Saturday, November 6, 2010

Paris and Pompidou

Springing lightly from our beds at a late hour on Friday morning, Evan and I set off for Paris. As one can if you live on top of the Eurostar. Two hours and a short nap later, we detrained at the Gare du Nord. The sudden culture shift necessitated a short break for a cup of (excellent) café au lait and contemplation of just how little French we can speak. But eventually we managed to introduce ourselves at the small (emphasis on small) hotel on the boulevard Saint Germaine where we plan to spend the next three nights. Entering the small (really small) lift we wedged ourselves into our very small rooms. Did I mention how small the rooms are?

Hmmm...le tricolour...must be France
Next, it was off to stroll the boulevards of the Quartier Latin and to choose one of the hundreds of corner cafes to patronise for our late lunch. Lunch over, on we strolled, intending to do clever things by taking the train (the ‘RER’) out to Poissy to find the Villa Savoye of Le Corbusier. Unfortunately, the station near us was the wrong line, and then followed a very uncoordinated search for one which contained the right line, eventually followed by the wise decision to defer our trip out of town for another day. However, this being Paris, our foray across the Seine to the Right Bank was far from wasted, as the choice of things to do and see is exceptional. Passing only slightly longingly over the shops on the Rue de Rivoli, we pursued another architectural objective: the 1977 Centre de Pompidou.

Centre de Pompidou
This well known modern building stands amongst many handsome 19th century buildings, and is a cultural institution housing several exhibition spaces, cinemas, and design and bookshops. It was designed by Renzo Piano and Richard Rogers, and is an example of the concept of putting the insides of a building on its outside: that is, escalators, lifts, stairs and mysterious pipes and ventilation ducts are all visible on the outer skin of the building, leaving the inside open and spacious. After walking around the exterior (including puzzling a bit over the lurid fountain sculptures in the Place Ivor Stravinsky), we bought a ticket and took the escalators to the ‘Panorama’ deck at the top of the Centre de Pompidou. Apart from the interest in rising through the perspex-domed frame of the building, the views of the Parisian rooftops were certainly worth it.
Place Ivor Stravinsky
(but I don't think we can blame the composer)
We meandered back across the Ile de la Cité, and paused to contemplate the enormous bulk of the Cathèdrale de Notre Dame, surely one of the biggest Christian churches in the world. Its nave reaches what my guidebook describes as “an unprecedented 33 m”.  The building was begun in 1160 and finished around 1345. We contemplated its famous facade, and equally famous rose windows on a tour around the interior. The statues of various saints on the facade apparently suffered a bit during  the French revolution, being mistaken for French kings. They’re all fixed up again now.

Cathèdrale de Notre Dame
No caption needed, surely.
The evening was enlivened by a delightful visit to friends who live in the 16th arrondissement, on Avenue Victor Hugo. They are American refugees who chose to move to Paris seven years ago. We drank champagne and excellent red wine at their lovely Parisian apartment with more friends and their two poodles (how French!), then adjourned around the corner to their ‘local’ – a small restaurant serving true, and truly yummy, French food. Marilyn, bless her, ordered the frogs legs, which clearly called for a picture; while Evan and I drooled over the scads of butter and cream and cheese in everything. After dinner, pausing only to admire the Eiffel Tower lit up for the night, we came home to our small rooms (did I mention that the rooms here are very small?)

Marilyn & Jim loving French food
Frogs Legs: cuisses de grenouilles

Evan’s verdict so far? “It is a very beautiful city”. It’s been said before, but bears repeating: an elegant, proportioned, attractive place. Bon nuit.

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