Wandering Towards Beaubourg

bikes & lines at Beaubourg
Still open, still a line, still some bikes.

When Getting There Is Better Than Arriving

Paris:- Wednesday, 24. September 1997:- Before taking off for the 'grands vacances' of August, I had this idea of trying 'to do' all of Paris' major sights, or areas.

Normally, I look for the more out of the way parts of the city, because I assume most readers probably have more guide books than I have and already know about these 'major' sights.

But, the thought occurred to me, that many other readers are not all that familiar with Paris - and even if they have their guide books, they may be planning their first visit - and would appreciate a different viewpoint.

As it happened, I ran out of time before getting nearly finished; no, nearly half-finished. There's the Opéra area, the area east of Bastille, and the entire Marais - which alone could fill several issues.

The one central area I'm sorry I didn't get to do, is Beaubourg-Les Halles. Now here it is late September, and summer is holding on well, and today I am popping out of the métro at Hôtel de Ville, ready to go and see what's happening at the 'gas works.'

The reason for using this métro exit is simple: it is close to Beaubourg and it is a lot easier to get out of than the underground maze at Châtalet, which could drive a rat crazy.

Also, here, slightly east of the boulevard Sébastopol, the city is a bit older and more original; and this begins a block away The tent at Beaubourg from the rue de Rivoli, at the rue de la Verrerie. Going west, this runs into the rue des Lombards, and this runs across the boulevard to the circus of the Halles area.

What is under the teepee?

Unlike the rest of September, the day has not started quite so bright and sunny, but the temperature is more than correct - and I feel a bit like I am still on holidays.

This means - now in the classy editorial office - that I don't feel like getting out the 'dictionnaire historique des rues de Paris,' and putting on my close-up glasses to read the small print in order to dig out 'interesting' facts which may or may not be more or less true. Nah! Forget it.

In the rue de la Verrerie, which always surprises me with its existence just a block off Rivoli, there is little traffic - neither people or cars - and much blue shadow. The shops look like they've wandered down here from the top of the tenth arrondissement, and I wonder if property taxes are high and if they are, how do these businesses manage to pay them.

Here, a block from rue de Rivoli - with its three or four lanes of traffic speeding towards Concorde, I stand in the middle of the street without fear. Shopkeepers look out and wonder why I'm standing in the middle of the street; but I think they should come out and look at their shops.

This is really old here, this close to the Hôtel de Ville and the heavy 'historique' books are tugging at me. Take the rue Saint Bon, which is in two parts: upper and lower, as in, you go down stairs to get to the part that runs into Rivoli. The buildings are leaning towards each other.

They are this color which is all over older Paris; this bone-grey. Bone-yellow, if the sun is low; but the rue Saint Bon is so narrow it does not get direct sun for most of the day.

Opposite, back in Verrerie, there is the flank of the Saint Merri church. Here were convents, a graveyard, church buildings and enterprises - and over centuries these were peeled off one by one. The cemetery was moved further out, and the congregation moved too - but fairly recently, to judge by the surrounding buildings.

The convent may still be here, or it may be some sort of student lodging. A block further on, the widened and re-paved Saint Martin comes up from Rivoli, wide to here where rue des Lombards starts, and narrows to go the final two blocks past the front of Saint Merri, to the vast place in front of the museum that is now on the 'plateau' of Beaubourg.

Now the sun is pumping out calories and I go back and look at the companion to the rue Saint Bon, the rue des Juges Consuls. It is leaning in on itself too. I decide I will get to the museum too soon if I go this way so I go back to Saint Martin. I wonder if the used-book store on the corner has any more paperback doctoral theses on the history of rock and roll for ten francs and decide it hasn't.

Heading north towards the museum I look in the church and think I should go inside someday, but there's time. It isn't going anywhere.

I look at the shops here too and if you ever come this way you should pay attention because not all of them sell only postcards, trinkets and take-away sandwiches. One of them is a centre for needlework; the kind you make decorative wall things with, and frame under glass. It looks like it contains as much of The Sculpture pool the world's thread as can fit in a fair-sized shop and there are too many active customers for me to ask idle questions.

This is the south side of the 'gas works,' from the wall of the Saint-Merri church.

Just after the church I go into a narrow alley, called the rue Cloître, and this opens out at the place Igor Stravinsky. This is where the big rectangular pool is, with all the active and fantastical sculptures, and the row of restaurants along the opposite side, which appears to be named the rue Brisemiche.

The museum's hulk is right here, overlooking this place. A multi-story sign is throwing a lot of apparent light into the place which is in the shadow of the church, and I will later see that the church shadow wins - as far as the eye of the camera is concerned. To my eyes, it was bright enough.

The 'gas works,' the Beaubourg museum, the Centre Cultural blah-blah, looks like a shop-worn oil refinery and it is being re-done in a multi-year, multi-gazillion franc renovation; but is somehow pretending to stay open - it contains a public library and bunch of other what-nots - and there is this amazing tepee in the great, sloped, place in front of it.

But more importantly, there is a very real line of people straggling along to enter the building, so I guess it is more operational than I think. I hit on their press people once; but they've never sent me any 'news.'

The usual crowd of hustlers and portrait painters are not to be seen, and I guess they've either moved off to better pickings elsewhere, or the police are keeping the place tidy, but nearly empty. A lot of people just came for the show that used to go on non-stop outside.

I walk up to the other end of the place to get a good look at the giant tepee. If it is one of Cristo's wrapping jobs, I wonder what might be inside. As far as I know, the last time I looked, the Obelisk at Concorde is still in its place - and since rue Saint Bon Beaubourg is the 'modern' art museum, I doubt if they've picked up some new piece in Egypt.

This is the Rambuteau end and I have always liked this corner because if I don't feel like being here, there are more than three ways to go someplace interesting.

In this area, the streets are old - very old. Here is the rue Saint Bon.

But before doing any of these, I give the 'gas works' a long last look and I try for another shot of the tepee. It's something 'in transit.' In five years I'll come across the photo and be able to nearly pin a date on it.

Further to the east, along Rambuteau, there is a bookstore with German titles. Inside I see they have a re-edition of Günter Wallrath's 'Der Aufmacher.' He was an uncover, 'investigative' journalist doing an inside-snoop-job on Bild Zeitung in Hannover; when I was a real up-front 'gastarbeiter' in Bild's Hamburg headquarters.

I wonder who would want to read about the big 'garten-zwerg' story he did for them way back then. The bookstore has a lot of good books I'd like to read if I have time some day.


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