Left bank, right bank and in-between
New film is out! It has some nice peeks into these past couple of months with Paris shifting from winter to spring (summer almost), then changing its mind and tilting back to darker skies, multiple times, just as we're used to. Stick with me as I show you around.
In March, thanks to a friend who works as an intern at UNESCO, I had the opportunity to go for lunch at their headquarters in the 7th district. She knew I would be interested in checking out their amazing art collection (hello Picasso, Miró, Vasarely, Giacometti & co.) but also in learning about the architecture, exploring their offices, lounging in the gardens and taking in the amazing view from their 9th floor canteen. Not bad, let me tell you. So thanks again, Paola, I really felt so privileged!
The site is composed of one main building, shaped as a three pointed star designed in the '50s by a trio of architects (French, Hungarian and Italian), a cubic building known as the "accordion" for NGOs permanent delegations, and the open spaces between them. I took a few pictures of the outside, sneaking among employees enjoying their pause and casually smoking in what is supposed to be a meditation area designed by Tadao Ando. It was a strange and satisfying feeling to notice how the headquarters of UNESCO, whose action consists (among others) in protecting, promoting and further developing Heritage, are a heritage site themselves, where art, architecture and peace values intertwine.
Around the same time my dad visited from Italy, the perfect excuse to spend our afternoons flânant, strolling around different neighborhoods of Paris and having fun with my Nikon. One afternoon we visited the Pavillon de l'Arsenal, a first time for him. As he's into museums that showcase objects different than "art", I was sure he would have liked what is Paris's main documentation and exhibition center of urbanism and architecture. I highly recommend a visit (entrance is free) to all those who are interested in learning about how Paris was constructed and transformed since the Roman times up to our days, or to keep up to date with the latest development projects that involve our city right now.
The center is fittingly placed on the Seine's right bank, right behind the rear tip of the Ile Saint-Louis. Apéro time was striking when we got out, so we descended on the quais and found a nice spot for a spritz (sorry, we're Italian). Here are a few pics taken around and about the Ile de la Cité as the sunset left place to a nice full moonrise.
It goes without saying that seeing these images (I'm thinking of n.2 in particular, with Notre-Dame's south transept bathing in the warm dusk light) arises a shiver at the thought of what was to happen a few weeks later...
The next morning we hit the Marais to check out a space that I hadn't visited myself yet, Lafayette Anticipations, a multidisciplinary artistic production center inaugurated in March 2018 and sponsored by Galeries Lafayette with the aim of supporting and showcasing contemporary art, design and fashion. The 19th century building renovated by OMA between 2013 and 2017 hosts multiple exhibitions at the same time + a café and a very neat shop for everything design (and I love their pug!).
One of the exhibits that we got a chance to see was Fortune, by Camille Blatrix. The French sculptor's approach consists of using all the disparate materials that compose the manufactured objects that litter our lives and of opposing mass-produced elements to hand-crafted ones. As we perplexedly observed what looked like a modern kitchen countertop (a beautiful one, I must admit), the young mediator working there explained us Blatrix's idea of turning utilitarian objects, that we're accustomed to using in our everyday lives, taking them for granted and not expecting them to be beautiful (i.e. a kitchen counter), into works of art, useless and beautiful - and to provoke bewilderment. This caused a discussion between me and my dad about art, consumerism and philosophy (which is great! This is what art should do, make people react, take a stand and defend their position!). As much as I find Blatrix's approach interesting, my idea goes in the exact opposite direction: what we need in this world is not turning more kitchen counters into useless art works and stuff up museums and galleries with them, but filling our homes with useful AND beautiful utilitarian objects. I remember being struck back in high school by a Bob Black quote going something like "we need to remember that the Greek vases that fill our museums today, were made and used to preserve olives". The idea is, can you imagine if we could replace all those soul-less, serial-made and often ugly everyday objects, that our eyes, hands and minds have got so used to, with hand-crafted, original and unique objects? If we could bring beauty and art into our daily lives? I think that would be a revolution in tastes and values. Of course dropping a handmade ceramics box and seeing it go into pieces would be kind of a bummer comparing to dropping an Ikea tupperware (those are unbreakable anyway), but the point is exactly to tone down the way we see arts and crafts, to accept that the privilege of being so close to them means accepting the risk of losing them but hey, in such a society we would also be able to recreate them! But here I'm going too far...
Anyways, Blatrix's installation occupies the top level of the exhibition tower, a transparent space bathing in natural light and overlooking the Marais rooftops, as you can see in this pic starring me and the aforementioned kitchen countertop reflecting in the glass ;)
For lunch the same day we took a bus and moved up to the 9th district, to the Nouvelle Athènes (New Athens) neighborhood. I really like this area, roughly stretching in a triangle between Pigalle, Trinité and Notre-Dame-de-Lorette. Its identity is rooted back in time, at the beginning of the 19th century, when not much was to be found in this area, away from the small city center, apart from vines, orchards and simple shacks and taverns - which made for very cheap rents comparing to central Paris. That's when more and more artists (especially theater actors, writers and painters) began to move here. In this sense we can consider this area as a sort of Montmartre before Montmartre, but being in the 1820s we're talking about the beginning of Romanticism. A typical architecture, very simple comparing to the Haussmannian style that would flourish fifty years later, developed all around the neighborhood and still gives it its identity.
Chopin and Georges Sand, Delacroix, Pigalle, Géricault, Moreau, Hugo, Musset, Gérard de Nerval lived and/or worked in these streets for years, Gauguin was born here, Van Gogh briefly lived here later on. The neighborhood's ability to tell its story and to attract visitors still largely revolves around Romanticism, as it is evident from the Musée de la vie romantique, the Gustave Moreau museum etc. But in the past years the area has been attracting more and more of the Parisian youth so things are evolving: hipster cafes, minimalist design shops and fancy galleries have been opening up all over the place... and making the rents rise - that's how it goes. Chopin would definitely have a hard time making ends meet around here nowadays.
In a quiet side street leaving rue des Martyrs is nested one of my favorite spots for lunch in Paris (I actually havent't tested them for dinner, but I'm sure it must be pretty great), the Hotel Amour. This charming hotel (with the most charming name and love-themed sugar packets) has a restaurant with a garden, really appreciated by tourists, locals and artists alike.
Their jewel is really their garden, full of color with green leaf trees, ferns and red Japanese maples. You can enjoy it in the winter, too, thanks to a glass enclosure - the one making such pretty reflections in this pic.
This beauty must live in the surroundings as he can often be seen lounging in front of the hotel. He seems to really appreciate the calm of the street, too - and neo-gothic architecture?
One last balade - a sunny afternoon in Saint-Germain-des-Prés. You can never get wrong with this one.
If you're familiar with rue de Seine you've probably spotted this glimpse before. Here you have it all: typical Saint-Germain crooked streets with mismatched, vaguely medieval feeling houses, great art galleries and that perfect Beaux-Arts atmosphere, street art (hello, space invaders), a view of Saint-Sulpice's bell towers + a bonus: the shimmering, almost festive light you get when the sun shows up after the rain. You're welcome.
Among all Parisian neighborhoods, this one really is the art galleries district, featuring so so many of these artistic hotspots, both tiny and large, often century-old, hidden and nested into silent and green courts. That day with my guide friends we stopped by the Jeanne Bucher Jaeger gallery, founded by Jeanne Bucher in the '20s, those années folles when Saint-Germain really burst with artistic ferment and new, bold movements were to change art history forever. Jeanne Bucher was a key figure in supporting cubism, post-cubism, surrealism, primitive and abstract art, exposing the works of many French and foreign artists and supporting the oppressed ones during the war (Lipchitz, Kandinsky, Miró). Jean-François Jaeger took over the direction of the gallery in 1947, followed by his daughter (Jeanne's great grand-daughter) Véronique since 2003.
Our steps ended up taking us further down on the left bank, around the Sorbonne area. So here's just a final shot of the last of Banksy's works to have appeared in Paris (almost a year ago already - when aye you coming back, Banksy?), a man feeding his dog his own paw after cutting it off - a critique of capitalism, with the boss/master living off the sacrifices of the employee, who's unconscious and grateful despite being exploited?
This is it for now. Next time, we're going ever so slightly out of Paris (: