A chapel full of books!

There is a large building, Rue de Saint Petersburg. It was originally built as a convent for the “Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate”. They moved in here around 1900, but soon left. There were new laws (1903), introducing an "exception system" which seriously restricted the possibilities for congregations to act in certain areas, like e.g. teaching…. The building became a hotel until 1945, when it started to be used for some State offices. Since 2012 it has been used by an organisation, named "Aurore", offering temporary housing for needy people awaiting more permanent solutions. As I understand some 160 people live here representing some 35 or 40 nationalities.

I pushed some half-open doors and found this first…

… and then what you can see on the top picture, a chapel full of books.

The explanation is that part of the building, including the chapel, is occupied by a sub-organisation to “Aurore”, named “L’Archipel”. Their tasks include all kinds of solidarity actions – social mixtures, insertion...  For that purpose they offer a multitude of activities to which everybody is welcomed. This involves a free exchange of books (you leave one, you take one), concerts, theatre plays, Sunday brunches, yoga lessons… You can find their site – and program – here.     

There is still also what now has become a parish church, “Saint-André-de-l’Europe”.

In the church I found a statue of Mary with, on the wall, a prayer to her honour, in 20 languages, including Swedish

What now follows has hardly anything to do with the above, except the "Swedish”. The whole creation of this area is actually due to a Swede, Jonas-Philip Hagerman (1774-1839). He was born in Sweden, son of a Lutheran priest. He did fairly well in his studies, traveled, met his future wife in Genoa (daughter of a wealthy banker), made a fortune, moved to Paris… In the years after Napoleon, joined by a French contractor, he bought and developed the whole area around what became “Place de l’Europe”, including the streets which received names of European cities like Constantinople, Vienna, Stockholm, Athens, Naples, Edinburgh, London, Rome… and Saint Petersburg. It’s all referred to as the “Quartier de l’Europe".

Hagerman made a lot of money - he also invested in some of the first French / continental railway companies, in the completion of the Burgundy Canal...-, later bought Napoleon’s and Joséphine’s castle “Malmaison” and also a castle in Sweden (where once his grandparents had worked as squires).

Before being bought and transformed to a living area, this part of Paris was during the end of the 18th and the beginning of the 19th century occupied by what was named “Tivoli” - large parks and amusement areas. I have approximated the area within which you could find three different “Tivoli” installations. There were also some less developed fields - around the future Place de l'Europe -, all belonging to the same family.

During the 19th century many artists worked and lived in this area, see e.g. my post about Manet here and I included two paintings by Caillebotte, see more on my post here.

Here we can see how the area developed; first what it looked like around 1790 (with the “tivolis”), then in the early 1830’s, after the development of the streets, and finally in 1860, when the railway leading to the future Gare Saint Lazare - opened in 1837 as first French passenger line (see previous post) -, had changed the landscape. Some streets had then been cut, some street names had changed place, but less of the area was then, compared to now, in open air - the original tunnels disappeared after a serious accident in 1921. Rue de Berlin had its name changed to Rue de Liège during WWI.  


Place de la Concorde looked different...

Place de la Concorde looks a bit different at the moment. Some “cubes” have been added. They will be there until the end of the month.

The French company “Saint Gobain”, originally a mirror manufacturer – in competition with Venice - has chosen this way to celebrate its 350th anniversary. Under its original name of “Manufacture Royale de Glaces et Miroirs” (Royal glass-mill factory) the company produced e.g. the glass and mirrors for the Hall of Mirrors at the Versailles Palace (see previous posts). I’m not going to tell the long history of the company, only to say that today it employs some 200,000 people worldwide in a product range which includes construction and packaging products as well as different innovating materials. This is what Saint Gobain wants to show by these different pavilions, going under the names Colour, Look, Create and Listen. If you were willing to queue up you could go inside. The exhibition is on a worldwide tour.

The installation also included special light and framing of one of the fountains (see previous posts about Place de la Concorde here).

A special pavilion gave short explanations regarding the company.

Before leaving Place de la Concorde, I had a brief look at the Tuileries Gardens (see previous posts here), its (partly) square trees and the Jean Dubuffet sculpture – “Le bel costumé”.

Once on Place de la Concorde I could not avoid walking up the lower part of the Champs Elysées (see previous posts here). The yearly exhibition of contemporary art (FIAC – “Foire Internationale d’Art Contemporaine”) took place last weekend. The main place for the exhibition is the “Grand Palais” (see previous posts here)…

… but it also occupies “tents” along the Champs Elysées. Too late this year, but if you want to buy a Picasso, Miro, Basquiat… this is the place to go. 


At a first look... just another ordinary street.

There are some rather anonymous streets, which also look quite ordinary, but when you have a closer look… there is always something to find. Let’s thus have a look at Rue Nollet in the 17th arrondissement, in the Batignolles area. Its origins are a bit earlier than when this quarter became integrated into Paris in 1860. In 1864 the street changed its name from Rue Saint Louis to Rue Nollet. We can see the old street name on a building which thus obviously was constructed before 1864. It got its name from Jean Antoine Nollet (1700-1770), a clergyman and physicist, especially involved in the then new science of electricity. A postcard from around 1900 (sorry for the bad quality) shows how a “blind wall” those days was a place for advertising – soon for street art?

A map shows where you can find the street, crossing streets… In the upper part we are close to Place de Clichy. A lot of things happened here, especially during the years preceding impressionism, but that’s another chapter (see e.g. here).

Most of the buildings along the street are from the latter part of the 19th century…

… others are a bit more recent, early 20th century, much more bourgeoises, some with very rich decoration. The different type of building at no. 53 was once occupied by the “Parfums Rochas”, but is now for rent.

One building, no. 80, is probably of an early generation, with a garden in front (and a dog in the courtyard).

We can find some examples of bygone and still existing businesses…

… a number of art galleries…

… many examples of previous days’ rich decoration, sometimes with (probably) the owners’ initials.

On one of the doors you can read FFB – here was once the home of the French Boxing Federation.

In a backyard I found an old thermometer, obviously still showing the correct temperature.

At the top of the street, where it meets Rue des Dames (see previous post), you can find a very odd shop, “Angel Modes”, specializing in fashion for shows, especially of transvestite type, and the nicely decorated bar “Caves du Chalet”.

Walking down you will cross Rue Condamine, rich in history preceding the impressionism movement (see again here or here), where you once found the workshop of Frédéric Bazille, where Emile Zola lived for a while…

The street goes as far as to rue Cardinet and the new park ”Clichy-Batignolles-Martin Luther King” (on which I have posted a number of times, see here). On the corner is installed “Institut Vattel”, which offers high (university level) education of hotel/restaurant business (with a restaurant, where the students prove their skills).

But, what may be especially interesting is to see who has lived and worked, at least temporarily, along this street.

Starting with no. 1 of the street, we learn that the poet Alfred de Vigny (1797-1863) stayed here around 1838, more or less the time when the then famous actress Marie Dorval (closely linked to Georges Sand) was his mistress.

Another poet, Paul Verlaine (1844-96), spent part of his young life at no. 10. Even if you haven’t read his poetry, maybe you have seen the movie with Leonardo di Caprio in the role of his friend Arthur Rimbaud – actually a very complicated friendship. We can see them both in this painting by Henri Fantin-Latour.

Alfred Sisley (1839-99) spent some time at no. 41.  Here you can see him portrayed by his friend Auguste Renoir.

At no. 54 a modern 1970-building now replaces a town house with garden which during WWII was occupied by Nicolas de Staël (1914-55), lent by friends. We can see a family photo from those days. His talented companion Jeannine Guillou (here portrayed by him), who died too young (1946), painted the garden which now is gone. They had some tough years, destroyed the interior of the house in order to get heating material, but received visits by Max Ernst, Picasso, Braque, Juan Gris…

Max Jacob, another poet (1876-1944), close friend of Picasso – especially in Pablos’s young years, but also of a great number of other artists, poets… lived at no. 55 during the years 1928-34. It became a “salon” where artists of all kinds met - musicians, composers, poets, painters, but also e.g. Christian Dior, who those days was still a gallerist, a popular singer like Charles Trenet… Jean Cocteau came frequently.  Arrested in 1944, Max Jacob had just the time to die before being transported to Auschwitz. The portraits of Max Jacob are by Modigliani, but probably already from about 1916.

There are a number of other celebrities who have spent shorter or longer periods of time here, but I haven’t found the street numbers.

Amédée de Noé, better known as “Cham” (1818-79) was a caricaturist who published in the famous illustrated magazine “Charivari” (1832-1937).

Film director Jean Eustache (1938-81) lived here many years, until his death by suicide. He’s especially known for the movie “La Maman et La Putain” with Bernadotte Lafont and, particularly, Jean-Pierre Léaud, known for performing as “Antoine Doinel” in a series of François Truffaut movies. I found a photo of Truffaut, shooting in a window Rue Nollet. In Eustache’s flat? Anyhow they were friends.

Other people who stayed here for shorter or longer periods: The poet Langston Hughes (1902-67), the author Henry Miller (1891-1980) – we are in the Clichy area, the painter Yves Klein (1928-62)…

Barbara (1930-97) songwriter, singer, was born in the crossing street, rue Brochant, but spent her childhood rue Nollet before being forced to leave Paris with her parents during the Nazi occupation. A little alley in the nearby park, Square des Batignolles (“my park”) has received her name. 

To finish this long post, maybe we can listen to her?



A last post from my trip to the south. Montpellier. This was not my first visit to this city, so I neglected a bit the more well-known landmarks, but here are a few views from the central parts, including the new design of the railway station, rooftops, some narrow streets and alleys…

… and the well-visited cafés. The city is full of students. 

Montpellier was as early as the 12th century an important trading centre, known for a tolerant co-habitation between Muslims, Jews, Catholics, Cathares… and, later, Protestants. One of the world’s first universities was created in 1220, best known for its medical faculty. (Bologna, Oxford, Salamanca (a place you must visit, see here), Paris...  were only slightly earlier.)

I had the pleasure to visit one of the relatively few existing harpsichord makers, “Clavecins Martine Argellies”. I learnt a lot about harpsichord manufacturing, the instrument’s history… It would be nice to have one, but you need the space… and the money. 

I got a chance to play for a brief moment, trying to remember my limited harpsichord experience from school (where we were lucky to have one). Here is a recording of one of my favourite harpsichord pieces: 

On a wall of the factory you can find the remains of a "buffet d'eau", a fountain, with the bust of a woman, with a multitude of breasts, one of the images of the deity Artemis (Diana), who was the goddess of hunt, wilderness… but also of childbirth. Originally it stood in the garden of a maternity, but, without changing place, it was incorporated and thus saved in the wall during the 19th. 

I also went to see what a couple of years ago became a national dancing centre. The buildings used to be an Ursuline Convent, later transformed to prison, to barracks…