Sunday, 29 November 2009

Trois Couleurs: Blanc

If blue is liberté or freedom, white is the colour of egalité, or equality. A difficult subject however, as Krzysztof Kieślowski, director of the film Trois Couleurs: Blanc points out; "The concept of equality suggests that we are all equal, but I don't believe that can be true. Nobody really wants to be the equal of another. Everybody wants to be more equal". A murky concept for a colour that is never quite what it seems to be either.

White is not a colour, but white is all of the colours combined. White is the light before refraction, but nothing without another colour to provide contrast. Equality is contradiction.

White is also tellingly absent from the official colours of the city of Paris, which display just the red and blue. White the colour of the royal family and the Catholic church, not the colour of the people. White a colour that nevertheless seems to be everywhere in the city - until you look more closely. It's a pale city, not a white city, but can any city ever be truly white? Wipe it clean, but time, dust and fingerprints soon bring the colours back.

Wednesday, 25 November 2009

Something for the Weekend? (27th - 29th November)

Food, drink and nostalgia this weekend. It must be the winter!

If you have any events or activities this weekend you think should be promoted please add them in the comments.
Let me know also if you have any events in the coming weekends you would like me to promote.

The French national amateur cooking and table dressing championships
The competition has been fierce around the country over the past few months, and now the time has come for the national finals! These are two separate events, but run at the same venue, the CEPROC in the 19th, and on the same day, Sunday the 29th. The cooking competition will see finalists preparing meals from a set number of ingredients within a given time, whilst the table dressers will have to set a table for two on a particular theme using the objects of their choice. I'm not sure if it's much of a spectator sport, but the 5 Euro entrance fee also includes access to cooking lessons and cheese and wine tasting.

1pm, Sunday 29th November
CEPROC (Centre Européen des Professions Culinaires)
19 rue Goubet, 75019 (M° Ourcq)

Two to Tango
The Festival Paris Banlieue Tango has been running since October, but this Saturday sees the grande soirée de cloture, or the end of festival party. The good news? Everyone is invited and it’s free! Artists and musicians who took part in the festival will be there to play music and give free lessons, and there will also be food and drink available. The evening will continue with a bal, and end somewhat bizarrely with “Buenos Eros A Buenos Aires” a show described as being erotic cabaret!

6pm, Saturday 28th November
Le Réservoir
16 rue de la Forge Royale 75011, (M° : Faidherbe Chaligny)

Back in the Days
For those (like me) who remember growing up in the 1980s (like me), La Bellevilloise will be the place to be this Sunday for an afternoon of nostalgia. The Back in the Days events have been held since 2006, and this weekend will see the 9th such happening. Special guest this time round will be photographer Ricky Powell, known in the 1980s as the 5th Beastie Boy. He will present photos of some of the leading hip-hop and rap names of the era including Run DMC and Public Enemy. Alongside, expect to find vintage sneakers, vinyls and computer games as well as DJs and a live graffiti performance. There will even be a competition to find the person with the best hip-hop old skool look!

3pm, Sunday 29th November - 10 €

La Bellevilloise
21 Rue Boyer, 75020 (M° : Menilmontant)

Salons des Vins des Vignerons Indépendents
Wine salons come around unsurprisingly frequently in Paris, but with Christmas only four weeks away, this one is particularly well-timed. These events with the small-scale independent producers are generally the most fun, and you should be able to find some real bargains too. Pick up your free engraved glass as you go in, then wander around from stand to stand and sample whatever takes your fancy. Don’t forget to spit into the buckets though or you’ll probably need to be carried out of the room!

November 26-29 (10am-8pm), November 30 (10am-6pm)
Porte de Versailles (M°: Porte de Versailles)
6 Euros (although free entry vouchers are easy to come by. Ask me if you are interested)

Tuesday, 24 November 2009

A Private Dinner in Paris

It is the eternal question of the tourist – how can I get to see the true heart of a place if I just drift through hotels, museums and restaurants? Few visitors to Paris ever get to see beyond the public face, but two sisters in the city have come up with an idea that may just help them to do so. Here, Maryam Ingar, one of the two sisters, explains that concept of the MyPrivateDinner website and how by using the service hungry visitors can get more than a glimpse into a very private Paris.

Maryam and Sarah Ingar are in many ways typically French - passionate about food and cooking! Maryam explains that her favourite pastime is finding new culinary venues and places to taste new creations and flavours. From this passion has come a desire to bring together other people with similar interests on a Web 2.0 platform. “The idea first came when I tried to organise an evening with some old college friends at home. We all use Facebook and other platforms, but we receive so many e-mails and requests to sign up to things that my invitation would just have been overlooked”. The solution, she decided with her sister, was to set up a social platform that would be open to people who wanted to get together for dinner parties or other culinary events.

The concept is a simple one. Hosts create events which are then opened to anybody who is registered on the platform, and the guests sign up if they want to take part. Of course, the hosts charge a fee for their event, but it becomes a great way for a visitor to try real homecooked food – in somebody’s home! There are no specific rules, and events planned at any particular time might be dinner parties, brunches, wine tastings or cupcake workshops.

The site, available in both French and English, was only launched around two months ago, but the network already includes several hundred people, and over 30 events have already been organised. Are all the hosts amateurs though, or are professionals trying to take advantage of the service to encourage people into their venues? Maryam Ingar agrees that it could be an issue, but has faith in the self-policing policy of the site. “The host is free to create an event and decide their own price. Yes, there are some professionals, for example those who organise wine or cheese tasting and also some restaurants. The principal is to create something convivial and to invite people you don’t know. A professional can still do this by making a private event with a limited number of guests.

Maryam sees the site more as a way to create a community and believes that it will also lead to friendships developing. Indeed, it is possible to become ‘friends’ with other members and hosts can choose which members they would like to invite. Although a monthly prize is available to the host judged to have organised the most successful event, Maryam does not see the site as a promotion of haute gastronomie. “A nice pasta dish is also very nourishing, and enables people to get together just as successfully!” she smiles.

The idea is an intruiging one, and a genuine way to see behind the closed doors, but will the site not eventually become a kind of private club with a limited number of members? Maryam waves away my concerns. “No" she insists, "we want to see as many people as possible join up. The site is a great way for tourists or people from other countries living in France to eat with French locals very easily and in just one click! What better way to get to know France and her culture than through the 'art de recevoir'!

Saturday, 21 November 2009

Trois Couleurs: Bleu

"Blue is freedom and the story of the price we pay for it. At what point are we truly free?". This is how Krzysztof Kieślowski described the first installment of his Trois Couleurs trilogy of films based around the French tricolore and the famous national motto; Liberté, Égalité, Fraternité. Before white and red, here is a look at how I see blue in the city.

Looking through photos I have taken recently, I can see that blue is omnipresent in Paris. Or is it just my eyes that are attracted towards it? It is obviously seen on all street names and on Metro signs, and even on the city coat of arms, but does it not simply just offer a striking contrast to the somewhat pale face of the city?

Do the objects I have snapped represent freedom? On the city coat of arms, the colour represents the royal family, but on the national flag today it is the colour of the revolution. Colours are cultural and subjective, but there does seem to be an almost tranquilising, dreamlike quality to these images. What does this colour inspire in you?

Rue Véron

Hopital Saint Vincent de Paul

Palais de la Porte Dorée Aquarium

A Falun Gong march, seen from my window.

Thursday, 19 November 2009

Something for the Weekend? (20th – 22nd November)

This weekend will be...well, scroll down and find out!

If you have any events or activities you think should be promoted or which you would like to promote yourself, please add them in the comments. Let me know also if you have any events in the coming weekends you would like to promote.

This weekend in Paris will be…

Two large-scale country markets will visit Paris this weekend, helping local gourmets to stock up for Christmas. Producers from the South West of France will set up their stands between the Metro stations of Dausmesnil and Dugommier in the 12th arrondissement on Saturday and Sunday. Expect to find meats, wines and cheeses from this region as well as live music and cooking lessons. If you're lucky, you may even win a weekend in the Correze!
Marché des Producteurs de Pays
21/22 November, Boulevard de Reuilly 9h à 19h
At the Hippodrome de Saint Cloud to the west of Paris you probably won't find horse meat, but you will find the Salon du Terroir de Reuil and 160 producers from all over France.
20-22 November
11am -10pm on Friday, 10am - 9pm Saturday, 10am - 6.30pm Sunday

The Parisians are recent converts to rugby, but now have two teams to follow in the country's top division. The two teams, Racing Club de France and the Stade Français will meet this Saturday afternoon at the home of RCF in Colombes, but the event will be spoiled somewhat by another event taking place across the city at the Stade de France. The French national team are taking on Samoa, meaning that the star players from the capital's club sides, such as the hairy Sebastien Chabal, will be otherwise engaged.
Racing Club de France v Stade Français
Stade Yves du Manoir, Rue François Faber, Colombes (Le Stade train station).
Saturday 21st November 2.30pm
France v Samoa
Stade de France
Saturday 21st November 6pm

The artistic star of the weekend is the immense Parisphoto exhibition at the Carrousel de Louvre (well, it's not just an Apple Store and a McDonalds..). The exhibition features photos from galleries around the world and gives you the chance to meet and discuss with some well-known photographers.
Carrousel de Louvre
19th to 22nd November

Environmentally Friendly
If you need a good conscience at the moment, take yourself down to the environmental international film festival. Having said that though, it will probably make you feel even more guilty as all of the film showings are completely free and it's all taking place in the thoroughly charming Pagode cinema!
La Pagode, 57, rue de Babylone 75007
18th to 24th November

Tuesday, 17 November 2009

The Port de Paris

The Seine is the lifeblood of Paris and the reason for the city’s existence, but we would be forgiven today for seeing it purely as a shiny mirror for the inhabitants of bourgeois apartments or a pleasure promenade for tourists. Five kilometers beyond the boundaries of Paris however is a liquid extension of the city centre, an immense river port spread over 386 hectares.

In Gennevilliers to the North-West of the city, it is possible to catch a glimpse of how Paris used to be. As you walk through the port and alongside the giant deepwater basins, you can sense the weight of the large, heavy sky above you, and feel the wind whipping into your bones. It’s a domain of working people, where individuals wear overalls, not shirts and ties. They flex their muscles and get their hands dirty, work on their feet, not on their backsides.

At one end of the port you can find the offices of the Port Autonome de Paris. It looks much like an Auguste Perret building, but its central clock tower would seem to belong in Tony Garnier’s ideal “cite industrielle”, a structure that he believed should be at the heart of all cities.

Naturally this is well beyond the scale of similar activities that previously existed in the centre of Paris. This is the second biggest river port in Europe, a place that treats, stocks, processes and transfers 20 million tonnes of merchandise each year. It is a giant interchange, where barges, trains and trucks meet to exchange goods and products. Hydrocarbons, building materials, petrol, wheat, cars, coal and lego-like container blocks come through here, picked up, redirected, transformed and rechanneled.

In an industrial era, Paris needed a large-scale port, but it didn’t get one until comparatively late on. Although designs for this port originate from 1920, (drawn by Fulgance Bienvenue who also planned the first Metro lines) it wasn’t until after the Second World War that the port was built and became established. Indeed, almost accidentally it was this conflict that helped it to grow. All the bridges between Gennevilliers and the sea were destroyed and needed to be rebuilt, enabling the authorities to construct them at specific heights to encourage significant river traffic.

Walking around the zone today, what is striking is the angles and the scale. Everything is solid, rectangular, practical. There is none of the superfluous decoration of Paris here, just enormous, russet-red rectangular cranes and concrete-grey silos. The zone is criss-crossed by shiny steel railway lines, most of which you can walk along. Trains seemingly come to pick up and drop off goods only in the dead of night. Large trucks do thunder past though, containers on their backs, off to one of the motorways that snake past the river.

It is all about the river. A dirty, pretty thing, slopping into the six basins that have been built here. This is the artery of Paris, something that should be used and celebrated. The architect Antoine Grumbach understood this, and it is his vision that was the most discussed when proposals for a new ‘Grand Paris’ were made recently. "Paris, Rouen, Le Havre all merged into a single city with the Seine as its central boulevard" he suggested, echoing Napoleon's 1802 vision of the city. He sees this as a liquid "highway", lined with green housing and "nature-city" parks. Paris would not just be the ‘ville musée’ but once again a hard-working, practical place.

We are a long way from Grumbach’s proposal today, but some of the ideas have been accepted in principal. There are no parks here, but alongside the colossal Grands Moulins de Paris I make an unexpected discovery. I thought I was alone, but here on the riverside is a dock for pleasure cruises and a building sheltering two restaurants and a cafeteria. The railway tracks and interminable warehouses are still here, but so are grass and flowers and a large terrace overlooking the almost attractive whitewashed flour mills. Downstairs is the canteen for the workers, a place to feed the five thousand who work in the sector. Upstairs though is a more upmarket brasserie, with dressed tables offering views across the basin to the huge mills. A long way from La Tour d'Argent, but a remarkable proletarian, romantic vista.

The view from the canteen. As you eat your bread, you can see the place where the wheat was ground into flour before being transported to the city's boulangers.

Saturday, 14 November 2009

The Death of Television

This week, the first region in France will switch over to completely digital television transmission. For the people of the Nord-Cotentin zone around Cherbourg, Wednesday the 18th of November will mark the point where those with analogue equipment will cease to receive any signals. Although this switchover is not scheduled to arrive in Paris until 2011, it seems that are already several victims littering the streets.

Television the drug of the nation, or television, window into the nation's psyche? Certainly a home to egos and super-egos, but perhaps less and less a reflection of how each country lives and relaxes. A large percentage of people today spend more time on the internet than they do watching television, and with video on demand or replayed programmes available on the internet after their scheduled slots, fewer and fewer people are watching the same shows at set times.

The principal victim of the digital era though is the old-fashioned television set. With digital signals, the receptor can take any form, right down to a hand-held telephone terminal. The box in this street corner has had its chips. Rejected and thrown out of a warm home, it was too cumbersome and took up too much space in a streamlined world. Final insult, it has been cut open, its guts spilling out across the pavement.

A wounded beast, this creature still has its antennae on its shell. Evolution will soon render these useless, leaving this dinosaur alone to a future of fossilisation. The steering coils were merely mortal, the cathode ray tube gunned into surrender. The life-support wires are still plugged in, but the electrons are negative and frequencies getting lower.

Digital television is the brave new world, but is the medium also writing its own testament? Today I get most of my information through the internet, but when I arrived in France in the 1990s, I learned the language and a lot about the country by watching television. The first things I learned were that French television was not good, and that apparently nothing at all happened outside Paris. Almost every programme lasted for a minimum of two hours, and was either stuffy, serious highbrow or desperate, inane lowbrow. Nothing was middlebrow, very little entertained, but it still helped me to improve my French. Today, my television is still a large box in the corner, but I'm not sure I'll bother upgrading.

Thursday, 12 November 2009

Something for the Weekend? (13th - 15th November)

This weekend begins with a special date – Friday the 13th! The French like to see themselves as rational and Cartesian, but the reality is that they have the same superstitious quirks as everyone else. Friday the 13th in France is traditionally seen as an opportunity to test your luck, so in celebration of this, here are three ways you can chance your arm this weekend – or three ways to lose your shirt! Good luck!

If you have any events or activities you think should be promoted or which you would like to promote yourself, please add them in the comments. Let me know also
if you have any events in the coming weekends you would like to promote.

Buy a lottery ticket
Gambling is not illegal in France, just run by the state and strictly controlled. Go to any Bar-Tabac and you will see dozens of scratch cards, lotteries and machines to bet on the outcome of football matches and horse races. Temptation in techocolour, but all run by an institution known as La Française des Jeux. This Friday, two draws take place; the national Super Loto and the Europe-wide EuroMillions, both of which are using this particular date and a four-leaf clover as the promotional tools of the week. It works though - more people play on this day than at any other time during the year. However, this also means that the total kitty to be shared out is also higher too, so it's a good time to get lucky!

You can also play online, but only if you can prove that you are French or resident in France!

Go to the Casino at Enghein les Bains
France is closely linked to the world of the casino (after all…faites vos jeux…the international language in such institutions is French!), and yet once again the rules governing such establishments are incredibly complicated. Until very recently, casinos could only be situated in a station thermale (spa), generally next to the sea or beside a lake. A secondary rule dictated that they must be situated at least 10km from Paris, meaning that the only suitable site in the region of the French capital was at Enghein les Bains, 14km to the north, .

Situated only 15 minutes from the Gare du Nord by train, it is a nice place to escape to even if you don’t set foot in the casino. However, the self-proclaimed ‘leading casino in France’ is clearly the chief attraction of the town, especially on this particular day! Further rules on casinos state that they must also offer a restaurant and other entertainment, so you may find more profitable ways to spend your time.

Go Horse Racing
As previously mentioned, it is possible to gamble on the outcome of horse races in certain bars in France, but only in a relatively complex manner. You need to fill in a card and select the first three, four or five horses for each race, which reduces the gamble to something akin to a lottery. If you want to bet on just one particular horse, you need to go to the track where the race is taking place and where there are fewer restrictions.

On this Friday the 13th, you have two possibilities. A daytime meet at Maisons Laffitte in the west or an evening ‘trotting’ meeting at Vincennes to the east of Paris. Gina Rarick, the trainer I met recently
informed me that standard meets such as the one at Maisons Laffitte are very poorly attended, and although the sport at a trotting meet is of low-quality ('nags from people’s back yards' I believe she said), the entertainment level is high. There is a good trackside restaurant at the Vincennes hippodrome, and it’s a fun way to see a slightly different side of Paris with a lot of colourful characters! For those not in Paris this weekend and those who are not superstitious, note that there is a meeting almost every Friday during the year – including Christmas day!

Tuesday, 10 November 2009

Spirits of a Good Samaritaine

In the centre of Paris sits one of its most haunted spots. On one side, the bustling, commercial Rue de Rivoli, and on the other, the animation of the river Seine. Between the two, narrow, silent Rue Baillet and the ghosts of Christmas past, present and future.

Ghosts of Christmas present. The buildings of La Samaritaine still stand firm, but like a ghost town in a Western film the inhabitants have all taken their horses and ridden away. The shutters are pulled firmly down, the locks rusting and the bottle green paint peeling and flaking to the ground. It is easy to imagine tumbleweeds rolling down this street and a loose wooden shutter creaking in the wind. There may even be a cowboy hidden away somewhere.

Ghosts of Christmas past. Generations of shoppers pushed open these doors, climbed the iron staircases, admired the art nouveau fittings and filled bags with quality goods and quality presents. In Christmas present the gifts will come from elsewhere. The doors of La Samaritaine have now been closed for four years and will never open to shoppers again.

Ghosts of Christmas past. These buildings are a gift from Ernest Cognacq. His first trading outlet was small change on the Rue de la Monnaie, but his vision was much grander. With his wife, Marie-Louise Jaÿ, Cognacq developed the structure, taking inspiration from the Bon Marché store on the left-bank, and built up a shop of departments, each individually owned and run. He plucked the name from a ghost, the Samaritaine fountain that used to sit on the neighbouring Pont Neuf.

It became an immense success, the right solution at the right time, celebrated with a redevelopment in a fashionable Art Nouveau design by Frantz Jourdain between 1903 and 1907. Later, in 1933, Henri Sauvage added a river-facing Art Deco palace, a ten-story temple to shopping with a rooftop terrace and a restaurant with a view across the south of the city. Ghosts of Christmas past, ghosts of Christmas present. It is these architectural touches, listed as historical monuments in 1990, which have saved the structure from destruction or brutal redevelopment, but which perversely also led to the decline of the store.

Ghosts of Christmas present, ghosts of Christmas yet to come. Along one side of the store runs the Rue de l’Arbre Sec. Legends tell us that this name refers to the dried wood of the hangman’s gibbet, and the association is apt here. La Samaritaine was condemned to die by its owners LVMH in 2004. It had become too old and dangerous they said. An expensive and time-consuming refit would be necessary to make it fit the required norms, so wouldn’t it be better to hang it out to dry, let time pass and put the buildings to more profitable use.

Ghosts of Christmas yet to come. In June 2008, LVMH submitted a plan to transform the store into office, small retail units, a hotel and a sprinkling of social housing - a spoonful of sugar to help the medicine go down. The city of Paris have accepted the plan, preferring life to this slow death, and the redevelopment should be complete in 2013. The cavernous, empty interiors will breathe again, but the ghosts will never go away.

I will honour Christmas in my heart, and try to keep it all the year. I will live in the Past, the Present, and the Future. The Spirits of all Three shall strive within me. I will not shut out the lessons that they teach

Sunday, 8 November 2009

City of Confusion

Go, don't go, wait, slow down and stop. It's a daily battle between the city and the individual. Diverted, round and round, sent underground, a dead end, it's where we all end up. The city is in control. Red lights, INTERDIT, the doors are locked, come again another day.

Penalty fine, €180 for leaving a trace of yourself on the streets of Paris without permission. A hidden corner, signs scream out the rules, but they are so easy to ignore when no-one is looking. When one breaks the law, others sneak through the gap behind them. If the city loses control, in the chaos, we all lose control of the city.

But how can we find our way around this city maze when even the street names can't be trusted? Pierre is higher, Pierre comes first. Marie added, an afterthought, a lead-lined coffin in the Pantheon of great men.

Thursday, 5 November 2009

Something for the Weekend? (5th - 8th November)

I have found only three interesting events taking place this weekend in Paris, so this time I will supplement the programme with a couple of exhibitions currently taking place in the city. The advantage is that you will have longer than just this weekend to visit them!
Note: One free event - a concert at L’International is taking place tonight (Thursday).

If you have any events or activities you think should be promoted or which you would like to promote yourself, please add them in the comments. Let me know also
if you have any events in the coming weekends you would like to promote.

A Treasure Hunt in the 5th Arrondissement
A group called 5sur5 and professional treasure hunters ‘Ma Langue au Chat’ (who I have previously featured on Invisible Paris)
have joined together to organise an event this Saturday in the 5th arrondissement. This treasure hunt will take you around the district and into the bars and boutiques in search of clues that will help you to solve the enigma. Of course, this will also give you the opportunity to sample some of their produce, including secret cocktails and rare wines!
Saturday 7th November, 3.30pm and 5pm. Prize giving at 7pm
Place Maubert, M° Maubert-Mutualité

The Reopening of the Musée Henner
Closed four years ago after only attracting 3800 visitors a year, the Musée Jean-Jacques Henner has been renovated, with the hope of now attracting upwards of 50000 visitors annually. The reopening takes place this weekend and will be your chance to rediscover this interesting 19th century artist’s residence. Henner was a very fashionable portraitist in his lifetime, but quickly fell out of fashion after his death. It was his niece who acquired this house, previously the studio of the artist Guillaume Dubufe (who painted the ceilings in the Train Bleu restaurant in the Gare de Lyon), in order to display her uncle’s work. She donated the residence to the state on the condition that they open it up as a museum. Although the artist’s work is not especially original, the house, particularly after this renovation which has sought to take it back to its original state, is certainly worthy of a visit.

Top tip: residents of the 17th arrondissement get in free this weekend if they come with a copy of the free ParisDixSept magazine. I can’t guarantee that this will work, but if you go first to the Mairie du 17eme (on the Rue des Batignolles) and pick up a copy of the magazine in the entrance you’ll probably be able to get in free too.
43 Avenue de Villiers, Paris 17e
Metro Villiers

Les Nuits Populaires – Sing Different, Sing French!
Who says that the English language is dominant in the music world? The intriguing idea of this festival is to get a selection of non-French artists to sing in French. Featuring musicians from Canada, the United States, Spain, Brazil and the Lebanon, it should produce some fascinating results. The highlight will probably be the wonderful April March on Saturday who is more than used to singing in the language!
Full programme available here:
5th November – at L’International (free entry)
6th – 7th November – at Les Trois Baudets (16 Euros)

The Musée Carnevalet ‘Fait Sa Révolution’
Paris has never had the museum that its rich history deserves, compared to the excellent Museum of London for example. The Musée Carnevalet in the Marais plays this role, but the exhibits are a little disparate, and there are whole chunks of the history of the city missing. However, if there is one period on which it is particularly strong it is the French Revolution in the city, and this is even more true today. A temporary exhibition in the museum has given it the opportunity to display hundreds of artifacts from this period in its collection, ordered by theme; the role of women, famous individuals, vandalism, religion and fashion for example. You’ll even be able to see some of the clothes worn by the royal family during this period!
From Tuesday to Sunday, 10am to 6pm
Entrance price : 5 euros
Until 3rd January 2010
23, rue de Sévigné, 75003

100 Years of Gala Menus at the Musée Maxim’s
The Musée Maxim’s is basically a large apartment above the famous restaurant crammed full of Art Nouveau knick-knacks. The result is rather overpowering, but there is an interesting recreation of a courtisane’s “chambre d’amour”! Currently though there is a fascinating temporary exhibition on the theme of Presidential ‘gala menus’ from the last 100 years. 140 menus are displayed, including creations by Mucha and Chagall, for events that have included guests such as Eva Péron, Churchill, the Czar of Russia and John Kennedy. It is a really absorbing way to see what the famous and powerful have eaten over the years, and also how tastes have changed.
From Wednesday to Sunday, 11am to 5pm
Entrance price : 6 euros
Until 28th February 2010
3 Rue Royale, 75008

Tuesday, 3 November 2009

The Serbian Ambassador’s Residence

Perhaps the most secret areas of any capital city are the diplomatic missions of other foreign states. Although embassies and official residencies are not sovereign territory of the represented state, the fact that the host country must ask permission before entering such buildings means that they can operate in tranquil seclusion.

In Paris, several of the most luxurious townhouses in the most chic parts of the city have been transformed into embassies or ambassadorial residencies. Typical visitors to embassies find themselves waiting outside in long lines, before finally being admitted into the most banal administrative zones, whilst the residencies only admit a select few guests. Not many people have access to all areas, but one such person is the Serbian journalist Jelena Kalicanin. Here she opens the doors to the residence of the Serbian ambassador, one of the most impressive in Paris, and gives a little insight into what can be found behind these highly protected walls.

Why did you visit the Ambassador’s residence?
I am a Serbian architect and journalist working for Kuca Stil home interiors magazine. I chose to write about this residence because it is very interesting both in terms of architecture and decoration, certainly for the people of Serbia. I am also lucky enough to go there very often when I am in Paris.

What is the building and what is its history?
The building is the Hôtel de La Trémoille on the Boulevard Delessert in the 16th arrondissement. It was designed by the architect Ernest Sansson and built between 1910 and 1920 by the 11th Count of Trémoille, very much in a classic 18th century style. The count died before it was finished, but his son and grandson continued the construction. The family lived in the house until it was sold in 1936 to Alaxandar 1, the King of Yugoslavia.

View Larger Map

Is the interior in French or Serbian style?
The decoration is pure French, but you can consider the residence as a kind of gallery of Serbian artists who have lived and worked in Paris, such as Vlada Velickovic, Petar Omcikus, Milos Sobajic and Djordje Ivackovic. One of the the greatest Serbian painters to have lived in Paris is Milenko Serban, who studied at the Académie Colarossi.

What is particularly interesting about this residency for you?
Well, my article was titled ‘The Million Dollar View’ because the view of the Eiffel Tower from the residency and the garden really is exceptional! I think that perhaps no other building in Paris has such a wonderful view. Inside, there is a very large gallery of Serbian painters on the first floor, and a large and valuable tapestry in the antechamber which belongs to the French state. Each year they take it away and bring it back after cleaning it. There are also two painted wooden walls in the dining room that belong to the French state too.

The role of the ambassador is to represent the citizens of their country and to promote their country abroad. Is there a history of good relations between Serbia and France?
When the President Tito opened the Yugoslavian frontiers in 1962 many people left the country. Most of them went to Germany, but the architects and designers went to Paris. In general, relations between France and Serbia (Yugoslavia) have been very good. The old Belgrade fortress was designed by a Frenchman, Nicolas Doxat de Morez, following the model of the French engineer Vauban. There is also a monument which was erected in the glory of France thanking her for her support in the 1914-18 war which says “We love France as she loved us”.

However, after the start of the NATO offensive on Belgrade in 1999 in which the French participated, the monument was covered with a black cloth. That cloth was of course quickly removed, but the symbol was important. As for ill-feeling today, I'd say there is none in Serbia, but it probably still exists in France. History is always difficult. When talking to French people, I compare Kosovo to Corsica, and Milosevic to Napoleon, but they can't really understand this. When I asked them what Napoleon was doing in Russia, one person replied that he "wanted to show Russian people how to live better".

Anyway, I myself love France. During the war years, I was the only journalist in Belgrade who was able to go to France, and I love going there as often as possible.

Thanks to Jelena Kalicanin for her time and for the photos that accompany this post. See for more information on her work as a journalist.

It should also be noted that this residence can sometimes be visited during the annual Journées du Patrimoine in September.

Sunday, 1 November 2009

La Colonne Médicis – a mystery for Halloween

In a city that has been investigated and documented as much as Paris, not much remains that has a glimmer of mystery. Alongside the Bourse de Commerce near Les Halles though stands a 31 metre high column for which there are two unanswered questions; what was it used for and why is it still there?

The column itself is the only remaining vestige of a royal palace know as the Hôtel de la Reine. This palace was built for Catherine de Médicis in 1572, with the column being added three years later. It seems that Catherine de Médicis was a great believer in the divinatory arts, and employed an astrologist called Cosme Ruggieri, who she consulted before taking important decisions. This column may have played an important role in those decisions.

According to some evidence, the column was used by Ruggieri, primarily as an astrological observatory. Ruggieri had a workshop at the top of the tower, but interestingly it could also be accessed directly from Catherine de Médicis’s apartment in the palace via a spiral staircase. What exactly took place in Ruggieri’s workshop is not clear, and neither is the exact role astrology played in the life of Catherine de Médicis, an incredibly powerful woman, who was Queen from 1547 to 1559, then Queen Mother and advisor to three of her sons during their reigns.

Catherine de Médicis died in 1589, but the tower has survived long after her. Ruggieri continued with his work in his room, but made many enemies in the church and the court. When he died in 1615 he was refused a decent burial, and instead his body was dragged through the streets of the city and left on the wayside. Is it surely for this reason that there have often been reported sightings of a dark figure at the top of this column on stormy nights.

After the death of Ruggieri, it is probable that the column became purely decorative or possibly defensive. The column was sold separately from the rest of the palace, thus saving it from destruction, although it is not known why this was the case. It was eventually sold on again to the city of Paris, and has stood firmly in place whilst first the palace was demolished, then two other buildings were built around it (initially the Halle aux Blés, then today’s Bourse de Commerce).

The column looks curiously out of place today, even if the Bourse de Commerce that blankets it was designed in a similar classical style. It looks like an extravagant chimney, or a rather absurd decorative feature, but given this, it is still easy to overlook it in the congested landscape of Les Halles.

Does it still serve a purpose today? The staircase still exists inside the tower, but today there are no echoes of footsteps mounting and descending the steps. The doorway on the ground level is now firmly closed, and nobody stands at the top anymore – do they?
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