Monday, October 6, 2008

Club de Jazz: Le Caveau des Oubliettes


Le Caveau des Oubliettes (on left) fronts onto a medieval lane that was once the principal route to Lyons and on to Rome.

This “Pub et Club de Jazz” on the pedestrian-only Rue Galande has been in business since 1920. However, the cellar (caveau) referred to in the name is not of the sort for storing wine. An “oubliette” was a dungeon cell with a trap door at the top as its only opening (the word “oubliette” comes from the French word for “forgotten,” as in to lock up and throw away the key). These cells originally served as dormitories for monks who studied in earlier times down at the end of the street, but they were later converted to prison cells connected by underground passageways to the Petit Châtelet, a medieval fortress prison once located about a block from here.
So that we do not forget its heritage, the owners have installed an actual guillotine against the wall to the right as you enter. It’s no replication, mind you, but the real deal, dating from 1792. Go ahead – you know you want to! The more timid can still get a good look by peering in through the window. I swear I’m not making this up.
The web site is: www.caveaudesoubliettes.com
The home page shows a photo of green grass. “Why might that be?” you may ask. Well, the entire ground floor surface is covered in actual sod (replaced as necessary). Don’t ask me why. I can imagine the fun a US food/health inspector would have with that!
As an enticement to go in and give the place a gander, they have even paved a portion of the sidewalk with sod, as well. Only in Paris!
Live music in the 13th century cellars starts around 10:30 daily. Cover charge on Fridays and Saturdays (usually progressive jazz); other nights offer jazz jam sessions (no cover, but 5€ drink minimum).
52, rue Galande; tel. 01 46 34 23 09
Metro: St-Michel/Notre-Dame or Maubert Mutualité

Click on the photo to prove to yourself that this isn't astroturf.













The ground floor decor is razor sharp!

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Saint Médard

Saint Médard, in the 5th arrondissement

The church of Saint Médard was mentioned by Pope Alexandre III when he came to Paris to lay the first stone of Notre Dame Cathedral in 1163, but construction continued in fits and starts until 1632. A new sacristry was added in 1718, and it was not until 1901 that the chapelle des catéchismes was completed. Nowadays the church is a quiet, unassuming place surrounded by trees with a little park next to it. The church property marks the end of the southern extremity of the ancient and colorful Rue Mouffetard, which dates back to Roman times.

However, Saint-Médard was the scene of bizarre events in the early 18th century. These incidents involved people who became known as the Convulsionnaires de Saint Médard, and the collective hysteria which took place during a five year period is notable.

It started with the teachings of Jansénius, Bishop of Ypres, who had published a theological treatise in 1640 about the doctrines of St. Augustin regarding the health of the soul. Jansenism, as this movement was called, was a heretical doctrine that emphasized predestination, denial of free will, and the idea that human nature is basically rotten. Internal conflicts with church authority ensued, resulting in crack-downs by the Pope.

Saint Médard became a place of pilgrimage for these Jansenists when the Deacon François de Pâris was buried there in 1727. Claims of miracles and visions by pilgrims to his tomb gave rise to fanatical crowds visiting the church. People became entranced, rolled on the ground, barked like dogs, and some even ate earth from near the tomb. Others in their hysteria had themselves crucified or pierced their tongues. The scene lasted five years before access to the cemetery was bricked up in 1732 by order of King Louis XV, who ordered a sign that read, “By order of the King, God will perform no more miracles here.”

The present choir of this ninth-century church was built between 1550 and 1586 and the vaulting between 1609 and 1622. The inside was renovated between 1777 and 1784; today visitors may admire the pulpit, which dates to 1718, the eighteenth-century organ and three paintings by Natoire, Restout and Zurbaran. This is the only church in Paris in which persons guilty of cannibalism can receive absolution.

Trivia: Charles Tournemire, noted organist and composer, was organist here prior to 1897, when he accepted the post of organist titulaire at Saint-Nicolas du Chardonnet; he later achieved greater fame as organist at Sainte-Clotilde, which had been home to Cesar Franck.

St-Médard interior photo by Mike Franklin:
http://flickr.com/photos/mikefranklin/

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Musée d'Orsay: Riverfront 19th-century art

Photo by Olivier Ffrench (link at upper right)

Occupying a stunning setting on the Left Bank of the Seine opposite the Tuileries and the western extremity of the Louvre, the Musée d'Orsay is a triumph of recycled architecture. The museum building was originally a railway station, known as the Gare d'Orsay, finished in time for the 1900 Exposition Universelle.


By 1939 the station’s short platforms had become unsuitable for the longer trains that had come to be used for mainline service, and after being used as a suburban train station, the Gare d'Orsay closed in 1973. Plans were underway in the late 1970s to convert the disused station into an art museum, and the Musée d'Orsay opened in late 1986.

The grand vaulted interior gives the museum a sense of spaciousness that is rare for a museum. The paintings, sculpture, furniture and photographs date from 1848 to 1915. The museum is probably best known for its extensive collection of impressionist paintings, many of which were displayed at the Galerie Nationale du Jeu de Paume, adjacent to the Place de la Concorde, prior to the museum's opening.

Two paintings, in particular, draw massive crowds:

Van Gogh – Starry Night over the Rhone (1888)

Whistler – Arrangement in Grey and Black (1871) Whistler’s Mother

There are liberal sprinklings of paintings by Renoir, Manet, Degas, Cezanne and Monet, as well. An unusual feature is a scale model of medieval Paris housed under a glass floor. Another is a scale cut-away model of the Palais Garnier (the “old” opera house).


Musée d'Orsay
Closed Mondays.
Métro: Musée d'Orsay (RER-C)

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Palais de l'Élysée - French White House


The Palais de l'Élysée has been the official residence of presidents of the French republic since 1873. It is currently home to Nicolas Sarkozy and his third wife, Italian-born Carla Bruni, married here on February 2, 2008 (Ground Hog Day, if I recall correctly).

The Palais de l'Élysée is located in a commercial area of Paris on the fashionable Rue du Faubourg Saint-Honoré, just opposite a Versace retail outlet (this must make the Italian-born first lady feel even more at home). The English-style gardens at the rear of the palace stretch back toward the Champs-Élysées.


The history of this palace is as lurid as the personal lives of its current occupants. In 1753 Mme. de Pompadour bought the extravagant residence of Comte d'Evreux, built in 1718, and used it for lavish entertaining when she was away from Versailles. Her opponents showed their distaste by hanging signs on the gates reading: "Home of the King's whore."

After the Empress Joséphine was divorced by Napoléon, this house became her hideaway. Ironically, it was also here that Napoléon Bonaparte signed his second abdication after the Battle of Waterloo. Subsequently, the mansion housed a restaurant and fairgrounds run by an Italian ice cream maker, Velloni (another Italian connection for Ms. Bruni!).

French President Felix Faure suddenly died here in 1899 while in the arms of his mistress, Marguerite Steinheil. During World War One, a gorilla escaped from a nearby menagerie, entered the presidential palace and was said to have tried to haul the wife of President Raymond Poincare into a tree, only to be foiled by Élysée guards. President Francois Mitterrand is said to have used its private apartments only rarely. He preferred returning at night to his own home on the Rue de Bièvre on the more bohemian Left Bank (or to the discreet flat in another district occupied by the mother of his illegitimate daughter Mazarine, whose existence was only revealed to the public in 1994).

OK. Let’s stop and take a deep breath. So far we have a palace, once owned by the rich, spoiled mistress of King Louis XV, now occupied by an Italian-born former nude model and a 5-ft 5-inch tall twice-divorced politician of Hungarian descent who happens to be the wildly unpopular President of France – all of this set amongst English gardens across the street from Versace.

Back to the height thing. Carla is 2 inches taller than Nicolas, and it kind of bothers him. So he uses some "tricks" to diminish the height discrepancy. In most photos, you'll notice that Carla is standing a step or two back from the camera, leaving Nicolas in the foreground, thus appearing taller than Carla. So far, so good. Recently Mr. Sarkozy likes to stand on the curb, while Carla is at street level. Works like a charm. And Ms. Bruni is making flat shoes fashionable again among Parisian women. And hats are out, naturally.

Sarkozy and Bruni on a date in Egypt last January.

But we’re just getting started. Within the first nine months of Sarkozy’s presidency two different first ladies occupied the premises. Carla Bruni was preceded by another former model, Cécilia Ciganer-Albéniz (great-granddaughter of composer Isaac Albéniz), who, while first lady of France, continued an affair she was having with a Moroccan-born events planner who was working in New York (and whom she married a month after Sarkozy married Carla). In a sort of perverse tit-for-tat, it should be noted that at the same time Cécilia and her beau were planning “events,” Sarkozy was himself having an affair with Anne Fulda, a journalist at Le Figaro.

Still with me? Well, you won’t want to be, because there’s more.

OK. Cécilia was nine months pregnant and 26 years old when she married her first husband, who was 52 at the time – exactly twice her age. Can you guess who conducted the civil ceremony? Nicolas Sarkozy, who was then mayor of Neuilly-sur-Seine, where the wedding took place. No further comment on this tidbit.

Sarkozy’s political behavior has not exactly been astute, either. When he had an audience with Pope Benedict eight months ago, Sarkozy showed up late and proceeded to send text messages during their meeting. And he chose his buddy, a French comedian, as the companion for his audience with the pope. At a recent G8 summit, it was obvious that Sarkozy was drunk when he was trying to make a speech before live television cameras. And for his official portrait, which graces every town hall in France, he chose a paparazzi photographer. To his credit, however, he was voted one of the world’s best dressed men, just behind Brad Pitt and David Beckham.

I swear I’m not making this stuff up.

Anyway, the Palais de l'Élysée is not open to the public, so you won’t have to worry about catching anything by entering its gates. But I digress.

Back to the building itself. When Parisians talk about “L’Élysée,” they mean the president's palace, whereas the Champs-Élysées is known simply as “Les Champs.” Armed with knowledge like this, the locals will mistake you for a native.

You’re welcome.

Wait – I forgot to mention that Carla Bruni is a songwriter and successful pop music recording star (some of the tracks on her CDs are named for former lovers – cute). And as for those nude photos, her husband, the President of France, calls them “hot.”


And Carla, the former lover of Mick Jagger, Donald Trump and Eric Clapton (I kid you not), is not exactly a shining example of prudent public relations herself. To the media she drops quotes like bombshells. “I want a man with nuclear power.” “I’m monogamous from time to time, but I prefer polygamy and polyandry.” “Love can last a long time, but burning desire – two to three weeks.” And these days she is comparing herself to Jacqueline Kennedy-Onassis (in her own words, “a youthful elegant woman of style”), as opposed to Bernadette Chirac, a first lady in the more traditional mold.

Let me out of here.

The imposing facade on Rue du Faubourg Saint-Honoré.

Sarkozy's office.

The garden façade.

Perhaps they could shop for new guard uniforms across the street at Versace.




The Latin word “gallus” means both rooster (coq) and Gaulle. The garden gate of the Elysée Palace in Paris displays a gilded rooster, and the fleur-de-lis and rooster were both official symbols of the State of France during the 19th century.

Monday, August 4, 2008

Tour St-Jacques (St. James Tower)


Built in 1512, the 170-ft. tall late Gothic tower is the only surviving part of the 16th-century church Saint-Jacques-de-la-Boucherie (Saint James of the Slaughterhouse) that was demolished in 1797. Its congregants were the wealthy wholesale butchers from the nearby Les Halles market, accounting for its extravagance.

Fifteenth-century alchemist and philanthropist Nicolas Flamel, a patron of the church, is buried under its floor. Flamel was alleged to be the eighth “Grand Master of the Priory of Sion,” and he was mentioned as a character in Dan Brown’s 2003 novel, “The DaVinci Code.”

This church is located along the route taken by pilgrims to Santiago de Compostela, Spain, one of the three great places of pilgrimage of medieval Christendom (along with Jerusalem and Rome). In the Middle Ages this was an assembly point for pilgrims on their journey to northwestern Spain, the legendary burial-place of the remains of the Apostle James (“Santiago” in Spanish). These pilgrims, coming from the north of Paris along Rue Saint-Martin, continued on their way south via Rue Saint- Jacques (St. James street) on the Left Bank.

During the 1870s, when Rue de Rivoli and Avenue Victoria were constructed, huge quantities of earth were removed to ensure a flat path for these new streets, which flank the present-day Square de la Tour St-Jacques. Thus the street level was lowered considerably. The present-day pedestal at the base of the tower shields its foundations, which used to be below street level. Nowadays, this change in ground level can best be appreciated in rue St-Bon, just northeast of the tower, where a staircase leads up to the original street level at Rue des Lombards and the church of St-Merri. During this same time period, a statue of Saint James was installed on the top of the tower.

A statue of Blaise Pascal (1623-1662) at the base of the tower is here because of his experiments in atmospheric pressure performed using this tower. He determined the effect of altitude on the height of a column of mercury relating to air pressure. A series of meteorological instruments are mounted at the top of the tower and remain in use today.

A major restoration of Tour St-Jacques, lasting many years, was completed just a few months ago. The grassy square at the base of the tower is located on the Right Bank just north of the Île de la Cité. It can be reached by crossing the Pont Notre-Dame.

Métro: Châtelet

Sunday, August 3, 2008

Subway Buskers


In Paris, where there are 360 licensed subway musicians (buskers), only one in three makes the cut. Nowadays the RATP requires them to audition for authorization to perform underground. Buskers are supposed to perform only in corridors and station lobbies, and not on platforms or in trains, where they might create safety hazards or assault the eardrums. If unauthorized performers get caught, they are fined 50 Euros.

Twice a year, musicians descend to the RATP’s basement to audition before a panel of judges, who have to decide from the perspective of a passenger. Is it good music? Is it music that would be nice to hear in the Métro?

Veteran buskers must renew their badges, which requires a 15 Euro processing fee. Some of them play as buskers when the regulars clubs where they work are closed. They can pick up a little pocket money, averaging 20 euros in a few hours. However, hardly anyone can make a living by just playing in the subway these days. Instead, they see the Métro as a good place to practice in public. Most musicians keep fliers, business cards and CDs at the ready when they perform, hoping for both cash and future gig work.

Subway Symphony

Saturday, August 2, 2008

Saint Julien le Pauvre

Just across the Seine from Notre-Dame cathedral, at the corner of Rue Galande and Rue St-Julien-le-Pauvre, stands the mess that is the front of a small church – St. Julien the Poor. As the visitor approaches, it appears that this in not a church at all, but a mere ruin of a church. To the left, stretching all the way out to the sidewalk, stands a wall that once formed part of the vestibule, most of which was torn down (as a result of student riots in the 16th century, as we are to learn). Set back from the street is a modest, squat, stuccoed neoclassical false façade with a simple door and some walled up windows – this part would not look out of place in the Mediterranean. An ancient looking round stone planter sits off to the right, and beyond that is a large paving stone jammed up against the wall of the church, set slightly above pavement level. Classical concert posters are plastered all over the fence, and there are signs in Greek. The entire ensemble appears to be a sort of architectural purgatory, not quite derelict, but certainly not fully restored. What on earth is going on here?


Actually, this is one of the oldest churches in all of Paris. A basilica was here as early as the 6th century, and pilgrims making the journey to Santiago de Compostela in Spain stopped here to make use of its dormitory and adjacent fountain, known for miraculous healing powers (the monks charged a fee to access the healing waters). The street just to the west of this church is named Rue Saint-Jacques (St. James street), and was the principal route south to Spain, where the remains of St. James were washed up on the shores and subsequently enshrined. The faithful continue to make this pilgrimage to the present day.

The extant Romanesque building, constructed 1165-1240, but never finished, has origins that are contemporary with Notre-Dame cathedral. When the great educator Peter Abelard had a theological falling out with the authorities at Notre-Dame in the early 12th century, thousands of his students followed him across the Seine and set up shop in this area. They attended lectures in the open air, perched upon bales of hay. The name of the absurdly short Rue du Fouarre, which forms the southern entry to the grounds of St-Julien-le-Pauvre, refers to this (“fouarre” is an old French word that means “forage” or “hay”). Hay protected the back sides of the students from the filth and dampness of the streets, which served as latrines for the student population. As the capacity of the colleges increased, St-Julien-le-Pauvre became the home church of the university, and construction of the present, larger church building began. However, as the university expanded southward toward Montaigne Ste-Geneviève, the fortunes of St-Julien-le-Pauvre floundered. Still, the elections of the Rector Magnificus of the university continued to be held here, until students, upset over the election of a new rector in 1524, rioted and caused so much damage to the church that it was forced to close, beginning a period of long neglect.

Soon three quarters of the vestibule was in such precarious condition that it had to be dismantled; the front door was moved back from the street as part of a false wall built across the start of the nave. This accounts for the curious, partially-ruined wall that projects out to the left of the front door; what we are looking at actually served as the north interior wall of the vestibule. The round planter to the right of the front door was formerly a well that was positioned inside the church itself, providing water for baptisms, and the elevated paving stone is an actual relic of the adjacent Roman road (Rue St-Jacques) that was unearthed and placed here in 1926.

But it gets even stranger. In the 17th century the derelict church was ceded to the hospital (Hôtel Dieu) that was based next to Notre-Dame cathedral, and they spiffed things up a bit. During this time St-Julien-le-Pauvre served as the hospital chapel, not so odd a concept when we remember that this hospital stretched all the way from the banks of the Île de la Cité across the bridge to the Left Bank. A hundred years later the revolutionaries seized all church property, and St-Julien-le-Pauvre was deconsecrated and used to store salt.

What is now the picturesque north church yard known as Square Viviani was once occupied by several three story hospital annexes, not removed until 1877, when the hospital relocated to new quarters on the north side of the Île de la Cité. The disused church of St-Julien-le-Pauvre was then deeded to the Melkites, a congregation of Eastern Catholics who observe the Byzantine Rite. This accounts for the signs outside in modern Greek.

The Melkites built the handsome wooden iconostasis with painted icons depicting Christ, the Virgin, and various saints in 1891. An iconostasis is a feature of churches that use the Byzantine rite of worship, dividing the sanctuary (representing Heaven, which only clergy are allowed to enter) from the rest of the church.


Because of its fine acoustics, many classical music concerts are held in Saint Julien le Pauvre, principally piano recitals and chamber music.


The oldest street sign in Paris, a carved 14th-century stone bas-relief above the entry to no. 42 rue Galande, depicts St. Julien the Hospitaller and his wife rowing Christ (disguised as a leper) across the river towards a chapel. This address was described in 1380 as the “Maison de la Heuze et de Saint-Julien” (House of the Boot and of Saint Julien) and “La Maison où au dessus est l'enseigne de Saint Julien” (house above which is the sign of Saint Julien).


According to legend, St. Julien unwittingly killed his own parents, and to atone for his sin he built a hospice near a river where he and his faithful wife provided lodging for poor travelers, cared for the sick, and ferried pilgrims across the dangerous waters. Julien finally earned God's forgiveness by aiding one such pilgrim, a leper who turned out to be Christ in disguise. The legend was very popular during the Middle Ages, and hospitals, hospices, and churches all over Europe were named for the Hospitaller named Julien. He was the patron saint of innkeepers, ferrymen, circus performers and travelers. Medieval travelers often prayed for his help in finding good lodgings for the night. His feast day is February 12.

In the middle of the Square Viviani, which sits between St-Julien-le-Pauvre and the banks of the Seine, there is a sunken area with an unusual fountain in the center. Dedicated in October 1995, the fountain is the work of Georges Jeanclos, and it tells the story of St. Julien the Hospitaller in scenes depicting his caring for the needy. Forty years ago this square was a run-down disused tract of weeds. It has been replanted and is now scrupulously maintained. Today weary tourists can rest their feet on the plentiful benches and take in the best view of Notre-Dame cathedral that the city affords.

Friday, August 1, 2008

Café Le Tournon


During the 1950s this was the gathering spot of ex-pat African-American writers and artists, such as James Baldwin, Chester Himes, Richard Wright (who gave the pinball machine a steady workout), William Gardner Smith, painter Beauford Delaney and scuptor Howard Cousins. However, it was political cartoonist Oliver Harrington who was the main draw. A brilliant raconteur, he kept large audiences entertained and drew enthusiastic, entranced crowds. He subsequently made Le Tournon famous throughout the world. Life magazine published a feature article about African-American ex-pats at Le Tournon in the mid-1950s, greatly expanding its fame.

Paris was quite inexpensive after WWII. Americans found that they could live on twenty dollars a week. As a result, the city was crowded with ex-pat artists, poets and writers, ex-Army veterans using the GI Bill of Rights to study at the Sorbonne - and there was none of the racial prejudice that smoldered on the other side of the Atlantic.

Paris was in the midst of its long-running love affair with African-American culture, jazz in particular. Duke Ellington’s band made its Parisian debut at Le Tournon, initiating the mania for jazz that eventually took over the St-Germain-des-Prés neighborhood.

A little later George Plimpton also settled in at Le Tournon, along with others associated with the newly-formed Paris Review; Plimpton was a founding editor and continued to contribute until his death in 2003. So popular was Le Tournon with Americans that the predominant language heard throughout the café was English.

1954 Paris Review staff photo: George Plimpton (back row in hat), and author William Gardner Smith (back row, second from right).

Author Theodora Keogh, granddaughter of president Theodore Roosevelt, took up with the Paris Review literary set at the Café Le Tournon. She died earlier this year, at the age of 88.

There were notable residents in apartments upstairs in the same building. Austrian writer Joseph Roth lived above the café from 1937-1939, and there is a plaque on the building noting it. A memorable quote from Herr Roth: If you haven't been to Paris, then you're only half a person.
While they were students at the Sorbonne, sisters Elisabeth Gille and Denise Epstein were residents above Le Tournon, as well. Denise Epstein recently published long-withheld writings by her mother, Irène Némirovsky, as the award-winning novel, Suite Française (2004).

Café Le Tournon still perks along today as a wine bar and eatery with a fresh market menu, while continuing its tradition of presenting occasional live jazz concerts. The decor features murals depicting scenes of the Luxembourg Gardens, located in the back yard of the French Senate, just across the street. In good weather there is a single row of tables out front on the sidewalk terrace.

Café Le Tournon
18, rue de Tournon (6th) near the corner of rue de Vaugirard
Opens at noon.
Telephone: 01 43 26 16 16
Métro: Luxembourg or Odéon

Note: Origin of street nameFrancis de Tournon (1489-1562) was an abbot of Saint-Germain des Prés, as well as a Cardinal and noted statesman.

Thursday, July 31, 2008

Wine Culture


It is not possible to conceive of life in France without wine. EVERYBODY in France drinks wine. Even young children visiting their grandparents on the weekend are given a sip of wine while at the dinner table. The only meal in France that is not regularly accompanied by the consumption of wine is breakfast, although champagne creeps in as a brunch staple.

Parisians stop by their favorite neighborhood café most days of the week, and nearly every visit includes drinking at least a glass of wine. Apartments in Paris are minuscule (most Americans wouldn’t even call them apartments at all, with the exception of New Yorkers), too small for entertaining friends. So most people meet up at a café after work and talk over a glass of wine. Cafés are thus the de facto living rooms of Paris.

French exchange students who study at American universities are shocked to learn that they are too young to be served alcohol. Most have been regular wine drinkers since their mid teens. There is a legal drinking age in France (16), but enforcement is non-existent, and there are no ID-checks. If young people are old enough to be out on the streets without an adult, a bartender will serve them wine. If your dinner party orders a bottle of wine, and you ask the waiter for an extra glass for the ten year old at your table, the waiter will provide one without batting an eye.

Yet almost no one in Paris appears to be drunk. Because wine is so prevalent in France, there is not the temptation to sneak off to get drunk on alcohol, as is the case with American college students. The difference between young people’s attitudes toward drinking in the U.S. and in France was summed up by one U.S. college student who had been raised in Paris. “In France,” he said, “my friends and I used to go out on Saturday night to have a good time, and occasionally somebody got drunk. Here in the U.S., everybody seems to go out to get drunk, and occasionally somebody has a good time.”

Besides, we all know by now that regular and moderate consumption of wine has enormous health benefits. Recent studies find that regular, moderate consumption of wine helps in the aging process, as well - on multiple levels of physical, psychological and social well being.

"A votre santé" never had a better ring to it!

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Parc de Monceau

This park was established by Phillippe d'Orléans, the richest man in France and a cousin of King Louis XVI. He adored everything English and thus established an English-style garden in Paris; by the mid 1770s his garden had grown to 30 acres. Leading features of the park are a curved row of faux-ruin Corinthian columns and an artificial waterfall. Phillippe d'Orléans was a leading freemason, and some of the elements found in the park (a pyramid, etc.) are masonic references.


In 1797 the first silk parachute jump was made from a Montgolfier hot air balloon 3,000 feet down into the park, to the delight of a large assembly of spectators.

There are statues of Frederic Chopin, wealthy writer Guy de Maupassant (he died of syphilis, insane at 42, having written his own epitaph: "I have coveted everything and taken pleasure in nothing") and composer Charles Gounod (famous for "Funeral March for a Marionette," used as the theme to Alfred Hitchcock Presents, and the religious aria "Repentir" (O, Divine Redeemer), not to mention the operas Faust and Romeo and Juliette.


At the entrance is one of the few remaining Rotundas, a remnant from the old toll walls that completely encircled central Paris in the 1780s. Taxes on salt and wine were collected at these toll gates as goods entered the city. However here, in lieu of the usual 10-ft. high toll wall, there was an enormous moat, so as not to spoil the view for Phillippe d'Orléans (the wealthy enjoyed privilege then, as now). Parisians hated these toll walls, as they felt like prisoners in their own city, completely encircled by 16 miles of masonry and 60 toll gates. Two days before we mark the beginning of the revolution, on July 12, 1789, the citizens of Paris vented their anger by attacking these toll booths, damaging some and setting fire to others. Within 48 hours the Bastille had been breached, and the population had its hands on a large supply of firearms. They rest, as they say, is history.

Phillippe d'Orléans did not survive this turmoil, and after his death by guillotine during the revolution, the city of Paris obtained the garden and opened it as a public park. The Parc de Monceau was dramatically reduced in size during the late 1800s, when half its acreage was sold as lots for building elegant homes, most of which survive to the present time.

Today this neighborhood is one of the most exclusive and desirable in all of Paris. Avenue Hoche leads from the elaborate park gates directly to the nearby Arc de Triomphe. There is a large ex-pat Russian presence in this neighborhood, as well; the Russian Orthodox Cathédrale St-Alexandre-Nevsky sits just southwest of the park.

Métro: Monceau

Pyramid - a masonic emblem ordered by Phillippe d'OrléansGuy de Maupassant statue in Parc de Monceau

The spectacularly kitschy statue of Chopin by Jacques Froment-Meurice (1864-1948). The bas-relief angel represents “music,” while “harmony” swoons at Chopin’s feet.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Notre-Dame: Square Jean XXIII

Square Jean XXIII: The neo-Gothic Fountain of the Virgin (1845)

Square Jean XXIII is located east of Notre Dame, between the Seine and the cathedral. It is a quiet place to enjoy views of the 14th century buttresses, the Seine and its bridges and the neighboring island of Île Saint-Louis to the east.

Since the 17th century this setting had been the site of the Archbishop's Palace and garden. In 1831, the palace was looted and vandalized by rioters and later demolished. In 1844, the Prefect of Paris, Rambuteau, designed and built the present-day square, named in honor of Pope John XXIII (pope 1958-1963). The centerpiece of this garden is the neo-Gothic Fountain of the Virgin (1845). There is also a bust of Carlo Goldoni, a Venetian dramatist who died in Paris in 1793. The bust was placed here in 1907, the bicentenary of his birth.


The main part of the square is shaded by lime and elm trees, and every spring there is a spectacle of blossoms from the cherry trees from Japan. The square offers a magnificent view of the flying buttresses that support the walls and roof of Notre Dame. For the comfort of tourists, there is shade, numerous benches and (best of all) toilets.


At the extreme southeast tip of the island is the Mémorial de la Déportation (1962), a crypt that honors 200,000 French citizens who perished in Nazi camps. Following Jewish tradition of placing a pebble on a grave, there is a room adorned with 200,000 quartz stones.

Dramatic illumination of 200,000 quartz pebbles.

The easternmost tip of the Île de la Cité is the location of the Mémorial de la Déportation. The blank gray square shown on the map to the right of the cathedral is the Jardin Jean XXIII. Click to enlarge.