On my way home this week, I stopped off in Paris to do a little hanging out, a little shopping, a little Ingress-playing. My good friend Dominique Rogers let me use her apartment in the 10th Arrondissement. So Monday morning, after getting off the plane from Ouagadougou, I rolled into the the Gare du Nord and headed for Dominique’s place not far away. The station was made famous in the graphic novel and movie “The Invention of Hugo Cabret”. Here’s the older hall of the station, site of much of the action in the film:
No sign of the great French filmmaker Georges Méliès and his little toy shop, though.
Parenthetically, I should say that the Paris regional public transport system is astoundingly efficient. I got off the plane an hour or so later than expected, about 10:00 a.m. Getting through customs and immigration was trivial, a couple of minutes at most. I dropped one of my bags off at the left luggage office (44 Euros, but cheap compared to the hassle of hauling a second bag around town), then caught the RER regional train into town. Half an hour to Gare du Nord, then a ten minute walk to Dominique’s. If I had been really lazy, I could have transferred to a Métro train to take me the two stops or about 800 meters to her Métro stop, but I relished the walk in the nice cool morning air. On other occasions, I was able to travel quickly across town. On the way out, I decided to stop by and see my parents’ old house at 4 rue Dangeau in the 16th Arrondissement, all the way across the city from Dominique’s.
It was a 35 minute Métro ride on two different lines. The house is on a little walkway that cuts through the middle of a block of 18th-century buildings. It hardly qualifies as a street but it is one of the surviving streets from the pre-Baron Haussmann reconstruction of the city in the time of Napoleon III. You can see why the Parisians were so good at building barricades. When I took this picture of the gate, I was standing on the opposite side of the “street”. And did not use the zoom lens.
Actually, I was to spend a good deal of time in Dominique’s apartment, thanks to the sudden manifestation of a vibrant colony of giardia parasites in my intestines. Nonetheless, I got around the neighborhood and accomplished my primary mission of buying several hundred euros worth of books for the library of the Faculté des Sciences Humaines of dear old Université Professeur Joseph Ki-Zerbo. I hit a number of bookstores, the best of which was Harmattan on the Rue des Ecoles. I went there last, but I could easily have spent many thousands of dollars and backed up a truck and still not have gotten all the good books they had. At one point, when I found a particularly good selection, I cackled out loud with glee and attracted the amused attention of several fellow shoppers.
Down the street from Dominique’s is a big school complex. I was walking past looking for somewhere to eat breakfast the first morning when I noticed this sign:
“To the memory of the children of this school who were deported between 1942 and 1944 because they were born Jewish, innocent victims of Nazi barbarism and the Vichy government. They were exterminated in the death camps. More than 500 of these children lived in the 10th [Arrondissement]. Let us never forget them.” France is thick with monuments to the blood-soaked 20th century. Every little town has its “monument aux morts” with a long list of names of those young men who died in 1914-1918, and 1939-1945, and in Vietnam, and Algeria, and so on. There has been a monument to the “déportés” on the east end of the Isle de la Cité right behind Notre Dame for decades, but this appears to be part of a post-1990s effort to recognize the scale of the Holocaust in France and also the role of the French government of the time in assisting the Germans in their genocide. Can you imagine 500 of the children in your school hauled off to be murdered in some death factory in another country with the cooperation of your own country’s government?
It is an immigrant neighborhood today, as it probably was then. The first Jews to be deported were immigrants, often refugees from Germany or other countries the Germans had taken over already. Today, there are still a few Jews in the 10th, but mostly now people from the Middle East. There is some artistic graffiti about; I thought this one was cute:
Speaking of tragedies, I visited the scene of another much more recent French tragedy, one that doesn’t (yet) have its memorial plaque:
This is the Bataclan night club, assaulted by Daesh terrorists last year. There appears to be renovation work under way and news reports suggest that it will soon reopen. Having eaten at Cappuccino in Ouagadougou, I thought I would pay homage here as well. How to remember these folks? Maybe the signs can read “morts pour la civilisation” instead of “morts pour la France”.
Going down to Bataclan from Dominique’s, I walked alongside a canal, built originally by Napoleon to help carry materials up from the Seine to the arsenal he built in northern Paris, the beginning of the big industrial area up there. The canal doesn’t carry any cargo ships now, but it is popular with tourist boats and houseboat barges. And with enormous numbers of people who sit alongside enjoying a peaceful respite from the surrounding city.
Someone is even camping in the background, you can see. And unlike in an American park, nobody is either fencing people off from the river or handing out stupid tickets for drinking in public.
(“Along the canal, don’t let alcohol make you lose your head.”)
Although they do try to politely encourage you not to get drunk and throw your bottles in or fall in yourself. French people are expected to be able to hold their liquor and remain safe and reasonably inoffensive without the nanny state stepping in. Unlike in the US, where I had the unpleasant surprise of getting a $100 ticket for having a beer in a Portland city park one 4th of July. Mostly, I think this has to do with the puritanical American attitude towards alcohol – we drink enormous quantities of it but still manage to think of it as something to be hidden behind closed doors. French people would probably chop off a politician’s head who tried to tell them not to drink in their parks. And I bet in the US, the canal would be closed off behind a big fence so no child or drunk could conceivably fall in. And if, God forbid, someone should come to fall in, there would be lawsuits that would last 50 years.
And speaking of canals and barges, I passed this guy on the left bank of the Seine just across from the Isle St. Louis, under the Pont Sully. I think this is Duncan MaCleod’s barge from the Highlander TV series. At least, it is pretty close to where the riverside scenes were shot for the series. I sort of lost interest after season 3 or 4, but they had some nice images of Paris. The show was co-produced by French TV5 and an American production house, so alternating episodes were set in Paris and in the US. I guess MaCleod had a lot of Delta/Air France frequent flyer miles.
And from the bridge, I got this really nice image as a farewell to Paris