Solipsism and Me

Idle reports from an idle fellow

En avril à Paris

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A gasometer lurks at the unprotected and little-frequented rear flank of St Pancras International

How do you get from Heathrow Airport to St Pancras International, using public transport, but avoiding Paddington? This may not be a question that has ever entered your head, dear reader, but that doesn’t make it entirely uninteresting. My personal answer (thanks to Travelines Southeast) was to take the Heathrow Connect Service from the subterranean vault at Heathrow all the way to Ealing Broadway, take a bus from there to one edge of Acton, a vigorous walk across same to Acton Central station on the fabled London Overground line, and thus skirt the Northern frontiers of the Great Wen by rail as far as Camden Road station, from which it was really quite a nice sunny stroll along the Grand Union canal to Camley Street, enabling me to sneak up on St Pancras from behind. Nice gasometer too.

And so off to Paris, as usual.  Arriving a bit late to get anything nice for dinner, as usual. Checking in to the Hotel Diana, and falling asleep immediately, as usual.  But there were two unexpected letters waiting for me when I rolled into the office at the TGE Adonis next morning: one contained my  Passe Navigo; the other an invitation to something called a vernissage at the Salon des Livres, courtesy of the Bibliotheque Literaire Jacques Doucet.

Inside Le Grand Palais (bigger than Le Petit Palais and even more like a second empire railway station)

Richer, older, and much more serious book buyers than I am frequent the Salon des Livres

No varnish was involved, just large amounts of cheap champagne, lots and lots of very expensive books, manuscripts, and prints. It took place in a bit of Paris I rarely frequent, specifically a rather kitsch building off the Champs Elysees called the Grand Palais. On this occasion it was full of mostly very very rich people engaged in the buying and selling of beautiful old books and manuscripts, plus quite a lot of the latter, and (as afore said) quite a lot of champagne. Then I high tailed it across town to meet up with Guy and Nathalie for a rather late dinner at the Zygotheque.

Forest of Fontainebleau

A walk through what's left of the Forest of Fontainebleau

Next day being Friday, I took the afternoon off for the first of three silvan expeditions. This one, in Guy’s company, necessarily involved a train
from the Gare de Lyon to the RER station at Fontainebleau-Avon, from where we walked for about 20 minutes through the remaining forest of Fontainebleau up to the Palace itself. After a much needed cup of tea by the lake we managed to persuade the man at the desk to give us a personal tour of the Palace’s private rooms, though even he was unable to let us see the Emperor’s library, which was what I had come for. But we saw his (Napoleon’s) toilet, and his bed chamber, and the Empress’s, and the long gallery for impressing visitors, and learned rather more French history than might have been anticipated before returning, with sore feet, to Paris for another nice dinner at le Mauzac.

Next day, being Saturday, I moved out of Paris to Boulogne-Billancourt (thanks Marion) for the weekend. After walking some distance in the wrong direction, I reversed my polarity in order to fulfil a long standing ambition: a visit to the Musee Albert Kahn, bequeathed to the world by an ex-banker who famously was just in time to master-mind the photography of the planet before much of it was radically re-arranged by the first world war.

Video screen showing photo of the Triumphant Arch at Porte St Denis c. 1908

Same arch, as seen during a Velib expedition in October 2009

Same arch, as shown today on Google Street View

At a time when people are already theorizing the “fake antiquity” of some Iphone photo apps, it’s pleasing to be able to include here a photo I took of a modern copy of  one of Kahn’s images of the triumphal arch at the Porte St Denis , juxtaposed with  a  photo I took of the same thing in 2009, and also a Google street view I downloaded last week…

When Kahn’s efforts to photograph the planet collapsed along with his business, he retired to his rather nice house  in Boulogne, and developed its beautiful Japanese style gardens further. The local authorities have subsequently done a good job of making them into a tasteful tourist attraction, as we see below.

Fellow tourists enjoying the calm of Albert Kahn's Japanese Gardens even as they destroy it

I find these charming faux – Japanese grounds  particularly interesting, because they have been carefully reconstructed from the original colour photos taken in the 1920s,  which are also available in postcard form. It would probably be a lovely place to wander through alone or in the company of a few discerning monks ; experiencing it along with a full sunny Saturday afternoon crop of families and tourists is a slightly different experience. No matter, in any circumstances, le jardin (as they say) vaut le detour.

Next day, being Sunday, was also the first of May. A good day to stay in bed, a good day to check out the traditional manif — but I decided it was a good day to go for a bike ride in the vastness of the Bois de Boulogne. As indeed it was. Marion’s bike did not collapse under my weight, and I did not get completely lost. Instead I enjoyed myself bumping along the wide open avenues, and bosky little tracks, some of them full of family outings, some with occasional sprinklings of serious sportifs in lycra, as well as some crusty imposters like me. I dutifully respected the tree in which there are stray bullet holes intended for some martyrs of the Resistance.

Patriotically labelled tree in Bois de Boulogne

I even managed to find the Jardin de Shakespeare — a  cute little enclosed theatrical lawn affair. Not unlike the theatre in the grounds of Dartington College: maybe possession of such a thing was  a sine qua non at some time in the twenties or thirties.  Today, the garden was  unexpectedly and (to me)  implausibly full of jolly ladies in tweeds and gents in kilts, participating (I learned) in the annual outing of the Paris Caledonian society .  I was invited to stay and enjoy some highland reels, but made my excuses and left, thus missing the opportunity to meet up with someone I know only as a facebook friend, who (I later learned) was also there.

Day shift of students queuing up for entry to the Bibliotheque Jacques Doucet

Monday morning sees me dutifully returned to the Hotel Diana, and thence up the hill to the Pantheon to work. Today I am supposed to be discussing progress on the LEC project with  the ladies from the Bibliotheque Jacques Doucet, which turns out to be surprisingly disputatious. I escape to lunch at Perraudin with Richard and some entirely other ladies from a different project entirely; then spend another afternoon catching up with email : voila  la vie parisienne.  Like the man said: “Paris a mon coeur depuis mon enfance. Je ne suis francais que par cette grande cite, grande surtout et incomparable en variete”

Statue of Michel de Montaigne opposite the Sorbonne, rue des Ecoles. Keen readers may wonder why one of his shoes is so much shinier than the other. There is a reason for that.


Written by Lou

May 31, 2011 at 18:18

Posted in Biographical

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