In the Land of Odd

This is not a photo of the Bourse de Commerce

Author Refuses to Pay
2,000 Francs for Own Photos

(This 'history is quite long. It might be an idea to save it as 'text' and read it off-line.)

Paris:- Thursday, 13. March 1997:- On a gloomy, damp day last fall, the 30. October, 1996 - a Wednesday - I was walking around with a fellow after having paid a visit to one of the sites where people without papers, or those deemed to be in 'irregular situations,' were squatting.

We were going down the rue du Louvre, heading towards Rivoli, and as we passed the Bourse de Commerce, he asked me if I'd seen the fantastic staircase inside. I had not, so he took me in and showed it to me. I took a photo of it.

We looked at the high cupola and he demonstrated how a whisper right under the centre, is amplified. Really neat! I thought I should do a story about this building.

My acquaintance had an invitation to a reception at the Louvre, and he went off to it. I stayed behind, to begin the process of getting permission to take photos.

With a name and a phone number from the building's reception, I reached somebody the next day at the Chambre de Commerce et d'Industrie de Paris - the present owners of the building - and arranged for a meeting to outline my purpose.

At the meeting I explained what Metropole is and gave its Internet address. In return for permission to take a few photos, I agreed to submit the text of the feature for scrutiny by the Chambre de Commerce et d'Industrie de Paris. I thought their press department looking it over could not hurt, although I did not like the idea of doing it on account of the delay that it might involve. I took the photos that day, on the 13. November, also a Wednesday

In order to speed things up, I wrote the story fairly quickly, and then I paid 60 francs to fax it to them - and since I was in Paris on the Friday, handed a print-copy to the fellow with whom I'd had the interview - in the hopes they would fax a go-ahead in time for the next issue's publication.

No okay arrived. About two weeks later (this explains the 'current' dateline below), I got a letter from the legal department of the Chambre de Commerce et d'Industrie de Paris, which said I should pay them a token 2,000 francs to use the photos 'for commercial purposes.'

Well. I'd been to the place three times, I'd written a long article about the site; especially its history before it became the Bourse de Commerce, I'd paid a fair amount for faxes and something for phone calls and transport - and their legal department now wanted me to pay them 2,000 francs for permission to use my own photos to accompany an article, distributed free to anybody in the world with Internet access; an article that would have been - essentially - a public relations bit of fluff for the benefit of the Chambre de Commerce et d'Industrie de Paris.

The article and the photos did not appear in Metropole. I figured all of the time, work and money was down the drain.

I was a bit burned up about it. After a month or so, I happened to mention this affair to the acquaintance who had pointed out the interest of the building to me. He gave me a name of a lady in the Chamber of Commerce's press relations office and I explained the situation - and later the same day, dropped off a copy of the feature while on the way to do another feature. I didn't meet this press lady.

Since nearly everything is Metropole is 'fresh,' I was wondering how I was to explain the 'date-delay' to readers, if I ever got permission to publish the photos.

Nothing happened for a very long time, until a registered letter arrived today - not from the press service, but from the legal department lady again - of the Chambre de Commerce et d'Industrie de Paris.

Its contents are sort of legal, saying in effect, that the Chamber of Commerce is justified (article 544 of the Civil Code) in demanding a 'symbolic monetary exchange' in 'return for permission' to use the photos of their private property; based on the ground that the publication known as Metropole is not freely available to the public.

I guess she's thinking of what you readers must pay for Internet access in order to read Metropole every week. I suppose the same rule applies to people who buy newspapers, magazines, pay the state TV-license fee and the cable operator. You pay for access, therefore the contents you get are 'commercial' and are not information of some sort

At any rate, the lady who wrote to me is the deputy to the legal director of the Chambre de Commerce et d'Industrie de Paris. She concluded the letter by writing that she remains at my disposition in case I wish any further clarifications of French law. And in the final salutation she expresses the hope that she has answered my questions.

The only question I ever asked was for permission to take the photos. This request was granted.

I don't think I will wait to see if the public relations department of the Chambre de Commerce et d'Industrie de Paris thinks it is a good idea to pay me - say - why not? - 20,000 francs, to publish the feature - and - the photos. The photos are dead meat now, they need tossing into the trashcan.

Somehow I don't think they are going to put up any 20,000 francs, 'symbolic' or otherwise. They haven't been excessively clever up to now and I have no reason to expect them to change what appears to be their habitual ways overnight; especially not for little Metropole and its worldwide circle of readers - who only want to know everything about Paris and what makes it tick.

Now, just so you don't go away from this article entirely empty-handed, below you will find a few words about the site in Paris on which the building known as the Bourse de Commerce is located. (The accompanying black rectangles are not 'blacked-out' versions of the original five photos, they are simply black rectangles created with imaging software.)

One thing I must make clear: the Chambre de Commerce et d'Industrie de Paris bought the 'Bourse de Commerce' building in 1994. They are merely the present owners. They did not order it built, they are not the 'authors' of its architecture, nor does the Chamber of Commerce 'own' the history of the site. Pure history cannot be bought and 'owned.'

However, for the sake of strict legality, I have removed the last three of the original paragraphs and rewritten the ending to conform to any other 'wild' articles of the civil code that may be on the loose.

And as long as we're being so 'commercial' here, I mentioned this particular organization's name eight times already. At five bucks a crack, don't you think they should cough up forty bucks? That's about the price of a lunch for one in this town.


The Story of the Hôtel
de Soissons In Paris

Renovated into Former Grain Warehouse,
Now Looks Like Jockey's Cap -
According to Victor Hugo

Paris:- (Wednesday, 27. November 1996:-) After a big tramp around the Louvre, you might feel like going up the rue du Louvre towards the rue Coquilère, to one of the many gaudy restaurants there for a big plate of pig's knuckles and sauerkraut.

As you go up the rue du Louvre, you pass the place des Deux-Ecus and if you look right, you'll see a sort of squat, round building, with a great high dome.

This is the Bourse de Commerce. It is aptly named because it has been the object on considerable 'commerce' since sometime between 1190 and 1214, when Count Jean II of Nesle, Lord of Bruges, This is not a photo of the Bourse de Commerce inherited a hôtel built here by his father, Jean the 1st of Nesle.

This was the first place called Hôtel de Nesle, and it was a modest place surrounded by vines - not to be confused with the other, larger, establishment of the same name on the Left Bank Quai de Conti, which was built by Jean the 1st of Nesle's grandson, Simon de Clermont, also Lord of Nesle, in the same century, but later.

Where was I? Oh yes - Count Jean II of Nesle, Lord of Bruges, gave the hôtel to Saint-Louis in 1232, who in turn gave it to his mother, the virtuous Queen Blanche of Castile, who lived there for 20 years before dying at 67, on a bed of straw because she was virtuous. She was reportedly sadly missed by the Parisians.

Philippe the Good gave the hôtel to his brother, Charles the Valois and head of the clan, in 1296, and when he died in 1325 it passed to his son, Philippe the Valois who kept it two years before passing it on to Jean of Luxembourg, King of Bohemia, who held onto it long enough for it to become known as the Hôtel de Bohême, or Behaigne. This Jean was known as the blind king and he was 51 when he was killed at the battle of Crécy, on 26. August 1346.

As a result of his daughter's marriage to another Jean - Duke of Normandy - who became king in 1350, the hôtel returned to the crown, but the crown only lived there for a bit in 1355.

In 1372, Jean's second son, Louis of Anjou, picked it up. His widow, who was the aunt of Charles VI, sold it back to the crown in 1388 for a huge sum. Charles then gave it to his brother Louis, the famous Duke of Orléans, who was assassinated - for good reason - by his first cousin, 'Fearless Jean,' 19 years later.

The Duke of Orléans had fixed up the modest hôtel a lot and it had become the Hôtel d'Orléans. According to Brantôme, the Duke had installed a portrait gallery of his mistresses in the hôtel and the most prominently featured was that of Marguerite of Bavaria. At that time the Duke had a really big reputation as being a ladies' man and he had three other hôtels around town as well, presumably also with portraits. Marguerite was Fearless Jean's wife, so we can guess how he got his nickname.

In 1492, Tisserran, a Franciscan, had convinced 220 party girls to give up their miserable ways, and the Filles-Pénitentes convent was founded. (Just so you don't think I have a monomania about this site, this was also the year Cristoforo Colombo sailed west to China and found America in the way.)

The grandson of the Duke - formerly Louis II of Orléans - became Louis XII, 'the Father of the People,' and donated part of the hôtel in 1499 for use as a home for these repentant ladies and a little later he lost a part of it while gambling with his chamberlain, Robert of Framezelles, and was forced to cede the rest of the hôtel to the Convent of the Filles-Pénitentes.

This convent only let in girls who said 'yes' and they had to prove it as well. The matrons were severe; applicants got the boot if they had been good - or not bad enough. This is not a photo of the Bourse de Commerce The kings, Louis XII, François I, Henri II, François II and Charles IX supported this convent with many visits and Charles gave it an annual pension.

It is said that in 1572 the Florentine, Cosmo Ruggieri, after reading a 'famous' horoscope, predicted that Queen Catherine de Médicis would die near Saint-Germain, so she moved out of the - begun in 1564, but unfinished château Tuleries - which was in both of the parishes of St. Germain-l'Auxerrois and St. Germain-en-Laye and moved into the Hôtel d'Orléans, which was in neither parish.

Saint Bartholomew's Day, 24. August 1572 marked the massacre named after the same day and was organised chiefly by Queen Catherine and the Guises, in order to wipe out the entire Huguenot officer corps in one swoop, while they were in Paris celebrating the marriage of Henry of Navarre and Marguerite of Valois.

The Protestant bridegroom temporarily converted on the spot with a sword at this throat; if he had not, there wouldn't have been any King Henri IV. I do not know whether this event was before or after the horoscope reading, but I have added it here so you won't think life in Paris then was merely a time of harmless real estate deals and fancy wedding parties.

Queen Catherine was probably the most powerful figure in Europe, after Philip II of Spain and Elizabeth of England.

She kicked the girls out of the convent - there were 80 of them - and after paying them some compensation, moved them to the Monastery of Saint-Maglorie, and moved the monks to the faubourg Saint-Jacques.

Queen Catherine bought up some nearby houses and streets and in 1574 had Jean Bullant transform the squalid old hôtel into the Hôtel de la Reine. It took ten years but the result was considered equal in splendor to the Louvre and the unfinished Château Tuleries.

The building was rectangular and the column you can see outside the rear of the present building - on the Halles side - was inside Queen Catherine's. It was in a corner of a interior courtyard and it had a door at the first floor level, facing one of the doors of the two apartments of the Queen, each consisting of only two rooms.

The main entry to the hôtel faced south. There were five other principal apartments, each with five rooms. The Queen had a personal staff of 86 honored ladies - known as the 'flying squad' - plus 25 honored young ladies, 40 maids, 36 chaplains, 13 doctors and pharmacists, 11 maîtres d'hôtel - about 300 people altogether. The hôtel had a triangular garden on the west side, pointing to the place des Deux-Ecus. The large stables were on the north side of this.

Queen Catherine lived in her hôtel for 14 years. She died in Blois while on a PR tour to drum up support for the throne for her son, Henri III. As she lay dying, she asked the attending priest for his name and he replied, "Madame, je m'appelle Julien de Saint-Germain." She was 71 and the date was 5. January 1589.

On 21. January 1606, Charles de Bourbon-Condé, Count of Soissons, bought the Hôtel de la Reine for an enormous price and he fixed it up and enlarged it and when it was truly beautiful, named it Hôtel de Soissons. He died six years later and in 1644 his widow bequeathed it to Thomas of Savoy, Prince of Carignan, and it managed to be kept in the family until 1741, although they accepted tenants such as Mlle Scudéry and her brother.

During this time famous people were born in the family's part of the hôtel: in 1655, Prince Louis-Guillaume of Baden, Louis XIV's godson; and Prince François-Eugéne of Savoy-Carignan, in 1663. Both men were great generals - the first won many victories for France, before joining Spain against France; and the second specialized only in beating up French generals - but was considered to be pretty good by Napoléon all the same.

Going back a bit, to 1709, the Hôtel de Soissons was in the hands of the chronically indebted Victor-Amédée of Savoy who turned it into a luxurious, although ill-managed, gambling casino. He was forced to sell the garden and the stables in 1718 to Germain Boffrand, who wanted to convert it into a market and a theatre.

Victor-Amédée thought this was a good idea too and he broke the sales agreement in 1720, to set up 137 stalls that each brought in 500 livres a month, which he needed to pay on an enormous amount of interest, due to currency speculation, owed to the banker, the Scot John Law, who had a bank in the rue Quincampoix and wanted to put another in the place Vendôme.

When Victor-Amédée died in 1740, he was five gazillion livres in the red and his creditors got control of the hôtel and demolished it for scrap in 1748. An architect and art lover, Laurent Destouches, bought Catherine's 'astrological column' in 1747 for 1,800 livres and somewhat embarrassed, gave it to the city three years later. The city reimbursed him for it, then failed, like everyone else, to figure out what to do with it.

Finally it was decided to put a fountain at its base and a sundial on top - which disintegrated completely in 1888. This sundial, designed by Pingré of the Academy of Sciences, required an immense amount of calculations. It was put into service in 1764 and marked the correct time of day on the cylindrical column, in all seasons, but not at night of course.

This column is a truly rare thing - constructed by Bullant in 1575, it is about 31 metres high and 3.15 metres in diameter at the base.

The interior contains a circular stairway, in stone for the bottom third, and wooden for the rest. There is the door about four metres up - which faced the Queen's apartment - and at the top, and there is a square opening of 65 centimetres a side, each lined up exactly to the major compass points. On top of this there is an elaborate coupole of iron bars,forming interlaced circles and half circles

The best guess is that it was for star-gazing, but when it was built, Queen Catherine de Médicis was not only fairly old but quite large as well and she wore a - 'vertugadin' - which I guess This is not a photo of the Bourse de Commerce is sort of a ruffled over-dress, common at that time - and can hardly be imagined climbing up the inside of the thing.

The city of Paris, with the necessary permits from Louis XV, opened up some streets suppressed by Catherine and in 1763-66 built on the flattened site of the Hôtel de Soissons a stone building to store and sell wheat.

This building was circular with a diameter of 68 metres with a courtyard 40 metres in diameter. There were 28 arcades and an equal number of skylights for illumination. The staircases were constructed in such a way so that people going up did not run into people going down and vice versa.

There was some idea of moving Catherine's astrological column inside, but it was too big and hard to move, so it stayed where it is today.

To keep the grain dry, a vast, unsupported wooden dome was placed over the courtyard in 1782-83. Victor Hugo thought it looked like a jockey's cap, but he thought a lot of Parisian things looked funny. The dome burnt up in 1802 and was replaced by another one of iron in 1813. It was wrecked by another fire around 1854. Then the railways came and wheat was no longer brought to the city by barge on the nearby Seine - and the storehouse was more or less abandoned in 1878.

In 1880 Paris had no central merchandise market for commercial transactions. Instead there were markets scattered all over town. In 1886 Henri Blondel, the architect, was engaged to design a new building to replace the old grain market on the site of the Hôtel de Soissons, and it was inaugurated on 24. September 1899.

A vast underground area was created to house heating and ventilation, dynamos for electricity, and a cold storage area. A mezzanine was added and another floor added under the grand coupole.

The lower part of the cupola was bricked up and decorated with a vast 360-degree mural, covering 1,400 square metres, 20 metres above the floor. The original mural, by Pompier, had four panels symbolizing international commerce in the period when it was painted, from 1886 to 1889. The panels This is not a photo of the Bourse de Commerce are separated by portraits of personalities, painted in 'trompe-l'oeil' style par Alexis de Mazerolles.

If you have a minute to spare while on the rue du Louvre, it is worth it to pop into the building and have a look at the interior. Catherine's odd column is outside, around the back at the edge of the Forum des Halles park.

This has been a lot of history, both ancient and new, for a place that is worth no more than fifteen minutes of your time - but all of these little slices of time can add up in Paris. If you run out of time, come back again. Paris is patiently waiting for you.

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