Museum of Architecture and Heritage

Last week I also visited the Musee de l’Architecture & du Patrimoine (essentially the history of French architecture and Heritage).  It’s at the Cite Chaillot, the building right where you pop out – meerkat like – at the Metro Trocadero.  I was meeting my French teacher early afternoon in the café there for a lesson so I spent the morning looking through the museum.  It was an unexpected treasure; there is an extensive display of actual size reproductions of pieces of historic French buildings and monuments, original models of monuments, and reproductions of significant frescoes and stained glass windows dating from 1200 to 1600.  The reproductions are incredibly real, it’s almost better than the real thing because you can see and appreciate the detail of the carved stone up close.  There is also a great section on modern and contemporary architecture which had fabulous scale models of important buildings, bridges and the like. Architecture museum

There is always something at these museums that stands out as a personal favourite – whether it’s something funny or fabulous – a gem.  This time it was the display of models and drawings of the Arc de Triomphe which made me smile at the thought of the challenges for the project manager.  The display material described the project une construction chaotique and explained that the long history of works was marked by successive clashes in the project while under the direction and control of a number of different architects during its 30-year project timetable.  I’ve learned that Napoleon I ordered the construction of a triumphal arch in 1806 in honour of the success of his grand French Army at Austerlitz.  An architect, Monsieur Chalgrin, was appointed as chief of works, although several other architects were involved as well.  Chalgrin proposed the location and soon the right spot for the arch was agreed at Place d’Etoile – and it has indeed turned out to be a magnificent spot.  Right from early on there was disagreement amongst the architects over the design and whether columns should be included in the design, and eventually 2 years after first commissioning the project, and the foundations being laid, the no-columns version went ahead – amongst other reasons it was less expensive.  Unfortunately Monsieur Chalgrin died in 1811 and another architect, (Goust, one of Chalgrin’s pupils) took over, although Napoleon had lost interest as “project sponsor” over this time.  Then in 1813 Napoleon’s great French Army was defeated at Waterloo, he abdicated and was exiled to Saint Helena and the ardour for the project was completely extinguished.  It was canned until 1823 when it was resurrected under the control of yet another architect, Monsieur Huyot.  The debate on the design was relitigated all over again, with Huyot submitting a new design (with columns) but this was rejected in favour of retaining the previous design and he was taken off the project.  Eventually, after a few more hiccups, the project was finished in 1830 and opened in 1836.  The Arc was officially consecrated in 1840 on the anniversary of the Battle of Austerliz when Napoleon’s remains (he died in 1821 on St Helena) were brought back to Paris for interment at Les Invalides and the hearse carrying his coffin passed under the Arc de Triomphe.

The model of the no-columns design

The model of the no-columns design

Drawings of designs with columns

Drawings of designs with columns

So (Rachel) next time you have a building project to manage, complete with hair tearing moments, be glad it’s not a triumphal arch being constructed in stone at the behest of a war waging Emperor.

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Visit to the Museum of Modern Art at the Pompidou Centre

The first Sunday of the month many of the museums and art galleries in Paris offer free entry.  These are all the museums that come under the category of “national” museums.  We make sure that we get to one of them.

This weekend we joined the throng of people in the queue for entry to the Musee National d’Art Moderne at the Pompidou Centre.  After initially queuing in the wrong queue (duh!…) and getting to the front nice and early, we were sent away to the back of the correct queue – as were several other people near us.  By good fortune as soon as the gallery officially opened at 11am the queue moved quickly and 20 mins later we were inside – and its well worth the wait.  An unexpected bonus is that from the top level of the Pompidou Centre you get an amazing view of the whole city and perspective on the location of the famous monuments and buildings in relation to each other.P1000120P1000123

I am not well educated on the virtues of modern and contemporary art and find some of it hard to appreciate or understand.  I confess that even after reading the explanations posted for several works I was none the wiser.  However, there is plenty to admire here; the museum has a stunning collection of works by the significant artists of the various movements of modern art; Matisse, Picasso, Kandinsky, Brancusi and others.  The whole issue of understanding and appreciating modern art (or not) is summed up for me in the commentaries I read about Picasso’s works.  The material at the museum described his very last works as “having an energy and creative power undiminished by age”, and “the totemic figures whose sexual vigour and weighty charge of fierce parody give them immense presence.”  That certainly describes them; they are bold, clever and impressive in a shocking way.  Apparently at the time, the works were dismissed as “pornographic fantasies of an impotent old man, or the slapdash works of an artist past his prime” and only later still after he died the appreciation of these works as neo-expressionism was recognised and he was considered ahead of his time.

La Pisseuse by Picasso

La Pisseuse by Picasso

Probably most of all I loved the magic concoction of colour and shape in the Kandinsky paintings, and the Marc Chagall works.  His (Chagall’s) look like crazy mixed up thoughts from a vivid dream; those two artists were the highlights for me, and I would certainly love to have a Kandinsky or Chagall hanging on the wall in my house – like that will ever be the day!

Above all I came away less of a pleb than before, and that’s a good thing.

favourite Chagall

favourite Chagall

Kandinsky art

Kandinsky art

Skiing in Chamonix

We spent the last week in Chamonix-Mont Blanc; a beautiful resort town in the French Alpes, very close to the borders of Switzerland and Italy.  So close that while skiing up on one of the high runs Derek’s cell phone beeped several times with messages from the Swiss Telco provider welcoming him to their airspace!

It was at least 20 years since I last skied – and it certainly showed.  On Day 1 I was as comfortable on skis as a fish on a bicycle.  I had at least four spills, one of which wiped out Derek as well and I landed on top of his skis with some quite spectacular bruises to show for my efforts.  Most of me was sore by the end of the day, but some nice red wine relieved the suffering.  Day 2 was a good improvement and on Day 3 I could confidently ski from top to bottom of the intermediate runs without a spill, and loved the sensation of swooshing down the slopes.  Derek is a good skier and had last skied in Wanaka and Queenstown about 5 years ago so he was quite at home and explored all the runs on the ski-field we were at.

Me....upright!

Me….upright!

 

The scenery is majestic; picture postcard stuff.  The mountains peaks look new and sharp, and although the snow covering is deep all over the mountain it doesn’t stick to the vertical cliff faces so that the jagged grey edges stand out and add to the sense of being amongst towering peaks.  It was bitingly cold with clear intense blue sky and the views over the Chamonix valley were spectacular.  Apart from the sound of the snow squeaking (it’s so cold up there) it’s silent, and very pretty with the snow sparkling in the sunshine.photo (7)

 

Despite the numbers of people who go there for the skiing it doesn’t seem crowded (to me anyway) as there are so many choices for where to ski; 3 domaines in the Chamonix valley; Balme, Brevent-Flegere and Grands Montets, plus 3 more domains in the greater Mont Blanc region; Les Houches in France, Courmeyer in Italy and Verbier in Switzerland.  The fields themselves are huge; there are beautifully groomed runs for all ski capabilities and apparently fabulous off-piste skiing as well – not in my repertoire yet.  All these domains are accessible from Chamonix and, if you want, one “Mont Blanc Unlimited” ski pass allows you access to everything.

We were a bit tame this time and chose to ski at the Domaine de Balme all week and like plenty of others took the handy bus service from Chamonix ville to Le Tour village at the bottom of the Balme field.  Each morning there was a procession of skiers traipsing robot-like out to the bus stops (you can only walk like a robot in ski boots) to head up the mountain for another invigorating day of hurtling down snowy slopes on sticks.  The reverse journey at the end of the day was a bun fight to get a seat, or else stand, tired, wedged in the aisle amongst poles, skis, and boards until our stop then thank goodness only a short walk to our snug accommodation.

For the non-skiers, or those who ski part-time, the shopping in Chamonix is fabulous too, including a Chanel boutique.  Not that I wish to infer that I shopped there, I didn’t, I am just giving you a quality indicator.  Of course there are oodles of ski shops where you can spend eye-watering amounts on the latest triple-layered, custom-moulded, natural-wool, carbon-fibre, breathable, waterproof bits of ski equipment and clothing that have probably been designed by YSL, developed by NASA and tested by Bond 007.

Dogs are catered for too (a "pull" is a jersey)

Dogs are catered for too (a “pull” is a jersey)

All in all, we loved it and will go again next winter.P1000113

Map of the ski runs

Map of the ski runs

View down the Chamonix valley

View down the Chamonix valley

17th arondissement

Parc Monceau entrance

Parc Monceau entrance

I’ve mentioned previously that we live in the 17th. This arondissement comprises four quartiers being Ternes, Plaines-de-Monceaux, Batignolles and Epinettes in order from south-west to north-east across the arondissement.  The southwest end at Ternes and the Monceau plain oozes affluence.  The buildings are beautiful Hausmannian stone mansions which contain elegant and often sizeable apartments.  Quite a number of organisations have their offices in this area, including the World Animal Health Organisation (OIE), and there are a number of foreign embassies as well.  At Ternes there is a lovely shopping area frequented by the well heeled and those of us who like to faire du leche-vitrine (window shop); well, okay then, I may have indulged in a purchase or two.  (I can recommend a shoe shop there.)  Walking a little further east you head into the Batignolles area which is populated by young couples/families with children; here they are called “Bobos” (Bohemian-bourgeois, or roughly translated as yuppies).  With this gentrification the area has become trendy, with lots of chic little boutiques, like the optometrist I wrote about.  Moving further east into Epinettes; this was once an industrial area and is now described as working/middle class with increasing numbers of young families.  It is the grimy end – but as I said it has its own real world charm.

The 17th is only about 3.5 km across the widest axis on the west-east route – so a relatively easy walk from our place to the Arc de Triomphe – and according to Google maps it is 1.5km across on its north-south axis.  All up its land size is 5.7square kilometres and in that space it holds a population of 170,000 people.  That means its population density is 28,000 people per square kilometre.  Just to put that in perspective for you, according to Wikipedia, Wellington’s urban population density is 800 people per square kilometre, and Christchurch is 830.

It means the only choice here is to live in an apartment.  There’s no room for outside spaces other than the city parks and gardens.  The parks are treasures; they are dotted here and there and are very pretty, well maintained and very well used.  The largest near us is Martin Luther King Park (aka Parc Clichy Batignolles).  Even yesterday afternoon when it was 2.7 degrees (Celsius) there were lots of kids playing, all wrapped up with coats, hats, gloves and scarves.  I was there too taking a turn around the park because the sunshine had come out after a grey sleety morning.  Every day you will see parents and nannies out with their babies and kids to escape their tiny apartments.  Square Batignolles is another lovely green space and has the added attraction of nice cafes on its border.

Square Batignolles

Square Batignolles

Square Batignolles

Square Batignolles

Playtime in Martin Luther King Parc

Playtime in Martin Luther King Parc

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

My favourite park from earlier visits to Paris is Parc Monceau on the edge of the 17th (it’s actually in the 8th).  I feel very Parisian when I wander through this park and admire the gardens and statues and think about all the people who have enjoyed this place.  Claude Monet painted 5 paintings here; beautiful, romantic impressionist scenes……  I only have winter photos to show you, but I will be here in spring and summer for more.

Winter in Parc Monceau

Winter in Parc Monceau

 

Entry gate to Parc Monceau

Entry gate to Parc Monceau

A spot of window shopping

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P1000085The shop window displays are superb here in Paris.  All sorts of retailers create beautiful windows, and some are exceptionally imaginitive.  One of my favourite ones is the lovely optometrist in Rue Legendre, not far from our apartment.  I have noticed before the cute artistic displays, and today on the way home from an afternoon walk I couldn’t resist stopping for a spot of window shopping – which by the way in French is to “faire du lèche-vitrine”. Literally translated as to lick the windows!  (Yes they do have you drooling.)

This optometrist is called UnicOptic by Justine, at 88 Rue Legendre at the corner with Rue Truffaut in the 17th .  Her website is really cool too with some inspiring creative talent www.unicopticbyjustine.com .

Leading up to Christmas there was a gorgeous window display using quirky wooden rabbits, and before that I remember noticing another captivating one with wooden ducks.  Now there are penguins in one window and polar bears in the other, all wearing fabulous glasses.

Of course the purpose of the window display is to attract attention to the items on sale.  And oh my, are these frames gorgeous or what!  Thank goodness I am short-sighted and need glasses.  A visit is necessary.P1000089P1000088

A plumbing problem

We have a combination bath-shower with one tap that toggles between delivering water via the shower head or regular faucet into the bath.  The thing that toggles is stuck between the two and when the tap is turned on water spouts from the shower head and the faucet at the same time.  My mission today is to pop in to the local plumber’s shop, explain the problem in French and see if he can fix it.

I don’t even know what the toggle thing is called in English; fortunately there is a word in French for “the thingumajig” (le truc) so I am hoping that will do.  I’ve checked the gender of a few key nouns and rehearsed my spiel.  I want to get it right because according to my dictionary the word for tap in French (le robinet) also translates to the infantile term for a penis; “willy” (Brit) or “peter” (US).  I don’t want to get tangled up in delivering my spiel and somehow convey I have a problem with the willy in my bathroom.

I’ve also taken a photo of the problem tap and a video clip of its fault in action so that I can augment my explanation with pictures.

 

So how did it go? Great, no language debacles this time! The plumber and his office manager (perhaps Mrs Plumber) were both charming and understood the problem exactly.  Monsieur le plombier returned with me to the apartment to determine the make of the dodgy tap and promised to have it fixed this afternoon.  He has done just that.  Génial!!

Our neighbourhood

Coming to live in Paris I wanted to see, feel and get to know the “real” Paris; more than the pretty, romantic glimpse that is possible on a holiday trip. I’m glad to say that I am doing just that. We live in the 17th arondissement, tucked just inside the périphérique in the north east corner of the quartier des Epinettes. Turn left outside the front door and in less than 5 minutes walk I’m at the Port de Clichy Metro and RER train station. The périphérique overpass is just ahead. In the other direction I have the choice of a 7 minute walk to the village shops at Avenue St Ouen – where I can take the Metro at station Guy Moquet – or walk about the same distance to Metro Brochant and the Batignolle produce market and village shops on Rue des Moines. En route to St Ouen by the Velib station on Rue de la Jonquiere I can catch a peek of the top-knot of Sacré Cœur – it’s only a 25ish minute walk away.

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Butchery shops, fishmongers, bakeries and patisseries, gourmet chocolates, flower sellers, and fruit and vegetable traders are plentiful at both these village shopping areas. There are also cheesemongers and delicatessens offering a mouth-watering array of specialties, like the trader who sells wonderful fresh Italian pastas (amongst other delectable treats). The butchery shops in particular are works of gastronomic art – the display of terrines, cooked dishes and cuts of meat is instantly tempting and inspiring for dinner chez moi. Before Christmas there were still-feathered pheasants hanging on display, and every imaginable poultry species, many still with head feathers and feet attached just to confirm their provenance.

It’s a multicultural, busy neighbourhood where ordinary people do everyday things. The atmosphere is friendly and very polite. Every transaction starts with a cherry Bonjour Madame, and finishes with Au revoir Madame, bonne journée. At Cannelle Patisserie, our favourite local bakery, I’m recognised as a local already and the greetings are warmly delivered like a friendly song.

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That’s the positive spin. Its also real working class Paris, there’s not so much of the romantic Paris, city of light and love on show just here. The streets and their buildings are grimy; on the footpath litter accumulates between washes – there’s also beaucoup de dog poop, trickles of urine, and splats of spit and pigeon sh*t. Horrible yes – does it matter? – No. This is my slice of real Paris and it’s just what I wanted to experience. The positives far outweigh the negatives – you can even think of it as being microbiologically rich!

More on local activities and the rest of “The 17th” next time.