Seriously High on the Left Bank

The height of the 'mountain'
The highest patch of dirt is the top of the 'Mouse' Mountain.

If It Snowed Much in Paris, I'd Do My Sking Here

Paris:- Friday, 23. May 1997:- At great risk of life and limb, I have achieved the highest point on the Left Bank; the heights of Montsouris, exactly 76 metres above sea-level.

As I reached this awesome height from the direction of the boulevard Jourdan, on the southern edge of the 14th arrondissement, this is purely the highest hyperbole. I've taken a random circular path, and where it overlooks a large stretch of plain grass, I ask a gardener the directions to Montsouris.

He is on the other side of a low hedge, pushing some wood-chippy dirt around, and he says, "You are on it." He probably gets to say this about twice a day but he still gets a good laugh out of it.

Actually he says, "Where I'm pushing this wood-chippy dirt around is the top of the mountain; you are standing at 75 metres altitude."

I may have not noticed this mountain top, coming as I did from the boulevard, but I know I'm not a metre lower than him and I say so. He readily agrees and we talk about Montréal and the nearby weather station - a little fenced-off area with gizmos in it.

Name a mountain 'mouse' and no one expects much, but I hadn't expected quite so little. Actually, the name is supposed to come from that of a moulin that was by the reservoir, which was called 'Moquesouris.' This reservoir, at 80 metres above sea-level and therefore higher than the highest point of land, supplies A little hut in the park water pressure to all the top floors on the left bank, with the possible exception of the Tour Montparnasse.

A 'little' building in the park. Purpose unknown.

Le Parc de Montsouris is second largest in Paris after the one at Buttes-Chaumont. It was started in 1867 and finished in 1878, with an interruption for the war of 1870. Laid on top of four quarries, Baron Haussemann couldn't figure what else to do with the space, and Parisians ended up paying 1,750,000 francs for the gift from the good Baron.

Nobody seems to mind the RER line that pretty much cuts the park in two, and I didn't notice it while on the mountain. In fact, from the top, I thought the park was kind of small; but that is just an indication of how heights are deceiving.

In this way I did not see the artificial lake of nearly a hectare because it was behind some trees, on the other side of the RER line. The lake was dug out, starting in 1869. The lake was filled for its inauguration and on the very day, it emptied itself. The engineer responsible took this directly to heart and killed himself, or so the story goes. If it is true, then the streets would be littered by the corpses of engineers responsible for 'speed-bumps' but this is not the case.

I ask the gardener if he knows where Lenin's house is and he points vaguely off to the west, and after I try out one of the park's little refreshment houses, I wander vaguely over in that direction, admiring the variety of trees along the way.

The weather station, on its grass slope, looks pretty insignificant and on the way out I pass a modern glass and concrete building that has Météo on it, and has a bulletin board with charts showing the weather for April - was little rain - and another for this weekend - more no rain. Maybe a bit next week. Official.

Paris had an Universal Exposition in 1867 and for the occasion, a replica of the Bey's palace, the Bardo, in Tunis was built. After the exposition, it was dismantled rue de l'Aude and installed exactly where I was talking to the gardener. The city paid Baron Jules de Lesseps 150,000 francs for it, and it was to be used as lodging for weathermen - but it got badly knocked around in 1870, and even the Commune took a whack at it.

Come up the stairs from the avenue René Coty to the rue de l'Aude. See the odd building hanging over avenue Coty. Strange.

It was fixed up two years later and became a weather station; one of the few in the world that looked like the Bey of Tunisia's palace. In 1876 a naval astronomy section was added, then a section for studying Parisian cemeteries and their water flows, and after 1893, air pollution also came under study.

I have had to re-read this. I was standing on the spot where this replica of the Bardo is. An illustration shows it to be a huge affair, with two cupolas and many Moorish arches, and my 1972 edition of Michelin's Green Guide shows it on the location I've been standing on; surrounded by the circular path.

Just now I have seen another gardener kick-boxing a bed of flowers on this spot. He saw me see him and looked a little embarrassed. He probably didn't realize he was in the 'Bardo.' I certainly didn't. Grass, bed of flowers and bushes, circular path, couple of benches. Where's this 'Bardo?' Hulking great thing; can't miss it. The plain fact is, with my own eyes - somebody's pinched it. Took the Tunisians four months to put it here. De Lessep's canal is still there - so where's this 'Bardo' gone?

Without knowing what I was missing, I went looking for Lenin. I don't find the place where he lived, with a view of a wall of the reservoir, and I don't even know about the street named Maire-Rose where he lived at number four for four years; with a tolerant concierge who didn't particularly notice the comings and going of his bearded political pals.

[I can't wait to tell my wife about this street because people here insist her name is Rosemarie, when it is clearly written in fine handwriting on her birth certificate otherwise. She can now say, "Same as Lenin's street. Look it up!"]

I really dislike putting in these hindsight comments, but I can't resist sometimes. I saw no Lenin today; I was not even close. Okay, I saw the reservoir - I might have been close.

This is an odd corner of Paris, between Alésia and the boulevard Jourdan, west of Montsouris - I see steps going up steeply and I get my tired legs up them to discover the almost provincial rue de l'Aude rue des Artistes, rue R; Coty and the rue des Artistes; and some really odd architecture over-hanging the avenue René Coty, which is sort of in a gully between this height and the RER across the way.

The stairs are actually part of the rue des Artistes; going down to the avenue René Coty.

Just off Artistes, in the deadend Impasse Gauguet, the painter Nicolas de Staël had one of three ateliers. I take the stairs at the end of Artistes back down to Coty, go down it a long block before heading left into another set of quiet provincial streets, trying for a shortcut to the métro at Mouton Duvernet.

In the rue du Couédic I almost become unstuck at the button-sized place Michel Audiard. For no apparent reason, instead of a simple right-angle crossroads, somebody decided that this corner must have a matching curved front on all four corners, so that no building - has a right-angle at this intersection.

There is a café here I am going to come back to, so I can look at this for a few hours. Its just two quick blocks from the métro and there are no stairs, nor mountains of mice.


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