By The NumbersAlthough the sun struggled against a veil of clouds on a cool morning, a walk through the Neo-Classical Jardin des Tuileries(1) soon brightened our day. Autumn displays of colour competed with eclectic and humorous sculptures while families indulged and locals of all ages congregated to banter, read and challenge each other with games of chess as the day unfolded.
The sun cooperated as if in response to the commotion, and our backs were warmed as we crossed pont de la Concorde to the Left Bank district of St Germain and the magnificent square of Place du Palais-Bourbon(2).
An amphitheatre of 18th century mansions surrounded a deserted square. A florist on one corner hosted a pair of young lovers and the animated conversation from a lone café echoed as a woman cycled past, warning us with an obligatory ring-ring on her bell. It was a scene straight from a period French flick and my camera worked overtime.
Although a commercial thoroughfare, narrow rue de Bourgogne was quiet today and at its southern end we detoured into Musee Rodin(3) in the manicured grounds of the Hotel Biron. The wonderful 18th century mansion was alive with light and conversation as a steady stream of visitors admired a comprehensive collection of works from France’s finest sculptor.
There were several other pieces scattered around the leafy garden, including The Thinker and The Gates of Hell. Wanting to savour the experience, we dined at the garden’s small café, sharing a picnic of baguettes and crisp salad.
Fuelled by café cremes, we explored the exquisite architecture and handsome shops of rue de Grenelle(4) before heading for an afternoon’s indulgence of impressionist magic in the Musee d’Orsay(5). The spacious converted turn-of-the-century railway station was opened as a museum in 1986 and now houses the world’s finest collection of impressionist art. This was a special time for Karen and she swooned, stared and gasped for the next four hours, awe-inspired by a relentless procession of her heroes.
I found her exhausted near closing time, sitting with an American woman outside a room of Degas sculptures. Both of them wore beaming smiles like badges of honour."My God, David, I think I’ve died and gone to heaven. You must bring me back here before we go."
She proclaimed Degas, Monet, Bonnard and Pisarro all to be utterly brilliant, in the end admitting that it was too much to take in for one afternoon. Karen had fulfilled a dream that day in the city of light and our walk past the 18th century mansions lining rue de Lille was a romantic one as the glow of dusk fuelled our passion.
Two days and Paris had already stolen our hearts.
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Adelaide, South Australia, Australia
May 25, 2004
From journal Zen and the art of discovering Paris
June 14, 2003
Saint-Germain-des-Prés was originally the church of a Benedictine abbey established here in the 6th C around 1st basilica built in 558-59 by King Childebert to house the relics of Saint-Vincent. Saint-Germain, bishop of Paris, was buried here and church changed its name to Saint-Germain d’Or. Bell tower is from 990, nave 1025-30, choir 1145-63.
From the Middle Ages, rue Saint-André-des-Arts was an important street for it led to the abbey of Saint-Germain. It boasts several remarkable buildings: at No 47, Hôtel de la Vieuville (1740), at No 52 – Maison Cotelle (1737), at No 27 – Maison Simonnet (1748). Cour de Rohan – 3 picturesque sequential courtyards.
Marché Saint-Germain at rue Clément rebuilt recently in accordance with its original design. (1813-1818) on the site of the old Saint-Germain fair. The rue Monsieur le Prince closely follws Philippe Auguse’s city wall; sections are embelded in No. 41 to 47. Historic Polidor restaurant at No. 41.
Théātre de l’Odéon (119-82) occupies the site which Louis XVI acquired for a new theater for the Comédie Française. East along the river stretches Paris’ oldest quay, the quai des Grand Augustines (1179). The École des Beaux-Arts occupies the site of convent of the Petitus Augustinus (1608, courtyards open 8 - 20).
Rue de Nevres is one of the narrowest streets in town. It begins at an arch (1, quai de Conti), passing below the building and terminates at the surviving fragment of the Wall of Philippe Auguste.
Hôtel des Monnaies, originally the royal mint (1771-75), now houses a workshop for coins minted in precious metals, a workshop for medals and the museum (free on Sun). Chapelle de la Médaille Miraculecise at 140, rue du Bac (Mo: Sévres-Babylone) open Wed – Mon 7:45 – 13, 14:30 – 19, Tue 7:45 – 19. They say that in this chapel in 1830 the Virgin appeared to a nun and asked her to mint a holy medal with her image on it, promising that "all who wear it around their necks will receive great reward". The nuns will sell you one if you like.
Molière started his career here in rue Mazarine. For Monet, Sisley, Renoir and Pissaro, the Left Bank was school, where they were art students with Gleyre and Swisse. Cézanne had six addresses here and Gaugen moved in 1877. Manet was born in 5, rue Bonaparte and studied with Degas at Ecole des Beaux-Arts. Delacroix studio – museum is at 6, Fűrstemberg. Matisse shared his studio with friend Margrot at 19, quai St-Michel. Picasso lived at 7, rue des Augustines from 1936 to 1955. At 19 quai Malaquais Anatoli France was born; and it was previously home of George Sand.
From journal Paris in May