To Paris Plage!

photo: statue, garden palais royal

This not not 'Paris Plage' but its Palais-Royal substitution.

On the First 'Beach Day' of the Year

Paris:- Friday, 2. June 2000:- It's now or never; it's the first chance to do 'Paris Beach' with the temperature hitting 28 this afternoon, although with a sky not quite at its most brilliant. You might not think starting at Saint-Lazare is the best place to set out for the beach in Paris - not Normandy - and, frankly, neither do I.

But I know if I look at a métro map, it will tell me the line seven runs from Opéra to Pont Marie. I want to do 'Paris Beach' from east to west, against the sun.

'Paris Beach' is already sitting on the steps of the Opéra, gazing down the avenue towards the Louvre, overlooking the mixup of the traffic from the Grands Boulevards, swirling around in the foreground like bumper-cars and buses.

My first mis-step to the beach with water is not into the métro's entrance. Instead, it is into the Boulevard des Capucines. The air or something makes me do it.

About a block in I remind myself it is not even remotely the way to the beach. My reckoning says I should parallel the Avenue de l'Opéra, heading towards the Seine in a southeasterly direction.

Look at a map. Doing this is impossible. All the other streets run about south, about 30 degrees to the right of the Avenue de l'Opéra's angle. If I don't want tophoto: entry, rue beaujolais end up on Opéra, I have to step to the left, like going down a crossword puzzle - one across, one down.

Once I have crossed the Rue du Quatre-Septembre, I have to go east on the Rue Saint-Augustin - slightly away from the river. With the holiday yesterday there is practically nobody around today and I can stand in the middle of the Place Gaillon and give it a good look-over. It looks empty.

One entry into the Palais-Royal, from the Rue de Beaujolais.

One block further east on Saint-Augustin brings me to a good-looking 'south' street and the Rue Monsigny runs past the iron works of the 'Bouffes Parisiens' theatre. Then, somebody's old hôtel fills the path and I skirt it to the left. The exit has changed its name from Monsigny to Méhul, and I see I'm almost on Opéra again.

Leaning left into the Rue des Petits-Champs takes me away from it. Just to be safe I walk it further for several blocks, beyond Richelieu, past the Bibliothèque Nationale. A magnet drags me to the right down a short street to the rear of the Palais Royal, where a passageway sucks me in.

The Duc de Chartres, who was Philippe d'Orléans - as a result of a 'brilliant' lifestyle, was flat broke in 1781 when he decided to organize a little real estate project - to surround the sides of the garden of the Palais-Royal with a bit of rental property.

A lot of other history had gone on before this, involving names such as Richelieu - "In his time semi-God, semi-prince and semi-Pope..." - and young Louis XIV, with a bunch of comings and goings, riots, insurrections, Mazarin, the Fronde, Colbert, and Louis' brother who was called 'Monsieur' but became one of the thousands of Ducs de Orléans.

The big Louis of the time made him marry his son to the second Mademoiselle de Blois, illegitimate daughter of Louis and Madame de Montespan - had these people no shame? Anyhow, 'Monsieur' fixed the Palais-Royal up with Mansart's help, and when 'Monsieur' croaked from apoplexy resulting from an argument with big Louis; well, then, Philippe d'Orléans got the property at 27.

He was described as a 'real prince' - in the 'mold of Henri IV!' - but with a terrible education. This 'education' started when he was 14 and he became a father for the first time. In 1715 he became Regent of France too when old Louis died, and this is when the bad-taste party-time at the Palais-Royal got serious.

Philippe d'Orléans died of apoplexy at Versailles on Tuesday, 21. December 1723, in the arms of Madame de Phalaris who was a good friend. The third Duc d'Orléans then got the property and this one was nicknamed 'pious.' His son, in turn, was called Louis-Philippe 1er, or the 'Big One' but was otherwise the fourth Duc d'Orléans.

In 1743 he married Princess Henriette de Bourbon-Conti, whose close friends included Saint-Simon and the painter, Boucher, who did her portrait showing her wearing one bunchphoto: passage des pavillons of flowers. - plus Louis XV, Prince de Soubise, the Duc de Richelieu, the Maréchal de Saxe, the Maréchal de Lowendal, the Abbé de Bernis, the Comte de Melfort, the Court, the army and the ordinary people who she sought out in her garden, disguised as one of the plain folks. I think somebody transposed a comma for a period in there somewhere, because this is a lot of 'close' friends.

The Passage des Pavillons - a little short-cut to get away from the Palais-Royal.

No matter. It was about this time, 1760, that the Palais-Royal began to look as it does today, for the first time. Then some more Ducs d'Orléans came and went, until we get up to where we started, in 1781, with the real estate deal, which makes the Palais-Royal look like it really does today, again.

Around the garden, there were - are - 60 'houses,' each with three arcades. They have a ground floor with a mezzanine, an upper floor, an attic and on top a final floor with a sort of balcony which is supposed to be decorated with flower pots.

The neighbors in nearby streets were very annoyed with this additional Paris real estate because it blocked their views of the garden, and reduced their houses' speculative values. The units in the Palais-Royal were sold for 50,000 livres each.

After all the merchants bought their boutiques, the Palais-Royal became very lively. In the centre - in the garden! - wooden 'galleries' were added in 1784. The whole thing was called the 'Camp des Tartares,' which hints at what went on there.

"Le lieu de rendez-vous de tous les crocs, des ecrocs, filous, mauvais sujets dont abondait la capitale." There was a Mlle. Lapierre, 'a giant Prussian of 19 years, 2.20 metres tall,' the beautiful Zulina, a topless and bottomless dancer made out of wax, and the enormous Paul Butterlbrodt who weighed 238 kilos.

During the Empire, possibly the first one, two underground theatres were opened but they were pretty small and the actors were paid only 38 sous, a bottle of beer and a shot of schnapps per day.

Basically, it was as if the King's brother had an exclusive concession on Las Vegas rolled into Hell's Kitchen, whilephoto: arcades, gallerie beaujolais collecting ten percent of the profits. As long as it lasted, these were heady times for the Palais-Royal, day and night. Also, there were very few intolerant petit bourgeois in those days, nobody to complain to, and even fewer people who could vote.

Just inside, this is the Gallerie Beaujolais.

This is not to suggest the Duc de Chartres was elected. The disadvantage of hereditary titles was that their holders couldn't be thrown out of office by outraged voters.

After titles were suppressed on Saturday, 19. June 1790, the Duc d'Orléans changed his name to Philippe Egalité, and the Palais-Royal became 'Palais-Egalité.' One month before whacking off Philippe's head in 1793, the state confiscated the newly renamed palace.

The idea to demolish the 'Camp des Tartares' was not carried out, but the assembly moved in the Palais - after chucking out all the old lodgers, which was not easy to do.

Napoléon thought of attaching the palace to the Louvre with more arcades, but this didn't happen either. When the Restoration came along in the form of Louis XVIII, he gave the Palais-Royal to - you guessed it! - the sixth Duc d'Orléans, another Louis-Philippe, on Wednesday, 18. May 1814.

The poor old thing - the Palais-Royal I mean - required 18 years of restoration, but it wasn't until 1826 that the rat-infested wooden galleries were demolished. Once more, in 1829, the Palais-Royal began to look as it does today.

On Saturday, 7. August 1830, the Duc d'Orléans was proclaimed King of France, with the name of Louis-Philippe 1er. He lasted a year before resigning - a King resigns? - on 1. October 1831, also a Saturday. He moved into the Château des Tuileries to sulk.

When Napoléon III came along in 1854 he confiscated - "The eagle's first theft!" - the Palais-Royal and gave it to his uncle Jérôme, the ex-King of Westfalia and his son, Jérôme-Napoléon. The father died in 1860 and the son became known as 'Plon-Plon' - known as a 'good sport' - and he lived in the Palais-Royal with Princess Clotilde.

After the fall of the Empire - again - the state took over the place, again. On Wednesday, 24. May 1871, the Commune set it on fire, just as it did the Château des Tuileries - because it was annoyed with the state.

But the Palais-Royal's neighboring folks objected and saved most of it - at the risk of their lives - and it was restored from 1872 to 1876 - which leaves it looking just like it is today, one more time. The Château des Tuileries was not so lucky in case you are wondering where it is today.

Neighborhood folks are still fussy, and their complaints can be heard from time to time - raised against the temporary sculpture exhibitions that are placed in the garden of the Palais-Royal, such as the one that is here now.

In 1912, the stockbrokers got together and tried to push a plan to put the Bourse in the Palais-Royal's garden, instead of where it is now - where it is now abandoned by stockbrokers who are located in underground bunkers somewhere, doing their electronic trading out of sight and out of mind.

After taking all this in, I slipped out by the Passage des Pavillons to head east towards the Place des Victories. I need not have bothered. The Paris meridian line runs through the Palais-Royal and I could have followed it to the Seine instead, and the beach I've been looking for.

Walking through this part of downtown Paris on a semi-holiday Friday has been tranquil, butphoto: arcades, valois wing it has taken its time. I have a glass of water in a watering-hole called Gutenberg. After it I check out some local streets for local color - the Gallerie Vero-Dodat - and get to Rivoli.

Here is the Gallerie Valois, on the eastern side of the Palais-Royal's garden.

Here is razz-ma-tazz, or pollution, or over-used air. The Quai du Louvre, although it is right beside the beach, is crowded. After the back-streets it is too much and my fuel tank is low on oxygen - I have no more energy to get to Pont Marie and do the east-west trek.

I take some more cool - not really cool but cooler - and quiet antique back streets I know to a Châtelet métro entry. The métro has its own heat wave and wilted passengers, but it is quick.

It reminds me a bit of coming back from the beach after really hot days of sand and sea and cola drinks and hot dogs, and sticky fingers. Surfacing at Hell's Gate, the street's air is the same as it was downtown.

This has been Paris' first or second short-sleeve day of the year, despite no beaches. Later on, as I expect, at the café they say, isn't it hot?

No, not yet. It needs another ten degrees. Or maybe it's just me. I must have reptile blood; it doesn't unthaw under 30. It's just as well I didn't get to the beach and did the Palais-Royal mini-tour instead. It really does look like it did today, except for the absence of the 'Camp des Tartares.'

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