Saturday, May 14, 2011

Paris in the Spring


Yes, I had to get up early to catch the 6.22 am Eurostar train to Paris, but you lose one hour when travelling from the UK to Continental Europe, and I had a date. At 11 am, there I was on a corner somewhere in the 12th arrondissement, with my two Paris-based friends (they whose spare bedroom so generously makes a weekend in Paris do-able), and a dozen of their buddies, and a charming Frenchman named Claude. Not only is Claude charming, he is also trained in art history and the history of architecture, speaks many languages, and is one of Paris's top guides.

We assemble.
The walking tour commenced. Today, its goal was to follow what is called (in a rather pedestrian - in both senses - phrase)  la promenade plantee; or (more romantically) coulee verte. We began at a neat 19th century building with a stone-engraved moniker: Chemin de Fer Este - the Eastern Railway. It had once been a station for the railway line coming from the Bastille to Eastern Paris, an area which was once the factories and manufactories of Paris, stuffed with 'social housing' for the workers who kept the wheels of industry turning for the well-heeled of Western Paris.

Elevated garden walkways of the coulee verte

Behind the ex-station we joined the 4 km green belt of grass and parks and gardens known as the coulee verte, built along the route where the railway once ran. In the 1970s, the then-mayor of Paris - one Jacques Chirac - began the work which gave Paris many of its green spaces, including this innovative one.

Modern apartments along the coulee verte

Ateliers in the viaduct arches

Sometimes the coulee verte is at ground level, sometimes the ex-railway line disappears underground; but the most famous stretch is that which runs above the city streets perched on a long stretch of ex-railway viaduct. Below, the arches of the viaduct are filled today with the ateliers of artists and artisans. This is the arrondissement to come to if you need an old document restored, your antique furniture re-upholstered, or a wild, gilt Rococo mirror for your bathroom.

The architecture along the way features some of the original social housing dating from the early 1900s - so 'luxurious' that they rival the newer up-scale apartments. There is also the Gare de l'Est, and a very peculiar building from 1997-8, housing the Police Command and featuring poured concrete caryatids along the roofline in a bizarre chorus line.

A Chorus Line

information extraordinaire

Eventually we reached the busy Place in front of the Opera Bastille, the imposing modern 'second' opera house of Paris, designed by the Canadian-Uruguayan architect Carlos Ott, and built 1983 - 1989. It now faces the site of the original Bastille, the notorious prison that was famously stormed on 14th July 1789, and dismantled the next day by the revolutionaries. In the Place, under the wheels of the many cars and buses and motorcycles, you can see the 2D outline in stones of two corner towers of the Bastille, and part of its outer wall. If you cross the road and walk inside the 'walls' you can stop for a beer at Cafe Francais, and sit under an umbrella in the sunshine right inside the site of the Bastille. So we did.

Site of the Bastille - now a civilised cafe.

Reflections in the Opera House
The 12th

1 comment:

  1. Why do Parisians enjoying summer in the park always look a Seurat or Manet?