What is this?

A very official Paris design with the city motto “Fluctuat nec mergitur” (Tossed by the waves, but not sinking) is to be found on some surprising “boxes” in a few Paris streets.

There used to be some 30 of these. Obviously there are five left. It’s not easy to guess what they are, or were. Well, the answer is - sand boxes.

Looking at the design, it seems obvious that they date from the very early 20th century. Sand was then of course used during some icy or snowy winter days, but it seems that the sand was also used to soak up horse urine and other dirt. Yes, a lot of transport was then still assured by horse carriages.

Most of the horses have disappeared from the Paris streets and for the few frosty days we normally experience in Paris, salt has replaced the sand.

We can hope that the five boxes will remain even if there is no need to put sand in them anymore. Some of them serve today actually as ventilation shafts for some underground installations. Some improved painting might be useful, especially Place de la Reine Astrid? Is there a reason to have them in different colours?


Dior building in protest colours

Since a couple of weeks and in line with their winter collection, the Dior flagship building on Avenue Montaigne is coloured with a number of protest messages. “Non, non … et non”, “Youthquake”, “Women Empowerment”, “Human Rights”, “Mini skirts forever”… Some kind of reference to the 50 years since 1968 and obviously also in line with the MeToo movement. For the first time, a lady, Maria Grazia Chiuri, is in charge of the Dior collections (since 2016).

We find the same messages, more or less in line with the collection, in the show windows.


A concert

I spent last Saturday afternoon attending a rehearsal by some friends, who the following day were giving a concert at the “Parc Floral” in the “Bois de Vincennes”. They are three friends who met in Budapest some two years ago and play together under the name of “L’air du temps”: Marine Park (piano), living in Paris but born in Korea, Siem Huijsman (cello), living close to Amsterdam and Fréderic Planchon (violin), living in Lyon. After the rehearsal, we made a short walk and ended up in my little garden with some champagne.

The following day, last Sunday, I went to the “Parc Floral” quite early in the morning, passed in front of the Vincennes Castle and found the garden with a lot of geese, some waterlilies…

… and the pavilion, “la scène amateurs”, where the concert was to be given at noon, of course with the friends again rehearsing. This is part of a musical program under the name “Classique au vert”, sponsored by the City of Paris and which offers concerts all weekends between August 11 and September 2 (see here). It gives – also - opportunities for very qualified “amateurs” to perform.

So, at noon, we were a few dozens who had the pleasure to listen to our friends. They played very successfully (ovation by the end) works by Beethoven, Schubert, Brahms and Mendelssohn (with Schubert as a “bis”).

Please double-click for a little extract... (Schubert)

I have already posted about the “Bois de Vincennes” here, here and here, about the “Parc Floral” here, about the Vincennes Castle here


深み - Fukami

A friend, Wanda, drew my attention to an event, FUKAMI, a word which obviously means depth or deepness in Japanese. This is an exhibition which is part of different events which will celebrate the 160th anniversary of the diplomatic relations between Japan and France. The exhibition, which ends in a few days, mixes old and contemporary art and also shows the influence of Japanese art on Western art.

This exhibition takes place at the Hôtel Salomon de Rothschild in the 8th arrondissement. Maybe first a few words about the building. It was built in 1872-78 for the widow of Rothschild banker. At her death in 1922 the property was bequeathed to the French State. Today, some cultural administrations occupy the building. The garden in front is open to public. Here some views of the “hôtel” (private mansion), outside and inside.

It may be interesting to know that Honoré de Balzac (1799-1850) had a simple home and spent his last days here. The building disappeared during the construction of the “hôtel”, but Balzac has his statue on the square in front of the garden.  The statue was created by Alexandre Falguière (1831-1900) (see previous post), but executed after his death. Rodin’s proposal was refused (but was accepted later and can be seen elsewhere in Paris).  We can also note that the French President Paul Doumer (1857-1932) was shot and killed in the “hôtel” when he attended the opening of a book fair. Several shots were fired by an obviously mentally unstable Russian emigrant.

Reverting to the exhibition. Here are a few examples of what can be seen - different samples of Japanese art, ancient and contemporary. The top picture shows a carpet, especially made for the exhibition. You are actually allowed to walk on it (with cleaned shoes).  You can read more about it all on the official site, here.

Examples of the influence on Western art can also be seen. There are a number of engravings by one of the Japanese masters, Hokusai (1780-1849). We know how he and other Japanese artists had great influence on the impressionists and post impressionists, partly thanks to “Père Tanguy”. I talked about it here and here.
We can also see a number of wood engravings by Paul Gauguin (1848-1903). 


Greenhouses - Jardin des Plantes

When I recently visited the « Jardin des Plantes » to have a look on the newly renovated « Gloriette de Buffon », see preceding post, I also decided, for the first time, to visit the greenhouses – the temperature and the humidity that August day was about the same in- as outside.

The squarer and higher ones were built 1834-36, the architect was Charles Rouault de Fleury (1801-75). The use of steel and glass was of course quite innovative and it may be interesting to notice that these buildings are about 20 years older than the famous Baltard pavilions.

The lower, rounder, pavilions were added about 100 years later (1934-37, architect René-Félix Berger, 1878-1954). All the pavilions were renovated during the years 2005-10.

I’m not going to try to describe which plants you may see, just too many to be mentioned in a “normal” post.  Here are just a few examples of what it all looks like inside.

There are of course a few thousands of plants and species to be found also outside in the park. Here are just two examples.


The "Gloriette de Buffon"

In a post about “Le Jardin des Plantes” some two years ago (see here) I mentioned that the “Gloriette de Buffon” was in bad shape and was in heavy need of restoration. Money was collected and the belvedere is now again in very good shape.

The “Jardin des Plantes” opened to public already during the 17th century and has since of course been considerably modified during the centuries with several museums, a little zoo…. This is my sixth post about  the "Jardin".

The “Gloirette” dates from 1788 (!!!) and stands on the top of a little artificial hill, actually and originally a medieval waste dump – the belvedere was preceded by a wind mill. The “Gloriette” is considered to be one of world’s oldest pure metallic structures (about a century before Eiffel) and was definitely worth being saved.

The design was made by an architect (Edme Verniquet, 1727-1804) and was actually executed by the park’s locksmith. The metal came from the “Great Buffon Forge”, created in 1768 by Count Buffon (Georges-Louis Buffon, 1707-88), who was also a leading naturalist and who become director of the “Jardin”. The belvedere was completed the year of Buffon’s death and it was obvious that the “Gloriette” should be linked to his name.

Buffon’s statue is of course to be found in the park. Buffon is a name that today, at least for a Parisian, makes you rather and spontaneously think of Gianluigi Buffon, considered as one of the greatest goalkeepers of all time, who just joined the Paris football / soccer team, PSG. (No statue yet.)

The inscription “Horas non numero nisi serenas”, I count only the hours that are serene, can now again be read. This Latin motto can be seen on a number of monuments around the world and is in general linked to a sun dial. On top of the “Gloriette” there used to a mechanism, long since lost, where a magnifying glass and a wick made a bell ring at noon (on a sunny day).

It may be interesting to know that the word “gloriette” has its origin from an old 12th century French word “gloire”, meaning a little room, and is supposed to be a building in a garden on an elevated site, respecting the surroundings.

The “Gloriette” is overlooking a cedar of Lebanon, which was planted here in 1734, 54 years before the construction of the “Gloreitte”.     


Family holidays...

Back from family holidays. This year we didn’t go abroad, but found a house in the south of France, in Provence, not far from Avignon. We stayed in a small village, named Althen-les-Paluds. The house and pool were very nice., Maybe not so much to tell about the village, except that it’s named after an agronomist, Jean Althen (1709-74), born in Persia, who after 15 years in slavery, managed to escape… and he’s finally especially known for having developed the cultivation of madder in France. “Paluds” is an old French word for marsh. I show one picture of a cicada, so typical for the region, and one picture of a red, blood moon. July 27 was the date for the longest lunar eclipse of the century.

We spent most of our time doing “nothing”, but there is so much to see in a short distance within the region, so…

I have already talked about Arles several times (see here)…, about its Roman arena, theatre, aqueduct… about its link to van Gogh… and some other personalities like Frédéric Mistral, Christian Lacroix, Jeanne Calment (the oldest – documented - human being, who died in 1997, 122 years old), the photographer Lucien Clergue… who leads us to the fact that Arles has become some kind of a world capital of photography with the French national school of photography and, since 1970, three yearly months of photo exhibitions, “Les rencontres de la photographie”. Some abandoned railway warehouses and repair shops are under the name of “LUMA Arles” transformed to an Arts Resource Centre (workshops, seminar rooms, exhibition space…) with Frank Gehry as an architect, to open in 2020.

Avignon is of course known as a papal city (14th century), for its 12th century (half) bridge on the Rhone River (and the famous song – “Sur le pont…”), for its festival…     

The beautiful village Les-Baux-de-Provence has some 20 residents – and some 1.5 million visitors per year. The place has been inhabited for some 6.000 years. The fortress was built starting in the 11th century and was the home of the princes of Baux, who controlled the whole of Provence. It became part of France during the Middle Ages – and was in 1642 offered to the Grimaldi family – The Prince of Monaco is still also Marquis of Baux. Bauxite got its name from Baux and was for a long time intensively mined until exhaustion. The “Carrières de Lumières” offers a giant multimedia show, using the walls, floors and ceilings of a giant abandoned quarry, run by the same organisation which now offers a similar show in Paris (see here). At present the show is dedicated to Picasso and some preceding Spanish masters.

Below the village is a valley, referred to as the “Val d’Enfer”, the hell valley… and, without any proof, it has been said, that Dante Alighieri referred to this place in his Divine Comedy.

The regional department Vaucluse got its name from this little village. “Vallis Clausa” in Latin, the closed valley, became Vaucluse, and the village is now called La-Fontaine-de-Vaucluse. La Fontaine, the fountain, because the water of the River Sorgue comes out of an underground spring, with an important flood especially during March-April. The place was the preferred residence of the poet Petrarch during the 14th century … and he has now his museum here.    

Gordes counts among the most beautiful French villages, situated in the Regional Nature Park of Luberon. It has attracted artists like Marc Chagall, Serge Poliakoff, Vasarely… The fountain, which we can see on the little square on the top picture, is referred to already in 1342 and was for long the village’s only water source. This is where we had our lunch … and had not only water to drink.

The Sorgue River, which thus has its source in La-Fontaine-de-Vaucluse, is passing through this charming little town, L’Isle-sur-la-Sorgue. The river is divided in a number of branches and the city has a number of small islands, which gave it its name, originally “Insula”. The riverside is full of bars and restaurants, the town hosts galleries and antique shops.

Visiting Pernes-les-Fontaines you can admire the 15th-16th century fortifications, a number of fountains and enjoy some nice eating places.

We did not spend much time in Saint-Rémy-de-Provence this time (have been there before), just a short stop for some refreshments. So, we did not visit the old Roman city of Glanum, nor the Saint-Paul asylum where van Gogh spent a year and produced many of his most famous paintings. We just briefly saw the house where Nostradamus was born, the Hôtel de Sade….  

We had our pool, but there was a wish to try the real sea. So we made it a day at Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer. The place is of course known for the three Marys. In the 15th century one discovered the relics of Mary of Clopas and Mary Salome, who were said to have arrived here from Alexandria, together with Mary Magdalene – the three women supposed to have been the first witnesses to the empty tomb. The town is a pilgrimage destination for the Gypsies, who gather annually for a festival of the dark-skinned Saint Sarah, possibly the servant of the three Marys. The church which holds the relics and the statues of the Marys was built from the 9th to the 12th century. (Well, let’s here forget the versions of Mary Magdalene as married to Jesus, carrying his child… )

A last place… Vaison-la-Romaine, full of Roman ruins, including the two thousand year old bridge, still in use for local traffic between the upper and lower parts of the town. The town became famous in 1992, when a sudden flood reached higher than the bridge we can see on the photo. The upper part of the town is just beautiful… and in the background you can see the 1.912 m (6.300 ft) high Mont Ventoux. Actually, we could see it also from the house we rented.

This was a long post … I will have to take a few days off.