Under the Arcades

photo, looking west, rue de rivoli, traffic The rue de Rivoli, looking west towards the place de la Concorde.

Goodbye Messidor, Thermidor and Fructidor

by Ric Erickson

Paris:– Monday, 1. September:–  This isn't my favorite month and I don't care much for the other eleven. Say what you want but there's something a bit fishy with all of them. Remember the time when France flirted with a decimal – a metric calendar – with each day having ten hours of 100 minutes, divided by 100 seconds. Months had names like Germinal, Vendémiaire and Pluviôse, and they were divided into three weeks of 10 days, which reduced the occurrence of frivolous weekends. After twelve years the revolutionary calendar fell out of favor because nobody knew what time it was. Leap Years were a big problem and they still cause trouble.

Like those three–week months we have a three–season year. Using revolutionary terms we have no Messidor, Thermidor or Fructidor. We have pre–winter and post–winter and everything else except winter itself is a lie or unforeseen, an unavoidable naturally occurring event, not stated in the contract or subject to the predictions of the TV–weather folks. In the absence of calendarial certainty they are permitted their fictions. To most consumers of weather it is merely piepegal.

photo, fountain, concorde, obelisque The Obélisque stays sky high.

Meanwhile there's the news. Has anybody noticed that there wasn't anything about China for the first time in months, or maybe years? Where are our worries about smog in Beijing? What are they doing with their birdsnest these days? Did they call back all the workers who were too untidy to have around town? If they did, what are they building now? We can't have a buildup like that and just forget about it like it never happened.

No Kidding September

It just goes to show that when September begins the year is as good as gone. That's it! This year has had it. I do like autumn. I like watching the leaves in the cemetery across the street slowly fade like little pixels until I can see downtown Montparnasse again over the tops of the tombs.

Anyway, September. There's about four weeks left of it. Here, there, anywhere, let's give it our best wishes. Even if you have to put on a sweater and a coat, go get yourself some wieners and popcorn and dial up your big screen TV and set the colors to vivid and boost up the sound to super surround. Slip Raging Bull into the DVD player. Set out the nuts and the drinks and stuff a towel in the crack under the door. It's movie time in the editorial studio of Metropole, but first, you will probably be curious about the weather:

The TV–weather shown tonight was fairly humdrum for for the rentrée, or any other time this month. It may be really crummy tomorrow morning and there may even be a little rain but around noon or 14:00 it might be slightly semi–sunny for brief periods, with a lousy high of 21 forecast. This is to be the beginning of an entirely cloudy Wednesday, with a lower high of 18. Hardly too good to be true but nevertheless predicted for Thursday, cloudy with maybe brightness if not actual sun peeps, and 19 degrees, and pay no nevermind to weeklong northwest winds of 70 kph in the Channel and somewhat less over land. This September isn't kidding around.

photo, sign, impasse ste leonie

Météo Jim joins us again, fully informed about wild winds in the Gulf of Mexico and the danger posed to New Orleans, still unrecovered from Hurricane Katrina three years ago. Meanwhile, he reports some beaux temps in Pommeland:

Gustav Bombs Terrebone

As Labor Day is about to arrive in Pommeland and other parts of the US, Hurricane Gustav is churning through the Gulf of Mexico and is scheduled to make landfall about now. The storm is ripping through the Gulf as a category 3 storm with winds of 125 mph200 km/h – and the projected path suggests that it will come ashore west of New Orleans. The storm will then move further westward but at a snail's pace, flooding Louisiana, Texas and Arkansas. Right now 95% of the people of New Orleans have evacuated the city with a total of 1.2 million people moving north, out of the storm's path.

photo, sign, cour d'honneur

In the wings but not waiting, Tropical Storm Hanna is in the Atlantic headed towards Bermuda. After visiting the islands, it is predicted to turn northward and visit the Atlantic side of Florida and travel up the Atlantic seaboard.

As for Laborious Day in Pommeland, the weather is expected to be sunny with a high of 86 a–grad. Tuesday, the day that marks a week after the end of Paris–Plages, will see more sun and a high of 90 a–grad. The weather will begin to cool down on Wednesday and the cloudies will make a brief appearance. This trend will continue until Saturday when coolies of 75 a–grad will dominate and the cloudies will have condensed into the rainies.

A la prochaine, Météo Jim

Café Life

Under the Arcades

We didn't have a strong summer and because we weren't good or didn't deserve it, it unravelled several times and showed us dreary spring slop, and even then we probably had the warmest day in there sometime in June. Saturday was unusual, following a usual Friday with a boring morning overcast that lasted until tea time. Saturday was like summer, one day only, the 30th of August. Joke or no, I took off my woolies and ventured forth with the camera set to bright sunshine.

photo, rivoli arcades, strollers, shoppers Under the Rivoli arches.

A long time ago I once visited a place called the frying pan of Andalusia. It wasn't as hot as I expected but I could see that the place was prepared. All the buildings in the town had thick walls with arcades over the sidewalks, built in the old–fashioned way, massively. You could see that the sun was going to have to blaze for a month to penetrate. Up north near the Pyrenées there was another town built the same way. You could see that nobody was going to have to shovel snow off the sidewalks even if the streets were full of it.

None of this explains the arcades in Paris unless you think it rains a lot here. In fact they were probably built as a way of shielding the pedestrians from horse–drawn traffic. Paris has always had a lot of folks walking about and for about a thousand years there was horse poop everywhere. You needed hipwaders to go shopping. It was slippery, ugly and stinky. You couldn't smell garlic on account of the stink. Wouldn't it be nice, someone thought, to have clean shoppers in our boutiques?

For example, take the rue de Rivoli. There's that long stretch from métro Louvre–Rivoli to the place de la Concorde that looks like it was built by one contractor with a single set of plans – same height, same arches, same facades, about 1400 metres long, facing south, facing the big pile of the Louvre and the prairie of the Jardin des Tuileries.

photo, between arches, cyclist, ferrari Passing cyclist, parked Ferrari.

In 1797 Napoléon Bonaparte won a battle against the Austrians near a village named Rivoli, 14 kilometres west of Turin. He engaged the architects Charles Percier and Pierre–François–Léonard Fontaine, neoclassical masters and decorators, and they invented the Empire Style for him. They designed the Rivoli facades and dated their work on 18. April 1802, or 28 germinal an X, as it was then.

At the end of 1804 Percier retired to teach, but Fontaine carried on. At 86 in 1848 he was still on the list of official architects. Kings came and kings went while Fontaine designed official bits of Paris and Versailles, such as the Carrousel du Louvre arch, and lent his hand to the design of the Arc de Triomphe. According to the plan of 1802, the construction work on Rivoli was carried out between 1806 and 1835.

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photo, pillers palais royal, light and shade Egyptiana at the Palais Royal.

The nearby place Vendôme was designed in 1698 by Jules Hardouin–Mansart. It was built ritzy and stayed ritzy. That's why the Hotel Ritz is still there. This ritziness was intended for the entire Rivoli project but was imagined some time before tourism was invented. The fancy hotels are still on Rivoli – such as the Meurice, the one–time HQ of German occupation commander, Dietrich von Choltitz, captured in the hotel on 25. August 1944.

Paris sits on the globe in a northern latitude so when the sun is shining on Rivoli the arcades are not much help, unless they are fitted with vertical awnings in the arches. The park across the street creates no shadows but towards Palais Royal the Louve certainly does. When the sun is in full blaze the space under the arcades is warm and yellow, and you might think you are in Rome, except for the souvenirs.


photo, dining under the arches, rivoli Café with headroom on Rivoli.

Seen that way it is a ritzy souvenir bazaar. There are chic boutiques too, two famous book shops, the fancy hotels. Look down at the sidewalk paving – if it is tiled and contains inlaid names like Sulka then you are in the chic part. If it is undistinguished black you are in the bazaar part, and one where postcards probably cost more than in the tabac du coin somewhere else in the 9th arrondissement.

There isn't anything you can get on Rivoli that you can't find elsewhere, except maybe hot chocolate from Angélina. Both bookshops – W H Smith and Galignani – have books in English, and high Rivoli rents – in Galignani's case since 1856.

I was almost thinking of the frying pan of Andalusia on Rivoli on Saturday. Light was splashing all around and a step outside the arches showed a wide–angle horizon of azurean blue. The Louvre in the east was cooking under it, but down there, the shadows were blue and dense. The golden statue of Jeanne d'Arc at Pyramides looked like a glittery bonbon. There are three other Jeanne statues in Paris.

photo, triangle pool, cour napoleon, louvre Cool trangle pool at the Louvre.

After a fast tour under the arches, avoiding the lurking deepfingers, I crossed to the Louvre and glanced at the Café Marly, with it's arched porch. Then I went over to the Palais Royal and did not get a thrill from the stunted black and white columns in the Cour d'Honneur but back towards the interior garden I found some more columns in the shade and light, a bit like ancient evenings in Egypt.

Satisfied, I quit worrying about frying pans and was looking forward to the evening history show on Arte. I hoped they would have something Egyptian or Persian, all orange rock and fat columns holding up a 4000 year–old ceiling. Just my luck they featured more than I wanted to know about the life and times of Neanderthals in Europe. It was very cold in the old days, in those Pleistocene times before tourists and postcards, when folks wore animal skins in the endless winter and never washed or brushed their teeth.

photo, sign, rue du moulin vert

The Honky–Tonk Café Metropole Club

There was a less largish crowd of members present at the last meeting and every single one had a unique name. Your stories are what counts so don't worry about my skimpy notes. Regular members and new candidates can try again some other sweet Thursday. The next Thursday that everything at the Café Metropole Club will be 100.5% new, will be on 4. September, a short mini–week into the begin of the wretched rentrée. All members in any form, class, shape, hue, any standing, of any type or creed, will be greeted politely. Even if you feel like sitting at a table on the terrace, pretending to not be at the meeting, you are more than welcome to sit out there.

A faint rumor that repetition here will end someday is inaudible. Four wonderful facts and three subtractions about the club are on a page called the About the Club Webpage. Readers who have personally read it, and one or two may have, may already be club members for life without personal risk or very exorbitant fees. Refunds cannot be accorded due to technical mishaps.

photo, sign, liqueur de la marque, bistro 1900

The Ex–Question of Schleswig–Holstein

Some of you have might have been thinking that it is especially apt to remember that it was today in 1237 that Robert de Sorbon opened a school in Paris that became the Sorbonne, originally established to teach poor students. Not that there's any connection but after 72 years of being the Sun King Louis XIV passed away today in 1715. Not long afterwards, in 1804, clear eyed German astronomer Karl Ludwig Harding discovered Juno, an asteroid. That set the stage for the 1902 release of the movie, A Trip to the Moon or Le Voyage dans la lune, by Georges Méliès and Gaston, his brother. The 14 minute film was a big hit – after all it was the world's first sci–fi – some say pataphysical – flicker. For the US release the film was expropriated by Edison and Méliès didn't get a nickel for it. This week I'm skipping over the St. Petersburg name change in 1914 and proceeding directly to 1928 when Ahmet Zogu declared Albania to be a monarchy and himself as king of it, namely Zog I, Skanderbeg III of the Albanians. His real name was Ahmet Zogolli and he worked up to the big time through the offices of prime minister and president. Zog means bird in Albanian. A survivor of an estimated 55 assassination attempts, Zog was obviously a great zagger too. That's our little world, folks!

A bientôt à Paris
signature, regards, ric

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