The winter is not yet officially over, but so far it seems that in this part of Europe it will be one of the warmest since at least 150 years. Here in Paris, we have not had one day (or night) below the freezing point and no snow. (I know… the winter has been extremely tough elsewhere on the planet.)

In the beginning of this week we had some +15°C (60°F). I could not resist against a walk again through “my” park.

The magnolias were ready to bloom … and I found a first one.

A little mixture of what I saw, as usual using my compact camera with automatic settings. J

Yes, the spring seems unofficially to be here!  For good? 


A smile

I noted that during this weekend my blog had passed the one millionth page view! As it has been in operation since March 2008, it means an average of about 170.000 page views per year, but it seems that there is an incease with now even 50.000 page views per month. My previous blog, which lasted for a year (March 2007-March 2008), still receives visits, totally some 125.000 and at present some 2.500 per month. This is all of course really nice! 

Unfortunately, the number of comments from my blogfriends has seriously decreased, but I must admit that it’s certainly also clearly my fault – I take too little time to visit other blogs – yes, my days are rather full. This is however to some extent compensated by “likes” and comments on Facebook, where my blog posts also appear (“NetworkedBlogs”).

It’s obvious that people - you - have mostly been been searching for and looking at different Paris addresses and events, but it seems that the most looked at label has been “street art”. This is why I have wished to celebrate my millionth page view by a “street art” smile. Yes, what you see on the top picture is a smile. It’s more evident when you enlarge the picture and show the whole face of a softly smiling lady, made by the remarkable Portuguese artist “Vhils”, Alexandre Farto Aka, known for his very special technique of chipping off bits of plaster and concrete from walls. The street where you can find this smile is Rue de la Fontaine du Roi. As for most street artists, you can find his works in a number of countries. In Paris there is another of his “faces” to be seen, Rue du Château des Rentiers – I posted about it here.


Walking along a pedestrian street, place, square...

This open passage, with some arcades, is today pedestrian. It changes names three times. Coming from the south you enter Rue Edouard VII, reach Place Edouard VII, from 1910-11, and after passing a portal you reach Square de l’Opéra-Louis-Jouvet with some slightly older buildings.

Edouard VII, of course rather Edward VII, was the son of Queen Victoria and King of the United Kingdom from 1901 until his death in 1910. His statue stands on the Place named after him since 1913.

Edward was perhaps more famous as Crown Prince, Prince of Wales, somehow personifying the fashionable, leisure elite of the end of the 19th century, the Edwardian era. (He was also known for numerous adventures.) As Prince and King he established good international relations and was referred to as a peacemaker.

The sculptor of his statue was Paul Landowski (1875-1961). This is one of his earlier works. There are a lot of other statues by Landowski to be found around Paris, a few of which you can find in some of my previous posts, e.g. here, here, here and here. He’s of course especially known for Christ the Redeemer in Rio de Janeiro. 

On Place Opéra-Louis-Jouvet you can find another statue, called “Le poète chevauchant Pégase” (The poet riding Pegasus) by Alexandre Falguière (1831-1900), who also has a number of statues around Paris, see e.g. my previous posts here and here.

Along the passage(s) we can find a number of shops, bars, restaurants…

… and two theatres. “Edouard VII” opened in 1914, first as a “Kineamcolor” cinema, but it was soon converted to a live theatre, which it still is - with a cinema interruption 1931-41. Many of the leading French comedians have played here, but surprisingly also Noël Coward (in French!) and Orson Wells (2 months in 1950)! The other theatre, “Athenée-Louis-Jouvet” is a bit older. It opened in 1894. The name of Louis Jouvet, one of France’s most famous actors, was added when he took over the management 1934-51. 


Paris Observatory

Already the Greeks, some two centuries BC, had invented the first meridian lines. Later, there were many of them, which obviously created confusion when it came to navigation. The Paris Meridian exists officially since 1634. The Paris Observatory was built 1667-71 – a few years before the Royal Greenwich Observatory - on a hill where since then the centre of the building is crossed by the Paris Meridian in a perfect North-South direction. The Paris Observatory was then outside the city borders in a calm area, today it’s in the middle of the city.
The architect was Claude Perrault (brother of Charles Perrault, who wrote “Little Red Riding Hood”, “Puss in Boots”, “Cinderella”…). For that time it was a very simple building with hardly any decorative elements, but the quality of the stones and how perfectly well they are fitted together, is amazing – hardly any concrete needed.

The basic activity of the Observatory was of course to study the sky. Telescopes and other optical instruments were, to start with, installed in the central hall of the building, which had very high windows. In this hall was also installed the way to check exact hours and dates (summer and winter solstice, autumn and spring equinox) by help of the sun, a little hole in the wall and a line (the meridian) on the floor. (The same can be seen elsewhere, in Paris e.g. in the Sainte Sulpice Church (see previous post).) 

Later, with larger telescopes, special buildings were added to house the instruments – there are a number of cupolas in the surrounding garden.  

One of the cupolas is to be found on the top of the building, added during the 19th century. Today all these installations are just historical. Visual sky observation is not done here anymore, but elsewhere, and the Paris Observatory is today only a leading scientific and educational centre. 

You have the impression that the Meridian runs through the middle of the Luxembourg Palace (see previous post) and I, also, mistakenly believed so. However, not quite. The Palace was of course built some 50 years before the Observatory.

It seems to be admitted that cartography in its modern sense originated at the Paris Observatory. This led also later to the invention of the meter – defined as one ten millionth of the distance between the North Pole and the Equator. The metric system became the official system of measurement in France in 1795 (also involving litres, kilogrammes…).

In 1884 an International Meridian Conference decided that the Greenwich Meridian should be the standard for the zero degree longitude. France (of course) voted against and got as a “compensation” that the British would adopt the metric system - finally launched a bit later, in 1965, with an official metric program. Today, the only major country which has not adopted the metric system is the USA (see the map of countries which have not adopted the metric system.).

Standing on the roof top, you have of course some nice views of Paris.


Hôtel de la Marine

There are two parallel buildings on Place de la Concorde. One is housing the luxury hotel “Crillon”, the French Automobile Club…, the other one, which we will visit here, is referred to as “Hôtel de la Marine”. Only the facades are similar. They were built in the middle of the 18th century, when the present Place de la Concorde was referred to as Place Louis XV. The architect of as well the place as the buildings was Ange-Jacques Gabriel, who also was the architect of e.g. the Petit Trianon and the Opera at Versailles, Ecole Militaire…. although the execution of the building works was taken over by J-G Soufflot (also architect of the Paris Panthéon). 

If the « Crillon »-building always has been used for private living and buisness, the “Hôtel de la Marine” has always belonged to the Crown or the State. It was first used as a “garde-meuble”, where some of the nicest treasures of the Crown were exhibited, open to public (every Tuesday between Easter and All Saints’ Day).

With the 1789 Revolution, the building became the home of the Naval Ministry, during WWII by the “Kriegsmarine”. Today, the Navy sorts under the Ministry of Defence, but the building is still occupied by naval staff. In 2015 they will however leave the building for new centralised defence ministry quarters. There has been a lot of discussion about the future use of the building, but it has now been decided that it will remain property of the State and will again be used, in its largest parts, for exhibitions of “treasures” from the national moveable heritage (furniture, tapestries, porcelain…).

Today, it’s not open for public, but visits can be arranged.

The entrance is obviously much as it was from the beginning…

… but the galleries have to large extent been modified, in a very golden way, during the 19th century.

In this particular room used during the Revolutionary years to be stored the French Crown Jewels. During the most hectic revolutionary period, the protection was obviously not the best – most of the jewels were stolen. Some have been found, but the one which sometimes is referred to as the most famous diamond in the world, the “Royal French Blue”, appeared - in a different form - in London in 1812. It has changed owners several times and is now known as the “Hope Diamond”, to be seen in the Smithsonian Natural Museum in Washington, D.C..  

More “golden rooms”…

You have of course an interesting view when looking through the windows.

In this room, with a view of the outside galleries, was signed the death sentence of Marie-Antoinette. (A facsimile to be seen.)

After another room…

… and a view over Rue de Rivoli…

… we reach the private apartments of the superintendents of the “garde-meuble” and later the Naval ministers. 


Ivory crush

The elephant ivory trade is today more or less forbidden, or at least restricted. The illegal business continues however in large scale. It seems that maybe 8 percent of the elephant worldwide population is eliminated each year, much more than the low birth rate (1% ?). It’s estimated that at least 22 000 (36 000 ?) elephants are killed each year for their ivory. With this tendency, it's feared that the elephant population in Central Africa will have disppeared in a decade or two. Most countries now, at least officially, take actions to stop the illegal killing and business.

There is still some legal ivory business around, based on existing stocks and on natural death and consideration is also taken to the fact that in some countries large parts of the population depends on this trade for their living as well in the exporting as the importing (mainly Asian) countries. Some also draw the attention to a risk that by tough restrictions, what still is traded will take an even higher value and increase the “mafia” interest in this trade.

However, the official attitude in most countries is now that the only real direction to take is to completely stop the ivory trade. Some countries have therefore made some spectacular destroying actions – one was made in China very recently. In France, as first European country, such action took place February 6, when close to Eiffel Tower, some 3 tons of ivory, confiscated by customs, were destroyed in front of the press and in the presence of official representatives. 3 tons correspond to a value of some 6 or 7 million US dollars.

However… With an average weight of possibly 10 kg per tusk = 20 kg per killed elephant (mostly adult African males), the total weight of the tusks of (the lower figure of) 22 000 elephants would correspond to some illegal 400-500 tons on the market each year (with a value of around 1 billion $). (My calculations are based on rather vague information found on the net here and there, so someone may wish to correct these figures.) Even if these figures, including the average weight per tusk may be wrong or too high, it's obvious that what has been oficially destroyed recently - 6 tons in the U.S., 6 tons in China and 3 tons in France - is very marginal, especially considering that this corresponds to several years of seizures.

I checked on the net and found that several sites offer ivory, mostly referred to as "vintage", including ebay, but also e.g. here, here and here.

As said above, French authorities wanted to give an example and make publicity about this business. I heard about it and wanted to attend, but realised that as normal public I would have been far away and not see or hear much or anything. I somehow managed to slip in as if I were a press representative, the only chance to take acceptable pictures, even though it meant “fighting” for space with maybe a hundred press, radio and TV journalists, professional photographers…

Here is what I could see:

French authorities were represented by the Minister of Ecology, Philippe Martin and by one of France’s leading ecological leaders, now working in some kind of role as a presidential ecological “ambassador”, Nicolas Hulot.

After some speeches, the ivory was brought over to a transport band, leading to a grinder and ended up as dust, which later will be incinerated. 


Rue Sainte Anne

Rue Sainte Anne is basically an ordinary Paris city centre street.  Many of the buildings date from the 17th century, when the street was created. It was named after Queen Anne d’Autriche, mother of Louis XIV, already during her lifetime. (Of course the name changed briefly during the revolutionary years.)

Today, you will find a concentration of Japanese restaurants, bars, shops…

As often, you have to try to look behind the gates and the doors (whenever possible) to find the nicest places.

The street has also a number of other nice shops, art galleries and travel agencies…

Of course a number of illustrious people moved in here when the street was fairly new, including Louis XIV’s court preacher J-B Bossuet and ….

… Jean-Baptiste Lully (born in Florence as Gian Baptista Lulli) (1632-87), who became Louis XIV’s “superintendent for royal music” and later director of the “Académie Royale de Musique”, the royal opera, then situated in the nearby “Palais Royal”-complex, taking over the space which previously was occupied by Molière’s troop. This is the house which he afforded to construct with the help of a loan by Molière. Originally, its exterior was decorated with a lot of musical symbols. (I found some details of the original decoration on the net.) Lully is considered as one of the most imminent baroque composers. He died from gangrene, having stuck his foot by his conducting staff. He was buried in the nearby Notre-Dame-des-Victoires basilica (see previous post).

Here we can listen to some Lully music.