19 September 2011

Paris Days and Nights 2

Posted in Talking about . . .

Monday was a really big day. . .

I know I’m supposed to be living like a local, but I didn’t do history to any advanced level at school and I’m kinda hooked on the French stuff at the moment. My excuse for behaving like a tourist is that I have to catch up with the locals in terms of their local knowledge, so bear with me. At the very least, you’ll have this background knowledge when next you’re in Paris!

On Monday morning, we met up with our guide Aloïs at the Opéra de Paris (also known as the Opéra Garnier). It’s known as the Opéra Garnier because it was designed by Charles Garnier as part of the reconstruction of Paris by Napoleon III and his grand architect, Baron Haussmann, and was officially opened in 1875. It was attended daily by everyone who was everyone, and many stars of the stage were courted by wealthy patrons with diamonds and other trinkets bought just around the corner at Cartier (established in 1847 and always been close to L’Opéra so that wealthy gentlemen could pick up something on the way to a show).

It’s a glorious building, with exquisite details. In fact, Aloïs opened my eyes to the fact that one of the key ingredients of the enchanting and everlasting beauty of Paris is the attention to detail. It’s evident everywhere – in the architecture, in the arts, in the food, and even the way that people dress. Here’s one example at L’Opéra. Click here. Then click on the section just below the gold garland at the top. You will see the letters N and E set into the horizontal frieze. Napoleon insisted on these – to stand for himself and his wife, the empress Eugenie - that’s so cute! Even self-appointed emperors can be cute.

We went to Harry’s Bar where Ernest Hemingway invented the Bloody Mary to hide the alcohol from his wife who was complaining about his drinking; and to the place where the first moving picture was projected onto a screen by the Lumiere brothers in 1895 – it caused an enormous uproar because the patrons nearly killed each other in their stampede to get out of the place as the train seemed to move towards them!

The Place Vendôme is spectacular – a square of imposing homes laid out by Louis XIV (the Sun King) in 1702. Then in true Napoleonic style, Napoleon I erected a column to commemorate his victories in battle (apparently built from the iron of weapons captured during those war) with himself at the top in Roman robes and with a laurel wreath. Hail, Caesar!

Place Vendôme Vendôme Column

From Left to Right: Place Vendôme, Vendôme Column

The Ritz (take a peek inside – it’s gorgeous) is also in the Place Vendôme . It has an amazing history and looks very beautiful, but I gather that it’s in financial trouble and is up for sale – anyone? Dior and Cartier are on one side of the Ritz, and guess what’s on the other side? The Ministry of Justice! Just I case you were thinking about bilking from the Ritz or robbing Cartier, I guess. . .

We ended up walking through the Tuilleries – the massive 3 kms of formal gardens directly below the Louvre created by Catherine de Medicis to go with her own little palace near the Louvre where her son, Francois II, was ensconced as king in the mid 1500s. This is where Parisiens and Parisiennes still go to promenade and check each other out and I gather that the gossip rate gets pretty high here! What’s really notable (apart from the scale of the area) is the use of a light crushed stone rather than lawns. The trees are also manicured from below to allow maximum view for people walking in the gardens. There are many, many fabulous sculptures (many of them are copies because the originals are housed safely elsewhere, e.g., Rodin); the Orangerie with its Impressionist paintings; a glorious carousel; and the Arc de Triomphe du Carrousel commissioned by Napoleon I set close to the Louvre Museum. He soon afterwards commissioned the much bigger Arc de Triomphe de l’Etoile which he set at the end of the Champs Elysees (presumably because he didn’t think the first one was big enough . . .)

Tuilleries from above Tuilleries from within

From Left to Right: Tuilleries from above, Tuilleries from within

There’s a marvellous story about General Dietrich von Choltitz who was Governor of Paris during the occupation of Paris during the 2nd World War. In the days before the allies liberated Paris, Hitler instructed von Choltitz to destroy the bridges of Paris and many of its iconic buildings (including the Louvre, the Eiffel Tower, and the Arc de Triomphe) before the allies arrived. Instead, von Choltitz surrendered to the allies without detonating the dynamite charges that had been put in place (and were subsequently found).

The romantics think that he simply fell in love with Paris and couldn’t comprehend the destruction of these glorious constructions. The cynics have suggested that this practical man simply realised that Hitler’s time was coming to an end, and decided to get things over with as quietly and efficiently as possible without implicating himself in the crimes of the Third Reich any further.

Once we’d finished the tour, we set off walking down the Champs Elysees to the Arc de Triomphe (a distance of about 2 kms). There were lots of places, people, and things to look at -including the most amazing ice creams I’ve ever seen! Amarino gelato comes in cones. OK, so that’s not terribly surprising. BUT – when you have multiple flavors, they are presented in the shape of a flower – each flavor being a circle of petals! Go to http://www.amorino.com/fr/ and scroll down to the video in the middle of the page and watch them make their “petal” cones – too beautiful!

We had lunch at a café on the Champs Elysees, and took the obligatory photo at the Arc de Triomphe. Then we hiked all the way to the Trocadero just so I could show BDH the Eiffel Tower from its best vantage point. I must say that I had forgotten how very metallic it is – and how intricate the steel structure is. It really is lovely.

Arc de Triomphe de l'Étoile Eiffel Tower

From Left to Right: Arc de Triomphe de l'Étoile, Eiffel Tower

Finally, we took a boat trip on the Seine up to the Pont Charles de Gaulle and back, which gave us another perspective of Paris and its two main islands - Île de la Cité (the oldest part of Paris including Notre Dame cathedral) and Ile Saint-Louis close by. Travelling the Seine really gives one an appreciation for the many bridges across the Seine in Paris (37, I think), and their variety, including the baroque beauty of the Pont Alexandre III; the delight of the Pont au Double; or the ancient Pont Neuf joining the Île de la Cité with the right and left banks of the Seine.

We finally made our way home about 7 ½ hours after we left – it was a long, but very wonderful, day.

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Comments (1)

  • Liz Sommer
    Liz Sommer
    19 September 2011 at 13:58 |

    Now I am seriously jealous! Paris is my most favourite city in the whole world. When I win the lottery I will buy myself un bel appartement there and live happily ever after! Continue to enjoy the sights, sounds and food of Paris et lui donner mon amour ...... (sigh)

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