Archive for April, 2011
Ernest Hemingway, the American author, spent a lot of time in Paris during the 1920s. It was here that he wrote his first novel, The Sun Also Rises. Anyone who wants to know Paris beyond the Eiffel tower and the Champs Elysees, would do good to read Hemingway’s A Moveable Feast. This book gives you a peek into the Paris of the 1920s.
A lot of Hemingway’s Paris still exists, although the names of the places where he spent most of his time may have changed.
Here are some places where Hemingway spent time in Paris
Rue Mouffetard: This is a narrow street where you can easily trace the aroma of freshly baked bread, crepes, freshly ground coffee and cheese. The Cafe des Amateurs, which Hemingway wrote disparagingly about, used to be here. However, now there is a large restaurant at the place.
Boulevard St. Michel: In his book, A Moveable Feast, Hemingway had mentioned a café in Boulevard St. Michel where he had written a story. Today, the café doesn’t exist anymore, but the street is lined with numerous book stores, garment stores and souvenir shops.
Shakespeare and Company Books: This is a famous bookstore that is located in rue de la Boucherie. The original shop used to be run by Sylvia Beach during the 1920s and 30s. The store retains its personal and idiosyncratic service.
Quai des Grands Augustins: It is here that Hemingway browsed through several second-hand books. The Cafe Pri aux Clercs, which was a favorite with Hemingway, is also nearby.
Boulevard St-Germain-des-Pres: This boulevard still buzzes today with lively cafes and restaurants. Many tourists as well as the locals like to visit the Les Deux Magots here.
Jardin du Luxembourg: Hemingway spent 7 years in Paris, and this was his most favorite destination of the time. It is still there of course.
Gertrude Stein: Hemingway had come all the way to Paris to meet his artistic influence Gertrude Stein, who stayed at 27 rue de Fleurus. This place has artistically constructed vistas and beautiful gardens. Now the area has a lot of schools and colleges.
Velib is a unique bicycle rental program in Paris that was started in 2007 based on the successful model of Lyon’s Vélo’v. The entire system across the city is automated. In the first year as many as 750 automated rental stations were opened, and this was increased to 1,450 the next year. The objective was that the distance between two stations would never be more than 300 meters. It can be argued that Velib is the biggest bicycle rental service in the world.
The Velib program started with 7,000 bicycles, but the authorities added more soon due to popular demand, and the figure has gone up to 20,600 bicycles. It was started to provide an alternative means of transportation for those who use the city’s public transportation system. Velib is also part of Paris’ green initiative to reduce pollution.
Here is a map showing the many Velib stations across Paris. Each station has stands where dozens of bicycles can stand at any time.
Renting the Bicycles
It is necessary to subscribe to the system to use these bicycles. Subscriptions start at just €1 for 30 minutes (plenty of time to get to most parts of Paris), €29 for a year, or €5 for a week. The week and year-long subscriptions allow the user an unlimited number of rentals within that time period.
For every individual trip, the first half hour is free. For each subsequent 30 minutes of use, the rental charge is between €1 and €4. So, if you are within a 30 minute ride from your destination, you could actually end up paying nothing more than the subscription.
As a tourist you can rent one of these using your credit card. For €1 you will get your Velib velo for 30 minutes. A €150 euro security deposit is taken on your credit card that will be returned the moment your bicycle is docked back into a Velib station.
Velib provides a useful (and free) app which helps you find the nearest station and the number of bicycles available at each one. However, the map is online, meaning you have to have a WiFi or 3G connection in order to use it. Tourists without international calling plans probably won’t find much use for this as they won’t have internet access as they stroll about town. But locals using the Velib network certainly will.
Problems Faced By Velib
Velib has faced certain problems too, particularly because of theft and vandalism. Of the 7,000 bicycles that were introduced in the first year, as many as 3,000 ended up being stolen, and needed to be replaced. And of the 20,600 bicycles that were introduced in the next year, as many as 16,000 were vandalized or stolen. Velib bicycles have been spotted as far away as North Africa and Eastern Europe.
When someone comes to you and says they are going to Paris for the first time, or when you are planning that first trip, there are certain visions that come to mind: modelesque Parisians in berets, people writing poetry and painting on street corners, cheese and wine of the highest caliber being served on sunny days with the Eiffel Tower always in view… Paris is where flowers bloom year round and everyone has a little pep in their step that is perfectly in rhythm with the soundtrack playing in the background.
Now imagine you get off the plane and step into this magical place. You check your passport and boarding pass to make sure it is correct because what you see is not what you expected. The food tastes nothing like you thought, the sky is cloudy, and the buildings lack that je ne sais quoi. The Paris natives are less-than-friendly and the Eiffel Tower sticks out like a sore thumb. You feel out of place, disillusioned, and utterly disappointed. This has happened often enough that psychiatrists have come up with a name for it: Paris Syndrome, or Syndrome de Paris. Japanese tourists especially have been known to suffer from it because of their highly idealized view of French culture; in fact, it was a Japanese doctor practicing in Paris who coined the term “Paris Syndrome” back in the 80s.
Paris Syndrome can be diagnosed by anyone aware of this condition, no hoity toity psychoanalyst necessary. Everything that has been romanticized and dramatized about Paris is no longer as it is on the big screen. Everything is different about Paris and you long for home, where, if nothing else, you know what to expect. Upon your arrival and during your stay feelings of depression and persecution may set in. No worries, there is help — at least if you’re Japanese: there’s a 24-hour hotline at the Japanese embassy to deal with this. For the rest of us, there’s a a long shower back in the hotel and the drone of the 24-hour news channel in the background to remind us that while Paris may not be all runway models and romance on every corner, it still is a great place to get away from it all.
On a related note, read this thread on TripAdvisor: a future visitor wants to know what Parisians dress like in order to blend in more. Another user posts these pictures of actual Parisians and Shock, Scandal! some Parisians dress pretty badly.
The late, great Stanley Kubrick is honored at La Cinémathèque Française in a huge 1000-square-meter exhibition which features the ultimate in Kubrick fetishist memorabilia. From Korova Milk Bar naked lady furniture to the ape costume from 2001: A Space Odyssey, there is just too much to list here. We were lucky to catch this show this Sunday, amongst a bevy of Kubrick fans spanning 3 or 4 generations. The website of La Cinémathèque has announced that since opening on March 23rd, the exhibition has already received more than 30,000 visitors.
A rarely-seen ensemble of Kubrick collectibles, the exhibition was originally shown at the Deutsche Film Museum in Frankfurt in 2004. When seeing his body of work assembled in one space, it’s easy to see why just the mention of Kubrick’s name conjures up a universe of imagery and emotion. Making use of multimedia installations paired with props, scripts and peripheral material (e.g. letters to and from Nabokov about Lolita, the exhibition traces his works in chronological order, even featuring extensive installations on his never-completed projects Napoleon and The Aryan Papers. See our gallery below:
Here is a virtual exhibition brought to you by La Cinémathèque.
Throughout the city one comes across these dark-green fountains, familiar to all Parisians, and often a source of curiosity for visitors during the torrid summer months. Many ask themselves, are these safe to drink out of? Can we refill our water bottles with these and without fear catching some waterborne disease? Well, the answer is yes. These fountains provide, and have provided, clean water for over 100 years now, after the philanthropist Richard Wallace donated considerable time and money into erecting these now emblematic fountains throughout Paris.
Richard Wallace was an Englishman and philanthropist who made Paris his second home in the latter half of the 19th century. After the city had been ravaged during the Franco-Prussian war it was quickly rebuilt. But the aqueducts remained destroyed, and with the rising cost of water, many poor were left with little option. Some turned to alcohol.
Wallace came up with the idea of strategically placed fountains that would provide a source of free, clean drinking water for everybody. He hired sculptor Charles Auguste Lebourg to design the fountains after his own detailed sketches.
The first two models were built, combining the harmonious aesthetic wishes of Wallace along with functionality. They followed his original conception, namely that they be beautiful and useful: they were designed to be tall enough so that they could be seen from a distance, but not so tall that they ruin the harmony of the urban landscape; the form had to be pleasing to the eye (e.g. the feminine forms inspired by Renaissance art); they had to be affordable so that many could be installed; and they had to be resistant to the elements.
To this day, except for the winter months from 15 November to 15 March, when the fountains are shut off to avoid freezing, the Wallace fountains are a life source to the denizens of Paris, especially the homeless, who sometimes have no other source of water.
A curious fact for fans of the Jeunet film, Amélie, is that the melancholy building concierge, Madeleine Wallace, was named so because she was always “crying like a Wallace fountain”.
Paris is renowned for many things — from the Haussmanian grandeur of her boulevards, to boasting some of the most romantic spots in the world — but it is also a city replete with museums of all types, for every stripe of visitor. While most tourists flock to the Mona Lisa in the Louvre, the impressionist paintings in the Musee D’Orsay, and the avant-garde installations in the Pompidou Centre, their cultural journey through Paris’ museums stop there. Of course we realize that during a whirlwind tour of Paris these things are an absolute must-see; but for those who want to trek off the beaten-path there are many, many more museums which might pique the curiosity of the culture-bound tourist.
We’ve compiled here a list that defies categorization. We thought perhaps the terms “bizarre” or “eccentric” would do, but, in truth, it’s impossible to distill descriptions down to anything other than “unusual”.
Musée de la Contrefaçon
The Musée de la Contrefaçon, or the Museum of Counterfeiting, houses more than 350 objects, authentic and counterfeit, paired against each other; each of which has been under legal scrutiny. Often times it’s hard to tell the difference between the original and its copy. Try to figure it out yourself: from Rodin bronzes, cigars, writing instruments, leisure and luxury items, to clothing, toys and more.
The Dupuytren museum has been in existence since 1835 and exhibits examples of uncommon anatomic pathologies. Included are skeletons, wax casts and organs preserved in jars — in all over 6,000 pieces on display. This museum leaves nobody indifferent, but it must be warned, it is not at all for the faint of heart.
Musée de l’Erotisme
Paris, the city of lights, the city of love, the city of romance and passion. Being the city of museums as well, it’s no surprise that the enterprising duo of Joseph Khalifa and Alain Plumey assembled a large collection of artifacts and erotic arts and opened them the public. What was once a cabaret has become the Musée de l’Erotisme. Go through a large gallery of drawings, documents and brothel photos. see fertility idols from the Aztec, pornography ceramics of China, temple carvings from Nepal and much more.
Musée du Fumeur
Within a 60 square meter venue the Musée du Fumeur (Smoking Museum) houses a collection of smoker paraphernalia from different cultures and epochs; live plants and smoking-themed artwork. Amongst the objects and art one can find collections of European pipes, 17th-century clay pipes, peace pipes, hookahs, Chinese opium pipes, Egyptian sheeshas, snuffboxes, cigars, tobacco samples, hemp clothing, etchings, portraits, photographs, video and more.
Musée des Égouts de Paris
The first sewer system in Paris was constructed way back in 1370, and it has grown since then to accommodate the city’s more than 2 million inhabitants. Finding out about the complex works involved is an original way to understand the city. In the Musée des Égouts there is an exhibition area, where machinery and models that were used in bygone times, as well as the ones that are used now, are on display. There is also an audio-visual show.
Located just outside the Cite de Sciences, the Argonaut is a former hunter-killer submarine and flagship of a French squadron, now open to the public. In its heyday it traveled 10 times around the world, spent 2,000 days at sea and over 32,000 hours underwater before it was decommissioned in 1982. Visitors can examine the instruments and quarters of this 400-ton beast.
Les Catacombes de Paris
The Catacombs of Paris hold a lot of secrets, namely the remains of about 6 million Parisians from the 18th century to the 19th century. Les Catacombes de Paris, the underground ossuary, has today become a popular tourist destination. The underground tunnel network in this city is vast, and just a part of it has been opened to the public. It is this portion that is known as the Catacombs or the Denfert-Rochereau Ossuary. Visit the underground museum and winding tunnels deep in the underworld of Paris.
Musée Nissim de Camondo
Want to see a medieval mansion in all its glory, a former aristocrat’s home that has been maintained just as it was before? Head to the Musée Nissim de Camondo, where three floors are open to the public, containing some of the finest paintings, carpets, table settings, silver dining sets, crystal chandeliers, Chinese vases and more.
Musée de la Chasse et de la Nature
The Musée de la Chasse et de la Nature (Museum of Hunting and Nature) houses collections which show the relationship between man and his natural environment, especially through the practice of hunting. Amongst the collection you will find instruments of hunting through the ages; trophies and stuffed animals from Africa, Europe, Asia and America; and works of art including paintings, prints, sculptures, tapestries, ceramics and furniture.
Maison de Victor Hugo
The Maison de Victor Hugo, on the second floor at number 6 Place de Vosges, is now a museum displaying rooms where the author of “The Hunchback of Notre Dame” wrote his masterpiece, “Les Miserables”. Also on display this house, where Hugo lived for 16 years, are memorabilia including books and drawings arranged in chronological order from his early years to his exile between 1852 and 1870.
While lists are handy go-to items, this list of the “unusual” is by no means exhaustive. We just hope it whets your appetite for more of the incredibly diverse range of cultural offerings here in the city of lights.