The Bells of Notre Dame and the Glitz of Printemps

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Are you ready for another story from Paris? Well then, I won’t keep you waiting a moment longer!

The day started off slightly overcast – after having been reunited with my suitcase, I spent a while deciding what shoes to wear on my day in the city before eventually settling for sensible flats. Heels are all very well but when you’re dashing all over the city and having to anticipate the thought of climbing lots of stairs at BREAKNECK SPEEDS (slight exaggeration) then flats are the best option… Satchel packed with a change of clothes, I headed to Maison Blanche  (which is not a glamorous presidential house or home to Blanche Neige but a relatively small and quiet metro station) where I took line 7 to Châtelet. Emerging from the underground, I was greeted by the stunning architecture in Place du Châtelet.

I soon found myself crossing the Pont au Change (a bridge which features as an iconic location in two of my favourite books Victor Hugo’s ‘Les Misérables‘ and Patrick Süskind’s ‘Das Parfum’. The latter tells the story of a sensual yet gory quest for the perfect scent through 18th Century France and a large portion of the book takes place at a fictional parfumerie on the Pont au Change).

From the bridge, I got a great view of the Palais de Justice complex, which is a really impressive sight to behold. Whilst the gothic towers and spires  look as if they belong in the illustrated pages of a fairytale book, it’s important to remember that  Paris has more than its fair share of dark secrets. This building has a particularly bloodthirsty past, for it was in the Conciergerie, an ancient prison within the complex, that numerous prisoners (including  Marie Antoinette) were imprisoned before they were guillotined during the Reign of Terror.

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Just around the corner from the Conciergerie is the Palais de Justice – this is the most exciting part of the building because this is where all the action takes place and where justice is carried out to this day! This was a very busy area, with a heavy police presence. The national tripartite motto of ‘Liberté, égalité, fraternité’ is featured on the façade of the Palais, with one word chiselled above each of the three main doors.

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When you cross over the Pont au Change, you leave the right bank of the Seine and find yourself on the île de la cité – a natural island on the River Seine, which is dominated by the iconic gothic cathedral Notre Dame de Paris.

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The Cathedral of Notre Dame is one of my favourite sights in Paris – measuring over 70m high, construction began in 1163 and today the Cathedral is considered to be one of the most beautiful religious landmarks in the world, showcasing a perfect example of French gothic architecture from the Middle Ages. Notre Dame was also one of the first buildings to feature flying buttresses as a form of architectural support. I’ve already mentioned my love of gothic novels and admiration for the author Victor Hugo elsewhere on my blog, so the fact that I love the novel ‘Notre Dame de Paris’ (in English ‘The Hunchback of Notre Dame’) will probably come as no big surprise to the reader. Everyone knows the Disney version of the story –  where deformed hunchback Quasimodo falls in love with the beautiful gypsy girl Esméralda and spends a lot of time singing and chatting with his anthropomorphic gargoyle friends and swinging on bells. The novel has much darker themes – as well as playing with juxtapositions of the grotesque and the sublime in the form of the different characters in the novel for effect, Victor Hugo was extremely passionate about the importance of preserving Notre Dame’s beautiful architecture from destruction and corruption. The character of Esméralda in particular serves as an important metaphor for the potential fate of the Cathedral…

Arriving at Notre Dame, I wasn’t too impressed with the massive eyesore ie. blue walkway that has been built in the Place Jean Paul II to mark the 850th birthday of the Cathedral. This pretty hideous looking construction (what was that about heeding the important warning about the corruption of the beautiful Cathedral by modern architecture?) leads to an elevated grey viewing platform which is covered with the names of French Saints  (I was mildly appeased by the fact that the name Louise was included. Mildly. I remember visiting the Cathedral when I was much younger and being able to have a Mary Poppins ‘Feed the Birds’ moment, however now all the sparrows have been scared off by the terrifying sight of that walkway)

notre dame louise

I do have to admit, however, that even though the view of the plaza was compromised by the big blue monstrosity, the view from the platform was spectacular, giving the viewer a closer look at the ‘Gallery of the Kings’, a line of statues on the Cathedral façade. The air was cold and even though I wasn’t that high up the ground, it felt as if I was at quite a high altitude.  I stayed for a while gazing at gargoyles – and I ended up being approached by a seemingly never-ending chain of couples wanting to have their photographs taken with the impressive backdrop of the Cathedral. This went on for a good twenty minutes, (I started to feel as if I was a teacher on a school trip in charge of everyone’s cameras) but it was actually quite a lovely feeling helping others get a good memory to take home.

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Moving swiftly onwards, I left Notre Dame to have a look at the ‘Bouquinistes of the Seine’. Along the river, you will find green stalls which have a large variety of second hand and antiquarian books – as well as the obligatory postcards of the Eiffel Tower, cats and Brigitte Bardot.

In the two lower pictures, you can see some examples of Parisian graffiti. On the left hand side, brightly coloured Chopin and Gospel concert posters have been stuck to the side of a green box covered with tags and scribbles, whilst on the right hand side there is evidence of some of the more tongue in cheek graffiti artwork that you can see around Paris. Just above the street sign ‘Rue des trois portes’ there is a red horned octopus – Octopuses seem to be a popular image to use as graffiti in Paris. According to this interview with Underground Paris  (http://undergroundparis.org/gzup-interview) street artist Gz’Up has managed to place over 214 plywood octopuses in locations hidden around the city. (I’ll interject here with a vaguely fun and random fact about Guernsey and the octopus. The French word for octopus, ‘pieuvre‘, originally came from the Guernsey French language of Patois. When Victor Hugo came to live on the island of Guernsey for 15 years whilst he was exiled from France, he wrote a book dedicated to the island called ‘The Toilers of the Sea’. One of the villains of the novel is an angry giant octopus. Victor Hugo quite liked the sound of the Guernsey word ‘pieuvre‘ and so decided to ‘borrow’ it in order to give his aquatic beast a name, and after the book was published, the word ‘pieuvre’ came into common usage in the French language)

Pieuvres aside, I continued on my travels and eventually stumbled across a weekly market. Taking a break to buy a drink, I was amused momentarily by the commotion caused by a small flock of pigeons flying out from behind the counter of a bakery before I looked at the time and realised that I had to meet a friend in the west of Paris and that I had no idea where I was supposed to go, which metro line to take… or indeed where the nearest Metro station was. Although I was cutting it very fine, I made it just in time and promptly found myself in a Japanese restaurant with ‘G’ struggling to make a dent into a large platter of avocado sushi, rice, mushroom skewers AND miso soup whilst trying to appear elegant and demure using a pair of chopsticks. A sushi massacre ensued.

sushi paris

Seeing as I had moved onto the west side of Paris, I was relatively close to the big department stores Printemps and Galeries Lafayette on Boulevard Haussmann. Outside, the grey clouds were dispersing, leaving the skies over Paris a glorious shade of bright blue, so I decided to go for a walk along the boulevard. The blue skies were contrasting beautifully with the golden art nouveau domes of Printemps’ Flagship store. The shop windows were beautifully decorated for the festive season.

printemps et opéra garnier

Just across the street from Printemps is the rear façade of the Palais Garnier,  l’Opéra National de Paris. This structure was planned by Napoleon III and designed by Charles Garnier – the project completed construction in 1875. It’s an opulent, beautiful building – and was the scene and inspiration for Gaston Le Roux’s 1910 novel ‘Le Fantôme de l’Opéra’. Having recently been bowled over by Gerónimo Rauch’s performance as Erik the Phantom in London, I had been particularly looking forward to getting a closer look at the building. Florence had told me that if you turn up an hour before certain performance then it is possible to get cheap tickets, however I didn’t have time to try this out. The Opéra interiors are gorgeously decadent and can be toured for a small fee of around five euros.

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I allowed myself to get lost in the glitzy decorations of both Printemps and Galeries Lafayette (which was built 30 years after Printemps) for a few hours. The Christmas tree in Galeries Lafayette was the most beautiful tree that I’ve ever seen. It was lit up with electric blue lights and studded with large pink flowers with mechanical petals which opened and closed at regular intervals. A big snowy owl perched at the top of the tree whilst animatronic puppets of mice, cats, rabbits and monkeys danced above the heads of shoppers making extravagant purchases at the make up counters on the ground floor. Galeries Lafayette has ten stories and so there are escalators on each floor in order to make the ascent to the heavenly glass domed ceiling – ‘la coupole‘ – much easier on your legs. I decided to make my way up to the top in order to get a closer look at the big fluffy owl.

galeries lafayette sapin de noël hibou

For many families, it’s a time honoured tradition to go and see festive displays in the big Parisian department stores. The 2013 window displays at Printemps were designed by Fashion House PRADA. Grown ups and children alike were peering into the colourful vitrines whilst upbeat retro music played from speakers – I especially enjoyed hearing the goose walk from ‘The Aristocats’.

prada christmas

I would return later to Boulevard Haussman later in the week with my mum to bask some more in the bright lights and beautiful shop displays.  As dusk began to fall, however, the time came for me to head to Chatou, a town in the suburbs famous for being popular with impressionist painters, to spend an evening with my uncle, aunt and cousin.

We would be leaving for Disneyland Paris in the morning…

Channeling Tim Burton

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This is what happens if I’m left alone with face paint and crayons. On the far left is a photo of me sporting what can be best described as a sort of Corpse Bride tribute look from Halloween 2012… the other two pictures came about one humid summer night in 2012 when I was feeling bored and unproductive. I was in Konstanz over Spring- Summer of 2012 and had bought a lot of cheap art supplies so that I could liven up the walls of my room… My room, which gradually became known as the honorary disco of my residence! Now, I’m not sure whether or not you can apply Tim Burton to Disco (maybe his film “Dark Shadows” is applicable to this concept) but this was what I felt like drawing that particular evening! These pictures feature Edward Scissorhands and Emily (aka. the Corpse Bride), two famous characters created by Tim Burton. I was looking through my Konstanz Photos, feeling all nostalgic, as I was just moving in to this town of dreams a year ago this weekend…. And I decided to give these pictures a viewing on my blog – the blog that seems to jump from topic to topic each post!

Drawing is something that I find really therapeutic and calming – There is something wonderful about being able to switch off to the outside world, channeling all the pent up energy in your mind onto paper, and creating something colourful. A couple of hours ago ,I went to a private viewing of an art exhibition in my college, and it has reminded me that I need to take time out now and again to pick up my pens and paints! I need to make a promise to myself to keep drawing, and to remember how happy it makes me feel… So that’s what I intend to do this evening 🙂 Read some autobiographical fiction and do some drawing!

A taste of Marc Jacobs – An ode to Soda

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I have a confession.

Diet Coke is my downfall. If I have a deadline due, I will always need to dash to the shop first to get some of this elixir in order to ensure that I keep my cool (literally – sorry for the bad pun). If I’m in a restaurant and I order a Diet Coke with my meal, I will experience a few seconds of mild outrage if my drink turns out to be Pepsi masquerading as Diet Coke, often to the bafflement of the people I’m with. You know those annoying people who claim to know the difference between brands of Cola, and whether sugars or sweeteners are used? Yeah. I’m one of THEM. (I worked at a music festival once where the sponsor was Pepsi. No Coke products were available, and buying a Pepsi was cheaper than water. It was a sad time)

When I’m at home in Guernsey, Diet Coke is a drink that I keep for special occasions. Tapping into this concept of keeping soft drinks/soda as a treat or experience, Diet Coke have been releasing beautiful artistic cans and bottles across Europe in the past few years. When I lived in France last year, I noticed that the supermarket chain Monoprix was selling eyecatching limited edition bottles of Diet Coke designed by Karl Lagerfeld, the current mastermind behind Chanel… Thus began my collection of unusual Coca Cola vessels.

Since Lagerfeld’s bottles, I have seen numerous other limited editions come and go, including lacy nautical designs by Jean Paul Gaultier, who did a collaboration with Diet Coke last year. Last summer, whilst on the road from Germany to France, I bought a lacy JPG can from a motorway stop in Belgium, pleased by the glamour of the design. Daft Punk, David Guetta and James Bond have all since made an appearance on Coke Zero bottles. As an aside, it is interesting how Coke Zero appears to be marketed towards men, whereas Diet Coke is clearly marketed towards women. I think that the marketing concept for Diet Coke collaborations is genius – with the purchase of a can, women can claim to be drinking something designer – not only making high end designers accessible to the masses, but also tapping into the psyche of women obsessed with fashion. It has paid dividends with regards to their sales growth.

With the arrival of Spring 2013, comes a new creative director for Diet Coke, the designer Marc Jacobs. I have yet to see any designs for bottles, but the latest incarnations of limited edition Diet Coke cans are inspired by the 30 years anniversary of the brand, with three Marc Jacobs designs each referencing a decade (80s, 90s, 00s) from the past thirty years. So far I have only purchased the above design, but I think it looks quite chic. I don’t drink the limited edition bottles, but I do drink the cans, afterwards using them as cheap yet elegant design features/vases for dried flowers in my student bedroom!