Christmas Markets and Big Wheels

photo: cafe la procope

Paris' oldest café, the Procope, in the Latin Quarter.

Neons In a Montparnasse Garden

by Ric Erickson

Paris:- Monday, 13. December 1999:- Last Wednesday I had an appointment in Saint-Germain-en-Laye and I rode out there on the RER without paying much attention to the ride, which made it seem shorter.

This was shorter than the last ride I had from there, on Monday, 12. July, when I left that area for good. On Wednesday, mixing the personal with business, I looked around the town a bit, and took a walk through its Marché de Noël.

The town has added to its sizeable collection of brand-name boutiques and disappeared some of its own places since I was last there. Although not originally designed to be a mall without a roof, it is this more than ever.

As such, Saint-Germain-en-Laye looks prosperous even if it looks like a concentrated branch-boutique. At a café wherephoto: marche de noel, honey I had a café, nobody was complaining, except about the café's pay toilet.

At the town's visitor office, the staff seemed genuinely surprised to see me when I went in to look for 'events' in the town, and in Yvelines.

Dozens of honey types at the Marché de Noël in Saint-Germain-en-Laye.

At its Marché de Noël there were not many customers, so the pine-wood 'chalets' seemed a little forlorn and full of unsold stock. I think I have forgotten more than I knew about these Marchés de Noël. It was only a couple of days later that I thought of some questions to ask.

Such as, where do they come from? All over France, these Marchés de Noël spring up, with their pine-wood 'chalets' and their year-in year-out stock, and with their staffs. What happens to all this transient commerce during the rest of the year?

I must have been subconsciously thinking of this on the RER ride backphoto: tree prices, la defense to Paris, because I got off at La Défense to see if there was a Marché de Noël in the big space there.

There was. It is huge, and at that time on Wednesday, it was full of thousands of workers from all the surrounding office towers - who don't have much else to do except shop. The mini-Manhattan-like La Défense is not overloaded with many cozy corners.

Tree prices are quoted by height at Marché de Noël at La Défense.

For all the readers who have be asking for Marché de Noël locations, I can now definitely say there is a big one at La Défense. At the end of métro line one, or via the RER line 'A.' For the Marché de Noël at Saint-Germain-en-Laye, go all the way to the end of the RER line 'A.'

Wherever else there is enough space, such as in front of the Gare Montparnasse, there is a Marché de Noël.

Paris' Big Wheel Deal

On the same day, on the same public-transport axle, I popped up from underground to verify the presence and operation of Paris' Big Wheel in the Place de la Concorde. Yes, the gondolas have been added and it is twirling around carrying passengers.

The eight-minute ride is worth 30 francs for adults, if you want to see Paris from 60 metres above Concorde. This is also above the tip of the Obelisk, so if you've always wanted to look down on it, now you can.

Typical overheard conversation: "How high is it?" followed by, "Is it higher than London's?" I was too busy taking photos to tell my fellow passengers that it doesn't matter how big London's wheel may be - if it has one - because it has its 'Millennium Dome,' based on designs by Albert Speer for Berlin.

There are a lot of warnings about standing up in the gondolas. Quaintphoto: paris wheel messages also inform riders they are being filmed by TV. I believe the TV-photos are for sale at a booth on the ground, where there is also a souvenir stand.

All the same - for camera fans - there are unglazed areas above the doors on each side, and the plexiglass ends were pretty clear. Last Wednesday was dim, so I don't know what light does to the plexi.

Paris' Big Wheel against a rare Paris big sky.

While in the line to get on, you have to decide whether you want a clear view to the Champs-Elysées or towards the Tuileries, and manoeuver yourself accordingly. To get the two views clearly requires two rides.

Thrill value? From the beginning it is obvious that Paris' Big Deal Wheel is a piece of solid engineering. The ride itself is like a modern elevator; there is none of that stop-start swinging back and forth, with the ground way down there below your feet - like on a regular ferris wheel.

Money for sensation value? For eight minutes - plus waiting time - 30 francs is neither too much nor too little.

Alternatives - for free; the roof of Samaritaine, plus it has a café terrace. Same thing for Galeries Lafayette, with a simpler café and lower-quality view. For pay, there's the Tour Eiffel - absolutely impossible to pass up - and the 59th floor of the Tour Montparnasse. Finally, weather permitting, there's the balloon at the André Citroen park in the 15th.

Other free heights are on Montmartre and up in Belleville. Of course, there are some who are perfectly content to have Paris at eye-level, and there are fans of the métro's underground, as well as its elevated parts.

For deep underground, visit the catacombs at Denfert-Rochereau. The daily line waiting at 14:00 to do this always surprises me.

Varnished in Montparnasse

Varnishing - 'vernissage' - is what painters do when the painting is finished. It means they don't intend to put any more daubs on it. 'Vernissage' in Paris is what a gallery calls the opening of an exhibition of an artist's works.

Therefore, with nothing better to do except write the 'club report' last Thursday evening, I stopped in at the Musée Zadkine in Montparnasse to sample a 'vernissage.' The occasion was the beginning of an exhibition of François Morellet's recent works.

The Musée Zadkine is located in a rural garden which was once Ossip Zadkine's residence. This garden is reached from another backyard, a courtyard parking lot and an alley; which begins at 100 bis, Rue d'Assas. If you miss this alley entry, you miss the whole thing.

The area, between Montparnasse proper and the Luxembourg gardens, is not busy at 18:30 on Thursdays in winter. However, all of the few people I followed, turned into the alley. A man with a Santa Claus beard collected the invitations in the parking lot.

The museum is composed of two or three buildings with a garden in the centre. There were a lot of people holding plastic wine containers in the first gallery; but a lot more were standing around in the garden, in almost total darkness, dressed in winter clothingphoto: musee zadkine but still having a Montparnasse garden party.

Some light was thrown on the scene by François Morellet's neons. A green one climbed a tree and a blue one was over the museum's main entry.

François Morellet's 'PI' neon provides light for exhibition vernissage.

To me, these were just neon squiggles. François Morellet's '2000 project' is to have one of these in each place his has exhibited since about 1952. The first is on the Gare de Tours.

None of this is haphazard. The shapes of the neons and the zigzag connections between their locations is based on the number of decimals in 'PI' translated into degrees, leading to infinity - and the Musée Zadkine has been chosen to be the Paris point on this erratic line.

According to the catalogue's author, Catherine Francblin, 'the number 'PI' is ideal because it obviously joins the precision of a mathematic object to the enigma on an infinite number, which today has several hundreds of billions of known decimals.'

Of course there is an 'in other words' to this, but it is not more clear so I will stick with the first explanation. It is the idea that counts after all. François Morellet himself says he could have picked random numbers out of a phone book instead of using 'PI.'

François Morellet also says that aid from computers saved him several dozen years in doing the calculations, after he'd initially spent a year figuring out the basic numbers, or rather, decimals.

The green neon in the tree is one that François Morellet has done especially for the Musée Zadkine, which he calls 'un néon grimpant vert (!)'

If the garden is to be used for many vernissages on winter evenings, it could certainly use another half dozen of these. He has still got variations of 'PI rococo' for line segments in curves and 'PI piquants' for straight lines made by computers.

If I may, 'in other words,' say that none of François Morellet's work is completely random, I would like to direct you to the fact that he works very hard at this.

When I reach the métro entry at Vavin, I take a good look at La Rotonde's very flashy neons, and wonder where they fit into the scheme of things. Then I go to café Le Bouquet and have a big cup of café to dump the winter chill.

Café Metropole Club 9th Session Rehash The 9th weekly meeting of the 'Café Metropole Club' ran off pretty successfully, with much to eat last Thursday. Read all about it on last week's 'Club 'Report'' page. The coming 'Club' meeting is on an ordinary Thursday, which is nothing unusual in Paris so the meeting will be held as usual.

This Was Metropole One Year Ago:

Issue 3.50 - 14. December 1998 - The Café Metropole column was titled by its over optimistic 'Ed' - 'THere Comes 'E-Biz'' 'Au Bistro' had 'Weather News and Winter Sports.' This issue had only one feature, entitled 'One Louis Liked Marly-le-Roi.' The issue also had 'Metropole's Pre-Christmas Program VI - Xmas '98.' The week's 'Scene' column headline was 'Is Full Up' like the column. Server-lady Linda Thalman'scount down Eiffel Tower email last week about the joys of pre-Christmas 'HyperShopping!' brought emails from readers about the same thing. There were four 'Posters of the Week' and Ric's Cartoon of the Week was captioned 'Say It Isn't True!'

This Was Metropole Two Years Ago:

Issue 2.50 - 15. December 1997 - The Café Metropole column had the endlessly boring subject of the weather on its mind, in 'Really Not the Weatherman.' The 'Au Bistro' column was entitled 'Papon Is Confronted With Facts.' This issue had two features, entitled 'The Odd Shopper' and 'On the Town At Noël.' Guest contributor M-R Erickson wrote 'How the French Do Noël.' Christmas futures continued with 'Noël Program II - More Opera, Ballet, Theatre, Concerts and Events.' Two 'Posters of the Week' doubled to four and Ric's Cartoon of the Week was captioned 'Flyin' Into Paris.'

The Tour Eiffel Countdown to 31. December 1999:

Only 19! even shorter and increasingly wintry days and cooler nights to go in Paris and Ile-de-France until the really big year-end party explodes upon us.
signature, regards, ric

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