Sunday, January 09, 2005

PARIS Day03//10.Nov.04 - Of Arc & Art: Chaillot Qtr + Champs-Elysees + Tuilleries Qtr + Opera Qtr

I woke up on the left bank of the Seine, but spent the rest of my day traipsing on the right bank. My first two days on the rive gauche (left bank) had left me charmed by its quintessentially French trappings, the sidewalk-facing cafés, the parade of pâtisserie shops, a fromage-filled marché & etc.

In comparison, the right bank or rive droite, had awed me with its scale and grandeur. Our first stop of the day was already a demonstration of such. The main architectural piece at the Chaillot Quarter is the Palais de Chaillot, which was built for the 1937 World Fair. It is therefore with little wonder that this building was built to impress and to afford visitors with a spectacular view of France's signature - the Eiffel Tower. With such line of sight, S got busy with the tripod and soon we were posing as still as the golden statues that lined the entire breadth of Palais de Chaillot massive curved wings. Palais de Chaillot has the scale to house not one, but three specialist museums*, a film institute (Cinematheque Francaise) and a theater.

We took to walking around its garden, Jardins du Trocadero, which had the Trocadero fountains that normally would have display jets of shooting water. Nevertheless, without having seen the water cannons in action, we shot off to our next tourist attraction, conscious of the many interests in store for the day.

Paris - collage_Chaillot Qtr

Our trip to Paris would have been incomplete without a visit to this monumental interest - the Arc de Triomphe^. This commanding monument looms over the busy traffic of the l'Etoile^^ (the Star). Paris' commendable Metro and underground system again came to the rescue as S and I did not have to do the pas de bourrée couru** getting to the Arc given the underpass that led us directly to the monument. As we wanted to go up the Arc, we had to buy tickets*** from the ticket office, which was still close at that time (~9am-ish). S and I took the opportunity to cross to the other side of the avenue to capture Arc-framed potraits of each other. Back at the Arc, we craned our necks admiring its many relief.****

Paris - collage_Arc_01

At 10am, we bought our tickets and ascended the many many winding steps that would lead us to an exhibition hall on the top floor, which allowed us to catch our breaths. On exhibit were black & white historical/war-themed photographs and a guest book, where I inked my promise to Paris to return in 2012. We continued upwards to the viewing platform on the rooftop of the Arc, despite the short flight of stairs this time, my breath was taken away again by the sight that greeted me. From the rooftop I was able to appreciate Paris' tribute to parallelism and symmetry. Much has been written on how aesthetically pleasing symmetry is to the human eye, and the impressive lineup of the Eiffel, Arc de Triomphe and La Defense was a result of Paris' city planners' play on proportion and pattern. With a 360 degree view of Paris, S and I spent some time matching the points of interest in the horizon to the ones found on the tourist board on the rooftop.

Paris - collage_Arc_02

While at the Arc, I had realised that I was missing one half of my warm woolen glove and had hoped that I would find it on the way down. We had backtracked all the way to the ticket office and yet, there was no sight of my adventurous glove. S refused to give up and despite not knowing French, managed to inform the ticket lady of our situation. Without further ado, ticket lady made a call and then instructed us to go to the entrance of the Arc, where another call was made by the guard. We were then informed to proceed to the elevator entrance and few minutes later the elevator door opened and we were ushered into the lift. The lift brought us right up to the exhibition hall, as the door of the elevator opened, I was greeted by the sight of a man holding my missing glove! Noticing its other half with me, he promptly passed my glove back to me. By then, I was completely bowled over at how helpful each and everyone of them has been. Since my command of French was not sufficient to express my gratitude, I resorted to at least expressing my appreciation to la Arc by commenting that it's "C'est magnifique!". I was glad to see that he was pleased by that remark and proceeded to speak French with me. Thankfully, amidst the foreign words I caught the word "chin" and confirmed with enthusiastic "oui's" that I am indeed Chinese.

Delighted with the free elevator ride, and with both my gloves tucked securely into my pockets, S and I linked arms and wandered down Champs-Elysées. In one of the world's most famous avenue, stores are grander and the brand names renowned. Lured by Peugeot's display of a concept car, S and I wandered into the French marque's showroom, which was more of a lifestyle store. There were even rows of pepper grinders of all sizes. If not for the prohibitive prices, I would have love to buy a gigantic one for mom. Although she may not have gotten any pepper grinder, Mom had already placed an order for me to procure a Louis Vuitton bag. Therefore as we continued our way down Champs-Elysées, I kept an eye out for the LV store. Before long, I spotted the infamous LV trunks that masked the construction that was on-going at their flagship store. Admist the Murakami and Damier prints on the trunks were directions to the temporary store that LV operated from. Upon entering the store, I understood how it was possible for LV to undertake such a massive renovation and relocation. The store was a hive of activity with sales assistants catering to the mostly oriental customers. Admist the collection of Monogram's and Damier's, I spotted the handbag that mom wanted. A quick Euro -> Ringgit conversion explained the number of fellow Asian clientele and the proliferation of LV syndicates.***** I had no problems procuring the bag, instead I had issues with the lady that was serving me. Her service was the only time I experienced French snobbery.

Paris - collage_Champs_01

Leaving haute couture (and hauteur) behind us, S and I explore the high streets of Paris, which rather surprisingly, were named after American and British leaders (i.e. Roosevelt, Eisenhower, Churchill). There, we came across the Grand Palais^^^ and Petit Palais. Both buildings were built in 1900 for the World Fair and are chiefly used for hosting various exhibitions. True to its function, the Grand Palais was having a 'Whistler, Turner, Monet' art exhibit that day with queues of visitors waiting to enter this distinctive glass-roofed building. This building's Romanesque stone facade is decorated with many classical statues and we saw this theme recurring nearby at Pont Alexander. Resplendent with golden winged horses, nymphs and Art Nouveau lamps, Pont Alexander is probably Paris' most decorative bridge.

Paris - collage_Champs_02

After our jaunt at Champs-Elysées, we made a pit-stop at our hotel to safe-keep mom's bag before proceeding to our next destination, the Tuileries Quarter.

We started from Place de la Concorde, notable for its bloody history being once the venue of beheadings during the French revolution. In the centre of the plaza, S and I craned our necks upwards at the 23m high Obelisk of Luxor^^^^ that now occupies the spot where many had felt the cold blade of the guillotine on their necks! This monolith was not alone in its stature as directly in its line-of-sight was the Arc de Triomphe. Having spent time capturing images of man's rather testosterone (and phallic!) architectural showpieces, S and I walked over to the nearby Jardin des Tuilleries, which was full of contrasts with its opportunities for gentler pursuits. S and I took a romantic stroll through the leave-strewn garden, passing by a large fountain where we watch with amusement at a dog being forced into the cold waters by its owner. Scattered around the fountain were dark green wrought iron garden chairs, which I imagine would have been highly sought after during the spring/summer months.

Paris - collage_Tulleries_01

Our short ramble in the park ended with us exiting into the heart of the Tuileries Quarter. Using the gilded Joan of Arc statue at Place des Pyramids as our marker, we walked past elegant belle epoque****** hotels, a funky Metro station before ending up in the serene compounds of the Palais Royal. Bordered by classical buildings, the courtyard was a cheeky display of modernity with its 1980s black & white stone columns of unequal heights. After S and I had our fun with the columns, we let ourselves out of the courtyard into a small, yet symmetrically elegant plot of garden that would be the Jardin du Palais Royal. Thankfully, we had little grounds to cover here as next up, we had the expansive Louvre awaiting our wearied little feet.

Paris - collage_Tuilleries_02

We were first confronted by I.M. Pei's glass pyramid entrance. With the French palais in the background, it was yet another confluence of old and new. Once passed the modern entryway, we embarked on our blast to the past, which I admit is more than just metaphorically speaking. Art dilettante that we are, we were guilty of doing what some termed as the 'Louvre Express'. Map in hand, our first target was the Mona Lisa. Much has been written about her magnetic smile, which judging by the crowd was still exerting its pull after centuries. Maybe she's smiling with amusement at S and I, who had to take close to half a dozen photos of her before we could get one that looked halfway decent.

It was easy to tick Venus de Milo and the Winged Victory of the list of must-see's. A bigger than average crowd in the Louvre is always a good indication of where the signature pieces are located. In between these famous artworks, we tried to take in as much Renaissance, Greek and Egyptian art as we possibly could. By around 7pm however, the only oil that S and I were craving for was edible oil. We exited the pyramid, which by then was all lit up and glowing in the evening sky. S, being an admirer of night scenes wanted to return to Place de la Concorde, where we were able to capture both the illuminated obelisk and Eiffel in a single shot.

Paris - collage_Louvre

From the metro at Place de la Concorde, we took a one-stop ride to Metro Madeline where we were deposited next to the La Madeline church in the Opera Quarter. Nearby, I gaped in wonderment at the temple of gourmet food i.e. Fauchon. Here, worshippers of fine food can reverently select from sea salts harvested from different coasts of the world to 25-year-aged balsamic vinegar. Those with a sweet tooth would be able to get their high from the range of delectable chocolate, sweets and biscuits. Though sorely tempted to buy some Fauchon chocolates for mom and dad that night, I decided to hold off the purchase.

Paris - collage_Fauchon

We continued our little walk in the Opera Quarter which included the quaint cobblestoned Rue Eduard VII. Perhaps representative of the society that patronises the Opera in the late 19th, the apartments here had a distinctively smarter air. Before long, we came upon the very building this neighbourhood was named after. The Opera de Paris Garnier, with its gilded statues and Baroque relief was an imposing-looking building. After taking a picture of this building, S and I popped into the metro station nearby and headed back to Montparnasse for dinner.

Paris - collage_Opera Qtr

Tried as we could in Montparnasse, we couldn't find a French restaurant that seemed right. Tired and hungry, we decided to do the unthinkable and went into an Italian restaurant, where we had pizza and pasta. The waiter was friendly and had urged us to try their tiramisu, which he proclaimed was the best in Paris. Although I was very full by then, I couldn't resist, and true enough, the tiramisu was the best I have ever had! It ended what could probably be our busiest day in Paris, wonderfully.

Paris - Tiramisu

^ Commissioned by Napoleon in 1806 to commemorate the victories of his Grand Armée, it is the biggest triumphal arch in the world, about 49m (161 ft.) high and 44m (144 ft.) wide. - Frommer's
^^ Baron Haussmann created a star of 12 broad avenues around the Arc de Triomphe. - DK Eyewitness
^^^ With its 240 metre-long façade, the Grand Palais is used for various exhibitions. Part of the building is the permanent site of the Palais de la Decouverte where recent scientific discoveries, interactive exhibits, some very good temporary exhibitions and a planetarium are displayed. -
^^^^ In the center of the plaza is the Obelisk of Luxor, a pink granite monolith 23 m (73 tt) high and weighing 220 tons. It is 3,300 years old and decorated with hieroglyphics exalting the reign of the pharaon Ramses II. The obelisk was presented as a gift to Charles X by the Egyptian viceroy Méhémet Ali in 1829. The monument was installed here under Louis Philippe who, bearing in mind the death and destruction witnessed by Place de la Concorde, was pleased to have found a non-political monument to replace the unpopular Bourbon Louis the XVth statue. -

* 1. Musee de la Marine (Maritime Museum); 2. Musee de l'Homme (Humanities Museum); 3. Cite de l'Architecture et du Patrimoine (Architecture Museum)
** running steps - a progression on the points or demi-pointes by a series of small, even steps with the feet close together -
*** Adult >25: €7; Young adult like myself (heh) only had to pay €4.50

****6 [French] a : a mode of sculpture in which forms and figures are distinguished from a surrounding plane surface b : sculpture or a sculptural form executed in this mode c : projecting detail, ornament, or figures - Merriam-Webster
***** A mostly Asian operation where profit is made out of secondary sales due to goods bought by recruits from a lower priced market
****** (1895-1910) Literally meaning the "beautiful era", this style is exemplified by delicate, lace-like jewelry, sometimes referred to as "garland style", and often set with diamonds and pearls.


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