5. On the Streets of the City

In case you should develop the impression that Paris is little more than an architectural museum, perhaps it is time to balance the scorecard by taking a look at some everyday streets. Take this scene from the Place du Panthéon, for example. The Panthéon, whose main entrance lies behind the columns on the left, is a landmark. Its double storey dome inspired the Capitol Building in Washington DC. In this photograph, however, I have chosen to ignore the conventional view in favour of a scene depicting the open space in front of the building.
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Place du Panthéon

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In 1973, I lived for over 3 weeks in the room pictured (right) in the Hôtel du Panthéon at the far side of this square.

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Inauguration of Francois Mitterand

Inauguration of Francois Mitterand

I was staying there again in 1981 when Francois Mitterand was elected President of France and from my balcony, I watched him cross the square to the Panthéon to lay a single rose on the Tomb of the resistance leader, Jean Moulin.

After President Mitterand had completed the last of his inauguration ceremonies,  the crowd surged into the square in front of the Pantheon and the party began!

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Undoubtedly, the most famous street in Paris is the Avenue des Champs-Elysées. It stretches from the Place Charles De Gaulle to the Place de la Concorde.

The Avenue des Champs-Elysees

The Avenue des Champs-Elysees

In the middle of the Place Charles De Gaulle stands the Arc de Triomphe and beneath that lies the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.

The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier

The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier

Avenue des Champs-Elysées

Avenue des Champs-Elysées, looking east

The Champs Elysees

The Champs Elysées, crowded as always

Rue de la Paix

Rue Royale

Looking along the Rue Royale from the steps of La Madeleine towards the Place de la Concorde with the columned front of the Assemblée Nationale in the background; and beyond that, the dome of Les Invalides. On the right side of the Rue Royale, you can just see the red awnings of the famous Maxim’s restuarant.

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Not far from La Madeleine and right next to the Paris Opera, is the American Express building. In the days before email and internet, this was my link with the outside world, for this is where I collected my mail.

American Express, Paris

American Express, Paris

The following two photographs portray Paris in different climatic conditions. The first shows the symmetry of the Place du 18 Juin 1940 on a sunny day with just a few light clouds adding interest to the sky. It’s a landscape which might have appealed to Utrillo. The second, on the other hand, finds us on the boulevard Saint- Germain in the rain.

Place du 18 Juin 1940

Place du 18 Juin 1940

The Boulevard Saint-Germain in the rain

The Boulevard Saint-Germain in the rain

Sometimes, I just don’t know why I take a particular photograph…it just appeals to me. I liked the street in the photograph below, I liked the way the road climbs towards the camera and I liked  the way the buildings dwarf the man. I like the street lamp and I like the way the tree intrudes into the top left corner.  The image has no particular meaning, but I like it.

Rue Saint-Rustique, Montmartre

Rue Saint-Rustique, Montmartre

The image below is one that almost got away. For a start, I had the wrong lens on my camera, then there was the man just disappearing round the corner.  I wanted only the two ladies in the shot but the man was not walking quickly enough and the lady in the foreground was moving too far into the street so I had to shoot. In my mind were the exaggerated perspectives of Magritte (the two ladies) and the dream sequence from Ingmar Bergman’s Wild Strawberries. It didn’t quite come off; but you have to expect your share of disappointment when you can’t control your subject.

Rue Saint-Rustique, Montmartre

Rue Saint-Rustique, Montmartre

Street photography requires a great deal of patience, and some luck. I saw the sunlight glistening on the dampened street below,  in the Latin quarter, and wanted to photograph it but felt that the street and the pool of sunlight alone were not enough – so I waited. Unfortunately, the sun was NOT prepared to wait and I was in danger of losing the shot completely when this couple happened along and gave me exactly what I needed.

Rue Xavier Privas

Rue Xavier Privas

Near the Rue Xavier Privas is what I believe to be the narrowest “street” in Paris. Not even a tiny DCV (pictured below) can make its way down the alley known as the street of the Fishing Cat.

Rue du Chat-Qui-Peche

Rue du Chat-Qui-Pêche

This arcade street (below) can be found in the heart of Saint-Germain-des-Prés.

Cour du Commerce Saint-Andre

Cour du Commerce Saint-André

This quarter of Paris provided a meeting place for the revolutionaries and writers of the 18th century. In these obscure backwaters, one has the impression that nothing essential has changed since then.

Cour du Commerce Saint-André

Cour du Commerce Saint-André

Rue Visconti

Rue Visconti

Many of the oldest parts of Paris are built on what had previously been marshland. As a result, age and unstable terrain are causing some buildings to subside. Take a look at the wall on the left of the street, how it bulges. Already, some buildings in this area and in the Latin Quarter have been propped up with huge wooden pylons or timber joists set to keep the buildings from swaying towards each other. The Rue Visconti has not been subjected to that ignominy – yet!

Rue Volta

Rue Volta

The Rue Volta in the Temple Quarter of Paris is a short, narrow and otherwise insignificant street, except that it plays host to the oldest house in Paris.

The timber-faced building in the center of the photograph opposite is over seven centuries old, although the original roof was replaced, before the Revolution!

Built during the reign of Philippe le Bel by the Abbott of Saint-Martin-des-Champs for his chief administrator, it was considered then a vast dwelling.

Fortunately, the Rue Volta was spared Haussman’s urban remodeling.

Place du Furstembourg

Place du Furstembourg

Even in this city of grand boulevards and wide open spaces, you can still find tranquil corners to escape the noise and congestion. But while the historic centre of the city is being preserved and protected, for the most part, against incongruous development, some Quarters where history was made are not so lucky.

Montparnasse

Montparnasse

The Montparnasse of the period between the two World Wars is slowly being rebuilt to create a Paris that none of the great figures of art and literature then would recognise. Where do the ghosts of Modigliani, Chagall and Sartre walk now that their Paris is no more?

Rue Vercingetorix

Rue Vercingetorix

The Rue de Vercingetorix was used by Sartre to herald his Age of Reason. Today, it barely resembles the street that Sartre would have known.

Place Beaubourg

Place Beaubourg

And in the east of the city, ancient buildings were demolished to make way for the Centre Pompidou which caused as much controversy when it was created in the 20th century as the Eiffel Tower did in the 19th.

next chapter >

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2 thoughts on “5. On the Streets of the City

  1. Wow! Great composition.

    Image labelled Rue Saint-Rustique, Montmartre has elongated vertical themes, nicely counter-balanced by the winding and rising road, but the obligues really stand out and draw my eye – the man’s pale obligue leg angle and then the similar angle of his pale cigarette, with the contrasting horizontal obligue of his arm – he seems to be part yet seperate from the street. Strong subject focus, I end up looking at his dark eye over that cigarette.

    Richard

  2. Pingback: Le grenier des maléfices | brigetoun

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