Sunday, July 15, 2012

A look at Les Halles, and “vacation”

Today is July 15, a date on which the city of Paris becomes exceptionally quiet for about a month. A great many Parisians go on summer vacation at this time of year. Although the city would still seem very busy to visitors, to residents it seems a lot quieter during this period.

In fact, it would be extremely calm and quiet where I live, were it not for the three different construction projects in progress within 200 feet of my apartment. It's bad enough that a building across the street was under construction for about two years, after the street had been rebuilt over a period of a months, and before the building next door was put under construction, and now the building on the other side is under construction, and there's been a huge construction project in progress a bit further away for several years now as well. All of this means constant noise, even at times of year when it should be very quiet. For days I've been listening to jackhammers outside my window all day long, every day except Sunday. Oh well.

I don't actually take vacation myself. I'm in Paris, so as far as I'm concerned, I'm already in my favorite vacation destination, so why go anywhere else? Plus I hate travel, and I have no money to go anywhere, so even if I wanted to (which I don't), I couldn't.

Time for another video. Someone asked me if I could show some of the street performers that hang around the Pompidou Center (the museum of modern art in Paris). I decided to walk out there and shoot some video.

Right now, the Forum des Halles is again under construction. This area used to be the huge wholesale food market for Paris, up until the 1970s, when the markets were moved to the suburbs (to Rungis, now the world's largest wholesale food market), and the entire area in Paris was rebuilt to include an underground shopping center and an above-ground park. Now, forty years later, the city has decided for some strange reason to tear it all apart and rebuild it again, so the whole area is walled off and under construction. Granted, the underground shopping center was always slightly depressing, thanks to its gray-concrete architecture, which made it look more like an underground parking garage than a shopping mall, but the rest was okay, especially above ground. But now it's being redone again. It won't be finished until 2014 or so. So I took some pictures of the fences and cranes, but that's about all I could do.

The surrounding area is intact, however, including the area around the butt-ugly Pompidou Center and the surrounding streets. Actually, I guess the Center isn't that ugly, but it sure looks out of place compared to surrounding buildings. It was built with the building's infrastructure on the outside, ostensibly so that there would be uninterrupted open spaces on the inside, but it's not very aesthetic. The Center does have an interesting outside escalator, though, which always reminds me of Beverly Center (which it predates). At one time, everything on the outside was color-coded—water, air, electricity, etc.—but after renovations that were required to upgrade the structure (apparently nobody realized that putting everything on the outside would aggravate the effects of weather), it seems that a lot just got painted plain white.

Anyway … the area around the Forum is very animated, day and night. By some standards it's a bit seedy in the wee hours. One of the world's largest subway stations is beneath the Forum, and the various dregs living in the suburbs roll into the city at this station so that they can make trouble in the nation's capital. I guess that since they've already laid waste to their worthless suburbs, they feel they must make a shambles of Paris itself as well. That's why the area is seedy late at night and in the wee hours, although I wouldn't call it dangerous.

There are tons of shops and restaurants on the mostly-pedestrian streets around the Forum. And there are always people, which is nice (at least if you like areas with people, as I do). I try to show most of this area in the video. One thing about videos on neighborhoods, though, is that it's hard to know where to saw off the video at the edges of the neighborhood, as these edges tend to be rather blurry. I didn't show some of the jazz clubs in the area, for example, but I did show most of the streets around the Pompidou Center and parts of the Forum, and the curious Quartier de l'Horloge.

I suppose I'll have to redo it once the Forum is all done again, but this will do for now.

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Around the Champs-Élysées

Well, time for another video. This time it's about the lower half of the Champs.

Yes, the Champs-Élysées is informally divided into two parts: the highly commercial area above (northwest of) the Rond-Point des Champs-Élysées roundabout, and the parkland area below (southeast). Tourists—and those who promote tourism—tend to concentrate on the upper part, since that's where the money is made. But the lower part is nice, too, in part because tourists visit it far less.

The lower part consists of some parks and gardens. They are technically separate and have names of their own, but in practical terms it's just one big area of parkland. The south side of the avenue is a bit more “wild” (that is, less formally landscaped) than the north side. In among the trees and gardens, there are two well-known theaters (Théâtre du Rond-Point and Théâtre Marigny), several fancy restaurants, some conference venues, snack bars, two huge 19th-century exhibition halls (the Grand and Petit Palais), scattered statues, two sanisettes, two Wallace fountains, a gazebo, and other things. All of this is shown in my video.

The south and lower portion of the Champs is the quietest part of the avenue. There are some scattered benches among the trees, and it's fairly peaceful despite the close proximity of so much traffic. The north side is nice, too: there are more people, but the area is much more carefully landscaped. It's surprising how quickly the traffic fades as you move into the park areas.

On the south side of the south side, so to speak, there's a street called Cours La Reine, which is a major, official parking area for tour buses. This street is usually packed with such buses. It's the closest official parking place to the Champs itself.

The Grand Palais is huge, and is designed with a minimum of internal supporting columns and a glass roof. It's a great spot for large exhibitions, and was intended for them. The Petit Palais is smaller, as the name implies, but is also intended for and well suited to exhibitions. Part of the Grand Palais is permanently dedicated to the Palais de la découverte, a science museum with a lot of interesting, hands-on exhibits.

Anyway, this video is done and online. Next up will be (I think) Les Halles.

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