Showing posts with label Paris. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Paris. Show all posts

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Paris wall

For centuries, an old-fashioned bank in Paris, the Crédit municipal, has enabled ordinary citizens to deposit valuable stuff such as jewelry and take out low-interest cash loans. Later, if and when clients get back onto their feet financially, they can return to the institution and buy back their deposited goods. After a certain time, if the stuff is not bought back, then the institution, in the time-honored traditions of pawnbrokers, auctions it off and makes a nice profit. So, everybody is happy… except maybe the ghosts of ancestors who see their precious family legacies being dilapidated by cash-strapped descendants.

Click to enlarge

This kind of money-lending institution, referred to in Italian as a Monte de Pietà (Mount of piety), was invented in the 15th century by an Italian monk as a scheme designed to end the monopoly of usurers of the kind that would be stigmatized, a century later, by Shakespeare’s notoriously anti-Semitic portrait of Shylock.


The Italian expression has in fact been misunderstood. Monte de Pietà has nothing to do with mounts. It refers rather to an amount of cash that is offered, allegedly through piety, to people in need.

Since the eve of the French Revolution, the Parisian Mont de pieté has been located in the Marais quarter. Its ancient entrance still exists in the Rue des Blancs-Manteaux.


Meanwhile, the main entrance is located in the Rue des Francs-Bourgeois: the eastern continuation of the Rue Rambuteau, where I lived for many years.


I’ve walked past that door almost daily, for years. Well, I’ve just learnt that this ancient Parisian financial institution is about to be closed down, simply because (like many other old-fashioned social entities) it can’t adjust itself to the digital era. This is weird in a way, because it shouldn’t be too hard to invent an Internet business model for pawnbroking…

I come now to the subject of this blog post: the existence of an ancient wall around Paris. referred to in French as the Enceinte de Philippe Auguste [Wall of Philip II Augustus]. This protective wall around the French capital was erected as a reaction against threats from the nasty English monarch, my ancestor King John, who would be forced at sword-point to sign the Magna Carta on 15 June 1215. Here’s a plan of the wall dating from 1223:

Click to enlarge

Its builder was the king of France, Philip II, commonly referred to in French as Philippe Auguste, primarily because he was born in August, and also because this nickname likened the monarch to a wise ruler of ancient Rome. Be that as it may, the French king appears to have been a nicer sort of a fellow than the abominable English monarch on the other side of the Channel.


Parenthetical comments: From a pragmatic viewpoint, the fact that King John was my 22-times-great-grandfather means little, if anything at all. His genetic contribution is diluted homeopathically today in a chromosomal soup stewed up from the gametes (reproductive cells) of countless other male and female ancestors. He was no more than a single member of the vast cohort of my medieval ancestors, whose number cannot even be vaguely estimated. Realizing that he’s one of my ancestors, I’ve nevertheless made an effort to know more about the man. Sadly, it’s almost impossible to find anything whatsoever of a noble nature in his profile. Consequently, it’s not surprising that no other English king has decided to call himself John.

Let’s get back to the Paris wall. Inside the domain of the Paris pawnbroking institution that is about to become extinct, there’s a fine fragment of the wall of Philippe Auguste.


Observing this tower, I was always impressed by the lovely pink-brick structure at the top… but what counts, in fact, is the relatively dull stone structure at the base, which is a perfectly intact fragment of the wall of Philippe Auguste.

Further to the west, we enconter the address of 16 rue Rambuteau, where Christine and I lived with our children Emmanuelle and François for many years. At the time, we didn’t think much about the fact that our apartment was situated upon the wall of Philippe Auguste. People had told us that this was the case, but this didn’t mean much in the context of our daily existence. In my personal photographic archives, I have countless images of our children on the balcony overlooking the nearby Hôtel de Saint Aignan, seen here:


Today, the elegantly-restored edifice has become (thanks to Jacques Chirac) the Museum of Jewish Art and History.


The balcony of our apartment was located in the upper left-hand corner of the above photo, where there seems to be a video camera. In the middle of the courtyard, there’s a huge statue of the extraordinary man who symbolized French anti-Semitism: Alfred Dreyfus. On the left of the courtyard, directly below our apartment, a stone façade with fake windows has been erected, solely for esthetic reasons, against the ancient wall of Philippe Auguste.

I often wonder what the ghost of the Colonel Dreyfus might think to be depicted here at a spot that I know so well, in the heart of Paris, where he looks out upon a panoramic façade of which the left-hand third, built against the wall of Philippe Auguste, is both archaic and totally false.

In any case, and above all, I'm overcome by a strange and wonderful feeling of warmth and pride every time I reflect upon the fact that our tiny Skyvington-Mafart family came into being here in the ancient inner heart of the fabulous City of Light. At the time, I didn't think that this might be any kind of achievement (maybe Christine did). But today, I realize that Emmanuelle and François grew up on the top of a legendary wall, in a fabulous Old World place that might even be thought of (by people like me, in any case) as the cultural centre of western civilization.

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

An eye on Fashion Week in Paris


I’m always amused and impressed by the surprising artistic creations of talented individuals, even when they’re relatively trivial.

Thursday, February 5, 2015

Driving in Paris

For English and Australian visitors to Paris, driving has always been been a somewhat disturbing experience, because the French drive on the wrong side of the road. Nevertheless, motoring calmly through Paris in spring or summer—maybe in an elegant open-top automobile—can be a charming way of discovering sites such as the Eiffel Tower, the Champs-Elysées and the Moulin Rouge… not to mention the site of Diana’s car crash.


But there’s always the risk of meeting up with a reckless and ill-mannered driver, such as this young fellow in his red Mini... who appears to be some kind of a tourist.


It’s not an exaggeration to say that a fellow who drives like that in the lovely old streets of Paris is frankly—to my mind—a public nuisance. Who does he think he is? And I can’t understand why the French police wouldn’t simply confiscate his license, and force him to move around Paris on a bicycle, or on foot, for that matter. Allowing such an individual to remain at the wheel of an automobile is—to my mind—simply outrageous, and proof of laxity. The people in charge of Paris ought to do something about it.

Sunday, January 18, 2015

US journalists can be as dumb as they come

Fox News has a “specialist” named Nolan Peterson (a former GI) who informed the world, last week, that there are so-called No-Go Zones in certain parts of Paris which non-Muslims cannot enter. This dumb arsehole said that youths strutted around in these neighborhoods wearing T-shirts celebrating Bin Laden. Fox News went on to say that police could not enter such neighborhoods, and that the Muslims applied Sharia law in these zones.


Needless to say, everything that the liar Peterson related on Fox News was pure rubbish... but I have not yet understood his motivations in airing all this make-believe nonsense. Now, there are 2 million Americans who watch this shit, to learn about what’s supposed to be going on in France. Fortunately, there has been a massive TV campaign in France aimed at telling Fox News just how poorly informed they are. And they seem to have gotten around to understanding that they were transmitting pure bullshit.


I feel sorry for naive and well-intentioned Americans who have such rubbish rammed down their throats by stupid and unscrupulous would-be US "journalists".

Since 2003, an abominable lie about France and the French has become widespread in the US, designated by an expression that's popular with dumb US jerks: cheese-eating surrender monkeys. The idiots imagine that, in 1940, the French took one look at the approaching Nazi forces and promptly surrendered. There's little point in getting upset about such a total ignorance of the military events of that terrible epoch. As we say in French: Never try to explain things to arseholes; there's a danger that you might inform them!

BREAKING NEWS: Anne Hidalgo, Socialist mayor of Paris, has just announced (January 20) that the city will be taking Fox News to court over their outrageous "news", which prejudiced gravely and stupidly the French capital. In the following shoddy CNN interview, their interpreter sounds as if she has trouble understanding French, and the audio is not handled correctly:


I'm happy to see that the great city is standing up for itself against a band of dumb US arseholes.

Monday, August 25, 2014

Liberation of Paris, 25 August 1944

Exactly 70 years ago, on 25 August 1944, General Philippe Leclerc de Hauteclocque arrived in Paris at the head of tanks of his celebrated armored division known as the 2nd DB. Dietrich von Choltitz, the German military governor of Paris, received a furious phone call from Hitler, who screamed out "Brennt Paris?" Is Paris burning? No, the city was not burning, thanks in part to the tergiversations of von Choltitz, who finally signed a capitulation document at the Hôtel Meurice.

Paris was liberated!

Before the end of the day, Charles de Gaulle had arrived at the Hôtel de Ville, where he delivered a short declaration that would go down in French history as one of the nation's greatest moments.




POST SCRIPTUM
The liberation of Paris in August 1944 was a considerably more complicated affair than what we might imagine today in viewing these videos. There was much bloodshed and injustice. Many self-proclaimed résistants were in fact recent Nazi collaborators. One detail needs to be clarified. The Nazi von Choltitz (who had annihilated many cities in a "scorched earth" style) must never be thought of as a hero whose deep respect for Paris saved the city from destruction. Bullshit! If von Choltitz refrained from destroying Paris, this was surely because he realized that the tide was turning, and that there was no sense in committing a crime that would have culminated inevitably and rapidly in his capture and execution. In other words, the ugly Nazi bugger "saved" Paris with a view to saving his own evil skin.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

People more shocked by art than by warfare

On 29 May 2014 (a week before the gigantic D-Day commemorations in Normandy), the Luxembourg artist Deborah de Robertis created a sensational but profoundly poetic happening in the Parisian Musée d’Orsay by calmly sitting down on the ground beneath the celebrated painting of Gustave Courbet [1819-1877] entitled L’Origine du Monde, drawing up her skirt, spreading her legs apart, and showing startled but generally appreciative onlookers a hairy real-world specimen of the anatomical place where human life originates and emerges.

I am the Origin.
I am all Women.
You have never seen me.
I want you to recognize me.
Virgin like Water.
Creator of Sperm.

Monday, June 9, 2014

Once upon a time: an English friend in Paris

It’s weird to be googling around casually on the off-chance of finding out what might have happened to an old friend, and to run into an obituary [access], indeed an old obituary.

Anthony Richard Sutcliffe [1942-2012]

In the years 1963 to 1965, Tony was an assistant English teacher at the Lycée Henri IV in the Latin Quarter. That’s to say, we were colleagues.

Whenever I think of Tony, who had what you might call a quietly-spoken Oxfordian personality, I remember his excitement concerning the birth of the Beatles phenomenon. He talked of them often, and his enthusiasm intrigued me. During a short holiday break, he returned to England and attended a Beatles concert (one of the group's first-ever big events). At that time, to my mind, the Beatles were nothing more than a group of new kids on the block, as it were. And I simply couldn’t understand why Tony seemed to take them so seriously, as if they were about to create a pop-music revolution. I soon learnt, of course, that Tony’s tastes were spot on.

Tony spoke excellent French. Meanwhile, he looked like a typical young English gentleman, always attired in a tweed coat with a necktie.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

God's green bubble gum

This fascinating photo shows a throng of pious women (?) in God-only-knows what land.


The rounded forms and pleasantly harmonious hues of this image reminded me immediately of delightful scenes from a famous French religious movie: The Mad Adventures of Rabbi Jacob.




I Photoshopped those images a little, to give them a more spiritual shade of green. In the movie, the faces were veiled by fluorescent green bubble gum. Miraculously, Rabbi Jacob (played by the great Louis de Funès) managed to get his face cleaned up before being called upon to execute his celebrated dance in the Rue des Rosiers (where I used to err regularly during my many years in the Marais quarter of Paris).

Friday, November 22, 2013

My November 22, 1963

Like countless people throughout the world, I remember distinctly the moment when I learned that John F Kennedy had been assassinated.


On 25 October 1963, in the port of Rotterdam, I had signed off as a sailor on the British Glory petroleum tanker, after a three-week voyage from Kuwait. Then, on Monday 4 November 1963, I started work as an assistant English teacher at the splendid Lycée Henri IV in the Latin Quarter of Paris (where I would end up working for three years).


On 21 November 1963, I attended a reception for new foreign teachers (such as me) at the Hôtel de Ville.


I could hardly imagine that, in the course of the following decades, I would stroll almost daily across that magnificent square (when I was living in the nearby Rue Rambuteau). Meanwhile, I had moved into a room in a flat rented out by a sleazy South American fellow. It was located on the second floor of a building in the Rue Montorgueil, near the great Halles markets (which were still functioning at that time).

                                             — photo by Robert Doisneau

Today, it is a smart little street with boutiques and bistrots.


But in 1963, it was a gloomy and sinister address. That’s where I happened to be located, on 22 November 1963, when the South American fellow informed me that Kennedy had been shot. Needless to say, I was stunned, for many reasons. My maternal grandmother was an Irish Kennedy, and I had always felt a vague kind of kinship (totally unjustified) with the US president. As for my South American landlord, he seemed to quite like the idea that the USA could get rid of one of their leaders in such a spectacular fashion.

Not long afterwards, I was pleased to find accommodation at the Collège Franco-Britannique at the Cité Universitaire, to the south of Paris.


It was a far more pleasant atmosphere than my room in the Rue Montorgueil. Later on, when I was living in the Rue Rambuteau, I would often find myself walking past the southern extremity of the Rue Montorgueil, near the church of Saint-Eustache.


And this corner of Paris brings to mind invariably an image of Jackie Kennedy, in her pink Chanel outfit, on the rear seat of a big black automobile, leaning down over the body of the dying president.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

France is more backward than you think

People tend to think that France is a modern nation (well, some people, at least) and that Paris is a great city in constant evolution. I myself spread this legend through my blog post of August 2011 entitled Redevelopment of Paris riverbanks [display], which seemed to suggest that "imagination is in power" (an antiquated slogan of the ferocious rioters of May 1968).

Thankfully, my favorite French website, Gallica (emanation of the Bibliothèque nationale de France, click here to access), has readjusted the understandable enthusiasm of an Antipodean expatriate such as myself. The following photo proves that, a mere century ago, archaic Gauls were still rolling into the City of Light with their primitive horse-drawn wagons.


When you see that photo of the wagon bumping across the primitive cobblestones of Paris, it's amazing to think that the luxurious 2-horsepower Citroën—the gem of the French art of automobile construction—was just half-a-century down the road.


With the cold season at Gamone just around the corner, I'm trying to make up my mind whether I should maybe invest in a Gallic wagon. Apparently the wooden wheels work wonderfully well on the icy macadam. And, even if I were to get stuck in the snow on my way back home from the supermarket, I could always camp down overnight in the straw in the wagon, with Fitzroy to keep me warm.

Saturday, October 5, 2013

Russian leader beneath my former windows

For most of my time in Paris, I lived in a second-floor apartment at 23 rue Rambuteau, between the Centre Pompidou and the Marais quarter. At the back end of the apartment, the bedroom windows looked down onto a narrow street, rue Geoffroy-l'Angevin, which was said to date from the 13th century.


On the opposite façade, a sign indicated the presence of a merchant who stocked bread, wine and cheese. Neighbors told me that small warehouses of that kind—referred to as "BOF" merchants (beurre, œuf, fromage)—came into existence during the Nazi Occupation, to deal in black-market foodstuffs (avoiding the rationing system), and that their owners soon became rich.

Recently, I was intrigued by an enigmatic Femen tweet saying that the Russian president Vladimir Putin had been sighted in the rue Geoffroy-l'Angevin. Over the last few years, we've grown accustomed to images of Putin as a rugged outdoor macho, often stripped above the waist to exhibit his pectorals. I've always thought he looks more authentic (more authentically evil) in his old KGB uniform.


I finally discovered the sense of the Femen tweet about Putin in the rue Geoffroy-l'Angevin. An anonymous street artist had apparently created a colorful stenciled variation on the theme of a lese-majesty painting that presents the Russian president as a transvestite in female lingerie.


The original portrait of Putin and his prime minister Dmitry Medvedev disguised as females was created recently by the Russian artist Konstantin Altunin.


Not surprisingly, Altunin was obliged to run for his life and flee from Russia to avoid receiving an art lesson from Putin's henchmen.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Rose named Coluche

Two years ago, in a blog post entitled A rose by any other name [display], I mentioned the great French comic Michel Colucci [1944-1986], known as Coluche. In the early 1980s, when strolling between the rue Rambuteau and the Hôtel de Ville, I would often see Coluche seated in the midst of his theatre friends on the pavement of the café Le Reinitas at the corner of the Temple and Plâtre streets on the edge of the Marais.


The rose bush that bears the name of Coluche has just bloomed at Gamone, a month late (because of the wet weather and lack of sunshine), and I picked a specimen.


Back in the Rue du Temple, I would have found it weird to imagine that I might be remembering Coluche, three decades later, through a red rose growing in my garden on the edge of the Alps.

Saturday, March 30, 2013

Chain-saw attack of the Sun King's elephant

If this story had emerged in the press next Monday, I would have concluded immediately that it's an April Fool's Day tale. We learned this morning that an unfortunate animal in Paris was incapable of resisting the attack of a maniac armed with a chain-saw. In any case, the beast in question—an elephant that been given to Louis XIV in 1668 by the king of Portugal—had been dead for ages, and was residing in peace (up until last night) in the natural science museum in the Latin Quarter.


The 20-year-old attacker, who had succeeded in crudely hacking off the elephant's left tusk, was captured in a nearby street by police who had been alerted by the unfamiliar morning sounds of a chain-saw inside a museum. We must of course presume that the alleged chain-saw assailant is innocent, at least up until a law court were to condemn him. Whatever the precise description of the crime with which he'll be charged, the fellow will be better off than if he'd been charged by the living beast itself, back in the days of the Sun King... who would have promptly had the culprit drawn and quartered for daring to touch the tusks of the royal elephant.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Newspaper's new name doesn't sound right

When I first arrived in Paris, I didn't know enough French to take advantage of an excellent newspaper such as Le Monde. So, I contented myself with another fine daily: the New York Herald Tribune, made famous by Jean Seberg.


It has just been announced that the name of this famous publication—edited conjointly in Paris, London and Hong Kong, not to mention New York—will soon be changed to International New York Times.

Alas, that new name just doesn't sound right. I reckon that, if Jean-Luc Godard, Jean-Paul Belmondo and their charming young American accomplice had been obliged to work with a name like that, their Breathless might have been a gigantic flop.

Sunday, February 3, 2013

X marks this Latin Quarter spot

This remarkable color photo of a spot in the Latin Quarter (Paris)—the intersection of the rue de l'Ecole-Polytechnique and the rue de la Montagne-Sainte-Geneviève—was taken almost a century ago, in 1914:

Click to enlarge

The street names evoke famous edifices. The Ecole Polytechnique, founded just after the French Revolution, has always been a temple of scientific research and education.


The entry into the Polytechnique is still much the same as in this old monochrome photo:


The school itself has now been relocated in Palaiseau, on the edge of Paris, and the old buildings have been taken over by the French Ministry of Research.


The Montagne-Saint-Geneviève is a hill in the Latin Quarter that takes its name from the primeval patron saint of Paris, Geneviève [423-512], who is said to have saved the city from being overrun by the barbarian Huns of Attila. In her later years, Geneviève used to climb up a track (itinerary of today's rue de la Montagne-Sainte-Geneviève) in order to pray in an abbey founded on top of the hill by Clovis [466-511], the first Christian king of France, and his queen Clotilde.

Saint Geneviève, King Clovis and Queen Clotilde.

Today, the only remnant of the original monastery that still exists is a splendid white stone edifice, referred to as the Clovis Tower, in the grounds of a nearby school.


The school in question is the lovely and prestigious Lycée Henri IV, where I spent three of my earliest years in Paris (from 1963 to 1965) working as an assistant teacher of English.


That marvelous period of my life in the heart of Paris (while residing at the Cité Universitaire in the 14th arrondissement) marked my initiation into the French language, culture and traditions... and it was no coincidence that the 1965 semester culminated in my marriage to a French girl from Brittany, Christine, and my decision to consider France as my adoptive land.

Let me return to the opening image of this blog post. The publication of that photo was accompanied by a recent image of the same spot, which hasn't changed a lot, visually, over the last hundred years:


Google Maps provided me with another view of this intersection, including a glimpse of the start of the block a little lower down in the rue de la Montagne-Sainte-Geneviève:


In the company of staff from the Lycée Henri IV (including my friend François Leonelli, now an honorary French prefect and—according to recent news—vice-president of Unicef France), the corner café with a red-brick façade was a regular haunt during those carefree days in the Latin Quarter.


The name, Les Pipos, was an old-fashioned term for students of the nearby Ecole Polytechnique... more commonly referred to by means of a single capital letter: X. I should explain that many of my students at the Lycée Henri IV were in fact "preparing" (as they say in French educational jargon) their possibly-forthcoming entry into the great X establishment.

I like to think that X marks this Latin Quarter spot—the intersection of the rue de l'Ecole-Polytechnique and the rue de la Montagne-Sainte-Geneviève—that symbolizes a far-reaching change in my existence.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Paris a century ago

A French photographer, Eugène Atget [1857-1927], produced a large series of fantastic photos of the working people of Paris around 1898. One of the best-known is the organ grinder and a young female singer:

The following fellow is selling stationery (sheets of paper and envelopes) to passers-by who intend to write letters:

The next photo presents an unusual professional activity. The fellow with rolled-up trousers, working alongside the Seine, earned his living by washing the dogs of passers-by.

The next photo represents a profession that still existed in Paris when I arrived here in 1962. Parisians of the generation before mine would have immediately recognized this corpulent fellow, through his hat and smock, as a member of the ancient corporation—created under the king of France known as Saint Louis [1214-1270]—called the Forts des Halles: literally, the strongmen of the markets.

Their task consisted of transporting manually all the meat and vegetables sold within the vast Paris markets, the Halles, referred to by Emile Zola as the "stomach of Paris".

In the next photo, the fellow on the left is selling articles that were familiar to my brother and me when we were kids out in rural Australia:

I'm talking of plaited braids of horsehair that were attached to the end of whips, to make them crack with a sharp loud noise. (Making these so-called whip crackers, and then using them effectively, were skills that both Don and I had acquired.) The customer in a top hat was probably a coach driver.

The following photo by Atget, taken in 1898, shows the St-Michel bridge, which links the Latin Quarter to the Ile de la Cité:

Here's a most unromantic modern view of the same site:

Incidentally, Eugène Atget photographed the Paris that is present in the opening pages of the Notebooks of Malte Laurids Brigge by Rainer Maria Rilke [1875-1926]. That's why I borrowed some of Atget's photos to illustrate my movie script based upon Rilke's novel.