Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Jardin des Plantes

Jardin des Plantes
The following is excerpted from "Paris: With Pen and Pencil, Its People and Literature, Its Life and Business", by David W. Bartlett

The Jardin des Plantes in the summer is one of the favorite resorts of Parisians, and although I frequented the spot, I never left it without a wonder that so much is thrown open free to the public. This is a remarkable feature of Paris and French institutions and public buildings. If possible, that which the people wish to see they can see for nothing. Painting-galleries, gardens, churches, and lectures are open to the crowd. This is in striking contrast with London. There nothing is free. The stranger pays to go over Westminster Abbey and St. Paul's. He cannot see anything without paying half a crown for the sight. To look at a virgin or butler is worth at least a shilling.

The stranger usually enters the Jardin des Plantes by the eastern gate. The gallery of zoology is seen at the other end of the garden, while on either hand are beautiful avenues of lime trees. Beyond, on the right, is the menagerie, and on the left is a large collection of forest trees. Scattered all around in the open space, are beds containing all manner of medicinal and other plants from all parts of the earth. This part of the garden is to the botanist a very interesting spot. The flowering-shrubs are surrounded by a rail fence, and the level of the ground is sunk beneath that of other parts of the garden. There is a special "botanical garden," which is much frequented by students. On another avenue there are plantations of forest shrubs, and near them a café to accommodate visitors. Then stretching still further on, are new geological, mineralogical, and botanical galleries, all warmed in winter and summer, if necessary, by hot water, and capable of receiving the tallest tropical plants. Between the conservatories there are two beautiful mounds—one a labyrinth, and the other a collection of fir-trees. The labyrinth is one of the best and most beautiful I ever saw, far surpassing the celebrated one at Hampton court. The mound is of a conical shape, and is completely covered by winding and intricate paths. The whole is surmounted by a splendid cedar of Lebanon. On the summit there are also seats covered with a bronze pavilion, and taking one of them the visitor can look over all the garden portions of Paris, and several of the villages near Paris. It is an exquisite view, and I know of no greater pleasure in the hot months than after walking over the garden to ascend the labyrinth and sit down in the cool shade of the pavilion, and watch the people wandering over the gardens, Paris, and the country. The western mound is a nursery of fir-trees, every known kind being collected there. There is another inclosure entered by a door at the foot of this mound, which in warm weather contains some of the most beautiful trees of New Holland, the Cape of Good Hope, Asia Minor, and the coast of Barbary. The amphitheater is here, also, where all the lectures are delivered. It will hold twelve hundred students but more than that number contrive to hear the lectures. In the enclosure there are twelve thousand different kinds of plants, and at the door stand two very beautiful Sicilian palms more than twenty-five feet in height.

The menagerie of the garden is one of the finest in the world, and is in some respects like the menagerie in London, though arranged with more taste. The cages are scattered over a large inclosure, and it seems like wandering over a forest and meeting the animals in their native wilds. After passing beneath the boughs of dark trees, it is startling to look up and see a Bengal tiger within a few feet of you, though he is caged, or to walk on further still, and confront a leopard. This part of the garden is a continual source of amusement to the younger portions of the community of Paris, to say nothing of the children of larger growth.

The cabinet of comparative anatomy is one of the finest parts of the garden, and we owe its excellence mainly to the great exertions of Cuvier. Every department is scientifically arranged, and the whole form, perhaps, the best collection of anatomical specimens in the world. In the first room are skeletons of the whale tribe, and many marine animals; in the next, are skeletons of the human species from every part of the globe. A suite of eleven rooms is taken up for the anatomy of birds, fishes, and reptiles. Several rooms are taken up with the exhibition of the muscles of all animals, including man. Others exhibit arms and legs; others still, brains and eyes, and the different organs of the body all arranged together, distinct from the remaining parts of the frame. In one room there is a singular collection of skulls of men from all countries, of all ages, and conditions. Celebrated murderers here are side by side with men of ancient renown.

The gallery of zoology is three hundred and ninety feet in length, and fronts the east end of the garden. The other galleries are all equally spacious and well arranged.

The library is composed of works on natural history, and it is an unrivaled collection. It contains six thousand drawings, thirty thousand volumes, and fifteen thousand plants. This fine library is free on certain days to the world.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Paris by Metro

Paris metro mapParis has an excellent underground train system, known as the Métro (short for Chemin de Fer Métropolitain i.e. Metropolitan Railways). Although you will probably take the RER subway train from the airport to Paris, don't be confused: RER isn't the name for "French subway train", and only a few large stations service the RER network of trains. You'll want to look for the Métro stations, marked with a large "M" sign.

There are 16 Métro lines (lignes) (1-14, 3bis and 7bis) on which trains travel all day at intervals of a few minutes between 5 AM and 12:30AM (Saturday night/Sunday morning: 01:30), stopping at all stations on the line. Times for trains can be seen on an electronic scrollboard above the platform. Line 14, which is fully automated, is called the Méteor. Scheduled times for first and last trains are posted in each station on the center sign.

The lines are named according to the names of their terminal stations (those at the end of the line). If you ask the locals about directions they will answer something like : take line number n toward "end station 1", change at "station", take the line nn toward "end station 2" etc. The lines are also color-coded.

In addition there are 5 train lines called RER A, B, C, D, E. RER trains run at intervals of about 6 - 7 minutes, and stop at every station within Paris. Although a regular subway ticket can be used within Paris (Zone 1), it is necessary to pass the ticket through the turnstile when passing between the subway and the RER lines, as the two systems are separate networks. This ticket is necessary to both enter and exit the RER networks, as the RER trains travel on to the Parisian suburbs, outside the zone where a regular subway ticket can be used. Beware that traveling outside the city center without a valid RER ticket will get you fined, and the packs of inspectors who roam the system show no mercy to tourists pleading ignorance. In particular, CDG airport is not within the city, and you'll need to purchase a more expensive RER ticket to get there (see Get in).

For travel outside of the Paris zone, the train arrival times are shown on a monitor hanging from the ceiling inside the RER station above the platform. Information about the stops to be made by the next train is presented on a separate board also hanging from the ceiling. It is important to check this board before boarding the train, as not all trains make stops at all stations on a given line.

RATP is responsible for public transport including metro, buses, and some of the high speed inter-urban trains (RER). The rest of the RER is operated by SNCF. However, both companies take the same tickets, so the difference is of little interest for most people except in case of strikes (because RATP may strike while SNCF does not, or the other way round). Current fares can be found at their website. Basically, as you move further from Paris (ie into higher zones), tickets get more expensive.

For the subway, a single ticket (ticket t+) costs €1.50; however, it is generally not advisable to buy tickets by the unit and to rather purchase a carnet of ten tickets, which can be bought for €11.10 at any station, that will bring the price per ticket down to €1.11. Tickets, named 'Tarif Reduit' may be purchased for children under the age of 10 for €0,55 each, or a carnet for €5,50. Both tickets are valid for unlimited metro, RER, bus and tram transfers during one hour. Tickets do not expire.

A 1-day ticket, a weekly pass, and a monthly pass are also available. The price varies according to the zones for which the ticket can be used. The cheapest 1-day ticket called Mobilis, is valid for zones 1-2, with a price of 5.60 euros. Once bought, it is necessary to write in the spaces provided on the ticket: 1) the date the ticket is being used in European notation of day/month/year (Valable le), 2) the last name (Nom), and 3) and the first name (Prénom). Unfortunately, this ticket is not valid for use for travel to/from Charles de Gaulle airport.

If you're staying a bit longer, the weekly and monthly passes are called Carte Orange (1 week pass, €16.30 for Paris and inner suburbs), and the monthly Carte Orange Mensuelle (1 month pass). Note that an Hebdomadaire (eb-DOH-ma-DAYR) starts on Mondays and a Mensuelle on the first of the month. The Carte Orange is non-transferrable, and therefore requires the user to provide information on the pass after the sale. Since 2008, the Carte Orange is sold as refill of a "Navigo Decouverte" no contact pass. This pass is sold for 5€. You must write your last name (nom), your first name (prénom) and stick your photo on the nominative card. After, you have to refill your pass with a Carte Orange Hebdomadaire (1 week pass), or a Carte Orange Mensuelle (1 month pass). You have to choose at least two of the contiguous "zones" : Paris is first the zone 1, La Défense is in the third zone, Versailles in the fourth,... Everything related to a "Navigo" pass is in purple (eg. the target for the pass in the turnstiles).

Although not as good a deal for adults in most cases as the Mobilis or Carte Orange, there are also 1 to 5 day tourist passes, called Paris Visite available, which are a bargain for kids of ages 4 to 11, starting at €4.25 per day for travel within zones 1-3.

Keep your métro ticket or pass with you at all times, you may be checked or "controlled". You will be cited and forced to pay on the spot. Although the most likely spots for controls are at big métro stations or during métro line change "correspondences", it is not uncommon for "controleurs" to check tickets on trains. RATP agents may be present in the metro stations even on Sunday night.

Métro stations have both ticket windows and automatic vending machines. The majority of automatic vending machines take only coins or European credit cards with a pin-encoded chip on the front. Therefore, to use either Euro bills or a non-European credit card with a magnetic stripe, it is necessary to make the purchase from the ticket window.

If you have any tickets or Carte Orange for zone 1-2 ("inside" Paris area: the lower rate) and want go to La Defense from Chatelet, you have to take the metro (line 1). You can take the RER A (and save a few minutes) but you have to pay an additional fare, because even though you arrive at the same station, the RER exit is supposed to be outside of Paris! On the other hand, métro fares are the same, even in the suburbs. So be careful, there are usually a lot of ticket examiners present when you get off the RER A.

Each station displays a detailed map of the surrounding area with a street list and the location of buildings (monuments, schools, places of worship etc) as well as exits for that particular metro. Maps are located on the platform if the station has several exits or near the exit if there is only one.

When the train arrives, the doors may not open automatically. In such a case, there are handles located both inside and outside the train which you have to push, or unlatch in order to open the door.

Sainte Chapelle

The Sainte Chapelle is one of the finest specimens of florid Gothic architecture in the world. It was erected by St. Louis in 1248, and set apart for the reception of relics bought of the emperor of Constantinople. The Chapelle consists of an upper and a lower chapel—the upper communicating with the old palace of the ancient kings of France. It was formerly appropriated to the king and court. The lower chapel opens into the lower courts of the palace, and was appropriated to the use of the common people in and around the palace. The interior has of late undergone extensive repairs, and it is now thoroughly restored.

The entrance is unpleasant, for it is very narrow—so much so that a good view of the front cannot be had. It has a portico of three Gothic arches with intersecting buttresses, and in connection with lateral buttresses there are two spiral towers with spiral stair-cases. Between the towers there is a splendid circular window, which was constructed by Charles VIII. The spires of the church are octagonal, and are adorned with mouldings and traceries, and also at about half-height with a crown of thorns. The different sides of the Chapelle are in the same style—with buttresses between the windows, gables surmounting these, and a fine open parapet crowning all. The roof is sloping, and the height is over a hundred feet. The spire measures, from the vaulting, seventy feet. We entered by a stair-case the upper chapel, and an exquisite view presented itself. A single apartment, a half-circular chair, with fine, large windows, detached columns with bases and capitals, and fine groining—these all strike the eye of the visitor as he crosses the threshold. The whole is gorgeously painted and interspersed with fleur de lis. In the nave there is a carved wooden stair-case of the thirteenth century. The windows are filled with stained glass of 1248, which has escaped destruction during two great revolutions.

Near the altar there is a side chapel, to which access is had from below. Here Louis XI. used to come, amid the choicest relics, and say his prayers. Some of the relics are still preserved, and consist of a crown of thorns, a piece of the cross upon which Christ was crucified, and many antique gems. The Chapelle and the relics cost Louis two millions eight hundred thousand francs—the relics alone costing an enormous amount.

There was a richly endowed chapter in connection with the Chapelle and what is a little singular, the head of it became renowned for his litigous disposition. The poet Boileau, in Lutrin, satirized this character—and was, after death, buried in the lower chapel.

At the time of the great revolution, this ancient and beautiful building escaped destruction by its conversion by the government into courts of justice. The internal decorations were, however, many of them destroyed. The church, as it exists now, in a state of complete restoration, is one of the finest church interiors in Paris, and the best specimen of its peculiar kind of architecture in the world.

Adapted from "Paris, with Pen and Pencil", by David W. Bartlett (available at Project Gutenberg)

Thursday, July 31, 2008

The Madeleine Church (l'Eglise de la Madeleine)

Paris Madeleine ChurchThe following is adapted from "Paris, with Pen and Pencil", by David W. Bartlett:

The Madeleine looks little like a church to the stranger, but more like a magnificent Grecian temple.

An edifice was erected on the spot where the Madeleine stands, in 1659, by Mademoiselle d'Orleans. That building was soon found to be too small for the accommodation of the people in its neighborhood, and in 1764, the present building was commenced by the architect of the duke of Orleans. The revolution put an end for a time to the work upon the church, but Napoleon, after his Prussian campaign, determined to dedicate the Madeleine as a Temple of Glory, "to commemorate the achievements of the French arms, and to have on its columns engraved the names of all those who had died fighting their country's battles."

But Napoleon's plans were frustrated, and in 1815 Louis XVIII. restored the building to its original destination, and ordered that monuments should be erected in it to Louis XVI., Marie Antoinette, Louis XVII., and Mme. Elizabeth. The revolution of 1830, however, interrupted this work, and it was not till the reign of Louis Phillippe, that it was completed. The entire cost of the Madeleine was two millions six hundred and fifteen thousand and eight hundred dollars. It stands on a raised platform, three hundred and twenty-eight feet long and one hundred and thirty-eight broad, and has at each end an approach consisting of twenty-eight steps, the entire length of the facade. The architecture is Grecian, a colonnade of fifty-two Corinthian columns entirely surrounding the building, giving to it a grandeur of appearance to which few structures in Europe attain. Between the columns there are niches, and a row of colossal statues stand in them. They represent St. Bernard, St. Raphael, and a score of others. The colonnade is surmounted by a beautiful piazza, and a cornice adorned with lion's heads and palm leaves.

On entering the Madeleine, the magnificent organ meets the eye of the visitor. On the right, there is a chapel for marriages, with a sculptural group upon it, representing the marriage of the Virgin. On the left, there is a baptismal font, with a sculptured group, representing Christ and St. John at the waters of the Jordan. There are twelve confessionals along the chapels, which, together with the pulpit, are carved out of oak. The walls of the church are lined with the finest marbles, and each chapel contains a statue of the patron saints. The architecture of the interior it is useless for me to attempt to sketch, it is in such a profusely ornamented style. Fine paintings adorn the different chapels. One represents Christ preaching, and the conversion of Mary Magdalene; another the Crucifixion; still another, the supper at Bethany, with the Magdalene at the feet of her Lord. Over the altar there is a very fine painting by Ziegler, which intends to illustrate, by the representation of persons, the events which, in the world's history, have added most to propagate the christian religion, and to exhibit its power over men.

At the southern end, in the center, is a figure of Christ; the Magdalene is beneath in a suppliant attitude; while He is pardoning her sins. On the right hand the angel of Pity gazes down upon the poor woman, with a look of deep satisfaction. On the other hand is the figure of Innocence, surrounded by the angels, Faith, Hope, and Charity. In the angle of the pediment is the figure of an angel greeting the new-born spirit, and raising his hand, points to the place prepared for him in heaven.

On the left of the pediment the angel of Vengeance is repelling the Vices. Hatred is there with swollen features; Unchastity, with disheveled hair and negligent dress, clings to her guilty paramour; Hypocrisy, with the face of a young woman, a mask raised to her forehead, looks down upon the spectator; and Avarice is represented as an old man clinging to his treasures.

The pediment is filled completely by the figure of a demon, which is forcing a damned soul into the abyss of woe. This is the largest sculptured pediment in the world, and occupied more than two years in its execution. The figure of Christ is eighteen feet in length, which will give the reader an idea of the size of the sculpture.

The doors of the Madeleine are worthy of particular notice. They are of bronze, measuring more than thirty feet by sixteen. They are divided into compartments each of which illustrates one of the Ten Commandments. In the first, Moses commands the tables to be obeyed; in the second, the blasphemer is struck; in the third, God reposes after the creation; in the fourth, Joshua punishes the theft of Acham, after the taking of Jericho, etc. etc. The doors were cast in France, and are only surpassed in size by the doors of St. Peter's.

The Magdalene, in a penitent attitude, stands near Christ, while three angels support the cloud upon which she kneels, and a scroll, upon which is written, "She loved much." The Savior holds in his right hand the symbol of redemption, and is surrounded by the apostles. On his left, the history of the early church is illustrated. St. Augustine, the Emperor Constantine, and other personages, are painted. Then follow the Crusades, with St. Bernard and Peter the Hermit, with a group of noblemen following, filled with holy enthusiasm.

The choir of the Madeleine forms a half-circle, and is very richly ornamented. The great altar is splendidly sculptured. The principal group represents the Magdalene in a rapturous posture, borne to heaven on the wings of angels. A tunic is wrapped around her body, and the long hair with which she wiped her Savior's feet. This group of sculpture alone cost one hundred and fifty thousand francs.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Finding an English-Speaking Bank in Paris

All of the firms listed below have at least one employee or agent who can speak and correspond in English (courtesy U.S. Embassy in Paris).

136, avenue des Champs-Elysées, 75008 Paris

14, Place Vendôme 75001 Paris

CITIBANK Tel: 01 53 23 33 60
125 avenue des Champs Elysées 75008 Paris

CREDIT AGRICOLE Tel: 01 43 23 52 02
91-93 Boulevard Pasteur 75015 Paris

103, avenue des Champs-Elysées 75008 Paris

CREDIT LYONNAIS Tel: 01 42 95 70 00
Main Office: 15 Boulevard des Italiens 75002 Paris

LLOYDS BANK Tel: 01 40 82 30 00
15, avenue d'Iena 75016 Paris

20 Place Vendôme 75001 Paris

AMERICAN EXPRESS Fax: 01 42 68 17 17
11, Rue Scribe 75009 Paris

Monday, July 7, 2008

Paris At Visible Earth

The colors of the agricultural fields surrounding Paris are striking in the springtime, even when viewed from a 400 km orbital altitude. Astronauts on board the International Space Station photographed Paris using a digital camera and downlinked the image to the ground.

This photograph of Paris is the latest to be included in a collection of the best photographs of cities taken by astronauts. This “Cities from Space“ collection represents a unique view of cities around the world as they appear from orbit. A new feature has recently been added that allows zooming and panning to interactively view geometrically corrected photos. This feature is available for a related more detailed photograph of Paris taken at the same time by the Space Station Alpha crewmembers.

Saturday, June 7, 2008

Paris Living: Free Paris e-Books at Project Gutenberg

Project Gutenberg is a wonderful web resource for free books. It has some titles that are directly related to Paris, in both English and French. Here' s a list. All are free and public domain.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Greek Mythology in the Tuileries Gardens

The Tuileries Gardens was laid out by the celebrated LE NOTRE in the reign of Louis XIV. The garden is famous for its collection of statues representing Greek mythology. Here's a brief list of the main one.

On the terrace towards the river, are: 1. Venus Anadyomene. 2. An Apollo of Belvedere. 3. The group of Laocoon. 4. Diana, called by antiquaries, Succincta. 5. Hercules carrying Ajax.

In front of the palace: 1. A dying gladiator. 2. A fighting gladiator. 3. The flayer of Marsyas. 4. VENUS, styled à la coquille, crouched and issuing from the bath. N. B. All these figures are in bronze.

In the alley in front of the parterre, in coming from the terrace next the river: 1. Flora Farnese. 2. Castor and Pollux. 3. Bacchus instructing young Hercules. 4. Diana.

On the grass-plot, towards the manège or riding-house, Hippomenes and Atalanta. At the further end is an Apollo, in front of the horse-shoe walk, decorated with a sphynx at each extremity.

In the corresponding gras-plot towards the river, Apollo and Daphne; and at the further end, a Venus Callypyga, or (according to the French term) aux belles fesses.

In the compartment by the horse-chesnut trees, towards the riding-house, the Centaur. On the opposite side, the Wrestlers. Farther on, though on the same side, an Antinoüs.

In the niche, under the steps in the middle of the terrace towards the river, a Cleopatra.

In the alley of orange-trees, near the Place de la Concorde, Meleager; and on the terrace, next to the riding-house, Hercules Farnese.

In the niche to the right, in front of the octagonal basin, a Faun carrying a kid. In the one to the left, Mercury Farnese.

English-Speaking Bookstores in Paris

Here's a list of Parisian bookstores that speak English (from the US Embassy website):

Abbey Bookshop, 29, rue de la Parcheminerie, 75005 Paris Tel: 01-46-33-16-24
Bookmaster (mail order only) Tel: 01-47-14-04-24
Brentano's, 37, avenue de l'Opera, 75002 Paris Tel: 01-42-61-52-50
Galignani, 224, rue de Rivoli, 75001 Paris Tel: 01-42-60-76-07
Gibert Joseph, 26 Blvd Saint-Michel, 75006 Paris Tel: 01-46 34-21 41
Golden Books, 3, rue de Larochelle, 75014 Paris Tel: 01-43-22-38-56
La Hune 170, Blvd Saint-Germain, 75006 Paris Tel: 01-45-48-35-85
Nouveau Quartier Latin (NQL), 78, Blvd Saint-Michel, 75006 Paris Tel: 01-43-26-42-70
San Francisco Book Company, 17, rue Monsieur le Prince, 75006 Paris Tel: 01-43-29-15-70
Shakespeare and Company, 37, rue de la Bûcherie, 75005 Paris Tel: 01-43-25-40-93
Tea and Tattered Pages, 24, rue Mayet, 75006 Paris Tel: 01-40-65-94-35
The Red Wheelbarrow Bookstore, 22 rue St. Paul, 75004 Paris Tel/Fax: 01-48-04-75-08
Village Voice Bookshop, 6, rue Princesse, 75006 Paris Tel: 01-46-33-36-47
Virgin Megastore, 52, avenue des Champs Elysees, 75008 Paris Tel: 01-49-53-50-00
W.H. Smith, 248, rue de Rivoli, 75001 Paris Tel: 01-42-60-37-97