Monday, 24 February 2014

The Grande Arche at La Defense

On the morning of our very last day in Paris, we took the metro to La Defense. In contrast to the beautiful classic structures of other Parisian icons, here the buildings are all huge, very modern and high-rise. The more than 70 skyscrapers here are found around the Grande Arche, the western-most extremity of the 10 km long historical axis of Paris. This monument, designed by Danish architect Johan Otto von Sprekelsen, is in the shape of a hollow 110 m. cube.

Ww noted the very modern interesting architectural details between the pillars of the Grande Arche at La Defense, including 'The Sail' by engineer Peter Rice.

The steep steps of the Grande Arche called for very careful treading down them. Be sure to 'not disturb' the pigeon population there.

There are huge attractive sculptures and installations at the Place de La Defense, among them the one below. In fact the esplanade here is an open air museum of modern art.

Spot me if you can! (2014)
23 February 2014

Saturday, 22 February 2014

Just Desserts at Galeries Lafayette

After our tandoori meal at Little India in Paris, we thought we would enjoy having our desserts in the Parisian temple of upmarket shopping - the Galeries Lafayette. We have missed the soldes (sales)*, thank goodness, so there was really no shopping to be done, only to sit under the beautiful dome of the 10-storey building and have tea and macarons. And to marvel at the exquisite architectural details above our heads.

A little bit of history - this store in Boulevard Haussmann with its glass and steel dome and art nouveau staircases, was designed by Chedanne & Chanut and completed in 1912.

*Sales are state-regulated in France and generally run during two periods of the year - in summer around summer day (June/July) and after New Year's day in early January to mid February.

Little India in Paris

We knew from friends who had visited Paris before that there are many Indian eateries around the Gare du Nord. So from Versailles, our destination was this train station in search of curry, briani, roti (paratha) ... As we exited the La Chapelle metro station (by accident, not by design), we ran right smack into ... India! We did not expect to find (Little) India in Paris, with shops and outlets selling and smelling Indian everything - sari, henna, spices, textile, music, curios, food, etc.

Shihabdeen's is a Sri Lankan et Indienne Resturant. We found a nearly full house at this eatery so it must serve good food because nearly all the customers there were Indians (including Sri Lankans, Pakistanis?). The tandoori was quite good although I did not really like the chicken curry - too much spices in it. The others seemed to enjoy their food too. After the meal, we walked around Mumbai Jaffna the area and forgot we were in Paris, France, Europe.

Versailles can wait

To get to Versailles, it is a half-hour commuter train ride west of Paris city centre. The town and suburb of Versailles has grown around a palace - the Chateau de Versailles, especially famous for its opulence, and for being the "most splendid example of control-freakery the world has ever seen". In 1661 Louis XIV, the 'Sun King', started building his chateaux to permanently live in Versailles in 1682. But the reign of Versailles ended in 1789 with the royal family forced to return to Paris and finally guillotined in 1793. Such is the history of the highly gilded buildings of Versailles.

I had visited the Chateau de Versailles 40 years ago and still can recollect the beautiful Hall of Mirrors. But this time we arrived in the 'royal' town at noon, and after peeking in at the palace, decided that we need to come another time, earlier and properly shod to explore the many buildings and the grounds, including the beautiful gardens.

Before leaving, we posed at the 'first and last piece of pomp in Versailles' - the equestrian statue of Louis XIV pointing towards Paris. So onward to Paris we will go (back).

Friday, 21 February 2014

Ponder the Pompidou Centre

Centre National d'Art et de Culture Georges Pompidou or simply Centre Pompidou was the brainchild of then President Georges Pompidou who wanted to establish a museum devoted to modern art. The architects Renzo Piano and Richard Rogers, assisted by G. Franchini came up with 'an original construction where the interior space is totally usable and adaptable since the functional elements - the pipes' - have all been banished to the exterior'. In the beginning many Parisians and foreign visitors viewed this building as a factory but its colourful inside-out structure has become an icon of 20th century architecture.

The building opened to the public in 1977, and houses a modern art museum, a library, performance and conference rooms, an industrial design centre and an institute for research and development in contemporary music. Of course there is a great bookshop as well where we did buy a beautiful book on Frida Kahlo*.

'The Centre Pompidou is dedicated to all forms of visual culture. It owns the biggest collection of modern and contemporary art in Europe, where fine art rubs shoulders with design, architecture, photography and new media'. We visited the centre on the day it closed late. It was certainly 'busy' with visitors, and the artists and artistes/performers doing their thing, some of which I did not really understand. C'est la vie!

* Frida Kahlo/ Andrea Kettenmann Ex Libris CNB 2029
Ref: Paris Versailles. Editions A. Leconte, 2013. Ex Libris CNB 2026

A Walk in Le Jardin des Tuileries

When in Paris, how can you not walk in Le Jardin des Tuileries or the Tuileries Gardens, which has been on Unesco's World Heritage list since 1991. The layout of the gardens is the work of 'the king of gardeners' Andre Le Notre. Many episodes in the history of France happened here, including the bloody events of the French Revolution in 1792. In fact, 'the heart of France is said to beat in the Tuileries'.

Bassin octogonal /Octagonal pool  (CNB 2014)

'The Tuileries are French-style formal gardens, fully open to the sky, organised around an architecture of walls, stairways, terraces and ornamental pools that demand regular maintenance and restoration, especially since the gardens receive a vast number of visitors estimated at ten million people per year'. The gardens also exhibit many sculptures of note, including by Rodin and Henry Moore. During our walk from Place de la Concorde towards the Louvre, we photographed Gaston Lachaise's 1932 Standing woman, and Willem de Kooning's Standing figure, (1969-84), both in bronze.

Standing woman (CNB 2014)

Standing figure (CNB 2014)

In the words of Henri Loyrette, President-Director of the Musee du Louvre (to which the gardens have been administratively attached since 2005), "With three thousand trees, beautiful flowerbeds, and surprisingly diverse flora and fauna, the Tuileries, history's legacy, are above all (royal) gardens open to all".*

Grand bassin rond/Large round pool (CNB 2014)

* Ref.: The Tuileries Gardens. Connaissance des Arts, 2008. Ex Libris CNB 2027

'Revisiting' Napoleon Bonaparte at Les Invalides

The Baroque architecture of Les Invalides or L'Hotel national des Invalides (National Residence of the Invalids) never fails to impress. Revisiting the complex of buildings relating to the military history of France invokes the grandeur of the French Army especially under the lead of Napoleon Bonaparte.

The huge complex include museums (Musee de l'Armee, Musee des Plans-Relief, Musee de l'Artillerie), a church (Cathedrale Saint Louis de Invalides), hospital, retirement home, mausoleum and other monuments. Founded by Louis XIV (the Sun King) in 1671 as a hospital and retirement home for war veterans, the architects Mansart and Bruant saw to it being opened in 1676.

At the entrance to Les Invalides (2014)

Cannons taken from the enemies (CNB 2014)

The Army Museum lies on both sides of the expansive cour d'honneur and Napoleon Bonaparte's statue stands proud overlooking this monumental forecourt. Napoleon was entombed under the Dome des Invalides in 1840. Les Invalides is also the burial site for some of France's war heroes.

Napoleon Bonaparte at Les Invalides (CNB 2014)

Cour d'honneur of Les Invalides (CNB 2014)

Thursday, 20 February 2014

The Red Windmill of Pigalle

Moulin Rouge, Boulevard de Clichy, Pigalle (CNB 2014)

'Moulin Rouge (Red Mill) is that famous cabaret venue in Paris, best known as the spiritual birthplace of the modern form of the can-can dance. Opened in 1889, it is now a tourist attraction and visitors to Paris try to experience the musical dance entertainment at least once'.

I did not get to see the revue there before but this time, yes, we saw the Feerie, the resident stage show (which premiered in December 1999). The show was not so fabulous, as touted by some, and there was the recognizable can-can dance, though only once, I think. For the price we had to pay, I would not go again. Been there (Moulin Rouge), done that (seen the Feerie show), and that's that.

With a 'not by Toulouse-Lautrec poster art' (2014)

As usual, no photography was allowed during the show, but some did sneak a snapshot or two. We did too, but only the not-so-good picture below showing the interior decor of the club.

Inside Moulin Rouge (CNB 2014)

The history of the Moulin Rouge is very interesting, opening during La Belle Epoque ('Beautiful era') of 1871-1914, a period of optimism, peace and prosperity in France (and Belgium). During this era, the arts flourished and it was a time of joie de vivre (joy of living). The can-can dance became a popular 19th century cabaret style and subject of Toulouse-Lautrec's famed poster art.

Art and Snails in Montmarte

Place du Tertre (CNB 2014)
Montmartre, a district in the 18th arrondissement is in the north of Paris and gets its name from the 130 m. butte (hill) here. Apart from the famous Basilica de Sacre Cour, Montmarte is known for being a night-club district. Historically, this area developed into a centre of decadent entertainment at the end of the 19th and beginning of the 20th centuries. Cabarets like the Moulin Rouge and Le Chat Noir were popular even as the Basilica was being built then between 1875-1914. At the end of the 19th century Montmarte became the principal artistic centre of Paris and names such as Jongkind, Pissarro, Matisse, Renoir, Degas, Toulouse-Lautrec, Dali, Modigliani, Manet, Monet, Mondrian, Picasso and van Gogh have been associated with it. Although the bohemian activity in Montmarte is no longer, till today, artists still set up their easels every day amidst display racks, tables and umbrellas of Place du Tertre, just below the Basilica.

The day we were in Montmarte, it was raining. After visiting the Basilica, we'd ridden on Le petit train de Montmarte which took us on a 40 min. guided tour of the area - the 'Butte Montmarte'. We saw among others, the small vineyard in the Rue Saint-Vincent, Musee de Montmarte, Espace Dali, Cimetiere de Montmarte and the cabarets Le Lapin Agile and (in the red-light district of Pigalle) Moulin Rouge.

A cheese shop in Montmarte (CNB 2014)

For lunch, we chose Au Cadet de Gascogne, with a good view of the Place du Tertre. While waiting for our escargot and salmon dishes, we watched the artists and the tourists in the rain. One or two of the artists made a sale then but mostly the tourist would stop by, look and leave. Maybe the artists made more sales in the summer.

Buttered parsley escargot (CNB 2014)
I had to use the washroom which was upstairs, and as I reached the top my nose told me that a chat must be here somewhere. True enough, there was one, though not le chat noir, it was brown. And the chef seemed to be its owner. I found out later that a new 'cat cafe' in the chic Marais district of Paris, Cafe des Chats, has long queues because Parisians want to dine with felines and get 'purr therapy'.

On our walk downhill later, we passed by the Moulin de la Galette, a restaurant near the old windmill. This windmill is also rouge. Walking along the cobble stone streets, we came across many interesting food shops here, mainly 'artisanal'. Fromagerie (cheese shop), creperie, bisquiterie, boulangerie (bakery), chocolaterie, etc. We stopped by the Bisquiterie de Montmarte and found the most delicious macarons for so much less than one would pay at Laduree.

Macarons on display at BdM (CNB 2014)

Montmarte certainly has much to offer. On my last visit in 1975, I only remember posing in front of the Basilica and the Moulin Rouge, and looking at the artists at work in Place du Tertre. We certainly did much more on this revisit.

Joan of Arc at Le Sacre Coeur

I was really glad to be able to take a picture of the equestrian statue of Saint Joan of Arc at Le Sacre Cour, although it was a very rainy day and it was quite chilly and windy on this highest point in Montmarte. It makes up for the time I failed to do so 40 years ago. Going up to the basilica is so much easier now that there is a funicular railway that climbs the 45 m. incline for you. Although it is a very short ride, when it is raining, you do want to get to the top quickly and enjoy views of the city and check out the architectural details of this basilica built between 1875 and 1914. Interestingly, the building "was constructed in Chateau-Landon stone, which on contact with rainwater secretes a white substance, lime, and gives the building its unsullied appearance".

Wednesday, 19 February 2014

Looking up La Joconde at the Louvre

The history of the Louvre goes back 800 years. To date it has 403 rooms and tens of thousands of works dating back to 8000 BC. Its a lot of rooms and exhibitions in a museum and one can be really overwhelmed by it all. So while there, we were very selective about what we wanted to see.

First we followed the signs for Le Joconde, or Mona Lisa - she of the famous but 'much interpreted and parodied enigmatic smile'. She was painted ca. 1503-1506 by Leornado da Vinci (1452-1519). I'd seen her before 40 years ago, but this time she is better placed. There was the usual crowds, but at times, you could be the only one ogling (read: really staring, but not in any way amorously!) at her. Trying to analyse that smile and really seeing if her eyes followed you around.

Just La Joconde and moi - no crowds! (2014)

Then we sought out the Coronation of Napoleon I in Notre-Dame, 1806-1807 by Jacques Louis David. David was First Painter to the Emperor and 'it fell to him to set to memory the coronation of December 2nd, 1804, during which Bonaparte became Napoleon I'. This huge 621 x 979 cm huge oil on canvas painting did not disappoint. You can look at it a long time and notice the exquisite details.

Zooming in on Napoleon I crowning his wife Josephine

Next we sought out Venus de Milo in the Greek, Etruscan and Roman Antiquities Department. 'An aura of mystery shrouds this mutilated masterpiece, whose arms were never recovered since it exhumation in 1820 on the island of Melos (Milo in Greek), in south-western Cyclades'. The Louvre considers this sculpture the jewel of their Greek collections, and we can see why. My earliest recollection of this figure was on my pencil box in primary school!

Venus de Milo (CNB 2014)

We breezed through the other departments (Egyptian Antiquities, Near Eastern Antiquities, etc.) and went to see the exhibits in the Islamic Arts Department. I read somewhere it is the least visited section and its a shame because there are many interesting objects (nearly 3,000) there.

Some beautiful tiles of the Islamic Arts exhibits (CNB 2014)

Ref: Louvre Pocket Guide. Editions Artlys, 2013. Ex Libris CNB 2023.

The Gargoyles of Notre Dame

Notre Dame de Paris is a cathedral built from 1163 to 1330. Restoration and lengthening of the spire to 90 m. was carried out between 1841 to 1864. The facade has four levels; the first with three portals, the second the King's Gallery, the third the rose window and the most interesting of all, the 'tracery gallery surmounted by a balustrade, a kingdom of chimeras, ghouls, demons and monsters in addition to the famous gargoyles, themselves dominated by two towers from which one can enjoy magnificent views of Paris'.

Victor Hugo must have been inspired by the gargoyles to write The Hunchback of Notre Dame in 1831. But wait a minute, were there gargoyles then or were they only added during the restoration? Anyway as architectural details go, they are not really gargoyles (waterspouts) but chimeras, i.e. decoration. If the facade has attractive details, the inside also exhibit beautiful details, like the stained glass of the south rose window.

The Notre Dame is on an island (Ile de la Cite) in the River Seine, almost the centre point of Paris, and one of the earliest sites of settlement in the capital. So it was well worth it to climb the nearly 400 steps up to see the gargoyles, chimera, etc. up at the tracery gallery and more narrow stone steps up the south tower for 360 degree views of Paris.

Ref: Paris Versailles. Editions A. Leconte. 2013. Ex Lib CNB 2025

Tuesday, 18 February 2014

Musee d'Orsay Impressions

Musee d'Orsay sits on the left bank of the River Seine in a building that was the former Gare d'Orsay, a Beaux-Arts railway station built between 1898-1900. It was a terminus for railways of southern France till 1939 and was going to be demolished for a new hotel in 1970. Luckily this beautiful building was saved by Duhamel, the then Minister of Cultural Affairs and in 1986 it was established as a Museum.

Main hall of the Musee d'Orsay (CNB 2014)

At Cafe Campana
Dedicated to mainly French art of 1848 to 1915, there are paintings, sculptures, furniture and photography. It has the largest collection of Impressionist and post-Impressionist masterpieces in the world. Here we feasted our eyes on the works of Manet, Monet, Degas, Renoir, Cezanne, Seurat, Sisley, Gaugin, Van Gogh, etc. There are more than 80 each of works by Monet and Renoir (my favourites) and we spent the whole day there, even having lunch in the museum's Cafe Campana. This cafe was 'imagined by the two Brazilian designers Fernando and Humbert Campana in homage to Emile Galle and Art Nouveau'.

We also checked out the Gustave Dore special exhibition which was on then. The French Romantic illustrator lived between 1832-1883 and his talent was obvious from the age of only 15 when his first illustrated story was published.

Outside the Orsay Museum building, there are life size sculptures of animals including an elephant, a rhino and a horse. The square next to the Museum displays six bronze allegorical sculptural groups in a row, originally produced for the Exposition Universelle of 1878. The groups represent Asia, Europe, Oceania, North America, South America and Africa. 
Musee d'Orsay add: 1 Rue de la Legion d'Honneur, 7th arrondissement
Ref: Orsay Museum Visitor Guide 2012. Ex Libris CNB 2024

Monday, 17 February 2014

La Tour Eiffel Revisited

ETs on the shelves at the Boutique Officielle (CNB 2014)

Opened in March 1889 for the World Fair, Tour Eiffel was slated to be demolished in 1909. But luckily, it was saved by military applications and till now remains a wonder of the world and a Paris must-visit building. Gustave Eiffel built this metal structure weighing 10,100 tonnes but it is said to only exert the same pressure on the ground as a man seated in a chair! From the original height of 300 m., in 1957, television equipment took its height further up to 320.75 324 m.

It is 360 steps to the first floor, 380 more to the second, and another 1,062 to the top. Thank goodness for the lifts! Though we still had to trudge up from the first (where we had lunch at the 58 Tour Eiffel Restaurant just to beat the long queue) to the second because parts of the tower seemed to be under massive repair/reconstruction. Thank goodness the lift from the second to the top was okay to enable visitors to enjoy views from 300 m. up.

View from the 58 Tour Eiffel Restaurant (CNB 2014)

We later crossed the bridge to view the Eiffel Tower from the Palais de Chaillot. Although there are many world-class museums here, we did not visit any. We only stayed here long enough to see Le Tour 'sparkle' on the hour at dusk.

La Tour Eiffel from Palais de Chaillot (CNB 2014)

ET during the blue hour (2014)