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11.7.04

Telemachia

One element that almost all books about Paris have in common is the love of walking around this city (la balade) and especially walking around without any real purpose or destination (la flânerie). François Villon, Charles Baudelaire, Guillaume Apollinaire, Ernest Hemingway, Louis Aragon, Henry Miller (see Paris Reading Project list in the right column) have all written about it, to name only a few. Joyce, too, evidently enjoyed walking around without a purpose (apparently how he ran into Hemingway one day, as described in A Moveable Feast), and most of Ulysses is about wandering characters (through a city, of course, a pale imitation of the wider meandering of Odysseus). On every visit here, during the times I have nothing to do but wander, I have learned something new about Paris. I am staying right now in the 9th arrondissement, by pure chance across from the apartment building where the composer Georges Bizet was born (26, rue de la Tour d’Auvergne).

Yesterday, I walked down to the Boulevard Haussmann in search of a WiFi hotspot, and wandered up and down the Boulevard des Italiens and into the little Rue des Italiens, looking for a dive called Le Trou dans le Mur (The hole in the wall) described by Hemingway in A Moveable Feast. As I suspected, it doesn't exist anymore. I went to the Bibliothèque nationale, the old buildings on the Rue de Richelieu, to renew my carte de lecteur so I can get some research done, and I saw the photographs from August 1944 at the Bourse, in front of the Agence France-Press building (see post on June 14). That was not all that interesting, as there are only three columns with a few photographs. I did learn that the major exhibit of those photographs (Août 1944: Paris insurgé, Paris libéré) can be seen at the Mémorial Leclerc/Musée Jean Moulin, by the Gare de Montparnasse, until April 5, 2005. There are other columns, too, all around Paris.

Wandering in the 5th, I happened upon the Polly Maggoo, where I found a great WiFi signal. (It's in a new location, for anyone who knew that bar in its last incarnation, further from the river on the Rue Saint-Jacques. WiFi signals are notoriously unreliable, and many of the McDo WiFi hotspots do not work. The McDo by the Métro stop at Cadet in the 9th has always worked, as has the one in the 5th on Boulevard St-Germain, but neither of the ones on the Boulevard Haussmann have worked for me. Even the one at the Polly Maggoo did not work the last time I tried it.) They are doing some renovation work on the Église Saint-Sévérin on that street. The 5th and the 6th are neighborhoods that still maintain in part the character of medieval Paris, the way the city was before it was modernized and opened up with broad avenues by Baron Haussmann.

I then wandered toward the Seine from the Polly Maggoo, over the Petit-Pont, where I had a stunning view of the façade of Notre-Dame, gleaming white from its ongoing cleaning, in the evening sunlight. This was particularly welcome since, as usual, the weather has been what forecasters here call un ciel variable, meaning that it rains like hell on and off throughout the day, in alternation with fine weather (quelques éclaircissements, the meteorologists say). From the island, I wandered aimlessly by the Châtelet and through Les Halles. I am not too worried about the plans to build something new there, since I find it highly unlikely that they could construct anything uglier than the shopping center there now.

Centre Pompidou, ParisOne place I just love, not far from Les Halles, where I wandered on Sunday, is the Centre Pompidou. This quirky building, designed by Renzo Piano and Richard Rodgers, has the remarkable quality, not common to all modernist architecture, of still looking daring and beautiful, at least to me. I came to see the art exhibits, but I found myself wandering into the Public Library here, on one of the upper floors, where there are stacks of books and other resources, computers, work tables, and all sorts of wonderful stuff, all for free. The Centre doesn't have its own WiFi yet (only a matter of time, I'm sure), but I am getting a weak signal from another location, by which I am able to post this. It may be coming from somewhere in the 3rd arrondissement, where the mayor (each district of Paris has its own local mayor) has pledged to put in place a free WiFi available throughout the entire arrondissement, beginning with his own Mairie (town hall), where there is one set up.

I have been working the past couple days at the Richelieu site of the Bibliothèque nationale. Going back and forth, I have just been walking along every possible trajectory, which is not only good exercise but a form of tourism. I happened to wander right by the Drouot auction house (mentioned in my post on July 6), and I discovered that as you stand on the Rue Drouot next to that building and look up the street to the north, there is a stunning view of Sacré-Cœur on Montmartre, seemingly perched on top of an apartment building in the distance.

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