March 24, 2008

New site (2)

Referring to the below post, answering some questions and possibly making it more clear: This site will still be here, but not anymore in operation. All new posts will be on my new site, which you can find HERE.

March 23, 2008

New site

This site has now been in operation for exactly one year. Some 350 posts. Thanks for all your visits!
I thought it was time sto start a new one.
So, if you hopefully wish to continue reading my posts, please go HERE!

March 21, 2008

La Butte aux Cailles (1)

Yesterday, I talked about water sources, including one at La Butte aux Cailles (the “Quail Hill”), Place Paul-Verlaine. La Butte aux Cailles can be found a few paths from Place d’Italie (13th arrt.). In the surrounding you can find a lot of dull modern apartment buildings from the 60’s and 70’s, but this little area has been well preserved, probably due to difficult ground conditions.

A small river, Bièvre, used to pass by at the bottom of the hill (today the river is underground), limestone mining and dyeing industry seems to have been rather dominant and on the hill you could find a number of wind mills. The area was annexed to Paris in 1860. Important battles took place here during the Paris Commune (1871). It remained a working class area until rather recently, but... there is soon no more "working class" living in Paris - too expensive. This is in my taste a fabulous little area, a small Montmartre – without tourists. (Sorry, I have nothing against kind tourists, but…).

There are a number of things to say about La Butte aux Cailles and I will do it in two or three episodes.

You can reach the “Butte” in different ways, but I chose to climb some stairs just in front of the metro station Corvisart. The birches have got their first leaves. (See top picture.) You reach a small playground. I then headed for the central place, on top of the hill, Place Paul-Verlaine, where we find our spring water and the public swimming bath, built in 1924 (see yesterday's post). This is also the spot which was reached by the first ever human flight, by a “montgolfière”, coming from La Muette (16th arrdt,) some 9-10 km (6 miles) away. (See my post February 08). You can find a small memorial.Opening to the place is also a school, founded in the middle of the 19th century by the Sisters of Saint Vincent de Paul. It was originally thought for the professional education of girls of modest origin. They were taught the ladies' professions of those times; they prepared even dresses for Queen Victoria! Today, it’s just a “normal school”. The place is full of narrow streets, small houses, small private gardens … and of course bars and restaurants. I will come back to all this, but in the meantime, let’s celebrate Easter! (See you Monday – or Tuesday!)

Happy Easter!

Some of these pictures can be found on my photo-blog!

March 20, 2008


Water supply is of course an issue for a big city.

Paris, within the city limits and not counting the suburbs, is actually not that big in surface and has hardly more than 2 million inhabitants. It becomes really big only when you include the suburbs.

Anyhow the city consumes something like 500 000 m3 (= some130 000 US gallons) of drinking water per day, which if I have calculated correctly corresponds to some 250 litres (around 65 US gallons) per person and day, of course not all swallowed.

In ancient times, water came from a few local sources and fountains and was also partly brought to Paris in aqueducts and partly taken directly from the Seine where a first hydraulic pump was installed during the 17th century (called “La Samaritaine”, which gave the name to the department store which later was built there). Water was carried to people’s homes by water carriers – the last ones disappeared around 1910. In my yesterday’s message I talked about the Bassin de la Villette as a fresh water reservoir where water was brought in via the Canal de l’Ourcq. This did not last long. The water distribution was finally correctly organized during the second half of the 19th century and houses began to get water supply at home.

Today the water comes from different sources up to some 150 km (100 miles) away, but part comes also from upstream the Seine.

You can also get pure spring water in Paris – and for free! Some 600 or 700 meters under the ground you can find some 25 000 years old fresh water from an underground river and you can still get hold of it at three places in Paris, quite distant from each other (see the map). It holds some 25-30 Centigrades (some 80° Fahrenheit) if you drink it immediately, but if you live fairly close you would probably bring some plastic bottles and then take them to your fridge. Many people do. If you are interested in the water quality, it’s checked regularly and you can find an updated report on the spot.One of the sources can be found at the Buttes aux Cailles, Place Paul-Verlaine, 13th arrondissement. It gives enough of water also to feed the local swimming bath. (I will soon come back to this area.) Another one is at Square Lamartine in the bourgeois 16th arrondissement.… and the third one is in the much more popular 18th arrondissement, Square de la Madone, today surrounded by a number of Chinese shops and supermarkets. (We are getting a number of China towns).
Another nice possibility to get rid of your thirst, free of charge, is to drink from one of the numerous Wallace fountains (of which I already made some posts). The water here comes from the normal distribution system, not from the underground river.

March 19, 2008

Bassin de la Villette

The Canal Saint Martin (my post yesterday) ends (or starts) with the Bassin de la Villette. This is the largest open water space in Paris. At the opposite end, this basin meets the Canal de l’Ourcq which brings the water to the canal system from the river Ourcq, some 100 km (60 miles) away. The basin is actually in two parts; a larger one (700 x 70 m = 2300 x 230 ft) and a second more narrow one (730 x 30 m = 2400 x 100 ft). They are separated by a hydraulic lift-bridge from 1885, still functioning and causing some traffic jams when it nowadays occasionally has to be opened (or lifted). The larger part of the basin was in the beginning of the 19th century, just after its construction, surrounded by green areas and it was popular to come here for picnics in the summer and for skating in the winter. (Yes, the climate is getting warmer – no ice here anymore.) It served as an enormous reservoir of drinking water. During the second part of the 19th century, the basin became more and more industrial and the port activities were at a time considerable (same volumes as in the port of Bordeaux). Some of the old administrative and warehouse buildings (partly tagged) are still there.Nowadays, both basins are basically surrounded by modern apartment and office buildings, but around the larger part of the basin you can also find some more distracting activities. There are two multiplex cinemas, one on each side of the basin, belonging to the same company - offering a boat trip from one quay to the other. There are some installations for kids to play, some statues (including a laying Eiffel-tower-like one), some cafés and restaurants, some barges used as theatres… Part of July-August the Paris-Plages is now also installed here with a lot of “beach-activities”, as along the Seine river (see my post from July 21, 2007). This is also the base for a number of sightseeing boats, which can bring you along the Canal Saint Martin or elsewhere. (My photos from a relatively cold March day show fewer activities.) At the end of the basin, where the Canal Saint Martin begins (or ends) you will find a round building, the “Rotonde de la Villette”, which dates from around 1787 and was part of the wall “Fermiers Généraux” (served as office), built around what was those day’s smaller Paris, to enable tax collection for food, beverages, building material etc. entering the city; a very unpopular tax which was stopped a few years later, immediately after the Revolution. (See my post of January 18.) The building will now be transformed into some kind of small cultural centre.

Some of these pictures can also be found on my photo-blog.

March 18, 2008

Canal Saint Martin

You can follow the trace of Canal Saint Martin on this map. The starting (or ending) point is close to Place de la Bastille. I already talked about this part, the so called Port de l'Arsenal, in some previous posts (1, 2). After La Bastille the canal goes underground, more or less until it reaches a point near Place de la République (the dotted line).

This is where you will find the more romantic part of the canal (with trees, pedestrian bridges...). Further up, the canal becomes more industrial (or rather used to be) and finally it reaches a basin, Bassin de la Villette (of which I plan to talk tomorrow).

Napoleon (sorry, it's he again) decided in 1802 to have the canal built. One of the purposes was to bring (relatively) clean water to Paris, the other was of course to use the canal for transport of merchandise. The port handling took basically place in the extreme ends of the canal, Port de l'Arsenal and Bassin de la Villette. The canal was finished in 1825, has nine locks enabling to compensate for 25 meters (80 ft) of level difference.

Part of the canal was later during the 19th century covered, (of course) due to Haussmann and the wish to open for large avenues and boulevards. More or less a total loss of traffic brought again the idea in the 60's to cover also the rest of the canal. Fortunately this never happened.
Today you can have a boat ride or take a pleasant walk on the quays - and there are plenty of places for refreshment.

Along the canal you can find the - at least for Frenchmen - well-known "Hôtel du Nord" - still there - which, with the pedestrian bridge in front of it, is the place of some famous film scenes; "Hôtel du Nord", Marcel Camus, 1938. The film was however made with studio decoration. A scene from "Amélie Poulain" was shot on the spot.

You can find most of these pictures on my photo blog.

March 17, 2008

An (almost) normal Saturday

Today, just a report on last Saturday.

The cleaning service in Paris includes collecting the garbage on a daily basis. Early morning the green trucks arrive. I like the atmosphere in the local street Saturday morning – and also on Sunday morning – when you find the population which normally is working or in school during the week. Saturday morning there is also a local open market.After shopping, I made a small detour to “my” park. The tulips have now taken over the reign after the narcissuses. The weather was sufficiently nice to enable a pleasant pause on a bench. Some people got married. On the way home, I found that a small demonstration took place. The controversial Church of Scientology is present in our quarter. A group, calling itself “Anonymous”, held a worldwide protest action day Saturday (L. Ron Hubbard’s birthday), including here. It was a calm and peaceful demonstration, but obviously the church does not appreciate criticism and had asked for (strong) police protection. The protesters are in general bearing masks, wishing to stay anonymous, claiming having received menaces. (There is much more to be said about this, but here is perhaps not the forum – I tried a rather “neutral” statement… however, if you wish, feel free to express your opinion.)
In the evening I assisted at a local gathering with a nice meal and some nice music, performed among others by Russian and Kabyle (Algerian ethnic) representatives living in the area. (I did not bring my camera.)

March 15, 2008

Mid-month theme - subway day

Normally I don’t make any post during weekends, but the 15th of each month is the day for the « mid-month-theme » - subway – which I share with bloggers in NYC and Stockholm. This month’s theme is “ticket system”.

We just learnt this week that within the next two or three years there will not anymore be any personnel selling tickets in the different Paris metro entrances. The machines, which are already there, will be the only way to buy your weekly, monthly, yearly subscription or possibly some loose tickets. "Smart cards" (called "Navigo") are already in use. In the beginning of the 70’s the last “poinçonneurs” (metro employees who punched your tickets) disappeared… (If you have saved a ticket with a small punch hole from these days, you can sell it at a good price). Today some of the metro trains don’t even have a driver…

You can find today’s posts – and some other subway related posts – by using the following links:

New York City Daily PhotoStockholm by pixelsPHO (Paris).

March 14, 2008

Rue des Francs-Bourgeois (2)

Before we are leaving rue des Francs-Bourgeois, there are two other buildings to which I would like to draw some attention.

One of them is the Crédit Municipal de Paris (no. 55). This is one of the oldest financial institutions in France, created in 1777, which among other things acts as a pawnshop – it will (possibly) lend you money in exchange for a deposit of some more or less valuable merchandise, and when you (possibly) can pay back, they will return your belongings. This kind of institution has several nick names, like “Mont-de-Piété” (after a charitable Italian institution, “Monte-de-Pietà”). Another name for it is “Chez ma Tante” (“At my Auntie”); normally you would not too openly admit that you had to borrow from this institution, you would more easily pretend that you got some money from your auntie. Another version for this expression is that one of the royal princes did not want his mother to find out that he had pawned his watch, so he just said that he had forgotten it at his aunt’s house. The place has still 600 visitors per day and a lot of famous personalities have passed the gate – in the past even Victor Hugo, Emile Zola, Claude Monet... When the not reclaimed belongings are later auctioned, you can make some good business here.
An additional interesting thing can be found in the court yard: The trace of the 13th century Philippe-Auguste city wall (which we have already followed in a number of posts). The other building I wanted to mention is the “Hôtel de Soubise” (no. 60), built in the beginning of the 18th century (top picture). It replaced another mansion built during the 13th century and which during the 15th century became the residence of the Guise family, fervent Catholics, and this was where e.g. the Saint Bartholomew”s Day massacre was planned (1572), leading to the death of thousands of Huguenots. You can still see the old entrance to the previous building on the back side (bottom right picture on the below patchwork). The present building was in 1808 (Napoleon again) taken over by the French state and is since the place for (today, part of) the National Archives and also a museum. Only here – and in adjacent buildings - are today stored some 100 km (60 miles) of documents, the oldest form the 7th century. When walking along this street at lunch time together with a friend on our way from Place des Vosges, we made a small deviation, turned to the left at rue Vieille du Temple and found (at no. 30) a small restaurant, "Au Petit Fer à Cheval" (the Small Horse Shoe). The menu and the place looked nice, so we decided to give it a try. I can now say that it was nice. The restaurant dates from 1903, the marble-topped bar in the entrance has the shape of a horse shoe and behind the bar there is room for maybe twenty guests. The restaurant has obviously at a certain moment been restored with some type of 1925 decoration, but it all gives a very authentic impression, the waiters look like the waiters used to look like, the place got full and I believe only with more or less regular guests! Traditional dishes, nice atmosphere and reasonable prices! Some of these pictures can be found on my photo blog.

Before “closing” for the weekend, I wished to show some more details from the Paris spring development (photos from yesterday). Have a nice weekend!

March 13, 2008

Rue des Francs-Bourgeois (1)

On your way from Place de Vosges to e.g. Centre Pompidou, you could take rue des Francs-Bourgeois, which is the central and a very ancient street in the “le Marais “ area. There is a lot to see also in the crossing and neighbouring streets, but today – and tomorrow – we will just follow this one.

The name of the street, which means “exempt citizens”, was given during the Revolution and because of the existence of a mansion in the street where in the 15th century some poor people who didn’t have to pay taxes to the city were given a place to live.

Along the street you will find a large number of mansions (“hôtels particuliers”), most of them several hundred years old. Many of them are closed to public – today mostly occupied by different administrations - and you can only with a bit of luck see what is behind the gates and the facades. One of the nicer mansions and open to public is Hôtel Carnavalet (see below), built in 1548, which used to be the home of Madame Sévigné (her birthplace was Place des Vosges, as I mentioned yesterday). It’s today the Museum of the History of Paris. It’s certainly worth a visit (free of charge), is magnificently decorated (to a great part with interiors from different epochs and often coming from other palaces) and shows a lot of interesting documentation. The street is full of boutiques – often old bakeries or butchers which, fortunately, in some cases have kept the old ensigns and part of the decoration. Here almost everything is open even on Sundays, so it’s a nice shopping street. ... and if you are hungry or thirsty, you will easily find a place. I always advise you to look to the right and the left, into the small side streets, alleys and inner yards (when they are open); this is what adds to the charm of many of these old streets. As an example, if you look on the lower left corner of the below patchwork, you can see an alley, called “Impasse des Arbalétriers” (arbalète = cross-bow) where in 1407 the brother of King Charles VI was killed, which led to about 15 years of civil war, or at least brutal struggle, between the “Armagnacs” and the “Burgundians”.
As usual, you can find these pictures "full size" on my photo blog.