After the Fire: Notre-Dame de Paris, Our Lady of Paris


Notre-Dame Cathedral, Paris

The Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Paris has been closed since the devastating fire of 15 April 2019. Its perimeter is fenced-off, with several bridges and roads also closed. The view across the Seine, and occasional gaps in the fence, give glimpses of the damage and early repair efforts.

Clive and I spent one evening and another afternoon taking it all in.

Our Lady of Paris

Map from Grand Paris Pratique, Éditions l’Indispensable

Notre-Dame is located on Ile de la Cité, an island in the heart of Paris and the city’s ancient birthplace. As shown above, the cathedral occupies a rectangular plot, running approximately west to east.

Notre-Dame’s two monumental towers and main entry doors face west. At its eastern end is the sweet Square Jean XXIII, a pocket-sized park beneath the flying buttresses, and Pont St-Louis, the pedestrian bridge over the Seine to the other central island, Ile St-Louis.

The cathedral’s north side is approached from bridges on the Right Bank and streets on Ile de la Cité. Its south side runs along the Seine, across from the Left Bank.

Left-Bank view, rue St-Julien

Years ago, I read the origin of the names ‘Left Bank’ and ‘Right Bank’ and how to remember which is which.

To do so, simply stand (or imagine standing) on the Place du Parvis de Notre-Dame, the large plaza in front of the towers, with your back to the cathedral entrance. Perhaps stand on the plaque marking Point Zéro, the place from which all distances are measured in France.

Point left, and that’s the Left Bank. Point right and that’s the Right Bank.

Approaching from the south, Left Bank side

First glimpse, rue Dante

Last Sunday evening, after the weekend heat wave, we walked up rue Dante for our first sight of Notre-Dame.

What a moment, to see those towers. From a distance, our initial impression was how clean they still look on the outside, lighter than we expected with no apparent fire damage to their exterior and no major charring or blackening.

The towers of Notre-Dame, from Pont St-Michel

Closer up, we came upon the huge exclusion zone, with police manning the barricades 24/7.

The two bridges closest to Notre-Dame, the Petit Pont (leads to the beginning of the Parvis, or plaza) and Pont au Double (leads to the front entry doors) are closed to vehicles and pedestrians.

The south side of the cathedral can only be viewed from across the Seine, with the river acting as a partial moat.

Some of the scaffolding in view

We noted the enormous amount of scaffolding, and Clive thought some of it looked quite precarious. We couldn’t always see where (or if!) it was fixed at regular intervals to the exterior.

Scaffolding and Rose Window

As we contemplated the vast extent of the damage and what herculean efforts will be required for restoration, Clive said it reminded him of the Ken Follett novel Pillars of the Earth, and how workers spent their entire adult lives building a cathedral. Notre-Dame now needs, and will provide, guaranteed work for specialist tradespeople and expert artisans for years to come.

We wondered, too, about the difficulty of finding the right craftsmen and women available right away, or precisely when needed. Surely this will be an ongoing challenge, though surely also many will be keen to work on Notre-Dame.

Walking east along the river, you can see one of the Rose Windows, stained glass removed, covered with plastic and wooden scaffolding.

Rose Window, south side of Notre-Dame

At the easternmost end, the Pont de l’Archevêché, a bridge to the Left Bank, is open. Here what strikes me most about the view is everything that’s missing, most notably Viollet le Duc’s iconic mid-1800s spire and the vaulted wooden roof. A flat-topped edifice remains.

Though much remains, much is missing

By this time, darkness was falling and we were feeling a bit overwhelmed. We decided to return the next day to walk around the other side, from the Right Bank.

Approaching from the north, Right Bank side

Notre-Dame towers visible from a Right-Bank café

The Right Bank bridges to and from the Ile de la Cité are all open. However, more police and barricades at Pont Notre-Dame immediately divert traffic onto the Ile’s outermost street, with no access to the cathedral.

Typical intersection: blocked-off street on Ile de la Cité, Pont Notre-Dame

Access to the front is also prohibited, with gates and barriers about halfway down Quai du Marché-Neuf (white van on left side of photo below) preventing vehicles or pedestrians from getting closer.

Notre-Dame from Pont St-Michel

The main street from the Right Bank across to Notre-Dame, rue d’Arcole, is open only to pedestrians. You can walk up rue d’Arcole to the edge of the Place du Parvis, where a giant fence begins and police protect the entrance for workers and their vehicles.

Walking up rue d’Arcole with police barrier at end

Crowd viewing Notre-Dame from end of rue d’Arcole

Beyond the fence are tents, sheds, workmen, tools and heavy machinery. Clive said the work crews must be grateful for the large plaza area in which to store all their equipment.

Clive taking in the view from end of rue d’Arcole

Inside the barrier

Based on the two days we spent around Notre-Dame, it appears that even in its damaged state and perhaps, sadly, sometimes because of that, the cathedral will remain a tourist destination, albeit now for a painful reason.

Looking back down rue d’Arcole

From this point, you can walk along the footpath (sidewalk) of the street named Cloître Notre-Dame, which runs next to the cathedral’s north side. The street itself is totally fenced off, except for one or two gaps which provide close-up and rather distressing views.

What you can see above the fence, Cloître Notre-Dame

First gap in the fence, Cloître Notre-Dame

Looking up: scaffolding everywhere, Cloître Notre-Dame

View through the gap

Continuing down Cloître Notre-Dame

Rose window, north side, with plastic covering and wooden scaffolding

Although this work began fairly recently, you can already see evidence of other countries providing equipment, such as a large yellow crane apparently from Germany.

Second gap in the fence

Cranes and other heavy machinery behind the fence

Inside the fence, from the end of Cloître Notre-Dame

Always a close police presence

From the back – the saddest view

Photo taken this week

Photo taken (by me) a few years ago

Finally, coming around to Quai de l’Archevêché and the back of Notre-Dame, the pedestrian bridge to Ile St-Louis remains open. Square Jean XXIII, one of my favourite small Paris parks, is entirely fenced-off. Before the cathedral comes into view, all you can see is a fence inside a fence.

Fence within a fence, Square Jean XXIII

What remains, behind the fences, Quai de l’Archevêché

Police on Quai de l’Archevêché

We ended our exploration back at the Pont de l’Archêveché bridge, completing the circle – or to be precise, the rectangle.

For me the view from the back is the most emotional, largely due to the absence of the spire and vaulted roof, along with the presence of so much scaffolding. No doubt the cumulative effect of our evening walk the night before and the day’s closer-up views also played a role.

The beloved cathedral

A violinist on Pont de l’Archevêché captured the moment as he played a slow, mournful version of Hallelujah.

Hallelujah, Notre-Dame, violinist on Pont de l’Archevêché

The Aftermath of Loss

I honour and respect Notre-Dame’s centuries of history and its place in French culture, literature and the French psyche. The cathedral holds great meaning, regardless of religion, for many world citizens, and the scale of the fire damage is heartbreaking.

But I also can’t help reflecting that – as magnificent as it is — Notre-Dame is still a temporal, earthly creation in a world I believe possesses a mystery and divinity beyond our understanding.

What a blessing no lives were lost in the fire! And what a blessing the heroic pompiers (firefighters) saved so much of Notre-Dame, including the main structure and the priceless rose windows, which remain intact.

It’s early days after the fire, and the city feels like it’s still getting to grips with the damage. Clive commented that with so many re-routings and street and bridge closures, Paris will likely and by necessity tolerate dislocated traffic for many years.

Fences and closures and barriers, oh my

The French state has owned Notre-Dame since 1905. On 27 May 2019, about six weeks after the fire and after rampant speculation about what modern architectural designs might be approved for Notre-Dame, the French Senate voted to restore the cathedral to ‘its last known visual state.’ (Any new law must still be agreed with the National Assembly.)

A few days later, a survey by The Local reported 78% of respondents agreed with the Senate’s view.

Politicians may aim for full restoration within five years, in time for the 2024 Olympics. Many experts say the timeline is too short. Everyone seems to have an opinion on what should be done, and by when. Various financial elites (individuals and corporations) have donated hundreds of millions of euros to the cause.

A police boat speeding up the Seine

As with human loss and trauma, rebuilding and healing will – and should – take whatever time it needs to take, to do what must be done until, eventually, a new reality is reached.

Progress and setbacks will occur. Changes of direction may be involved, perhaps some dramatic. Judgments will be passed, whether asked for or not. I know we’ll continue to visit Notre-Dame often, even if we can’t get very close, and we’ll watch with so many others as plans progress.

French Senate vote notwithstanding, the renovated structure won’t be exactly the same. It couldn’t be. But it will incorporate this latest event into its present and its future.

May the reconstruction proceed smoothly, however long it takes. May no lives be lost in the process, and may you always bless the heart and soul of this city, Notre-Dame de Paris, our lady of Paris.

Still a stunning silhouette, Notre-Dame de Paris

Meilleurs voeux, best wishes from Paris and merci for reading.

 

Saturday Snippet: A Paris Park Named for Franco-American Friendship

Evidence of a hot day: benches in the sun are empty, Place des États-Unis, Paris


On a short sojourn to Paris, Clive and I avoided the city centre on our first full day due to the heat, weekend crowds and possible gilets jaunes disruptions, which thankfully didn’t occur. Instead we headed to the Place des États-Unis, a little square dedicated to Franco-American friendship.

At one end of the square: Memorial to American volunteers in French Foreign Legion, WW I

The gated area of the Place is named after Thomas Jefferson, who was Ambassador to France from 1785-1789.

Official name of the gated park.

Aahhh a bench in the shade. We sat here and read for a while.

A welcome shady area

The park wasn’t as empty as it looks. I just didn’t photograph the group of cute, noisy French kids running around the play area or the little boy kicking a football (soccer ball) with his dad and granddad in the separate enclosed area.

Looking west up the park, there’s a tall plinth topped with a bust of Thomas Jefferson.

Middle of photo: tall bust of Jefferson

Entry gate by Jefferson statue, recognising some of his accomplishments

Another view of Monsieur Jefferson looking out at Place des États-Unis

Not to be forgotten, at the other end of the park is a large statue of Lafayette and Washington, allies in America’s Revolutionary War.

Lafayette and Washington, shaking hands

Two great men and behind them the flags of their two great countries

Just a block or so from Place des États-Unis, and thanks to a news reporter’s recent tweet, we discovered an authentic, old-fashioned confiserie (candy shop).

A wonderful, old-fashioned confiserie

Here we had a chat with the lovely owner, who asked what we planned to do in Paris. When I mentioned paying respects to Notre-Dame after the fire, she understood completely but said she hasn’t yet been back herself, because it makes her too sad.

I forgot to take photos inside, but a close-up of the window gives a glimpse of her edible treasures. Long may the shop continue, though I fear ones like this may not last beyond the owner’s days.

Confiserie Saint Pierre, rue de Chaillot, Paris

We bought nougat lait (small nougat bars covered in milk chocolate) and had to eat them right away, because it was too hot to do otherwise of course.

The high temperatures (33C/91.4F today) really take it out of us. Fortunately they’re supposed to break tonight. Also fortunately, you can always find a café for a refreshing cold drink or a kir.

Traditional kirs on arrival

Cheers! and thanks for reading. À bientôt and more from Paris soon.

Paris March Mélange, Part 3 of 3: Ngala Wongga (Come Talk), a vital slice of Australian culture in Paris


Whether in the Western Australia outback or the Paris city centre, language, culture, identity and landscape – or cityscape – are inextricably intertwined.

Following Part 1 and Part 2 of our March mélange (medley), this final post in the series may, I hope, inspire a visit to Ngala Wongga (Come Talk). This free exhibit is running at the Australian Embassy in Paris from 30 January – 06 September 2019.

The Aussie Embassy in Paris

Eiffel Tower on the left, Aussie Embassy on the right (taken from Bir-Hakeim bridge)

Located in the 15th arrondissment in western Paris, the Australian Embassy has a superb location just steps away from the Seine and the Eiffel Tower.

The building was designed by Australian architect Harry Seidler, in the ‘Brutalist’ style of simple, concrete forms used in 1970s modernist architecture. Its large, curving structure gives the upper-floor terrace magnificent views across the city.

Australian Embassy with its curving terrace (also taken from Bir-Hakeim bridge)

Clive and I have enjoyed previous visits to the Embassy, first at an Aussie barbecue and pub quiz night in the Matilda (as in ‘Waltzing’) Bar. Last September, we toured Ambassador Brendan Berne’s private residence when the Embassy participated for the first time in les Journées du Patrimoine, European Heritage Days.

Street view and back of the Australian Embassy with its regularly-changing poster

Once through the Embassy’s front entrance Security screening, visitors proceed directly into the large ground-floor exhibition space.

Ngala Wongga (Come Talk): Cultural Significance of Language in the Goldfields of Western Australia

Ngala Wongga exhibit, Australian Embassy, Paris

Ngala Wongga is the creation of Australian artist and photojournalist Martine Perret, who was born in Paris and raised in Bordeaux. She moved to Sydney in 1997, worked as a photographer there and then for ten years with United Nations peacekeeping missions in global conflict zones. In 2013, she returned to Australia and settled in the Margaret River region of Western Australia.

Perret’s interest in indigenous communities and languages led her in 2015 to research communities of the Western Australia Goldfields, an ancient landscape where people have lived for tens of thousands of years. Here she began meeting with Aboriginal elders who became part of Ngala Wongga.

Perret also created Gungurrunga Ngawa (Look Above), a series of aerial photographs over the Goldfields salt lakes, capturing the landscape’s mesmerising shapes, colours and textures. These images also form part of Ngala Wongga.

Clive in his (Aussie Billabong) jacket viewing an aerial landscape of Western Australia

In recent years, this exhibit has been viewed in multiple locations around Australia. At the beginning of 2019, the United Nations declared an International Year of Indigenous Languages. As part of this worldwide initiative, Mme Perret was asked to exhibit Ngala Wongga at the Embassy in Paris.

Language and Culture Intertwined

Entry to Ngala Wongga exhibit, Paris

The small map in the above photo shows Australia’s indigenous regions and languages. About 120 indigenous languages are still spoken in the country, though according to the exhibit, only 13 are considered ‘strong’ while around 100 are ‘critically endangered’.

Some progress has been achieved: as a result of renewed commitment to language programs, around 30 endangered languages have seen a significant increase.

The exhibit is relatively small in size, but rich in content. It comprises eight portraits of Aboriginal elders, eight aerial landscape photographs from Gungurrunga Ngawa, a 12-minute video with one elder’s story, a rolling projection, a soundtrack which runs in the background so you feel immersed in different indigenous languages, and a free booklet, published in English and French.

The booklet is a treasure. It contains the elders’ portraits and stories, selected photographs, background on the exhibit and the projection ‘script’ so you know which language you’re hearing (and the English or French translation of each individual’s song or story). It’s an extraordinary experience to hear each speaker’s own voice in his or her own language.

Booklet for Ngala Wongga exhibit

Inside is the statement: Ngala Wongga is a collaborative project with the indigenous participants of the Goldfields. The subjects in the exhibit and their families have played an intrinsic role in the selection of material for Ngala Wongga. Each participant has authorised the use of their narratives and their photographs, for this project.

We especially enjoyed the exhibition video, Margillee, with its stunning photography and the haunting, heartfelt story of elder Doreen Harris’s life journey, her connection to the land and the significance of her endangered language.

Perret writes for the exhibit, ‘All over the world, language has played its part in defining specific cultural groups. Language and culture are so interwoven it is hard to imagine one surviving without the other. If you lose your language, you risk losing your culture, your oral history, your identity.’

A compelling collaboration

Australian landscape and elder’s portrait, Ngala Wongga

We feel this exhibit fully succeeds in intertwining the stories of Australia’s indigenous people and the significance of their language, landscape and culture. It’s very low-key (we wished each portrait included a label with the individual’s name, though their names are included with their stories in the booklet) and on the day we visited, we had it to ourselves.

Each element – the portraits, the aerial photographs, the video, soundtrack and booklet — is compelling in its own right. Combined, the whole feels much greater than the sum of the parts. The exhibit may be small in physical size but it’s large in importance and impact.

Ngala Wongga seems truly to be a labour of love, created with great care, respect and quality. We’re not surprised Mme Perret’s project is being showcased at the Embassy in Paris.

A fond farewell for this trip

I’ll end this three-part series with one of the most enduring aspects of life in Paris and France: the local café.

Despite the lovely, accurate image of customers taking time to relax and appreciate life on a sun-drenched café terrace, what really puts a lump in my throat is seeing a well-lit café in the hours before dawn or after dusk. Something about the twinkling interior, the movement of a waiter going about his work or a patron nattering at the bar or a simple row of tables and chairs, all facing outward on the footpath, gets me every time.

Farewell for this trip, our little café. Until we meet again.

Cheers and merci for reading. À bientôt, see you soon.

Paris March Mélange, Part 2 of 3: Une relation bienveillante (a caring relationship) at the Musée d’Orsay, continuing renovations at l’Eglise St-Germain-des-Prés, a bookshop and a noix de coco (coconut) creation

Noix de coco (coconut), the simple name our neighbour gives to her divine dessert


Continuing on from Part 1 of our March melange (medley), we maintain our slow(ish)-paced adventures in the City of Light, from a world-renowned museum to a very personal dessert.

A well-loved museum

Beneath a historic railway station clock, Musée d’Orsay, Paris

The beloved Musee d’Orsay, home of France’s main Impressionist collection, was originally a railway station, built for the 1900 Paris Exposition (World Fair). After abandonment and then a striking renovation, it was inaugurated as a museum in December 1986. It now houses artworks from 1848-1914, from the succession of France’s 2nd Republic to the start of World War I.

Musée d’Orsay, Paris

For various reasons, we visited the museum on a Tuesday, which according to its website is one of its busiest times. We held to our strategy (especially for big museums) of buying tickets online beforehand (to get the usually-shorter entry line), and arriving when the museum opened.

Even on a busy weekday, I had some time alone with Edouard Manet’s Olympia and, in the same gallery, his equally-wonderful Emile Zola.

Olympia, Edouard Manet, Musée d’Orsay

Emile Zola in his study (with ‘Olympia’ on his wall), Edouard Manet, Musée d’Orsay

In the fifth-floor Impressionist galleries, we visited old favourites, wove our way through impressively well-behaved school groups and finished with a restorative lunch in the café on the same level.

Busy day at Musée d’Orsay –a school group studying another Manet masterpiece, Déjeuner sur l’Herbe

I took my time with Camille Pissarro’s La Bergère, the shepherdess who’s been my dear companion (well, a print of her has been with me) for almost 40 years, ever since I first met her at the Jeu de Paume (the museum that housed the Impressionists before the opening of Musée d’Orsay). She sometimes travels to other exhibits but her permanent home is the Musée d’Orsay. I never tire of seeing her.

La Bergère, Camille Pissarro, Musée d’Orsay

And among the countless works by Claude Monet in these galleries, another favourite which my late husband Gary also loved. After several visits to Monet’s garden at Giverny, we purchased a large print of this painting for our home.

Claude Monet, The Artist’s Garden at Giverny

The following mundane notice is in fact about an upcoming exhibit I am beyond excited to see.

Berthe Morisot, Female Impressionist: 18 June – 22 September 2019

Une relation bienveillant, a caring relationship

Back of Les Gracques (The Gracchi, 1853), Eugène Guillaume, Musée d’Orsay

As Clive and I made our way back to the museum’s entrance/exit, he looked up and pointed to the back of a small ‘half-body’ sculpture. Two young men wearing tunics stand side-by-side, with one man’s arm draped around the other man’s shoulders.

The piece is Les Gracques (1853) by Eugène Guillaume, a double bust in bronze of the Gracchi brothers in Rome. The front shows the brothers resting their right hands together on a parchment scroll.

Front of Les Gracques, Eugène Guillaume, Musée d’Orsay

We were both really taken with this sculpture, the way the two young men stand close together, the clasping of each other’s hands on the scroll and the warmth of one wrapping his arm around the other.

On the Orsay website, at the end of this sculpture’s description (link in French), is a list of keywords to search for other works with similar themes. Keywords for this piece include famille (family), fidélité (loyalty) and my favourite: relation bienveillante (caring relationship).

Relation bienveillante: what a wonderful keyword! Next time we visit the Orsay (if we have time after the Berthe Morisot exhibit), we can discover all sorts of other works that show a caring relationship.

I’m so happy Clive was paying attention and looking up and spotted this special sculpture. What could be better or more worthy than to create a piece of art that honours family, loyalty and a caring relationship.

The oldest church in Paris, Saint-Germain-des-Prés, founded in the year 543 and newly-transformed

On the same day we visited the Orsay, we made an afternoon stop at Paris’s oldest church, l’ Église Saint-Germain-des-Prés. A seven-phase restoration project, begun in 2015, is scheduled to complete in 2020.

A 1500 year-old church (parts have been rebuilt over the centuries) is always something to see, though layers of history also meant layers of dirt and grime. The passage of time along with air pollution had done their damage and made the interior dark and filthy. Thanks to Paris City Hall and a majority of funding from French and American donors, the church is being transformed, from the side chapels to the roof and the ceiling, the pillars and mid-19thC frescoes of Hippolyte Flandrin.

Arches and restored 19thC frescoes in l’ Église Saint-Germain-des-Prés, Paris

Interior of l’ Église Saint-Germain-des-Prés, Paris

As with so many Paris churches, this is a beautiful place to pause and reflect or simply just to rest one’s weary feet, especially if you want a calm, peaceful interlude in the midst of the busy city.

Clive (unaware I was taking his photo) in a moment of reflection at l’ Église Saint-Germain-des-Prés, Paris

Candles for loved ones at l’ Église Saint-Germain-des-Prés, Paris

Books at the Red Wheelbarrow

Paris is blessed with many bookshops, and taking time for a leisurely browse is one of our special pleasures.

Taschen bookshop, rue de Buci, Paris

Since last September, I can’t seem to be in Paris without visiting one bookshop in particular: Penelope Fletcher’s re-opened and remarkable The Red Wheelbarrow.

At this outstanding independent bookshop, we stocked up on a few new treats, including a local copy of Janet Hulstrand’s Demystifying the FrenchThis is a gem which is based on the author’s own experience and includes reflections from other favourite Paris writers. I highly recommend it for anyone interested in a short, intelligent and insightful look into the country and culture.

Stocking up at The Red Wheelbarrow (taken by Penelope), the best independent bookshop in Paris

A gift from the heart (and the kitchen)

We also caught up with a few neighbours and friends (merci, chers amis!) with whom we had to cancel plans on the last trip, thanks to my temporary back injury.

Our beloved elderly neighbour insisted on making her special treat, a sweet, silky, sensuous dessert she simply calls noix de coco (coconut). It’s a delicious coconut-custard-cakey-caramel creation with a crispy dark-caramel base. She says it’s ‘très simple’ and she makes it for both of us, though I know she also has a soft spot for Clive.

As much as I love the taste and diverse sensations when savouring this dish, the care our friend puts into it — including doing the final, perfect ‘flip’ in the kitchen — never fails to move me.

I know it’s a gift from her heart, and think it’s fair to say we have our own relation bienveillante.

A photo that looks plain but shows the silky, sensuous and delicious noix de coco made by our thoughtful neighbour

Cheers and merci for reading. Next to come: Paris March Mélange, Part 3 of 3: A slice of Australian culture in Paris. ‘You got to talk, talk about sharing the culture. They’re precious words, language and culture. You have to learn the words properly to understand.’

À la prochaine, until next time.

Paris March Mélange, Part 1 of 3: Walking and water and Wallace fountains

Entry to the exhibit L’eau à Paris du XIXe au XXIe siècle (Water in Paris from the 19th to the 21st century)

As mentioned in my prior post, Clive and I promised each other we would really make an effort on this short trip to moderate our pace in Paris, in hopes of keeping healthy and avoiding any silly injuries.

With the exception of one or two long days (and one or two bus dramas), we managed more or less to stick to the plan. Naturally this involved multiple pauses for rest and refreshment at various cafés, along with a mélange (medley) of other activities.

I’m grateful for this guy’s willingness to squeeze in a quick visit to Paris before a medical procedure and our upcoming trip to Australia

Strolling and sightseeing and sampling local delicacies

Clive and others outside ‘Servant’ chocolatier, Paris

On a relaxed weekend stroll, instead of seeing the butcher, the baker and the candlestick maker, we admired the church, the butcher and the candy-maker in the Auteuil quartier of western Paris. Yum!

Interior of ‘Servant’ chocolatier, Paris

L’église d’Auteuil, the quartier’s village church

Line outside the butcher shop, Paris

On Saturday afternoon, we avoided a few central areas (and weekend protesters) and instead visited a small exhibit we happened to read about in a local magazine.

L’eau dans la ville: Paris’s water supply and Sir Richard Wallace, the British philanthropist who financed the city’s iconic fountains

Exhibition photo, l’eau de Paris

To mark the bicentennial of the birth of Sir Richard Wallace (1818-1890), a British philanthropist and longstanding resident of Paris, the city presents the exhibit L’eau à Paris du XIXe au XXIe siècle, Water in Paris from the 19th to the 21st century.

The exhibition venue is the Pavillon de l’eau, once a pumping station on the Seine and now a museum devoted to water. It’s managed by Eau de Paris, the municipal agency responsible for the city’s water supply.

le Pavillon de l’eau, Ave de Versailles, Paris

While the exhibit recognises the life and work of Richard Wallace, it also offers a comprehensive look at the history and current architecture and processes involved in the delivery of clean water to Paris.

Building the waterworks of Paris

After the Franco-Prussian war and the siege of Paris in 1870-1871, when many aqueducts had been destroyed, Richard Wallace envisioned fountains that would be both useful and beautiful to deliver clean drinking water to all citizens. He conceived the initial models, then called upon French sculptor Charles-Auguste Lebourg, who completed their design.

Exhibition photos

The exhibition seems mainly aimed at locals. It includes hands-on displays, many designed for school-age children. Big kids like them, too.

Clive at a light board revealing different water sources for different areas of Paris

A short film about Sir Richard Wallace and the history of the fountains that bear his name is presented only in French, but is understandable in the main thanks to its numerous photos.

[from the film] Merci, monsieur Wallace

[from the film] Sir Richard Wallace (whose art collection in London also has a Wallace fountain on its grounds)

Wallace remained a resident of France until his death. He is buried in Paris at Père Lachaise Cemetery.

[from the film] Anatomy of a fountain

Many historic photos are on display throughout the exhibit, along with more recent ones showcasing many of the city’s fountains.

Exhibition photo

We really enjoyed this exhibit. It’s one of countless small, quality (and free) ‘expositions’ the French do so well – interesting, educational and thought-provoking. This one also promotes the work of Eau de Paris with many informative displays sharing past events and future plans. You can also pick up free maps showing the location of every water fountain (Wallace and otherwise) in the city.

Poster for the exhibit, L’eau à Paris du XIXe au XXIe siècle – extended to 31 August 2019

A recent photo I took through a bus window of a woman with a galah on her shoulder also shows a Wallace fountain behind the galah.

Paris sight: a woman, a galah and a Wallace fountain

Another view of the same Wallace fountain

Even when the weather is less than perfect, you can find something interesting to see and experience in Paris.

Moi on a rainy day, admiring another Wallace fountain in Paris

Next to come: Paris March Mélange, Part 2 of 3: A noix de coco (coconut) delight, bookshop browsing, a beloved museum and an ancient church.

Merci for reading and à la prochaine, until next time.

Paris in Winter: A Mix of Old and New and an Injury, Too

Musée du Quai Branly, Paris

Paris in winter is as wonderful as Paris at any other time of year.

The light is beautiful even if the sun doesn’t shine every day. Lines are short(er), cafes and restaurants less crowded and the general ambiance more cozy and drawn-in than during the warmer months. The aroma of cassoulet, a traditional rich, slow-cooked stew, joins that of baking bread as you wander down the street.

Winter late afternoon, Paris

Our Goal

Claude Monet’s Nymphéas (Water Lilies), one of eight panels at Musée de l’Orangerie, Paris

The evening Clive and I arrived in Paris, we received an email from a dear US friend after her Christmas and New Year travels. She wrote, ‘I was weary when we got home. I’m really noticing my age – my mind plans busy days, but my body says slow down by evening!’

Funny, that. Clive and I had been noticing the same thing about ourselves and vowed (once again) to go at a slower pace on this trip.

Our goal was to allow some time to rest and just be, something I’ve always treasured in Paris, despite maintaining a lengthy, running list of things I want to do and see in the City of Light.

Paris: a challenging place to practice patience

Breathtaking bamboo art at Musée du Quai Branly

Our time in Paris is limited – not to mention our time in this earthly life, which of course is true at any age but especially in our (ahem) ‘later years’. It feels even more important to me now to seize the day, or as the brilliant poet Mary Oliver (who died while we were in Paris) wrote:

Doesn’t everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?
                            [from ‘The Summer Day’]

In Paris, my answer is, ‘Make the most of our time here.’ This triggers the ongoing tension between being and doing. The impulse often arises to move on and do the next thing.

Uniqlo, the wonderful ‘unique clothing’ chain currently featuring Hokusai’s wave

Out and about: Bus dramas, or, words that strike terror into Clive’s heart [he would say not terror but ‘concern based on experience’ …]

View from bus stop on Cours la Reine looking back to the Orangerie, Place de la Concorde – but where is the bus?

A regular Carolyn (CSB) and Clive (CJR) conversation:

CSB: ‘Let’s take the bus! It’s so much more scenic than the metro.’

CJR: Silent, clearly struggling to maintain a neutral expression but giving off massive ‘here we go again’ vibes.

CSB: Studies bus page of dog-eared Paris par Arrondissement, the version with three maps (regular, metro and bus) for each district. ‘Bus xx goes to yy, where we change to Bus zz. Bus zz goes very close to D (destination).’

CJR: ‘Is yy definitely where we change? Does the next bus leave from the same stop?’

CSB: ‘I think so.’

CJR: ‘You think so.’

CSB: ‘I’m pretty sure.’

CJR: Silence.

CSB: Checks Paris par Arrondissement again.

CJR: ‘Let’s see what Citymapper says.’

CSB: Checks Citymapper, our favourite Paris phone app.

CJR: Not-so-surreptitiously looks at metro map.

CSB: ‘Citymapper says the bus stop is there. If it’s not, we can just walk to the next one.’

CJR: ‘There’s a metro stop right at D! Why aren’t we taking that?’

CSB: ‘Because you’re still recovering from surgery and there are two line changes and there might be a ton of stairs. And the bus is much more scenic.’

Return to the beginning and repeat.

By this point, Clive says, he is worn down. He also says the metro has a certainty about it and is often quicker (always quicker if it’s a long distance – true).

Bus stop La Muette – Boulainvilliers, Paris

In fairness to Clive, we took the bus often on this trip. And as if the Universe were supporting his concerns, we experienced all manner of dramas, from buses dumping passengers at unplanned stops; to others, for no apparent reason, not following the published route and going nowhere near our stop; to our own confusion – despite Citymapper and Paris par Arrondissement — about which buses went in which directions from which stops. It varies – a lot. But figuring them out is worth it and other than walking, still my favourite way to be out and about.

View of Pont de la Tournelle from Café l’Escale on Île St-Louis

Maison Sarah Lavoine, Paris (with apologies to the woman I inadvertently caught in front)

Maison Sarah Lavoine – love this tray but not its 130 euro price

When museums aren’t much fun: final-week crowds at the Alphonse Mucha exhibit, Musée du Luxembourg

The Red Wheelbarrow bookshop, a Paris treasure

A special treat this trip was a rendez-vous with an author I admire, the lovely Roni Beth Tower, who wrote the memoir Miracle at Midlife.

This is a beautiful story about the early years of Roni Beth’s relationship with David, who lived in a houseboat on the Seine when they met. They’re now married and have been together for 23 years.

Félicitations, Roni Beth and David!

A beautiful memoir about a mid-life romance – and Paris

Chess, anyone? Le Jardin du Luxembourg — and a few of Paris’s signature green metal chairs, found in parks all over the city

One after the other: an unwanted lesson in practicing patience

I thought we were maintaining a reasonable, if not exactly slow, pace in Paris. That said, in hindsight we realise we ignored some important warning signs our bodies were giving us.

They weren’t anything dramatic, just gradual, accumulating feelings one or both of us had, of weariness or needing more sleep or having less than expected enthusiasm to get up and go right back out again the morning after a long, busy day. But we didn’t take any significant actions in response to those feelings

Jardin du Luxembourg and the Pantheon in the distance (and a couple of vacant chairs)

On a sunny Monday afternoon in the Luxembourg Garden, I stupidly bent from the waist (tsk tsk) and tried to move one of the classic green metal chairs. I’ve only known for – oh, about 40 years now – these chairs are HEAVY, especially the ones with arms and the ones that recline. My lower back immediately shot me daggers of pain for the next several days.

To top off the fun, we couldn’t find the right bus outside the garden, had to trek around many blocks to find it and then got off at the wrong stop to change buses. Given the exceptional circumstance, I should have agreed with Clive’s recommendation we take a taxi. C’est la vie!

The Seine, Pont Alexandre III and the Grand Palais – not the worst place to wait for the bus, even when your back is killing you

The next few days were spent mostly lying in bed, sleeping, dozing, listening to the trill of French conversations in the courtyard, reading the England NHS website (my trusted medical information source), and moving rarely and only thanks to paracetamol and Clive’s help.

I contemplated the bedroom’s green walls and admired the clean, leak-free ceiling, whose repair and restoration I wrote about in the series Painting and Patisseries in Paris.

Clean and fresh after the sinistre dégâts des eaux (sinister water damage – not my favourite French term)

We cancelled an apéritif with our neighbours, who immediately offered to go shopping for us. Later, Madame rang the bell and insisted on lending me a back brace.

On the second and third days after the injury, we went for a slow, gentle walk to keep my back moving, as per NHS advice. I tried to look on the bright side, that the pain was decreasing, albeit slowly, each day. Mostly it was torture, to be in Paris and unable to do much at all. My respect and admiration deepened for those who live with a chronic pain condition.

On the fourth day, Clive contracted a nasty 24-48 hour stomach bug. Reluctantly, we sent apologies to the host of a Burns Night supper, where we actually had planned to taste haggis for the first (and last?) time in our lives. Maybe next year.

Peaceful and serene: Notre-Dame de Grâce, Our Lady of Grace, a ‘village’ church built in the early 1600s. Like most Paris churches, it’s a lovely place to pause and reflect.

These were days of forced physical rest, forced slowing-down and limited mobility. I had ample time to ponder the necessity for a few new C&C travel rules.

New rules for travel well-being

Gare du Nord, Paris

These are pretty simple, really; I think following them is the challenge.

Mainly there are two. Doing the first without the second is what got us into trouble:

  1. Pay attention to the body’s signals.
  2. Take action in response. Slow down, change plans, exercise patience.

Plus:

  1. Expect random bus issues, especially on a Sunday afternoon.
  2. *Always* bend at the knees when moving a Paris park chair.

Clive says we talk about these challenges, but something takes hold of me once I’ve arrived in Paris. Out comes the lengthy list, and that’s when I need to be a bit stricter in my prioritisation and to lower my expectations of how much we can actually do.

No need to rush: statue in the Luxembourg Garden

Getting back out there

Bibliothèque Germaine Trillion (photo taken Sept. 2018), Paris

For our remaining days, we stuck to gentle walks and a slow pace, with a few bus and metro rides.

We’d previously noticed the outside of the Bibliothèque Germaine Trillion, bibliothèque de tourisme et des voyages (library of tourism and travel). Here we enjoyed exploring well-stocked rooms of books (virtually all in French), music collections, study spaces and reading areas, which included one or two English-language newspapers.

Clive in one of the library rooms at Bibliothèque Germaine Trillion, Paris

Only a few steps from the bibliothèque is Passy Cemetery, which I’ve written about in my mother-daughter post and is always (unless it’s raining) an excellent destination for a peaceful interlude.

Passy Cemetery, Paris

I was pleased to see a couple reading Berthe Morisot’s (a favourite Impressionist painter) gravestone, as I’ve observed other visitors who give all their attention to the bust of her well-known brother-in-law, Edouard Manet.

Grave of Berthe Morisot, her husband Eugène Manet, Eugène’s brother Edouard (bust) and Edouard’s wife Suzanne Leenhoff, Passy Cemetery

Grave of Julie Manet (daughter of Berthe Morisot and Eugène Manet), Julie’s husband Ernest Rouart, both also artists, and several of their family, Passy Cemetery

At Musée du Quai Branly (now officially named Musée du Quai Branly – Jacques Chirac), we hiked up a long, winding and rather dark ramp and through several equally dark viewing areas until finally we found the fabulous exhibit Fendre l’Air, Art of Bamboo in Japan.

Darkened viewing area at Musée du Quai Branly

An inspiring exhibit

I adore bamboo and was awed by the artists’ works. Clive concluded that yes, this was an excellent temporary exhibit but it will have to be a real blockbuster to get us to make that long hike up again (or we’ll find the lift, presuming there is one, from the ground floor).

A taste of artisanal bamboo basketry:

Fendre l’Air, Art of Bamboo in Japan, Musée du Quai Branly

Fendre l’Air, Art of Bamboo in Japan, Musée du Quai Branly

Fendre l’Air, Art of Bamboo in Japan, Musée du Quai Branly

Fendre l’Air, Art of Bamboo in Japan, Musée du Quai Branly

On another day, a short stroll in the Tuileries followed by a one-room Monet/Clemenceau exhibit at the Orangerie completed our round of current offerings. So many to choose from, so little time – the essence of the problem!

Jardin des Tuileries and its classic Parisian chairs

View to Place de la Concorde from the Orangerie

Renoir’s tulips, among the don’t-miss lower-level collection of the Orangerie

And on the Île St-Louis, a comfortable café lunch and browse in a favourite papeterie made my day.

Window of papeterie Marie-Tournelle, Paris

Papeterie Marie-Tournelle (located between two bridges, Pont Marie connecting to the Right Bank & Pont de la Tournelle to the Left), a Paris favourite

You never know what you’ll see in Paris – maybe some snow, or a random bus passenger with an un-leashed galah (large pink & grey Aussie bird) on her shoulder.

Moi, in les Jardins du Ranelagh, Paris

A woman just off the bus, with a galah on her shoulder

0 Lady with Galah (resized and cropped)

Closer view of elegant woman with galah

And at the end of an outing, there’s nothing like returning home to your local – café, that is.

Clive in our local, a welcome return

Gratitude

Santons de Provence (little saints) at Georges Thullier, Paris

I’m so thankful my back injury is temporary; it’s almost fully-healed now. I’m thankful we had the time we did in Paris, and that we managed to do quite a few activities despite the days of painful, forced rest – which we could have avoided had we paid attention to what our bodies were telling us and taken action accordingly.

I’m thankful for three nights of Clive’s beef stew (despite the endless quest for non-droopy parsnips), chocolat Viennoise at Carette (now our preference over Angelina), santons de Provence (little saints figurines from Provence) on sale at Georges Thullier, the re-opened Red Wheelbarrow bookshop, the bus and the metro and all our old and new favourite Paris places.

Chocolat Viennoise and pastries at Carette, Paris

Georges Thullier shop, Paris

Penelope Fletcher, knowledgeable and helpful owner (along with her investors) of the Red Wheelbarrow Librairie Anglophone (English-language bookshop)

The Eiffel Tower and Australian Embassy from line 6 metro

Clive accurately (and unnecessarily, I might add) reminds me my Paris list is waaay bigger than the time we’ll ever have available to do everything on it. I’m OK with that. I’m thankful for the chance to practice patience (and prioritisation) in the city that never fails to lift and comfort me.

Improvement needed

Alphonse Mucha poster for Ruinart champagne

If this were a happily-ever-after post, I’d end by saying we returned to the Jardin du Luxembourg, where I leaned back comfortably in one of those hard green chairs, soaked up the sun and relished the present moment, patiently pausing for an extended period of time.

Impression, Sunrise: one of Monet’s featured paintings at Musée Marmottan

But I’m afraid I haven’t quite mastered the art of patience in Paris. A return in the near future should provide an opportunity to work on it.

A Paris café: sight for sore eyes (and sore back) and a fine place to savour the moment

More to come. Merci for reading this long post, and à la prochaine, until next time.

Paris Potpourri: Seven in September

The Red Wheelbarrow bookshop, rue de Médicis, Paris

Paris remains sunny and warm. We have dined on the in-house chef’s scrumptious stew, complete with parsnips. In this Paris potpourri, we share a few photos and suggestions for seven special treats you can enjoy in September.

1 Flâneur (strolling)

Opéra Garnier, Paris

My previous post described one afternoon walk; Paris is above all a walking city, and that’s true for any time of year. Whether you pass a magnificent structure like the Opéra Garnier or stroll through an intimate residential quartier, there’s always something interesting to see.

Red café awnings seem to be disappearing — still my favourite

Statue of Liberty near some of Pompidou’s high-rises in the 15th arrondissement

2 Musée des Arts et Métiers (Museum of Arts and Crafts)

Clive viewing an exhibit at Arts et Métiers

For my birthday I chose to visit a new (for us) museum, the Musée des Arts et Métiers. This is a treasure trove of fascinating exhibits from scientific instruments to energy, communications, construction and transport inventions, capturing human ingenuity over the course of five centuries.

The museum artfully combines a modern addition with its original former monastery, dating back to the Middle Ages.

Former monastery now housing part of the museum

I had long wanted to see Foucault’s original pendulum and the first-ever calculator, invented by mathematician and philosopher Blaise Pascal.

Channeling my inner math major at Pascal’s first-ever calculator

The world’s first calculator

Blaise Pascal, French mathematician and philosopher

And for something more modern, a Cray supercomputer 1985

Foucault’s pendulum is brilliantly displayed, suspended from the great height of the monastery’s roof. It’s mesmerising to watch it move back and forth and contemplate the physical reality of the earth’s rotation.

Foucault’s pendulum in its stunning setting

A modern structure is built inside the church, so those game enough to climb many stairs (not us, I’m afraid) can view the pendulum from a much higher perspective.

Steps up and up and up in the modern structure – the pendulum swings above the glass table in front of the tall arch

The Arts et Métiers Line 11 metro station is also worth a stop, designed as it is so you feel as if you’re in a submarine, complete with copper fittings and portholes.

Arts et Métiers metro, Line 11

Arts et Métiers metro, Line 11

3 The Red Wheelbarrow bookshop

The Red Wheelbarrow bookshop

Paris’s best September news is the (re)opening in a great new location of The Red Wheelbarrow, Penelope Fletcher’s esteemed Anglophone bookstore.

You’ll now find this wonderful shop and its inspiring co-owner (she has several investors) at 9, rue de Médicis, in the 6th arrondissement, directly across from the Luxembourg Garden.

with Penelope Fletcher & my first purchase in her new shop (she has great recommendations!)

The beautiful shelves are still being stocked but the shop is open for business. It already has an excellent selection for Paris, literary fiction, poetry and a floor-to-ceiling bookcase of Persephone Books selections.

Cheering you on, Penelope and wishing you great success and a fantastic official grand (re)opening next month.

4 Treize (13) au Jardin Café

Treize (13) au Jardin

We arrived in Paris on Eurostar carriage 13, my birthday was on the 13th and – just a few doors down from The Red Wheelbarrow – we headed to Treize (13) au Jardin, a lovely café also recently reopened after moving from another location.

Here we savoured coffee and delicious carrot cake and –perhaps most thrilling of all — we did so on Treize’s SMOKE-FREE terrace!! Need I say more other than: we will return. We look forward to trying many more of Treize’s menu items. The flowers and plants on display are also for sale.

Treize au Jardin – if you look closely you can see Clive in the shade of the back row on left, enjoying the heavenly smoke-free terrace

5 Dancers in the Luxembourg Garden

Dancers on a small stage in the Luxembourg Garden

I know I’m not alone in adoring the Luxembourg Garden.

There are a million reasons why the Luxembourg is on almost everyone’s ‘Paris Top Ten’ list, including mine. For this post I’ll share just one: that as you’re strolling through, you just might come across a wonderful performance of music or dance or whatever else may be happening on the small stage beneath the chestnut trees.

We weren’t sure what this dance group represented but they were colourful and entertaining and the crowd loved them.

6 European Heritage Days, Part 1: Saturday at the Australian Embassy

On the weekend of les Journées du Patrimoine, European Heritage Days, hundreds of municipal buildings, monuments, churches, historic venues and museums, many not normally accessible to the public, are open and free of charge.

Last year we toured the British Embassy; this year we were fortunate to see the Ambassador’s residence at the Australian Embassy.

Australia’s Ambassador to France, Brendan Berne, speaking to our group

Stepping onto the private terrace which I’d read about for years

Close-up view of Eiffel Tower from the terrace of the Australian Embassy

View across to Trocadéro Gardens and Palais de Chaillot from the terrace of the Australian Embassy

6 European Heritage Days, Part 2: Car-free (mostly) Sunday & music at the American Cathedral

View up the Champs-Elysées to the Arc de Triomphe on a (mostly) car-free day

The city of Paris was (mostly) car-free on Sunday, thanks to Heritage Days. The vibe was relaxed, the sun shone and we enjoyed a stroll to the American Cathedral, where we saw a concert by an incredibly-talented young pianist, Artur Haftman.

Piano concert at the American Cathedral, Paris

The American Cathedral has a flag hanging for every US state. After an internet search on my phone and a lot of craning my neck, I found the New Jersey state flag.

NJ state flag in the American Cathedral, Paris

7 Notre Pâtisserie

Notre Pâtisserie’s turquoise storefront, rue Amélie, Paris 7e

This pâtisserie is the kind I like supporting the most: a stand-alone operation, not part of a chain and one in which you can see through the glass at the back into the baking area. The wallpaper is Paris-themed and Francesca, the owner, told me she has an all-female baking team. Their creations look and taste divine, especially the vanilla mille-feuille.

Shelf & Paris-themed wallpaper at Notre Pâtisserie

Bonus item: a few food treats

Starting my bday with Paris’s best pains au chocolat at our local café

(Hot) Chocolat Viennoise & crèpes w/citron et sucre (lemon & sugar) at Carette

Lemon tart and *outstanding* vanilla mille-feuille from Notre Pâtisserie

Finally … keeping it real

A common problem faced by many residents and visitors to Paris, especially when communicating with family and friends, is that you have no business complaining about anything because, seriously — you’re in PARIS!

Generally I agree. It’s a blessing to be here and complaining brings me down. To me it’s unattractive, negative and pointless. I try to stay positive with my posts.

However (you knew there was going to be a ‘however’ …) I thought I would end this Paris potpourri by sharing just one less-than-thrilling event, just to keep things real.

To make quite a long story short:

– we needed to go to a Darty store regarding a mobile phone problem (this alone is worthy of a long sob-story saga, but I shall refrain)

– by the time we found the store, we were hot, tired, cranky and in need of food and coffee (and I was coming down with an annoying cold)

– there were no cafés around, only a few fancy-ish restaurants serving lunch on white tablecloths

– we became increasingly frustrated over how far we wanted to hike down the street searching, knowing we had to come back to Darty

– fiddling with Google maps we ‘discovered’ a McDo (as the French call McDonald’s) near the next metro stop

– we trekked down to McDo and succumbed

Food (of a sort – or ‘edible food-like substance’) from McDo

Now I know it’s not a sin to eat at McDo (well, for us it sort of is one), but sometimes you have to do what you have to do, even in Paris. At least it saved us from becoming one of those bickering-on-the-street couples one sometimes sees during travel. Perhaps I should say, ‘Merci, McDo.’

As always, I’ll be sad to leave my beloved City of Light but will look forward to our return, whenever that may be.

On the terrace of the Australian Embassy, a real treat after reading about it for years

Merci for reading and à bientôt, until next time.