the station was a little dizzying for me.

I loved the ceiling of Avignon’s TGV station.

The shuttle train from the TGV to the city’s central train station took just five minutes. I thought I might need a moment to orient myself, but the city helped us. The preserved 14th century remparts (walls) still serve to separate the town’s historic center from the later developments, with the N570 beltway running just outside. Since we were staying in the historic city, it was plain that we should follow Cours Jean Jaurès through the gap in the walls.

The 14th century ramparts are a welcome rather than a barrier today.

Why Avignon needed walls has had a different answer depending on the century. From prehistoric times, Avignon has occupied the Rocher des Doms, an enviable high ground overlooking the Rhône River, quite close to where it merges with the Durance River (and then flows into the Mediterranean Sea). Just where the Roman walls bounded the city is only vaguely known today. In 500 CE, Clovis laid siege to the city, and in 581 CE, the city intentionally flooded its boundary to avoid capture. During the eighth century CE, Saracen occupation of Southern France (lasting 40 years in total) required Charles Martel to take the city twice! All of these sieges came long before the challenges imposed by the Hundred Years’ War (1337-1453 CE) and the Wars of Religion (1562-1598 CE). The 14th century ramparts were not intended to be decorative.

Saint-Martial has seen better days, but it is still a romantic backdrop for the gardens.

Two squares of note

Within a few minutes of passing the wall, we saw a pretty church with an accompanying garden. Tom and I spent a half hour there while waiting for our train to Orange on our first full day in the area. The church is Saint-Martial, a Protestant church that started its life in the 14th century under the Benedictines of Cluny. It was only in 1881 that the city signed the church over to the Lutheran community; it had spent the time since the French Revolution in a variety of “odd jobs.” The Revolution also changed the neighboring Square Agricol Perdiguier to a botanical garden after having served as a cloister for the Benedictine Abbey. Remnants of its arches still stand as sentries in the beautiful grounds.

The gardens of Square Agricol Perdiguier contain a reminder of the cloister that once occupied this space. Did you spot the Missourian?

Before we leave that part of town, I would also like to give a shout out to the Crêp’ Café. My brother made it his goal to eat a French crêpe while in the country, and their prime location between the city walls and the gardens I’ve just described made it an ideal place for people watching. Eating there was nearly our last act in Avignon, but in retrospect we should have stopped on each pass!

Crêpes aux fraises were a special treat. I opted for Nutella.

I have more mixed feelings about the Place de l’Horloge (“Clock Square”). I am still shy of large crowds in this phase of the pandemic, and the area was pretty popular at some times of the day. Tom and I stopped there for a big dinner on the end of our full day in Avignon. We chose a less-crowded restaurant with a pretty wide menu. At my recommendation (!) Tom tried a duck cassoulet; duck is surprisingly inexpensive and popular in France. I believe I had a baked lasagne, because there are few baked pastas I don’t enjoy. We had the restaurant patio area largely to ourselves at first. As we finished our food, however, an overtly drunk person sat down for drinks and appetizers. His loud speech wasn’t such a big problem, but soon he pulled out a set of bluetooth speakers so that he could share his music with everybody. We finished up in a bit less leisurely manner than we might have.

The best dinners are those that come after being hungry all day!

Despite that experience, I think the Place de l’Horloge is pretty cool. Vendors sell knick-knacks at its northern end (which leads to the biggest tourism draw in Avignon), and the pedestrian mall is surrounded by lovely buildings including the 19th century town hall and theatre. It even offers a carousel!

I always appreciate a good label on a building. Town Hall, Avignon

The Rocher des Doms

“Magic Hour” is also good for plants.

I will have a lot more to say about the Place du Palais and the Palace of the Popes in the next blog, but for now I will skip past that to the northernmost (and oldest) part of the city, the Rocher des Doms. The high grounds are now home to a beautiful garden, offering views of two of the premier sites of the city. As we climbed the stairs to the high garden, we briefly shared a landing with a freestyle bicyclist who was recording a video of his stunts. The sun was angled close to the earth on our last night in the city, and I just loved the way it made the buildings “pop” against the earth.

Notre-Dame des Doms of Avignon. Because I stitched together a composite of three photos, I made “our lady” atop the tower seem thick.

I feel we overlooked Notre-Dame des Doms Cathedral. It is to the Avignon Papacy what St. Peter’s is to the Vatican. If one is accustomed to the Gothic churches of Paris, it might be confusing that the basilica of Avignon is built in the older Romanesque style, befitting its origins in the eleventh century (like Saint-Germain-des-Prés or Saint-Martin-des-Champs). I would have liked to have seen the tombs of the Avignon Popes or the precious items in the treasury.

The 12th century bridge across the Rhône at Avignon was such an accomplishment they named Bénézet a saint!

The St. Bénézet Bridge was a marvel of 12th century engineering, just as the Eiffel Tower was a marvel of the 19th century. It was such a landmark that it is the point of view for many maps of medieval Avignon. One of the reasons I find this bridge fascinating is that it was also a controlled border for much of Avignon’s existence. To the west of the Rhône was France, and to the east was the Holy Roman Empire or another political body. Sadly, the repeated flooding of the Rhône periodically swept away the bridge footings, so we have only the Avignon half today. I am glad Tom and I could see the bridge, even if we didn’t get the chance to walk on it or visit its chapel.

This 1609 drawing of Avignon by Étienne Martellange showcases its famous bridge.

All in all, Avignon is a city that rewards tourists handsomely. Yes, it’s a modern place, but its core is easily navigated on foot. From time to time, you will turn a corner as you wander and feel like you are in an altogether different era of the world. A person from four hundred years ago would still find familiar points in its streets.

All the locations described above appear on a simple South-to-North course.

Marseille on the hoof

Our alarms erupted at 4:45 AM. My brother Tom and I had 45 minutes to reach the subway that would take us to the Gare de Lyon for our 6:14 AM train south! I admit this was fundamentally unfair to Tom; he had only arrived in France two days before, and jet lag hadn’t really unclenched its grip. He gamely pulled himself together, though, and soon we had reached the train station on the southeast part of central Paris.

My brother: master of planes, trains, and automobiles

Even if the TGV (Train à Grande Vitesse) is almost as old as I am, it’s still a thrill to ride. Paris and Marseille are 660 km apart (just over 400 miles), but the TGV can cover that distance in 3h20m. Tom and I didn’t have the direct route, though; instead, we were taking the train to Valence and then changing to a different route to reach Avignon, where we were staying for the next two nights. We would do day trips from there to reach Marseille and Orange.

Avignon (near the top) lies between Orange (top) and Marseille (bottom), making it our planned lodging to see all three.

The trouble was that I got clever on the way to Valence. Since the train we would take from Valence to Avignon continued on to Marseille, why not buy tickets that would allow us to stay on board all the way down? We had a 33-minute layover at Valence that should allow me enough time to make the purchase. Well, we got the tickets purchased, but the time required meant we reached the departure platform as the train for Marseille departed. I had a few moments of self-flagellation, but soon I got down to business. We could still take a direct train to Marseille, but we needed to wait for the 9:45 opening of the ticket office. Once it opened, we exchanged our tickets for the 11:20 train to Marseille instead. Tom used the time to sleep in a relaxation chair. All is well that ends well?

Tom didn’t need to understand the relaxing French phrases being directed at him from above to find sleep.

It can be a bit unfortunate that one makes a first impression of a city when traveling by train based upon the area around its train station. In my experience, that usually means more than a little rust, weeds, and graffiti; in this Marseille was no exception. Because we needed to board our train north to Avignon around dinner time, our exploration of Marseille would be squeezed to four or five hours.

Helpfully, I had learned that bus 82S would pick us up at the train station, wind through the old city on the north side of the port, and finally drop us at Plage des Catalans, a public beach on the Mediterranean Sea. Unfortunately, the first bus for that route was out with a mechanical problem. When the second bus pulled up, we started to board but then learned we needed to be able to pay the fare in coins (“monnaie”) rather than notes. I hustled into the train station to buy some M&Ms for change, and then we were onboard.

This 18th century map of Marseille by Joseph Razaud shows its concentration to the north side of the port

Despite living in Lyon for a couple months in 1994, I had never been to Marseille. I was surprised to learn that Marseille is built on the bones of Massalia, a Greek colony settled by people from Phocaea (in modern-day Turkey) around 600 BCE. The Romans liked the location, too, adapting the name to “Massilia” when Julius Caesar took the city in 49 BCE. During the middle ages, Marseille was France’s premier port on the Mediterranean, and today it is the second most populous metropolitan area in France (though it has less than half as many people as does Paris).

Brothers to the Beach

This 1914 photograph of the Marseille Cathedral comes from the National Library of France. My photograph was taken through a bus window!

The first part of our city tour on Bus 82S was a bit discouraging. The phrase “sun-blasted” lingered in my mind, and the neighborhoods seemed somewhat uninviting. When the bus emerged to follow Quai de la Joliette southward, though, we saw the sun, the water, and some beautiful architecture along the waterfront. The all-star was definitely the Marseille Cathedral. After a steady diet of Parisian Gothic, the seat of the archdiocese in Marseille was a welcome change for me. I was surprised to be reminded of Sacré-Coeur in its Byzantine-Revival style, and the striped layers of bricks made me think of Italy’s churches.

Plage des Catalans is a welcome way to cool down in sunny Marseille.

When the bus followed the outline of the rectangular port, Marseille really shone. The masts of the flotilla were just everywhere, and restraurants and other businesses were doing great business. We had a bit of a surprise at the east end of the port; a protest from labor unions seemed to be underway. Our bus managed to pass through without much difficulty, and we soon passed the south side of the port to climb a ridge that was surmounted by a fortress of some sort, and boom! We had arrived at the beach, just like that.

Les Îles at Marseille are just a ferry ride away…

Plage des Catalans was a popular destination on our day. Tom and I walked around the site a bit. A lookout point to the south side of the beach gave me the chance to photograph the Frioul Islands, one of which features a 16th century fortress that was the setting for Dumas’ novel, “The Count of Monte Cristo.” We came to the beach, though, so that Tom could indulge himself in a swim in the Mediterranean Sea. In just a few moments, he was ready for the water, while I guarded our backpacks. In no time at all, he was ready for his “James Bond” moment:

We are a long way from Missouri, Bro!

Honestly, after his wading time, we were a bit unclear on how we would spend the rest of our time. We had plenty of time before our train back to Avignon, and we could use the bus or the metro to return to the station. We were intrigued by the huge fortress on the hilltop to our east, so we started trudging eastward. Sadly, it seems that Fort St. Nicolas had not reopened to tourists, but it would be an amazing place to photograph the city. As is true with fortifications from throughout Europe, Louis XIV designed the 17th century fortress to protect the city and also to protect itself from the city (don’t forget that the revolutionary national anthem is named after the people of Marseille: the Marseillaise).

This image from the National Library of France shows the port of Marseille behind the massive early 20th century bridge.

What really blows my mind is that the French constructed a high bridge between this high point and Fort Saint Jean on the other side of the channel into the port. The “Pont transbordeur de Marseille” spanned 165 meters, 80 meters above sea level, and it was completed in 1905. Unhelpfully, the Nazis blew apart the northern support in 1944, and the bridge has not been replaced.

3km back to the station

Marseille says hello!

Once we descended from the fortress, we were in the popular port zone. I stopped to photograph the National Theatre of Marseille (featuring a big banner reading “OCCUPY”), and two young fellows wanted to be part of the image. I was a bit dumbfounded when we encountered the Musée du Savon; who knew we needed a Museum of Soap? I thought it might be fun, but Tom thought we should continue along the waterfront. I would not have imagined that we would soon be standing in front of a Steak ‘n Shake, but there it was before us.

This photograph of Saint-Ferréol comes from on-descend-la.com. The church currently on this site was consecrated in 1542, though it was reduced in size by 19th century roadworks.

Our walk along the port took us past a pile of busy restaurants, and other pedestrians were everywhere. We passed the triumvirate of KFC, McDonald’s, and Burger King to reach the northeast corner of the port. The facade of Église Saint-Ferréol les Augustins was a stately but brooding presence at this corner of the commercial district. The protest (“manifestation”) we had seen nearby earlier in the day left posts on a nearby wall that read “Patriarcat = Dicktature” (“patriarchy is dictatorship,” with an emphasis on male dictators). Apparently the church has recently been occupied as part of protests.

The Roman port is an excellent forecourt for the Marseille History Museum.

The historical site I most wanted to see lay behind the church. The Port Antique or Garden of Vestiges is surrounded on three sides by the Mediterranean Center for International Trade, the Marseille History Museum, and the Centre Bourse (hotel and business center). The ancient port, opened to the public in 1983, was re-discovered in the course of a large-scale construction project for the neighborhood. It represents three layers of construction: the Hellenistic (4th century – 1st century BCE), the Roman (1st century BCE – 3rd century CE), and the late (4th century – 8th century CE).

I like the Space Age aesthetic of the history museum.

It’s natural to ask where the water is, since we call this a “port!” Over the last two thousand years, the shoreline has descended by approximately 40 meters. Of course, if we look over a truly long period, we would find that during the Ice Age, so much water was frozen in the poles that water levels were far lower in the Mediterranean than they are today, unmasking the entrance to the Cosquer Caves, a premier site near Marseille for the cave paintings of early humans.

The arch at Porte d’Aix celebrates the Duke of Angoulême’s leadership of the French army.

If we had an extra two hours in town, I would have gladly visited the history museum, but we wanted to be sure we caught our train. Since we still had the time to enjoy the walk, Tom and I meandered up the hill along Rue Barbusse. We had a bit of a surprise when we suddenly encountered the triumphal arch at Porte d’Aix. The construction of the arch began in 1823 under Louis XVIII (whose reign as king was interrupted by not one but two periods of Napoleon as emperor) and completed in 1839 under the last king of France, Louis Philippe I. Today the area has become a popular lounge for young people.

Notre-Dame de la Garde, consecrated in 1864

From there, we followed Rue des Dominicaines and Rue des Petites Maries back to the train station. We were proud of our long walk, even though a bus or metro would have saved some time. I was happy to discover that the hilltop position of the train station gave a good view of Basilique Notre-Dame de la Garde, a “Romano-Byzantine” church crowning the tallest hill in Marseille. I laughed to discover that its 23-year-old architect, Jacques Henri Espérandieu, was a Protestant! The church appears conspicuously in the opening scenes of the French Connection.

We boarded our train up to Avignon, and Tom was asleep in moments.

Jardin de Luxembourg and its neighborhoods

It took us three trips, but at last I feel that we have seen the sights surrounding the Jardin de Luxembourg! I first entered the area when I took a wrong turn after exiting the subway near Saint-Germaine-des-Prés; I walked toward the big church I spied down a road and discovered that I had wandered toward Saint Sulpice by mistake.

North of the park

The yellow star markers show our first four destinations.
Even with a wide “prime” lens, I had to stitch together three images for this composite image.

Saint-Sulpice is simply enormous, even when viewed across the large square before its entrance; in Paris it is only second to Notre Dame in size. It construction has been an odd pastiche since the current church was first erected in 1646 (almost five centuries after Notre Dame). From the photograph above, you probably already noticed that the south tower is essentially vestigial, having not been completed when the French Revolution came. You can get an impression of its internal volume from this photograph showing an early twentieth-century ordination. Jacques Chirac, who served as the President of France for twelve years overlapping my time as a Ph.D. student, had his requiem mass said here when he died in 2019.

A sidewalk sale! for old books!

Because I was saving this neighborhood to be seen with Natasha, I waited for her meeting at an office at the Mairie of the 6th Arrondissement to see more of this neighborhood. I wandered a bit south of the Mairie and was delighted to find a block of used antiquarian book stores along Rue Bonaparte (honestly, this area is just littered with such stores). I stepped inside in hopes of finding two tomes I am missing from a four-volume series on the history of Paris, but I was out of luck.

A fire in 1818 consumed the rebuilt Théâtre de l’Odéon, but COVID-19 has turned the current building into a signpost!

I also took the opportunity to see a couple other buildings north of the Jardin that interested me. With all theatres closed due to the pandemic, I was surprised to see the Odéon theatre seemingly very busy with events, but as I got closer, I saw that it was largely informing people of upcoming protest events.

Hôtel de Cluny panorama, south side (main entrance)

I walked a bit further northeast and saw the unmistakeable outline of the Hôtel de Cluny, a structure built between 1485 and 1498 to serve visitors from the monatic order of Cluny. Over time, this hôtel has hosted the sister of English King Henry VIII, James V of Scotland, and papal nuncios. At the end of the 18th century, it housed the queen’s printing press. Sadly, it appears that the National Museum of the Middle Ages, housed in this structure, will not reopen until 2022 due to renovations, so Natasha and I may not get to see the inside!

Constructed in 1635-1642, the Sorbonne chapel houses the tomb of Cardinal Richilieu.

Turning 180 degrees from Cluny, I was presented with one of the older parts of the Sorbonne / University of Paris. I was particularly interested in seeing the Sorbonne Chapel (constructed 1629-1642), since it was the heart of the Sorbonne reconstruction initiated by its headmaster, Cardinal Richileu (yes, he is the one fictionalized in the Three Musketeers). I would have loved to have seen the chapel from the “Cour d’honneur” inside the building and to visit the tomb of Richileu, but COVID-19.

The Jardin de Luxembourg

This image, grabbed from Mapcarta.com, shows better detail for the park interior than you will find at Google Maps.

I believe I have harbored a misunderstanding about what “Jardin” means to Parisians. I associate this term with botanical gardens, so I expect to see elaborate landscaping, dramatic views, subtle water features, and so on. Something like Kirstenbosch, the Huntington Gardens, or Yu Yuan Garden in Shanghai. The gardens and forests I have seen so far for Paris tend to place an emphasis on exercise rather than aesthetics, so I now expect to be crunching about on fine gravel for these visits. The western and southern parts in the main body of Luxembourg Gardens (I have truncated its southern salient above) does offer a lot of green to the eye, though actually walking on grass is strictly interdite for this part of the year, at least.

The southern facade of the palace has not changed much over the centuries!

The key feature dominating the center of the park from its north is the Palais du Luxembourg. It was constructed under odd circumstances. Marie de Médicis survived her husband, King Henry IV of France, when he was assassinated in 1610. Their son, who became Louis XIII, was born in 1601, so he was not quite ready to rule when his father passed. As regent for her young king, Marie de Médicis commissioned the construction of this palace in 1615 to remind her of a palace she remembered from her childhood in Florence. So far, so good, but Marie de Médicis did not actually cede power back to her son when he reached majority in 1614. She was placed under house arrest in 1617 but escaped via a rope ladder, launching a civil war against her own son to regain power. She developed quite a rivalry with Cardinal Richelieu and was eventually tricked into fleeing to Brussels in 1631, after which she was unable to reconnect with her allies in France. Personally, I feel that we need a TV series on her fascinating life.

Lady Liberty can be found south of “Gabriel Vicaire” on the map above. “La Harde des Cerfs” marks the location of our mighty antlered beast.

Though the area around the reflecting pool is almost all gravel, I really did enjoy strolling in the green areas of the park. The statues there are beautiful, and early spring contributed lots of beautiful flowers. I might suggest Matthieu’s blog as a starting place for visiting the gardens.

There’s a rather important detail that I have omitted. The Palais du Luxembourg now serves as the Senate for all of France. As a result, one will see a fair bit of security if you walk by the palace on Rue de Vaugirard, which lines the north edge of the park. To put this in context, the Palais du Luxembourg plays roughly the same role for the French government that the “Mall” in Washington, D.C. plays for the Capitol! When we look back on the events of January 6, 2021, I am grateful that that Parisians are able to enjoy such a peaceful park surrounding a significant government building.

Strolling Rue Saint-Jacques

Following the old “Roman Road” will show you some wonders!

I was able to visit the area a third time Saturday, May 1, 2021. The Labour Day holiday meant that very few people were on the roads early, so took advantage in seeing some major sights! I decided to saunter down Rue Saint-Jacques, a north-south route that has been popular since Roman times; it was my way to show derision to Baron Haussmann, who labored mightily to supplant it by hacking the broader Boulevard Saint-Michel through medieval buildings.

The western portico of the Panthéon relieves the largely solid walls.

One of the things people don’t mention about the Panthéon is that it stands atop Sainte-Geneviève hill, which could be a downer if you already have sore feet! Initiated in 1757, the church mas a monumental quality that has been amplified by all the surrounding buildings having curved facades on the side facing it. Most walls of the church are solid and without windows, emphasizing its role as a sepulchre for great French citizens. Since I was walking through the area early on a holiday morning, I was able to stand in the middle of what is normally a busy road to snap this image. In many respects, the Panthéon actually photographs better from afar!

At first, the “Latin Quarter” provides magnificent university and institute buildings for the passage south, but soon one reaches Saint-Jacques-du-Haut-Pas (1630-1684). It appears that the church and road are both named after the “Way of St. James,” a pilgrimage route leading to Santiago de Compostela, with waypoints marked by scallops. My favorite Parisian church architecture critic writes of this church that its “banal square tower undoubtedly awaits its northern neighbor in vain.”

Val-de-Grâce in panorama

Before moving to Paris, I don’t recall learning about the church of Val-de-Grâce. In Yvan Christ, I read “its dome, the most harmonious in Paris on par with the Invalides, is also the most Italian and evokes quite well that of St. Peter in Rome.” As I trundled south on Rue St. Jacques, I stumbled upon the church more quickly than I had expected. This former abbey was constructed during 1645-1665 by Anne of Austria to celebrate her having borne a son. One of her sons became Louis XIV, perhaps the most powerful king who ever ruled France. The military hospital housed in this structure closed its doors in 2016, and it appears that it will be reopened as part of a center for digital health in coming years.

Church of Port-Royal, now part of a maternity hospital

At the southern extremity of my walk down rue Saint-Jacques, I found a lovely surprise. Yvan Christ mentioned the former chapel of the abbey of Port-Royal, a small medieval church constructed between 1646 and 1648. In its early years, Port-Royal was the site of an apparent miracle when the niece of Blaise Pascal was healed of a fistula after touching the reliquary containing a thorn. This chapel was always intended to be austere, so one will see no gilded dome or flamboyant Gothic features here. Instead one sees a church of simplicity and beauty.

Church of Port-Royal from an engraving by Jean Marot (1619-1679)

I was very pleased to find an engraving from the era when this church was built at the national library. It is striking to me how much the same and how different this structure is today, surrounded by some rather exclusive-looking reserved parking spaces for the maternity hospital that now surrounds the church. I hoped that I would be able to see the church from its cloister in order to see the main window of the chapel, but I could only look through a tunnel with locked gate to glimpse some greenery.

Wrapping up

Having let this blog run so very long, I think that I must forgo talking about the Fontaine des Quatre Parties du Monde and the observatory. I will have to leave out the ironic fate of Marshall Ney and a government that could not decide whether it loved and trusted him; his monument stands near where he was executed at his own command. I will also ignore the monument to Francis Garnier, who was essential to France’s first forays to the Mekong and Yangtze rivers. The short version is this: if you are interested in history and monumental architecture, you wil love Paris!

Montmartre: le blog de la Butte

The hill of Montmartre always seems to catch me in the corner of my eye. Our walk down the Grands Boulevards occasionally featured a glance at the hill, with Sacré-Cœur gleaming in white atop it. It is a city-within-a-city that has spawned a thousand stories and songs. At lunchtime Natasha and I decided that this would be the day we made our first trip to Montmartre.

Our walking route through Montmartre

I was a bit surprised how difficult it was to find a route to the area; every metro option from my part of town seemed to involve three different trains. Natasha and I decided on a two-train route to Barbès – Rochechouart (an area northwest of Gare du Nord but southeast of Montmartre). When we emerged from the underground, I wondered that we were still in Paris. People pushed by in all directions, and multiple vendors tried to hand me a piece of paper or draw my attention. While I gawped, Natasha grabbed my hand and pulled me into motion. She later confided that she had spotted at least three pickpockets working the crowd. We pushed along the larger of the two roads until we found a slightly quieter corner at a bakery where I could consult Google Maps. My first guess at the direction we should walk had been wrong, and we had traveled north rather than west. This is what comes from trusting my direction sense after a subway ride! We returned to the south via Rue Poulet (Chicken) and Rue de Clignancourt.

Basilica Sacré-Cœur, as seen from Place Saint-Pierre

Once we found Rue Livingstone, the nimbus of stress that had surrounded Natasha in Boulevard Barbès had dissipated, and we found shop after shop with interesting items to peruse: a fabric store, a bookshop (new and antiquarian), even some toys! The star attraction was not far ahead of us, though. The Place Saint-Pierre offers an excellent prospect of the basilica of Sacré-Cœur as well as access to the funicular to the top. We paused for a photo or two, but we had other destinations in mind.

Fish-eye view of the Crypte du Martyrium

We pushed further west to 11 Rue Yvonne le Tac. The facade of the little church there fits right into the line of buildings along the street, so one could easily imagine it was a little neighborhood chapel. Its true identity, however, is much grander; this chapel is the Crypte du Martyrium, and it is also the 1534 site of the “Vow of Monmartre” that led to the creation of the Society of Jesus, often called the “Jesuits.” You may have realized by this time that Montmartre literally means the “hill of martyrs.” St. Denis, the first bishop of Paris, was not welcomed by the third-century Gauls (nor were his colleagues). By tradition, his response to being beheaded was to pick up his head, sing psalms, wash his head in a stream, and walk another couple of miles [I am not arguing that St. Denis was a zombie]. The crypt history website offers an interesting little Word document detailing the story; Microsoft Word will even translate it for you!

Rue Ravignan is quite a slope, and the view from these stairs is not common in Paris.

We continued to the west to visit Saint-Jean-de-Montmartre, about which I will have much more to say in an upcoming post. Of course we also visited the Wall of Love, which is just as sweet as you might expect. We enjoyed seeing another Guimard Metro stop (Abbesses) with glass still in place. I was particularly interested, though, in what we would find at our next stop, a couple of blocks to the north. I could tell that we were getting close because we encountered some wide stairs that were absolutely packed with lunchers and loungers. I was so intent on looking forward that I almost neglected to look back; we had climbed enough of the hill that the stairs offered a view over miles of Paris, even if it was a narrow arc because of the width of Rue Ravignan.

I read about the “Bateau-Lavoir” in a book from the American Library in Paris. In English we might call it the “Washhouse Boat,” an affectionate nickname for a ramshackle piano factory divided into a labyrinth of workshops for young artists. Today only a facade remains from that era due to a fire in 1970. The historical plaque in the Place Émile-Goudeau highlights Pablo Picasso’s memories, but this incubator of creativity also featured talents as diverse as Henri Matisse, Jean Cocteau, and Gertrude Stein. The modern building doesn’t seem particularly distinctive, but the large trees in the Place are excellent shade after a sweaty hill climb.

Place du Tertre in a pandemic

I asked Natasha if she were ready for more, and she gave me a thumbs up. We pressed upward to Place du Tertre, near the crest of the hill. I was unsure what to expect of the main “tourist trap” of Montmartre, given the pandemic and the Parisian lock-down. Perhaps my readers can guess better than I. Place du Tertre was definitely packed with tourists, artists, and souvenier sellers, enough that my COVID-sense was ringing mad alarm bells. If you are looking for someone to paint an instant portrait of your child, this is definitely the place for you. If you want to buy a small oil or acrylic painting so you can tell your guests, “I bought that in Paris,” you are also in luck. If, like me, you would like to learn the history of this site, you will be disappointed. The abbesses of Montmartre dispensed justice in this square until the 18th centruy (including torture and hanging). In the 19th century it was an artillery park, making it a flash point in the start of the “Paris Commune.” [This year marks the 150th anniversary of the Commune.] A popular legend suggests that Russian soldiers gave quick-service restaurants the name “bistro” in this square!

Annotated view from the front porch of Sacré-Cœur. But see also what one can do with a telephoto and better sun angles!

Place du Tertre is also the western gateway to the two major churches of Montmartre: Saint-Pierre and Sacré-Cœur. I will have more to say on those in another post. I will relate, though, that the view of Paris from the square before Sacré-Cœur is absolutely fabulous.

If you had a super-power, would you use it injudiciously?

Natasha and I were ready to begin our descent of Montmartre. We started by heading west on Rue Norvins to find an amusing statue based on a short story by Marcel Aymé. Le passe-muraille tells the story of a man who gains the ability to walk through walls. After abusing this capability, he accidentally takes medication intended to remove it, but it takes effect while he has not completed his passage through a wall!

You might think that the owners of this private property don’t want tourists taking photographs of their windmill!

As one of the highest hills in some distance, Montmartre proved to be an excellent place to use wind-power for milling grains. Most of the mills that once stood there are gone, but we were able to find two on our exit route. The first, standing over a restaurant entrance, is challenging to photograph through a security fence. The second, standing on a high spot, has been screened by tall trees. A historic monument signboard relates the tragic story of this mill, the “Blute-fin.” Cossacks apparently didn’t like the defenders of this area, four brothers of the milling family, and when the city fell, the Cossacks dismembered the miller brothers and tacked their bodies to the sails. Eventually this windmill became a highlight of a ballroom, and the ballroom was featured in one of Renoir’s paintings.

It’s not a real windmill, and the original building burned in 1915, but the Moulin Rouge is nominally still in operation (not during the pandemic).

Natasha and I had one more windmill in mind before we exited the area, and we descended the butte by Rue Lepic. There was quite a lot more noise as we reached the busy Boulevard de Clichy, but when we turned the corner, there was no question where we were. I love singing along to the movie musical of “Moulin Rouge,” and it was lovely to see it in person. I hope that they can host shows again soon.

With that, Natasha and I descended to the metro at Blanche. We first thought we would take the train east to Barbès – Rochechouart and recapitulate our route to reach home. When the train arrived, though, it was standing-room only, and the glassy eyes of the sandwiched passengers made me say involuntarily, “OH, HELL NO.” I’m not particularly phobic about COVID-19, but that was just a step too far. Natasha and I scuttled to the other side of the station to go west to Place de Clichy for an alternate routing back. The first train that arrived was almost as packed as the train we had just rejected, and teenagers who were more willing to use their elbows jumped into the spots evacuated by people leaving the train. We waited for the next one. It was better.

Bois de Vincennes and its Royal Castle

When the sun peeked through the clouds in the early afternoon of a busy workday, I asked Natasha if she would play hooky with me on a walk in the Bois de Vincennes. To my delight, she said “yes!” In no time flat, we hopped onto the T3a tramline, heading east. Our route would run almost the entire route from west to east, with the midway point being near our first temporary home in Paris, the Cité Universitaire. I was struck by the architecture we passed in South Paris; unlike the boulevards lined with five-and-six story Haussmann buildings, the structures along this route were mostly modern or “International” style. As we crossed the Seine at the Pont National, I craned my neck around to the left to see the François-Mitterrand site of the Bibliothèque nationale de France; I have been dying to go there, but have hesitated due to the lockdown.

The Palais de la Porte Dorée southern facade

Natasha and I descended from the tram at Porte Dorée, the “golden gate.” If the sun is shining, it would be hard to miss the ten-meter high statue of Athena! Natasha and I walked east and were immediately struck by the facade of the 1931 Palais de la Porte Dorée. I am a sucker for Art Deco, and this building simply exudes it. The content of the building, however, is more controversial, having been built for the Colonial Exhibition of 1931 (though today it also houses other museums and an aquarium). As an example, I will also display the monument across the street from the site:

Monument to Marchand Expedition

The Monument to Commandant J.B. Marchand will definitely be seen very differently by someone from Africa than by someone from France. During 1890-1899, the French made a expedition-in-force north to the Nile River from the Congo River. When British forces came south from Egypt, they were profoundly shaken to find Marchand’s forces encamped on an island under a French flag in the marshes giving rise to the Nile. This 1898 “Fashoda Incident” might easily have led to a European war sparked on African soil had not better sense emerged in diplomatic circles. More recent historians have contributed a better understanding of African agency in shaping events. “Time and again the implacable facts of geography intervened to determine not only the setting but the manner of confrontation in equatorial Africa. The Africans themselves frequently decided events” through mutiny while serving in foreign armies, organizing indigenous governments and armies, and rebellion against would-be colonizers. Here in Paris, a monument stands to represent the high-water moment for French power in Africa.

Temple Romantique de l’Île de Reuilly in Lac Daumesnil

From Porte Dorée, Natasha and I were just a few steps from the western segment of the Bois de Vincennes. It was plain that Lac Daumesnil is a prime jogging spot for eastern Paris (download a park map). We encountered plenty of people taking advantage of the fresh air. Still, the park is so large that it can accommodate thousands quite easily. The Bois de Vincennes originated as royal hunting reserve. The Capetian dynasty gained power over France in 987 A.D. (shortly before the earliest parts of today’s Saint-Germain-des-Prés church were constructed). During the 12th century, the dynasty began construction of a hunting residence in these woods to the southeast of Paris. In today’s world, it might seem odd that hunting would represent a way that the kings of the medieval world would demonstrate their masculinity to the rulers of other nations (not to mention show favor to courtiers though invitations to join the hunt), but apparently this was valuable in foreign policy.

We walked along the shore of Lac Daumesnil for a bit but then tried moving northeast toward the other parts of the park. We hadn’t realized that the zoo forms a barrier separating the lake from the rest of the park. We could see some high concrete “landscape” for some of the animals and smell them, but we had to push southeast for some distance to navigate around it.

This bridge near Route des Batteries recharged me.

Natasha and I headed east along the Route des Batteries. After our experience in the western Bois de Boulogne, we were unsure just how natural the Bois de Vincennes would feel, but we needn’t have worried. The forest areas of Vincennes are perfectly lovely, with little streams passing through them. I found my happy place pretty rapidly when we encountered a tiny footbridge over a stream on our path. We encountered any number of other hikers and a fair number of people on bicycles, too, but it never felt crowded. After we had walked some distance, Natasha asked me if I had noticed the campers. Sure enough, we had passed by quite a few tents in the woods. I did not get the impression these were formal campsites, though; we were left with the impression that many people who are otherwise homeless have set up temporary housing in the forest. When we passed the Bayard UCPA horse-riding school, we saw some campers that seem to have been in place for more than a few days.

From the south, the Château shows its 14th century donjon at left and the 17th century pavilions of the king and queen at right.

After walking approximately 3 km, Natasha and I emerged from the woods at the Avenue des Minimes. The site that had drawn my attention to the Bois de Vincennes lay before us: the Château de Vincennes! A cynical person might at first believe that this castle is slightly too perfect to have much history, like Castle Gwynn in Tennessee (which is younger than I am). The Château de Vincennes, however, is the real deal, having seen the birth and death of many medieval kings. I believe only the Conciergerie and the Louvre can compete with it for age and significance in Paris.

This bird’s eye view from the national library shows the entire castle precinct.

Natasha and I walked along the castle’s west side, marveling at the depth of the moat and admiring the buildings within. When we saw some people walking around within the castle precinct, we realized that we might be able to visit the grounds ourselves! We entered through the northern portico, currently under restoration. A security guard asked me to open my bag, asked whether I had a knife packed away, and then sent me through the metal detector. In no time we were inside.

At 52m in height, the inner keep (“donjon”) was intended to protect the king from all enemies, foreign and domestic.

If I may offend European history teachers everywhere, I would characterize the “Hundred Years War” (1337-1453 A.D.) as a period when Great Britain repeatedly attempted to take advantage of a French civil war to pillage and claim France for itself. I was very surprised to learn that Henry V (yes, the Shakespeare one) died in the Château de Vincennes, having apparently succeeded in merging Great Britain and France under his crown (if I can borrow my language from above, his death in 1422 marked the “high-water moment for English power in France”). It is not merely coincidence that the construction of the “donjon” began in 1377; even though the French King Charles V directed the lords of France to attend a requiem for the death of English King Edward III, a new round hostilities was soon to begin in the Hundred Years War.

The Sainte-Chapelle de Vincennes was completed in 1480 under Louis XI.

In 1248, Louis IX (“Saint Louis”) consecrated the Sainte-Chapelle in the Palace of the of the City. As the kings of France began using the Château de Vincennes as principal residence, they sought to emulate this chapel in their new palace complex. Charles V initiated the project in 1379; his reign also saw the creation of long-standing walls around the city of Paris. While the original chapel was consecrated after only eleven years, the Vincennes chapel required a century of construction since the Hundred Years War was raging. Like many churches, the Sainte-Chapelle de Vincennes suffered considerable damage in the French Revolution. Many of its stained-glass windows were destroyed. One of the most prized items in its treasury, the 14th century “Baptistère de Saint-Louis” was moved to the Louvre for safekeeping.

Looking back toward the northern portico from the Sainte-Chapelle reveals plenty of room for a town inside the curtain walls.

There is certainly more to see in the Bois de Vincenne. I was interested to learn that Mata Hari, a famous spy in World War I, was executed at the Caserne de Vincennes, just to the east of the castle complex. Under normal conditions I would hope to visit the Theatre Cartoucherie regularly! Even if I might not visit the sporting complexes in the woods, I would still love to see the Buddhist pagoda there. Apart from these attractions, there’s an entirely separate lake in the eastern area!

That said, Natasha and I had used up all our energy from walking so far! We followed the D120 (“Avenue de Paris”) west toward the tramway. From the map, it looked reasonably close; I was sure we would be back to the Peripherique in ten or fifteen minutes. Given our sleepy state, however, we trundled along for perhaps half an hour before reaching the bridge across the belt highway. I know we might finally see Place de la Nation if we continued four blocks beyond our tram stop, but Natasha and I were ready for home. We slumped into seats on the busy tram and tried to keep our eyes open as we returned to the 15th Arrondissement.

Escaping the concrete canyons in the Bois de Boulogne

Because I had taken a day off from work, Natasha and I made a point of arising early for our visit to the Bois de Boulogne! We set out around 10AM to follow the T3 tram line to the west, knowing that we would need at least a half hour to reach the park’s extreme southeast corner.

Our walking path, from south to north

Although we had been close to our local bridge over the Seine when we visited Parc Andre Citroen, neither of us had crossed the Pont de Garigliano. I was happy that it offered a view all the way from the balloon in our park to the Tour Eiffel.

Looking north from Pont de Garigliano

I was unsure what to expect of Auteuil, the 16th Arondissement of Paris. Since we were passing through it rather than learning about what it had to offer, we missed seeing some of the Art Nouveau buildings along Rue Boileau. I also liked the more conventional “Gendarmerie Nationale” building, but Natasha noticed that the building had a new purpose. It now serves as a social innovation project, housing 350 displaced persons as well as 40 artists and social workers. It was a relief to see that the “main drag” in Auteil was not completely flanked by five- and six-story buildings. Natasha and I both unclenched a bit of stress that we hadn’t realized we were wearing on our shoulders.

In very little time, we arrived at Porte d’Auteuil, formerly the western-most gate in the 19th century “Thiers” walls surrounding Paris. We stopped by a grocery to equip our picnic, and then we entered Bois de Boulogne. It is easy to spot on the map below; it is the dark green box appearing on the west side (we will save our adventure in the Bois de Vincennes on the southeast side for another day).

This 1875 map of Paris shows the two “lungs” of the city, Bois de Boulogne to the west and Bois de Vincennes to the east.

The point of entry we had chosen for the park was not its most picturesque. At first, we followed Route d’Auteuil aux Lacs (literally translated as “the route from Auteuil to the lakes”). It followed the western edge of the Hippodrome d’Auteil. It might seem odd to have a horse-racing facility cheek-by-jowl with a nature preserve, especially since another, the Hippodrome de Paris-Longchamps, lies along the west side of the Bois de Boulogne, as well. Oddly, the creation of these racing facilities was key to establishing the Bois as a public park for Paris in 1852; it costs money to landscape a new public park and establish gates, restrooms, and other facilities. The popularity of the new racecourses produced the revenues that paid for that work.

Yes, there are trees in the Bois de Boulogne

Soon Natasha and I were able to take a separate path that put us in a more natural setting. We enjoyed an area with pine trees for reminding us of the “Pinelands” in Cape Town, but here the pine trees grow upward rather than being bent into hairpins by the winds of the Cape! Throughout the park, it is apparent that really old trees were simply absent. Sadly, this area was occupied by the Prussians during their 1871 siege of Paris, and the trees of the newly public park were used for soldiers’ cookfires (see the engraving below). This was not the first time the forest had been occupied by foreign troops, though. British and Russian forces had occupied the forest in the 1814 aftermath of Napoleon I’s defeat. British forces had also invested the forest (and burned it) in 1416-1417 during the Hundred Years’ War. If you are looking for old-growth forest, I would really recommend somewhere other than this soldiers’ campground.

This circa 1871 engraving shows the devestation war brought to the Bois de Boulogne

Ahead of us near our path, Natasha spied something large and white. I teased her that it must be a radio telescope, thinking of my visit to the Jodrell Bank. As usual, Natasha jumped to the right conclusion long before I did. We had found a circus tent! In November and December of each year, Le Cirque de Noël- Christiane Bouglione hosts holiday entertainment here in the heart of the Bois de Boulogne. Why is a circus a good match for a natural area? I couldn’t say, but I remember watching acrobatic slack rope walking while visiting a natural park in China. Different forests play different roles.

Lac Supérieur, to the south, is the smaller of the two.

I had kept our course fairly close to the eastern side of the park because I wanted to see the two lakes (reservoirs, really) that were constructed in the park in the nineteenth century. Napoleon III was a big fan of Hyde Park in London, and he wanted a water feature in the Bois de Boulogne that would play the same role as the Serpentine in Hyde Park. The landscape architect who took on the job botched the first try rather badly, essentially making a high and dry reservoir and a lower, overfull reservoir surrounded by marsh. When a dam was built to separate the areas (along the top of which now runs a road), “Lake Superior” and “Lake Inferior” were formed, with a controllable spillway between.

We had just a few moments of bright sunlight on our cloudy day.

Natasha and I stopped at a park bench on Lake Superior for our lunch. She was determined that I would develop some skills at “Park Life.” Instead of marching to the next place I wanted a photograph, I should try watching the world go by. Our spot was a good place for it. The pigeons certainly believe that an occupied park bench implies a meal for pigeons, but Natasha doesn’t like pigeons in particular and I distrust all birds! I was enthralled by an otter who was cruising back and forth for guillible diners. He seemed less interested in sticking around when a dog walker with a brace of hounds passed by.

The Kiosque de l’Empereur is on an island in the lower lake.

After a nice linger, Natasha and I continued northward. We bypassed the cascade joining the two lakes, but we did stop to look at the southernmost island in Lake Inferior. We saw some massive swans and geese larking about. When a swan approached us on our walk, Natasha spurred us forward. We didn’t want to be on the receiving end of an assertive swan.

Natasha explained that gazebos have roofs, but a pergola does not!

We were happy to see some lovely flowers in bloom. We paused again, this time in the Square de la Photo Hippique (1936). You might think such a square would have a hippie in costume, ready to take photos with guests, but no such luck. Instead, the area was set aside for equestrians to have beautiful photos with their mounts. Natasha and I settled down for a bit of book reading. When we saw some rain drops tap our pages, though, we decided to continue our travels. Our route out of the park led us to the Allée Saint-Denis. We passed through a lightly-wooded area to the Porte Dauphine.

It can be a little jarring to move from a natural area to a dense city in a hurry, but Porte Dauphine definitely seemed like an edge of Paris to me. The area is a massive traffic circle connecting the Périphérique highway to the heavy Avenue Foch. I was grateful we crossed it easily with the help of a maze of crosswalks and traffic lights. If I had spent some time with a map, I would surely have tried to peek down the length of Avenue Foche, since l’Arc de Triomphe stands at Étoile, just a kilometer down Avenue Foch!

Instead, my attention was drawn to another of the subway stations designed by Hector Guimard. This time the metro station was our gateway home. I loved the brightly colored orange, yellow, and green panels on the inside. The metro station at Porte Dauphine was better documented with historical panels on the Guimard entrance and on the decoration of the inside of the station. For once, our route home required that we go through three different lines of the metro, but it wasn’t very long before we returned home safely from our forest hike.

A Meander in the Marais

Our winding walking route

Natasha and I were relieved to hear that the newest “lock-down” for Paris left room for its citizens to stretch their legs in the great outdoors. We set our sights on the Marais because it contains a wealth of historic monuments. The Marais (literally the “Marsh,” from a time when the Seine was less mannerly) lies primarily in 4th arrondissement, stretching as far east as the Place de la Bastille. We were grateful that Metro Line 8 ran near our home directly to Bastille. When we emerged from the subway, we were inspired to keep moving by a chilly breeze; the open space of the plaza made us wonder if we should have dressed more warmly for our wander.

Cropped from “Vue de la Bastille pendant la démolition en juillet 1789

The first thing that a tourist notices at the Place de la Bastille is that the Bastille is no longer there. The massive fort was constructed in the 14th Century during the reign of Charles V (who constructed intimidating walls surrounding Paris), guarding eastern approaches to the city. Cardinal Richilieu (minister to Louis XIII) changed the role of the fortress to that of political prison. By the time of the French Revolution, the fortress had gained a reputation for autocratic cruelty in the public imagination. The storming of the Bastille on July 14th, 1789, marks a special birthday for France that is celebrated much as Americans would celebrate July 4th. Immediately, the revolutionaries decided to demolish the fortress, and a team under Pierre-François Palloy completed the task within just two years. Many of the stones were employed for construction projects, such as the construction of Pont de la Concorde.

The Canal St. Martin once served to fill a moat, but now it is a marina.

What signs of the Bastille are still to be seen at the site, then? The July Column that occupies the plaza today is dedicated to the events of the Revolution of 1830 (the overthrow of King Charles X Bourbon), not the Revolution of 1789-1799. If you look closely at the roads bordering the plaza, you will find little metal bumps marking the outlines of the fortress. If you descend the steps at the south side of the plaza, you will see a somewhat haunting site. To the south, you will see a marina filled with boats of Parisians, and to the north, the water disappears under the plaza. The marina was a canal dug on the north side of the Seine; its original purpose was to flood some approaches to the Bastille fortress! Later in this post, I will describe another remnant from the old fortress. I will also say that the 1989 Opéra Bastille is a beautiful building.

The Temple du Marais serves the Protestant community in this Catholic nation.

Natasha and I headed west on Rue Saint-Antoine, a part of the primary road that runs east and west through the city of Paris. The road originally served the Roman city of Lutetia. During the Second Empire (under Napoleon III), Baron Haussmann demolished many older buildings to connect Rue Sant-Antoine to Rue to Rivoli, which ran north of the Tuilerries gardens. Its prominence has marked it with monumental architecture. We passed by a cocky statue of Caron Beaumarchais, the otherworldly Temple de Marais (a Protestant Church), and the Hotel de Mayenne before turning north on Rue de Birague. It was clear that something special lay ahead.

The Pavillon du Roi is slightly taller than the other buildings surrounding Place des Vosges, though the square was not a royal residence after construction.

We passed under the Pavillion du Roi to reach the fascinating Place des Vosges (named for the first department of France to pay taxes after the French Revolution). Constructed as the Place Royale by Henri IV between 1605 and 1612, it marked a significant change in how Paris was to develop, from the Renaissance to a new Classicism. Like its contemporary Place Dauphine on the Île de la Cité, this symmetrical plaza was designed “to give a rational, ordered, and monumental aspect to the public areas of the capital” [Salvadori p. 12]. A cheerful statue of Louis XIII on horseback at the center of the plaza replaced a bronze in 1829. Four fountains, one at each corner, contributed a little cheer. I paused to shoot a video of one.

You will need a lens that can take a very wide field of view to photograph this facade in a single image!

From there, Natasha and I set out to see a unique neighborhood that illustrates Paris’ religious diversity. While King Charles VI exiled all French Jews in 1394 and Louis XIV expelled the Hugenots in 1685, these populations returned to France in later centuries. It may be surprising to learn that France was estimated to have become home to one million Muslims by the 1960s! Our walk led us west to the (closed) Carnavalet Museum and then south on Rue Pavée. Squeezed into an incredibly tight space, we found the Agoudas Hakehilos Synagogue, just around the corner from the Hammam St. Paul (formerly a steam bath). I was excited to see the Synagogue in particular because I simply love Art Nouveau. This structure was designed by Hector Guimard, one of the foremost architects of this style. Our walk this day encountered another of his structures, but you will have to read further to find it!

Tree blossoms on Saint-Antoine

In no time at all, Natasha and I had returned to the main road through the Marais, though this time it was labeled Rue Rivoli rather than Saint Antoine. We were delighted to see that a group of cherry trees had begun blooming in the early spring. We had returned to the main road at the site of Paroisse Saint Paul / Saint Louis du Marais. The massive facade (dating from 1634, under Cardinal Richilieu) made us feel rather small, despite the road being quite wide at this point. Our path was Rue St. Paul, just to the east of the church. It was a fun little street with lots of interesting shops. Natasha has an eye for ceramics, and we paused to gaze at a pretty vase for a moment. The shopkeeper emerged to let us know it was for sale at 120 €. When we declined, he note that it was also available in a deep blue. At this point, some police came by, apparently searching for someone who had listed this neighborhood as his home. The shopkeeper turned his attention entirely to the police, and we continued on our route toward the river. I was amused to see the museum of magic shows (closed like other museums due to the pandemic).

Bastille fragment at Square Henri Galli

After a short jog east, evading a jovial person seeking money, spotting a rogue vegetable garden in a tree planter, and dodging across traffic, we found ourselves at a children’s playground in Square Henri Galli. Natasha’s research into the Bastille had revealed that the base of the Liberty Tower of the Bastille, discovered during the creation of the Paris Metro, had been moved to this park and reassembled. Natasha and I could not resist, and we paused for a moment just touching one of the mammoth stone blocks.

A look toward the Île de la Cité from the exercise track on the Seine.

From there, we took a leisurely stroll down the Seine. It was a popular track for joggers. From there, I was able to spot the little bridge connecting the Île de la Cité and the Île Saint Louis. For one brief moment, the Panthéon on the Rive Gauche was visible through a gap in the buildings, with the towers of Notre Dame just to its right. As we moved further west, Hôtel-Dieu, a hospital next to the Notre Dame cathedral, came into sight and we saw the Conciergerie at a distance, too.

The Paris Hôtel de Ville presents a richly-decorated facade.

Our turn to the north directed us away from the Seine and near the boundary between the first and fourth arrondissements. I was a bit astonished by the scale of the Hôtel de Ville. Rather than having one city hall for all of Paris, the city has a separate “Mairie” over each arronidissement. Since Baron Haussmann used the building as a base of operations while serving as Prefect of the Seine, he ordered a considerable renovation of the Hôtel de Ville. He developed a reputation as one of the city’s most prominent party throwers. The massive square to the west of the building leaves a lot of room for a photograph, but the city hall fills quite a wide view!

How do they keep all the external elements of the Beaubourg clean?

The Hôtel de Ville and the Centre Pompidou could hardly be more different, though they are just a couple of blocks apart. The Centre, originally to be called “Beaubourg,” was the winning design for a 1971 competition for a mixed-use cultural center. Its construction took more than five years, with its grand opening in 1977. Like a lot of great art, we know it is art because each observer comes away with their own impression of “what it all means!” Is it an inside-out building? Is it a riot of colors surrounding a more serene inside? I walked up and down the block trying to wrap my head around it, but Natasha dodged into a high-end chocolatier and bought me some Easter treats. I am a lucky guy.

The Stravinsky Fountain looks like a great place to play!

We headed west into the first arrondissement, walking though an area replete with art installations. Since I am someone who naturally gravitates to the old stuff in a city, it was a bit surprising that I took almost no interest in the Fountain of the Innocents (1548-49) but absolutely loved the silly, colorful Stravinsky Fountain (1983). The mural work on the sides of buildings was first-rate. I would have missed seeing the lovely mosaic work on the building at the southwest corner of La Verririe and du Renard if Natasha hadn’t whispered, “look up.” In no time at all, we had reached Les Halles.

I think the modern shell to the Forum looks best from within the shopping centre. Natasha called it “a stack of Space Tortoises.”

I find it hard to understand Les Halles if only because it has long since it was subdivided into little shops, packed cheek by jowl. Today it is a massive open space, stretching between the massive, mostly underground shopping mall and train station Forum at Les Halles, the enormous and other-worldly Saint Eustache, and the Bourse de Commerce, an interesting transition between Neoclassical and metal-framed architecture. With that said, I offer this counter-point about Saint Eustache from a book I am currently reading:

[After enumerating many architectural flaws…] We are obliged to admit that the old authors of the XVIIIth century, for once in agreement with Viollet-le-Duc, were right a hundred times when they spoke of the “bad taste” which reigned supreme here.

p 43, Eglises Parisiennes: Actuelles et Disparues by Yvan Christ

As it happened, we arrived at Les Halles on the day of an antiques market. Natasha vanished in a flash, while I wandered with my camera. She found some very cool jewelry, but ultimately it is hard to pay 100€ for earrings one has just met!

I need to see Saint Eustache from the inside. It is apparently *the* example par excellence of Renaissance churches.

Having come so far, Natasha and I were ready to head homeward. Google showed us a diagonal Rue des Halles marked as a pedestrian shopping zone, but we were sharing the space with cars. Natasha stopped short when she recognized something I would want to see. I mentioned the Art Nouveau specialist Hector Guimard above. His eye for design got him selected to create the entrance and exit points of the Metro system at the start of the 20th century. Most of these places have been downgraded to a yellow “M” and a staircase leading into the ground, but just a couple of the original entrances are still available to be seen. I love the horror-movie font choice. I love the sea-creature fins of glass and metal. I love the busy iron railing. Of course I stopped for a photograph.

Now *that* is what I call making an entrance!

With that, Natasha and I found ourselves at our terminus. Our diagonal had dropped us at the Square de la Tour Saint-Jacques. The church of Saint-Jacques was constructed in the sixteenth century by wealthy wholesale butchers at the nearby market. Salvadori describes Saint-Jacques as “flamboyant gothic.” The church itself was destroyed during the French Revolution, but the tower was preserved as a monument in 1862, and Baron Haussman’s redesign of this area left the tower in its own little park. Yvan Christ had a more trenchant thought about the tower: “Now isolated in the most insipid of squares, it is the image of the misunderstanding piously cherished by the town planners of the Second Empire.” I thought the tower photo posted by Benh Lieu Song for Wikimedia Commons was much better than mine. I will show you the park instead.

The park at la Tour de Saint-Jacques shows some promise for the coming springtime.

With that, Natasha and I made our way to the Metro stop at Chatelet theatre. I was bemused by an odd fountain with Egyptian sphinxes on it. If I may bowlderdize Monty Python, I describe this fountain as “memorializing all the French soldiers who died keeping Egypt French.” We returned to our apartment and settled down for a quick lunch and a nap.


Are you also curious about Saint Jacques de la Boucherie, the church to which the tower belonged? The National Library of France had a cool engraving of the church in its heyday! I believe this photograph may also represent the church.