Sorry for the Inconvenience

Marble Malls and Renovations

Paris:- Friday, 28. June 1996:- This week, while riding the métro, I am noticing a distinct increase in the number of obvious visitors to Paris. The weather on the surface is cool in the mornings; it is usually fairly sunny in the afternoons and there is a breeze, but it is muggy underground. It is not terrible, but I mention it.

I ride along, looking for this week's new posters, but also looking at this year's crop of visitors. In some years, everybody is wearing the 'new thing' and the visitors really stand out, but I see nothing remarkable. Oriental visitors seem to have two distinct sets of clothing though: either Hawaii Five-O or plain rayon shirt with plain grey trousers.

A week ago a Japanese grandmother, out of a whole set of grannies, told the French girl sitting opposite me, that she was going to Montparnasse, in English. The French girl rallied nicely from wherever her brain was wandering, and asked for the hometown, in sort-of English, and since the answer was then in Japanese, we were both in the dark - because it didn't sound like Tokyo. My mother has used this 'going to Montparnasse' ploy all around the world and has ended up spending free holidays in Australia, Hawaii and even northern Japan as a result of it.

If I had an editorial plan for this week I can't remember what it is - a couple of things have fallen out - so I am sort of all over the place, but I am looking for a Russian.

I get off the métro at Palais Royale and go towards the Louvre the underground way, which brings me - like last time - to this inverted glass pyramid. This place seems to be the centre of a massive marble-floored mall and like last time, all I want to do is get to the Cour Napoléon - so I end up the same place as last time; coming to the surface at the Arc du Triomphe du Carrousel, which is about 230 metres west of where I was aiming myself.

louvre&fete.jpg (16k)
I go out by the Cour Carrée, past the old lady Samaritaine and over the Pont Neuf and into the village-like place Dauphine on the western end of the Ile-St. Louis and out to the Quai des Orfévres, setting of thousands of 'film-noirs.' I head east along the quais, past flic city, with an occasional view of the Left Bank.
notredame.jpg (16k) Are there are lot of people on the parvis in front of Notre Dame? I don't come here often enough to know; but there are a fair amount plus a lot of coming and going. The facade of the cathedral is being renovated, so it is impossible to capture a complete photo of it. Fairly close up, it is possible to get a clear shot of one of the entry portals - as well as enter the building.

One of these days I want to come down here with sound recording equipment. As I pass each group, dozens of clusters of people, I overhear languages and they overlap, like from eastern German to Spanish from Manila to Italian; it is sort of an audio - what? - I think it would be necessary to play it back, to decide whether it could mean anything. As it is, with the eyes open, the voices are another element of the overall background of visual and audio and smells and wind and birds, and traffic sounds. Trying for just the voices, with the rest partly filtered-out - well, it may be worth trying.

Here at Notre Dame, I am actually looking for the Russian portrait painter, who I met at Beaubourg on Wednesday - but there are no portrait painters here at all - just a few kiosks and a oversized push-cart selling berets.

I take the rue du Notre Dame around to the back. Renovation is only hiding the front of the cathedral, so a lot of photographers are finding their way back here to get clear views, and the park behind the cathedral is a calm place - although there were telescopes set up here last week to spy on the falcons or hawks who live up high on the towers.

As I cross to the place in front of the Hôtel de Ville I am still looking for posters but there are none of interest, nor are there any on the rue de Rivoli. At the Tour St. Jacques I cross over to the rue St. Martin, buy a sandwich from a Marks and Spencer kiosk for ten francs, and buy a used pocketbook on the history of rock and roll for ten francs, and drift up to Beaubourg.

beaubourg.jpg (18k) Compared to the gleaming marble mall that has been attached to the basement of the Louvre theme-park, the area around the Centre National d'Art et Culture Gerorges Pompidou, seems a bit low-rent. The official culture industry controls all of the Louvre and it is a considerable size of a area; but the building at Beaubourg, is in the middle of old Paris and even if it is a big chunk - the surroundings seem to be firmly in private and opportunistic hands. This centre needs the full-time care and attention that the Champs-Elysées gets; and I suppose it will come sooner or later, but if you like things 'au natural' that's how you get them here today.
Another bit of 'au natural' is the building itself - built with part of its structure and plumbing outside - it may have seemed like a good idea at the time, but today, compared even to an unrenovated train station like St. Lazare, it looks like cheap, temporary, junk - and it may be pulling down the visual aspect of the neighborhood rather than the other way around. It can be fun to find art in a dusty junk-shop, but I'm not sure I can trust the cultural establishment's taste in art collections if I have to go to a rusty tinker-toy factory to look at it.

Don't take my word for it because I am no authority and part of this ill humor to due to the fact that the only human aspect to the exterior of the building is seriously compromised this season because the place in front of it is being renovated.

As this involves thousands of paving stones and the cutting of stone slabs and some construction machinery noise, and dust; with only half the open place being open, and sandwiched between two building sites - well the human use of this place is not as pleasant as it normally is; but so long as they're doing the paving in the middle of the high season, I don't see why they don't re-do the entire facade as well.

As authorities are so fond of saying, when they have mis-timed some major construction, that Rome was not built overnight - renovation to two really major Paris attractions, is a bit of bad planning. If the restaurant is so good that all the food gets eaten and hungry customers have to be turned away - a good management will give the disappointed a 'rain-cheque.'

If you've come from halfway around the world, a 'rain-cheque' - a ticket for another day - will probably not be much of a consolation.

On the other hand, you have now been warned. No photos of the west facade of Notre Dame, and the place in front of Beaubourg is nearly uninhabitable - all other Paris attractions are probably as they should be. Montmartre is in one piece and so is Montparnasse and when I was at Trocadéro recently, the Tour Eiffel was still standing.

For the other items mentioned above, come again sometime.


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