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Project 365 – Week 37

I must be out of my mind. I’ve signed up for online courses that are starting pretty much at the same time as my main vacation this year. Since this is my first dip into such uncharted territory, I am not sure how much commitment would be required of me. Not only that, I have also planned for a fortnight of internet detox, so that’s unlikely going to be helpful either!

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Hôtel de Ville

9 Sep: The parvis of Hôtel de Ville is always busy. Centrally located, it is subject to tens of thousand pairs of footsteps daily, and yet rather curiously, I hardly go anywhere near it unless I’m searching for an ice cream fix. More specifically, when I want some delicious gelato of Pozzetto. I grumbled that the building is too large to be photographed (come to think of it, I don’t think I have ever posted a photo of it in this blog…) but frankly, I should have tried harder. How about starting with just a little part of it for now?

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The 300 steps of Tour St Jacques

For a very long time, the Tour St Jacques (i.e. St James’ Tower) had been under scaffolds for restoration works. It wasn’t until shortly before my move to Paris that it emerged cleaned and repaired to the eyes of the public. However, access to the tower itself remained elusive. No more. Between 5 July and 15 September this summer, every Friday, Saturday and Sunday, visitors can ascend this former bell tower to the church of St-Jacques-de-la-Boucherie via some 300 spiral stairs to the open summit, but only if you are quick enough to book a spot among the 136 per day.

Dedicated to St James, the detroyed church and its tower form part of the landmarks on the French pilgrimage route of El Camino de Santiago. This tower that measures about 12m by 12m in base dimension and attains 62m in height (including that of the statue of St James on its pedestal) is the sole structure within the heart of Paris where a complete 360° panoramic view is on offer. A summer day blighted by heatwave may be unappealing as a day to work those gluts and go all the way up, but the effort is richly rewarded.

Tour St Jacques

Tour St Jacques

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Paris and Sempé

Several times a year, the Hôtel de Ville in Paris plays host to exhibitions that are free for all visitors, proudly showing off the connections between the featured exhibitions and the city itself. If you’re lucky to be around when two exhibitions are running concurrently (i.e. one at Salon d’accueil which entrance is on 29 rue de Rivoli, one at Salle Saint-Jean which entrance is on 3-5 rue de Lobau) you could easily see both, one after another.

The latest exhibition organised by the Mairie de Paris flaunts the illustrative talent and humour of Jean-Jacques Sempé. I managed to contain my (considerable) excitement and eventually queued up for the exhibition a week after its opening, first thing on a Saturday morning, along with a (not-so) secret partner in crime. ;)

I first got to know Sempé’s work through another exhibition at the Hôtel de Ville itself, back in 2009. I happened to be passing the city and managed to squeeze in the exhibition of Le Petit Nicolas on its last day. (Over at Salle Saint-Jean, an exhibition on Gustav Eiffel was attracting the crowd with its longer queue.) In case you wonder, Petit Nicolas is a series of children’s books which I quite like and they make good reading materials for non-fluent non-Francophones like me. The author René Goscinny (of the Astérix fame) enlisted Sempé to visually bring the characters to life with simple (mostly) single panel drawings. I remember leaving the exhibition smiling wistfully to myself, such was my enjoyment of these imaginative and story-rich oeuvres.

Sempé not only provided illustrative works for these books, but is humourist in his own right. With a few clever strokes and glibly-filled speech bubbles, Monsieur Lambert was born. Throughout his career, he also sketched the lives of Parisians and New Yorkers, sometimes with teeming crowd, other times with elegant single lines which cleverly create the silhouettes he intended them to be. Even his “silent” drawings tell you more than a thousand words, often leaving you chuckling, softly or right out loud.

Many a cover of The New Yorker magazine have been created by Sempé. The photo above is a mere collage of four covers which I managed to sneakily photograph during the exhibition – moi la rebelle quoi ;) – there were dozens more from over a hundred commissioned. Overall, with some over 300 pieces of his work on display in this exhibition, it does take a little time to go from one drawing to another, some coloured, some in black and white. I even bought the exhibition’s companion coffee table book so I can peruse through them in my own time at home.

If you want to know what Sempé has sketched of Paris, my advice would be to see them for yourself. Get to the Hôtel de Ville early in the morning so avoid having to queue outside for too long (this winter may have been mild but standing outside for more than 20-30 minutes could quickly turns unpleasant and chilly) and to enjoy the exhibition without having to jostle with the other enthusiasts. Especially now that the exhibition is closing soon. In my personal experience, closing exhibits tend to pull crowd in like nobody’s business – a wait of 2-3 hours would not be out of place!

Sempé, un peu de Paris et d’ailleurs has been in exhibit since 21 October 2011 and is due to end on 11 February 2012. Just a month to go peeps! Open daily except Sundays and public holidays, from 10am to 7pm (last admisssion 6.30pm).

Day 187: Le jardin des éphémères

Just recently I blogged about tennis-themed set up at the parvis in front of the Hôtel de Ville, but as Roland Garros moves on, the same large space undergoes a rather magical transformation into an ephemeral garden for the summer. Every year, a different garden is constructed, and this year, Anamorphosis is brought to life by François Abelanet.

Walking around the garden, each step brings forth a new perspective, a trompe-l’œil, thus a continuous source of fascination. There’s even a view point platform built, but the queue was a tad too long for me to want to join in. I may wait for another day, perhaps early in the morning or a sunnier day, to explore further.

Addendum: … or not. The garden has moved on before I have time for a second go, booo.

Day 149: Tenez!

It’s time for tennis fever around here, with French Open currently taking place at Roland Garros. The festivities around the event must also be celebrated in the city, so right outside of Hôtel de Ville, a whole tennis-centric arena has been set up. From beach tennis to games for youth to large screen that transmits live matches, on a sunny day like today, it makes an overall good day out for everyone.

Around the city, in parks where tennis courts are available for public use, they’re certainly being booked pretty solidly at the moment. In part, it’s the Roland Garros effect. On the other hand, the weather has been obliging of late so why not take advantage of the nice warm day for a few outdoor matches? The municipal tennis courts can even be booked online, at €7.50 per hour at regular rate (€55 for subscription of 10 hours of usage). At Cité U, residents seem to be able to get a monthly rate of €20 for unlimited use but the information on the website is not entirely clear (well, to me anyway – clearly I still have a long way to go in learning and using French).

Day 115: Les impressionnistes at Hôtel de Ville

The Mairie of Paris organises a number of exhibitions every year, housed within the Hôtel de Ville. They are often interesting, and it shows, given the long queues to visit the exhibits. An hour or so of waiting is not unusual. I have, in the past, explored a number of exhibitions, including one of Petit Nicolas. (Don’t know who Petit Nicolas is? Check the Wiki.) Needless to say, I enjoyed them very much.

Two exhibitions are running at the moment, one of which I saw last week – Paris: at the time of the Impressionists. The collection came from Musée d’Orsay (possibly my favourite museum in the city – yes, more than Louvre) and have not often been on display, so it’s a gem to behold even if the number of exhibits are limited. So much so that I bought postcards to some of these masterpieces.

The exhibition runs from 12 April to 30 July 2011, and opens daily from 10am to 7pm (last admission 6.15pm) except Sunday and public holidays. Entry is free.

Day 104: Trusty steed

In history, a chevalier would never go without his trusty steed, usually a beauty with incomparable loyalty. Or so the romance novels had me believe. It is no wonder then, statues of men who are deemed leaders and heroes are normally depicted on the horseback, sword-yielding and all. Even the word chevalier itself, used to mean a knight, is of French origin with its root lies in the word cheval, i.e. horse.

Adjacent to the Hôtel de Ville, the statue of Étienne Marcel looking out to River Seine can hardly be missed. Looking from the side, it looks almost mundane but looking up from underneath, it always strikes me how magnificent the horse looks, and in part, rather menacing too. I have never felt the urge to look at sculptures this way (there are a lot of equestrian statues in Paris) but perhaps it’s the nature of this particular one which juts out over the footpath – it opens up an accidental opportunity to see the statue differently?

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