Thursday, January 29th, was a day of strikes and demonstrations in France. My blog is perhaps not a political forum – although there is no censorship from my side – but I thought I should show you something of the present - like I have already done a few times - and not only the historical and monumental Paris.

It’s obvious that people are worried. Our government - as others - have taken a number of measures to get us out of the present financial, economic and social crisis, but these measures are in many people’s opinion, including the demonstrators, today too much going in favour of banking and some leading industries, not immediately supporting "ordinary" people who already suffer - or probably soon will.

The manifestations which took place in France yesterday were probably among the biggest since long. As always, there is a great difference in the estimations given by the – this time unified -syndicates and the official ones given by the Police about the number of demonstrators. Figures for the Paris demonstration vary between 65.000 (Police) and 300.000 (syndicates). Anyhow, the number was high; maybe about two million if you include all the French cities.

In Paris, the march took place between Place de la Bastille (see previous posts), via Place de la République (see previous posts), following the “Grands Boulevards” (see previous posts) to near to Opéra Garnier (see previous post). I watched it at Place de la République.

At least my French blogger friends may recognise the leader of one of the largest syndicates (with his particular 60’s haircut), who I saw in the middle of the marchers. I believe that the other syndicate and political leaders had already left the demonstration for their offices, homes, television studios...

I wish you all a nice weekend!


Behind the Town Hall

When you visit the Marais (the Marsh), you often concentrate on Place des Vosges (see previous post), rue des Francs-Bourgeois (see previous posts), Rue des Rosiers and a number of remarkable buildings …, north of Rue Saint-Antoine. I would recommend that you also take a look of what is between Rue Saint-Antoine and the Seine River. I already made a post about the Saint-Paul area. Today, I will concentrate on what is between the Town Hall (see previous posts) and Saint-Paul.
Just behind the Town Hall, you will find the Saint-Gervais - Saint-Protais Church. The church has origins from the 5th century, but the present one was built over a long period, from 1494 to 1621 when the facade was added – different in style from the interior gothic. The church got some serious damage in 1918, by the ”Grosse Bertha” (German heavy canon) when some 90 people were killed. Correction February 6: Contrary to what normally is “known”, the super-cannon “Grosse Bertha” (named after Mrs. Krupp) was not in use in the bombardment of Paris.
The church is since about 30 years the home of the Monastic Fraternity of Jerusalem – “offering a new form of monastic life in the heart of the city”. It’s a great pleasure to listen to them singing. The church is also known for its organ from 1601, of course modified a number of times since, but still there. The famous composer, harpsichorde and organist family, Couperin (Louis, Charles, François), were titular organists here during the 17th and 18th centuries and of course used this instrument. They lived in a house which is still there, immediate neighbour to the church. There is also a smaller beautiful organ used during normal masses. In front of the church there is the small Square Saint-Gervais where you can see an elm tree. This tree has replaced a centuries-old one under which the inhabitants since Middle Ages would meet to make good on their debts.

Other neighbours to the church is the home of a “compagnonnage” institution, fulfilling a tradition from the Middle Ages where young people travel and work at different places in order to learn a speciality by their masters.

In the area there is a number of remarkable 16th and 17th century buildings, some with origins from even earlier centuries.
This includes also Hôtel (private mansion) de Chalons de Luxembourg and its impressive entrance gate (top right) and Hôtel de Beauvais (top left), on the balcony of which (bottom left) the Queen Mother, Mazarin and others watched the newly married Louis XIV and Maria Theresa enter into Paris. Mozart (then 7 years old) and family stayed as guests in this building for five months during a first visit to Paris. There are still a number of original sculptures and inscriptions on the walls, a sun-dial... An association, called “Paris Historique” defending the historical Paris, and more particularly the Marais, occupies another 17th century building. I was allowed to the visit the 13th century cellar, under restoration. Of course you find some very nice shops and restaurants. There is much more to say, but I guess I have to stop.... We have reached the limit of the area of what I wanted to show today and have reached the Saint-Paul church – seen from a backyard (see again previous post) and the Hôtel de Sens (see previous post).
(I must start to do shorter posts!!!)


Stormy weather

The south west of France suffered from very strong winds this weekend, probably stronger than ever measured down there. Some places noted over 180 km/hour (115 miles/h). Of course a lot of damage. Paris suffered from something similar in 1999. Nothing like that last Friday in Paris, but it was bad enough to make me change my plans for the day.

So my post today will just be about grey skies, rain, heavy wind... .

I took some photos around “my” park, Square des Batignolles, just one minute’s walk from where I live. The park gates were again closed for security reasons, so I couldn’t get near the poor birds but had to zoom a bit. The cleaning services seem to have been interrupted, but postal and police services worked. For a coffee (without a cigarette), it was wise to go inside. The pétanque players who didn’t give up despite the snow (see previous post) had obviously abandoned for the day.

I hope to have something to post about Wednesday, weather permitting!


Rue du Faubourg Saint-Antoine

Rue du Faubourg Saint-Antoine is a historic street, there since medieval times. It goes from Place de la Bastille (see previous posts) to Place de la Nation (see previous posts). Half way, you will reach what today (opened in 1802) is one of the biggest Paris hospitals, Hôpital Saint-Antoine, which is situated where you as from 1198 could find the Royal Abbey Saint-Antoine.

Very early, artisans, especially in the carpeting and furniture business, were allowed to work here under privileged conditions. For centuries (before IKEA) this was a furniture centre – and to some extent it still is. Furniture styles like Louis XIV, Louis XV, Louis XVI ... were to a large extent created here.

The inhabitants have also had the reputation of being very active in all the French revolutions, including the 1789 one, with the Bastille close by. Also during the later revolutions, they played a dominant role and the street was many times full of barricades and there was intensive fighting. Many of today’s demonstrations follow also this street from Place de la Nation to the Place de la Bastille.

What I here especially want to talk about are all the alleys and back yards you can find along the street, especially between the Bastille and the Saint-Antoine Hospital and this is thus the area we will concentrate on. Sometimes you have to push a door, but most of the alleys are easily accessible. You will find names like Cour de l’Etoile-d’Or, Cour des Trois-Frères, Cour de la Maison Brûlée, Cour de l’Ours, Passage de la Bonne-Graine, Cour de Saint-Esprit, Passage de Main-d’Or, Passage Saint-Bernard, Passage de la Boule Blanche, Cour du Bel-Air, Passage du Chantier... there are tens of them.
First, however maybe a look on some of the buildings as seen in the street itself. Most of them are centuries old. Some of the 19th – 20th century buildings have been transformed to other uses. JP Gaultier’s fashion house was previously in one of those and another one is entirely occupied by a popular four-floor restaurant and night club, The Barrio Latino. At number 74 of the street you can, after entering the gate, find some spectacular buildings - with a still standing steam engine chimney. They seem now to be transformed into modern offices. There is an old early 18th century fountain (Fontaine Trogneux). Some of the alleys and backyards which used to be entirely devoted to small local, mainly furniture business, now look quite idyllic and are partly transformed into modern smaller offices and to apartments (lofts). Others have not yet reached that destiny, have more or less traditional business ongoing and you get an impression of being decades or sometime a century back in time. On some walls there are still old, faded, signs of previous activities ... and also a 1757 sun dial. Many of these buildings date back from the 17th or 18th century. You can find a number of old stairs. But, as previously said, the furniture business is still going on, including as well manufacturing as sales. When I reached the Saint-Antoine Hospital and the 17th century fountain in front of it, I stepped down to the metro.
You can find these photos in full and as a slide show on Ipernity.
I wish you a nice weekend!


About the guillotine

About a year and a half ago, I made post, which I today would like to improve. It concerned the placement in Paris of the guillotine during the last half of the 19th century. The use of the guillotine is of course very much linked to the French Revolution, but it was still the tool for death penalties in France until – in my opinion – too recently.

First, maybe a little bit of history: Before getting into use, the guillotine was tested, first on sheep and calves, in April 1792 at Cour du Commerce Saint-André (see previous post) and later also on some human corpses. The first execution took place later the same month at Place de Grève, now the Place Hôtel de Ville, just in front of the Town Hall (where now is the ice rink, see post last Monday). The victim was a common burglar.

Only then started the revolutionary madness which fortunately calmed down around 1794. The most famous place for the executions is of course the present Place de la Concorde (then Place de la Révolution – see previous posts), where King, Queen and some other prominent personalities lost their heads. However, the guillotine was for such events displaced from its first more permanent place, at the Carrousel, just in front of the then still existing Tuileries Palace (see previous posts). The Revolution executions continued then at Place Saint-Antoine (now Place de la Bastille – see previous posts) and especially close to Place du Trône-Renversé (now Place de la Nation – see previous posts).

After these exited years, executions – fortunately fewer – took again place in front of the Town Hall until 1832 when they were transferred to what was then the Paris border, today Place Saint-Jacques in the Montparnasse area.

As from 1851, the place for the executions became the prison la Roquette until it was demolished and then, until the end, at the still existing Santé Prison. The last Paris execution took place 1972 (and the very last one in Marseille in 1977). Capital punishment was officially - and I would add fortunately – at last abolished by France in 1981. What I will show today (again, and in a bit modified way) is where the guillotine stood for executions between 1851 and 1899. Some granite stones (example on the top picture) in the pavement can be found on a street called Rue Croix-Faubin (11th arrdt.). The stones were put there to support the guillotine. Just behind these stones you could find the Grande Roquette prison, built 1836 and demolished 1900 (replaced by apartment buildings). This was then where death sentenced prisoners were kept and also prisoners awaiting their deportation to the “bagnes” (overseas convict-prisons). When needed (fortunately not every day), the guillotine was brought from its close-by storage place, 60 bis, rue de la Folie-Regnault, the small building - since then slightly modified - you can see on the below patchwork. On the opposite side of Rue de la Roquette was another contemporary prison building, the Petite Roquette, originally used for young, later for female, delinquents – and during WW II for some 4000 members of the Resistance Movements. This prison stood there until 1974, when it was replaced by a park. All that remains from the prison is the entrance gate. It's estimated that maybe upto 40.000 people were guillotined during the French Revolution, however only a smaller part in Paris. Frightening is to know that probably as many were vicitms of the Nazi use of the guillotine during the 30's and 40's. Today, no country seems to use the guillotine - but unfortunately other tools have replaced.


Ice skating

Parisians in general are not the best ice skaters (roller skating is different). However, each winter, during a few weeks (until end February), the City of Paris offers some possibilities to learn. A few ice rinks are available, one in front of the Town Hall. It’s free of charge; you can rent the skates or bring your own.

This makes the look of the place in front of the Town Hall quite different from last summer weeks, when instead a garden was installed here (see previous post).

Last Wednesday afternoon, when most school kids are free, I spent an hour or so watching. A few of the boys skated quite well, but scared a bit, sometimes trying to slightly overdo it. However, it’s obvious that many tried for the first time. It seemed to me that the girls had more fun, whether in standing or laying position. (I didn’t try myself – haven’t been skating since I was a kid in the ice covered Sweden.) The best skater was in my opinion the young guy on the top picture.

It’s open until late in the evening (midnight on Fridays and Saturdays).