July 26th – 28th 2014 Going Solo in Paris
There is Pleasure in the Pathless Woods – Lord Byron
There is a pleasure in the pathless woods, There is a rapture on the lonely shore, There is society where none intrudes, By the deep Sea, and music in its roar: I love not Man the less, but Nature more, From these our interviews, in which I steal From all I may be, or have been before, To mingle with the Universe, and feel What I can ne’er express, yet cannot all conceal.
On day 306 of our tour we structured the day so both Graham and Prunella could have some precious time alone in Paris. For both agree that Paris is ultimately a city best seen by wandering the streets alone. Firstly Prunella had the morning solo. Then she would rendezvous with Graham and the boys at the Cite of Science & Industrie. She would stay with the boys whilst Graham had the afternoon to himself.
A walk about Paris will provide lessons in history, beauty, and in the point of Life. – Thomas Jefferson.
One morning, One Girl, One Promenade…
Prunella’s first stop was again the romantic Pont des Arts. This time at dawn. With the sun newly risen, the bridge was devoid of people. There she placed a key amongst the locks, (not secured but tied with a ribbon) to symbolise her love for Graham – now fifteen years her husband. To represent how he had unlocked her heart, their love and freed her to believe in love.. to dream her own dreams.
A walk along the Seine past the impressive Museum de Orsay before deviating to the metro line leading to Montparnasse. Montparnasse is famous for its artistic and intellectual period between the two wars. During that time, people like Hemingway, Picasso, Lenin, Fitzgerald, Gertrude Stein and others called this area home. Exiting the metro at Sevres-Babylone, for a stroll down the long Blvd. Raspail.
Enjoying the sights and sounds of the slowly opening markets on a large concourse between the lanes of the road. A visit to Rue Vavin for a peek at its traditional stationery shops. Then a long sit at a cafe, people watching. Be warned that a sit down coffee can cost 3 to 4 times the price of a takeaway – but sometimes it is worth the difference if you have an hour or two to spare. This led to a long chat with the kindly French cafe owner.
Then a visit to one of Paris’s many free galleries, The Zadkine Museum. Ossip Zadkine (1890 – 1967), primarily a sculptor, was influenced by Auguste Rodin and a friend of Pablo Picasso.
The Musée Zadkine is a museum dedicated to the work of sculptor Ossip Zadkine. It contains about 300 sculptures, as well as drawings, gouaches, photographs, and tapestries. Zadkine was born as Yossel Aronovich Tsadkin in a Jewish family in Vitebsk (now Belarus, then part of the Russian Empire). After attending art school in London, Zadkine settled in Paris about 1910. There he became part of the new Cubist movement (1914-1925). He later developed his own style, one that was strongly influenced by African art. Zadkine died in Paris in 1967 at the age of 77. His donated former home and studio is now the Musée Zadkine. – wiki
Then to see the famous, large if somewhat ugly Montparnasse tower. A stroll past many of this areas famous cafes along the Bld. du Monparnasse. Then to the Place du 18 Juin 1940 (titled to mark when Charles de Gaulle asked the French to resist the Nazis). This intersection is the location where the Germans surrendered to the Allies.
Then onwards to the fascinating and peaceful Cimetière du Montparnasse. This vast cemetery is the resting place of many french artists including the humble unmarked grave of Ossip Zadine.
The trees in this area are in full bloom and I was delighted to see their small yellow blossoms filling all the pavement cracks and crannies. A walk past the very cool, arty Foundation Cartier. Where I was impressed by a whimsical sculpture of a lonely giant thumb.
All in all a thoroughly enjoyable, quiet morning in a tiny part of this wonderful city. One filled with the history, fashion, art, politics and modern flare that can only be Paris. Then back on a labyrinth of Metro which meant an hour and half journey to our meeting point. At first you think “I could go anywhere on the Paris Metro” but after a few days you find yourself in a maze of detours being channeled like rats in the dark corridors sometimes for ridiculously long distances and you realise it’s pretty depressing and often frustrating. Such are the lesser realities of big city life.
An Afternoon, A Boy, A Ramble
Paris… is a world meant for the walker alone, for only the pace of strolling can take in all the rich (if muted) detail. -Edmund White
Graham picked up the trail in the top right hand corner of town.
Making the rendezvous with Prunella in the Cite of Science and Industrie science centre, and handing over the boys for an afternoons science fun, I waded off through hordes of school kids on their end of year excursions. Soon the hubbub fades, and I’m on the quieter stretches of the Parisian canals, where the Canal de l’Ourcq joins the Canal Saint-Martin.
Delving further south into the 19th arrondissement, soon the bustle of the city re-emerges, and a pleasant half hour is spent people watching on the Avenue Jean Jaures. Cutting across the grain of the streets, it’s up to the top corner of the Parc des Buttes-Chamont, one of Paris’ more spectacular green spaces, formed from a medieval garbage dump and featuring a cave-punctured crag (once a former limestone quarry), and sloping lawns spread among wooded glades. The citizens of Paris are enjoying the warm summer afternoon.
Emerging from the park, one is at the top of a series of streets, all of which more or less gently slope down towards the Seine, a few kilometres away. I zig-zagged down – picking streets by the simple test of what looks more interesting – past the wonderfully authentic Belleville Metro station, and down again, emerging once again onto the canal at the Quai de Jemmapes, where the Canal Saint Martin emerges from a tunnel and climbs a short flight of locks. I leaned on the black painted railing watched as a boat negotiated this evolution, and fondly remembered our time crewing a canal trip on England’s waterways years ago…
From here, it is but a short street or two to the relative frenzy of the Place de la Republique, where boulevards radiate out across the eastern half of the city. Long back streets, continuing ever so gently downward, and one is among the lesser corners of Paris’ famous fashion trade.
A corner turned, and the late renaissance grandeur of the Place des Vosges reveals itself, this afternoon it’s filled with wandering tourists and locals catching a moment or three among the grand fountains and in the shade. Here is the Marais, a corner of Paris that escaped the relentless planning of Baron Hausmann, and we can enjoy for a few streets the older medieval street plan of the city. Indeed, continuing south towards the silver-grey Seine, and turning along the Rue Charlemagne, one can glimpse a tiny surviving portion of the city walls – a thick knotty chunk of stone where once a gate marked the edge of the city.
Back now among the more familiar boulevards, and it’s across the Seine – not once but twice – skirting the eastern (upstream) end of the Ile Saint-Louis. It’s getting to be a long stroll, just the way I like them.
The pan-Parisian path now climbs again, up the left bank. Pausing for a well-earned beer, and some people watching, I pick up the trail again, emerging in the streets adjoining the Renaissance Baroque jumble of architecture which is the Church of Saint Etienne-du-Mont. Entering through the main door and admiring the impressively carved footbridge separating the choir from the nave, one emerges on the rear corner of the Pantheon, whose magnificent splendour is getting some much-needed renovation, so that the huge dome is currently wearing a distinctive white conical cap.
From here it is down the broad avenue to Jardin du Luxembourg – a tour of which we missed after sleeping through the alarm the other day – and it is filled with strolling Parisians, a smattering of tourists, and under the bandstand, curious onlookers admiring a small fashion parade. In another corner a game of petanque occupies the serious attentions of a group of men, whose banter thinly screens intense competition. The tension comes to the surface with the crack of clashing steel boules and sighs, cries and gesticulations when a well-placed array of shots is scattered by a deadly accurate spinning overhead ball.
A fascinating afternoon – cutting across this city, I’ve covered fourteen kilometres, and peeled back a few more layers of l’oignon…
Three Boys, Wild Fun!
Our final day was rainy and brought an early start, as we enjoyed our last Parisian cafe, before taking a boat tour on the Seine. We planned to save this delight for our finale in Paris, to revisit many of the places from a different angle and perhaps say Adieu. As recommended by Pierre we booked on-line for a discounted rate. Always a pleasure to relax on the cool waters and swoop under some of the Seine’s 37 bridges.
A final farewell lunch with Claude and Yvonne. We all felt sad as we waved Claude onto a bus home and Yvonne volunteered to wave us onto our bus. Such a pleasure to spend a little time in the company of two women we love – born and bred Parisians. Always fashionable, unique and delightful. Always disapproving of our fashion, grooming and taste in food yet so bold, outspoken and lovable. We were happy our boys could share these precious moments and cross the generations with their beaming smiles and innocent chatter. An end of day visit to the colourful Pompidou Centre. Opened in 1977 it is now an established icon of Paris. With tired children we ran thorough the rain, just to ride the winding escalators and enjoy a last glimpse of this city of love.
The Pompidou Centre houses the Bibliothèque publique d’information, a vast public library, the Musée National d’Art Moderne which is the largest museum for modern art in Europe, and IRCAM, a centre for music and acoustic research. Because of its location, the Centre is known locally as Beaubourg. National Geographic described the reaction to the design as “love at second sight.” An article inLe Figaro declared “Paris has its own monster, just like the one in Loch Ness.” But two decades later, while reporting on Rogers’ winning the Pritzker Prize in 2007, The New York Times noted that the design of the Centre “turned the architecture world upside down” and that “Mr. Rogers earned a reputation as a high-tech iconoclast with the completion of the 1977 Pompidou Centre, with its exposed skeleton of brightly coloured tubes for mechanical systems. The Pritzker jury said the Pompidou “revolutionized museums, transforming what had once been elite monuments into popular places of social and cultural exchange, woven into the heart of the city.” – wiki