Paris in the autumn – the Promenade Plantée

Promenade plante 2

The Promenade Plantée is a 4.5km path that runs between the Bois de Vincennes and the Place de la Bastille following the track of an overground railway. For most of its course it runs on a viaduct giving an unusual perspective on the rooftops and buildings of the surrounding area.

Promenade plante 3

The railway that used to run on this line stopped functioning in 1969, but it’s only over the past 10 years or so that its old track has been restored and turned into a wonderful urban walkway. The path has been planted in a variety of styles that make for a delightful stroll. We did the walk on a Sunday morning when it was so thronged with joggers, that you had to keep your wits about you to avoid being crashed into by earplugged fitness fanatics.

Promenade plante 6

Promenade plantee

At this height you really start to notice the elaborate ornamentation of the mainly nineteenth century buildings along the Avenue Daumesnil:

Promenade plante 4

Promenade plante 5

The oddest site on the walk is this building on the Rue Abel (I think) near the Gare de Lyon with its giant narcissistic statues.

Promenade plante - statues

Promenade plante - statues 4

Promenade plante - statues 3

The building that they grace is a police station, but it’s hard to believe that these statues were commissioned by the police. I have not been able to find out anything about them online, but it would be interesting to know who they depict, why they were commissioned, how they came to be there and what the building was originally.

After the peace and quiet of the Promenade Plantée, the descent to the Avenue Daumesnil and then on to the busy Place de la Bastille is a bit of a shock.


Paris in the autumn – street scenes

Here are various shots from my visit to Paris:

Art installation outside the Tuileries

An interactive art installation on the edge of the Place de la Concorde just outside the Jardin des Tuileries:

Metro sign

The classic sign for a Paris underground station.

Now some shots from the market in Boulevard Richard Lenoir, one of Paris’s biggest Sunday food markets:




Finally a street singer in the same market. I am not sure what instrument he is playing, but he fed pianola paper through it while he turned a handle. You can see a pile of the sheet music behind him to bottom left.

Street singer

Paris in the autumn – Notre Dame

Notre Dame 2

Here’s another iconic Parisian building – the Cathedral of Notre Dame. Work started on the building  in 1163 and took 170 years to complete.

Notre Dame

Just opposite the Cathedral on the left bank is a little haven of calm around the old bookshop Shakespeare and Co. The original bookshop was opened by Sylvia Beach in 1919 and became a gathering point for expatriate American writers such as Hemingway, Scott Fitzgerald, Pound and Gertrude Stein. Sylvia Beach also remembered as the first publisher of Joyce’s Ulysses. However that bookshop was in a different location in the rue de l’Odeon and it closed during the German occupation of Paris in World War II.

The current Shakespeare and Co was set up in 1951 by an American ex-serviceman in rue de la Bucherie and has recently opened a great little cafe next to it.

Shakespeare & Co

Paris in the autumn – Place de la Bastille

Place de la Bastille

The Place de la Bastille, the former site of the notorious prison of the Ancien Regime famously stormed by the Paris mob on 14 July 1792,  is dominated by two monuments.

One is the glass-fronted monstrosity of the Opera National de Paris Bastille opened in 1989. The other is the Colonne de Juillet pictured above, a memorial to those who died in the street fighting that led to the overthrow of Charles X in  July 1830.

Paris in the autumn ; Arc de Triomphe

Arc de Triomphe

Work started on building the Arc de Triomphe in 1806 after Napoleon’s victory at Austerlitz, but it wasn’t completed until 1836. One of the most iconic monuments in Paris, it’s difficult to get a good, clear shot of it because of the many lanes of traffic that circuit it. Fortunately, an underpass allows access to the arch so that when you are actually standing next to it you get a true sense of it size.

I particularly liked the four huge statues on each side of the main columns.

Arc de Triomphe - statue 4 Arc de Triomphe - statue 3 Arc de Triomphe - statue 2 Arc de Triomphe - statue 1

Paris in the autumn – La Sainte Chappelle

La Sainte Chappelle_

La Sainte Chappelle on the Ile de la Cite is hemmed in by buildings on all sides which adds to the sense of a pinched structure that is being forced upwards. Its external appearance however gives no clue to the magnificence of its internal decoration.

It was built in 1248 by Louis IX (Saint Louis) to house two relics that he had bought from the Emperor of Byzantium, the Crown of Thorns and fragments of the True Cross.

La Sainte Chappelle 1

The 15 recently restored, soaring Gothic stained glass windows depict over 1,000 religious scenes and the light filtering through the rich colours in the glass creates an atmosphere of enchantment.

La Sainte Chappelle

La Sainte Chappelle 2

The strong colours and detail of the individual images is very impressive, but there are so many images and most of them not easily seen, that it almost discourages looking at the detail. Again and again you are forced back to try and absorb the cumulative effect of this extravagant decoration:

La Sainte Chappelle - stained glass La Sainte Chappelle - stained glass 2


The rose window over the main royal entrance, for example, is quite breathtaking, but it’s impossible to see the detail:

La Sainte Chappelle - rose window

La Sainte Chappelle is very beautiful but all a bit overwhelming to take in at one go. I liked focusing in on some of the detail:

La Sainte Chappelle -angel La Sainte Chappelle - crown of thorns 2

La Sainte Chappelle - crown of thorns

My favourite detail is these two angels on the central column between the royal entrance doors. Why are they smiling?

La Sainte Chappelle - angels on main doors

Finally, right next door to La Sainte Chappelle is a site familiar to fans of the French TV series Les Engrenages (Spiral), the Palais de Justice.

Palais de Justice

Les Invalides, Paris

Les Invalides

The dome of Les Invalides was built between 1679-1708 for Louis XIV as a royal church and an addition to the existing Hopital des Invalides which housed disabled army veterans. Inside it is an enormous space and feels like a piece of state propaganda, dwarfing the viewer and making you feel insignificant in the face of this massive celebration of royal power.

Here for example is the high altar and in the background you can see part of the Soldiers’ chapel with standards captured in battle and the 17th century organ.

Les Invalides - altar 2Looking up into the dome itself you can see a painting by Charles de la Fosse from 1692 depicting the Glory of Paradise with St Louis offering his sword to Christ:

Les Invalides - inside the dome

Les Invalides - dome painting

Of course the centrepiece of Les Invalides is the porphyry tomb of Napoleon in the crypt. Porphyry is the quintessential expression of imperial power and was the colour and preferred stone of the emperors of Byzantium. Over the entrance to the crypt are recorded Napoleon’s own words about being buried in Paris: “Je désire que mes cendres reposent sur les bords de la Seine, au milieu de ce peuple français que j’ai tant aimé”.

Les Invalides - tomb Napoleon

Also in the crypt is this statue – very much not life-size – of Napoleon in Imperial robes and holding imperial regalia.

Les Invalides - statue Napoleon

Les Invalides also houses the tombs of some of France’s greatest military leaders, including Marechal Foch:Les Invalides - tomb Marechal Foch

On the other side of Les Invalides is the Hopital des Invalides with its vast Cour d’Honneur (parade ground) – used most recently as the site for the event to celebrate the victims of the Bataclan terrorist attack:

Les Invalides - Cour d'honneur

Overlooking the Cour is Seurre’s rather sinister statue of Napoleon (‘Le petit caporal’):

Les Invalides - Napoleon in the Cour d'honneur

Finally here’s the front of the Hopital des Invalides:

Les Invalides - Entrance to the cour d'honneur

Paris in the autumn – Eiffel Tower

Tour Eiffel _

I’m going to do a short series of picture posts on a visit to Paris last October about three weeks before the terrorist attack at the Bataclan. In hindsight that tour bus below the tower with its strange slogan now looks like some sort of  encouragement to face the threat of terrorism.

Looking right up the inside of the tower:

Tour Eiffel - looking up 2

And finally some attempts at pattern shots using the girders:

Tour Eiffel - girders Tour Eiffel - girders 3 Tour Eiffel - girders 2

Bookends of the Search

I have previously blogged about my literary pilgrimages to Proust’s Illiers-Combray and to Montaigne’s Tower. It seems odd that there is no explicit reference to Montaigne in A la recherche du temps perdu: how could he not have been one of Proust’s favourite reads? This great article on Sharon Girard’s wonderful Proust and Other Matters blog shows in fact that there is a hidden homage at the start and end of the novel. The whole site is well worth exploring for its thoughtful and insightful posts on Proust.

Proust and Other Matters

The Bookends of the Search Contain a Secret

The first paragraph and the last form a stunning pair of bookends which contain a secret.  The secret is an homage to an unnamed titan of French letters.  The titan’s name appears nowhere in The Search, but his legacy is felt and Proust knows it and cherishes it.  I call this homage a secret because I’ve never come across it in Proust commentary.  But it’s out of the closet now.  Remember, you read it here first.  (If you find it somewhere else, please let me know!  I first revealed the secret to my Yahoo Proust group in 2003.)

The beginning of The Search, page 1, paragraph 1, takes place in that dusky state of hypnagogia where all is possible.  In bed, M holds a book and reads by candlelight.  Just barely drifting off, he imagines that he himself is the subject of…

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