'The Gare Saint-Lazare' On View At Orsay

Gare St Lazare with Monet
An impression of the train station on the train station.

Manet and Monet: Born French, Died Impressionists

Paris:- Friday, 20. February 1998:- The Gare Saint-Lazare's advertisement for itself, painted by Claude Monet in 1877 and given the unusual title of 'La Gare Saint-Lazare,' has led me to believe we are going to have an 'Impressionistic' season this spring.

Some people think I have this all the time, but I pay bills occasionally just like everyone else. I think the painting, or replica of it, on the front of the station is a vast improvement to it - and it is too bad the Cour de Rome it faces is sort of being unconstructed at the moment.

Did I mention that 'fake' spring is back today, after having yesterday off? It is not quite as forceful a 'fake' spring day as Wednesday's was, but it will do. I am doing it without a sweater again, but I'm starting it from the métro exit at the Assemblée Nationale because it is closer the Musée d'Orsay, which used to be a railroad station too.

As much as all the daily commuters love 'their' Gare Saint-Lazare, I must say the Musée d'Orsay is a better-looking railroad station, even if it doesn't have any paintings of it on it. It has a big space in front for commuters, who no longer go directly to the station, but go underground to the RER station.

Young people are sitting on the stairs on the rue de Bellechasse side and there are more over by the quai Anatole France Steps at Musee d'Orsay which was called 'La Grenouillère' in 1704, when the people who lived across the river from it did not care for its appearance.

There are almost more pigeons than youngsters; who do not seem to be in a rush to see the Impressionists.

So a beautiful quai was built by Charles Boucher d'Orsay, starting in 1708, but not finished until the 'Empire.' That being the case, it was therefore named Bonaparte, but only from 1802 until 1815. After that it became d'Orsay again and stayed that way until 1947 when it got its present name.

Behind the quai, much to the annoyance of the hotel keepers in the rue de Lille - which was called Bourbon then - was an area of log-booms and, I guess, sawmills. The hotel keepers were afraid of fire and from what I've seen of sawmills, they had good reason to be. Also, this industrial mess spoiled their view too.

Somehow, if I have the location right, the Palais d'Orsay was put up between the rue de Poitiers and Bellechasse, starting in 1810 - by Bonnard, for the foreign ministry. It was finished in 1838 but by then the idea was to put the commerce ministry in it. The budget office got it instead in 1842.

The revolutionaries of 1871 burned it down of course and the ruins became 'très Parisiennes,' being celebrated by poets and loved by botanists for its rare plants - I am not making this up either - and it stayed this way for 27 years.

The company of the Chemins de Fer d'Orléans bought the ruins in 1897 for only 10.5 million francs - et voilà - opened the present gare, er, museum, in 1898, as the Gare d'Orsay. It swallowed up the rue de Poitiers between the rue de Lille and the quai. And of course, it blocked all view of the Seine from the rue de Lille's hotels.

The rail line, all four kilometres of it, joined the station to the Gare d'Austerlitz - cost the tidy sum of 40 million francs - and the line was opened in 1900. The architect, Laloux, topped the station off with the statues of Bordeaux, Toulouse and Nantes, but I did not notice them today.

I am not going to look up why the foreign ministry moved several blocks away, to hide behind the Assembly National, but I will note that this ministry is on the Quai d'Orsay, while the present museum is not.

While I am here, I go in to make sure the turnstiles are working, pick up a free brochure and then go around to the quai side entrance where the museum's boutique is located.

Some day I really do intend to visit this museum. I used to have a neighbor who had the job of photographing everything in it while it was all still scattered around in the cellars of the Louvre and stashed in salt mines near Compiègne.

He worked really hard at it for years and was rewarded with a job in a cinema-film archive in an old military bunker in Bois d'Arcy, right next to the maximum-security prison Cafe Le Fregate - rue Bac there. Its inmates see more daylight than he does, and when I last visited this bunker it was not heated.

There you are; there's the sunshine walzing down the rue du Bac.

Except for the station, the only reward for going down the quai Anatole France is getting to the rue de Bac; which has a lot of sunlight cruising down it to the river. I head into this because I want to take a look at the quieter, western end of the boulevard Saint-Germain.

The shops are full of ministerial antiques and new minister-type furniture, which looks well-made and has a style which may suit the minor palaces in this district, and the people who inhabit them.

Things liven up a bit after the boulevard Raspail corner. For example, there is a gas station which has neatly packaged firewood for sale. Okay, it is not really firewood; it is only kindling, but all the same, it must be handy for all these apartments around here with working fireplaces.

The closer Saint-Germain-de-Prés is, the funkier the corner bars get. The 'latin' part is coming up. Imagine; having to walk past all these kind of ordinary places, before getting to the Brasserie Lipp! It must be a cruel grind for some people.

For the rest of us, it is like a gradually opening gate to life. At the rue des Saints-Pères it starts popping, and the Café Flore is only a block away. It does not look as seedy as when I first saw it, so I guess the customers sitting on the sidewalk can afford the upkeep.

The next corner is Saint-Germain proper. It is all very busy as usual. All those at the Deux-Magots who were sitting in the sun, facing the church which is drenched in light - are now in shadow - and the ones on arch & Monet, St Lazare the boulevard side probably never got any sun - except for some maybe a bit early on - that came in from the rue Bonaparte on the opposite side.

Between the café and the church it is sort of a place now, instead of merely an open space. The Café Bonaparte down at the end, faces directly into the sun for a good part of the midday. I think the 'upkeep' there is lower in spite of this benefit.

Now I ask you: doesn't the station look better with the painting?

It is possible to just sit there and be yourself, instead of being perched in the Deux-Magots, pretending to be somebody. If it is still the same, it is possible to go into the Deux-Magots and be yourself without much effort, other than being able to pay a bit extra for everything.

The métro is across the street beside the church and I dive down its stairs, to head out to the sticks. I used to know people who spent time being 'somebody' at the Deux-Magots, people who never rode the métro.

They said people who used the métro 'smelled.' They do too - they smell like people. Like you and me. It's just an impression I have.

Manet - Monet, 'La Gare Saint-Lazare'

At the Musée d'Orsay - until Sunday, 17. May
61. rue de Lille, Paris 7. Entry at 1. rue de Bellechasse. Métro: Solférino or Assemblée Nationale. RER line 'C' - station: Musée d'Orsay. See the Musée d'Orsay Web site. Open daily from 10:00 to 18:00; closed Mondays.
On Sundays, open from 9:00 and on Thursdays, until 21:00.

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