The last bastion standing
Today only one significant element of the city’s 19th century fortifications remains standing. Where is the Bastion n°1 and what purpose does it serve today?
The World's Oldest Surviving Basketball Court
How did a game invented by the YMCA in America cross the Atlantic in the late 19th century, and why has this Paris court survived so long?
Belgium by the Seine
A trip to Elisabethville on the trace of old postcard locations leads me to abandoned beach resorts and experimental 1950s architecture.
Thursday, 28 June 2012
Following recent hosting problems and a domain name price increase, I decided to let FreeParisWalks die a peaceful death - and launch Invisible Paris Walks in its place!
My initial idea - that these walks should be available for free - still stands, but they have always been branded Invisible Paris, and putting them on a site with this name makes sense. As they are also available, for a small price, for smartphones and tablets, the 'free' label is not 100% accurate either, but Cheap Paris Walks doesn't have such a nice ring to it!
Secondly, I didn't make sense for me to offer something for free, but for such a service to cost me money. By running the site on Blogger and hosting the walks on Scribd though, I can once again make them available without anybody having to pay a penny.
The three walks, Women in Paris, Contemporary Architecture and Street Art, have not changed, but I hope that they will soon have some more brothers and sisters. Themes, locations and ideas are not lacking, but creating a walk is a complex and time-consuming labour of love.
I also occasionally get asked if I organise walks myself. The answer to this is unfortunately not, simply because I don't have enough time available. This though was one of the principal reasons for creating these walks in the first place. I can't personally show you around the city, but I can give you the tools for you to do it yourself - for free!
Discover the new site: http://invisiblepariswalks.blogspot.com/
Sunday, 24 June 2012
Curious to know the story behind the obelisk and its purpose, I tracked down the artist behind much of the creation, Zoltán Zsakó. What was initially the search for an answer to a mysterious structure became a interesting investigation into the problems of urbanism and heritage, and a topic that is far too long for a blog!
Zoltan Zsakó told me about the connection to Mozart, potential links to freemasonry and how the obelisk has became a target for young snipers stationed in the surrounding tower blocks!
Tuesday, 19 June 2012
|The Boulevard des Italiens in 1905 - cars, horses, pedestrians, omnibuses...|
|Le Petit Parisien, Saturday April 1st 1905|
Giannini received a serious head injury which he apparently survived as he was seemingly still arranging music in the 1920s. The cabman was more fortunate, having a plaster applied in a local pharmacie before being taken back to his home to recover.
Reported the same day, another incident showed the kinds of dangers transport users faced at the time. At a little after midnight on the Quai Malaquais near Saint Germain des Près, a packed electric tramway crashed into an equally busy omnibus, injuring seven passengers.
|Le Petit Parisien, Saturday April 1st 1905|
This celebration was also known as the fête des blanchisseuses (launderers) and was primarily an event for young women - which explains why three of the injured in the accident fitted this description. There was Jeanne, 31, who was a housewife, Agnès, 25, a shop worker, and Marcelle, 25, a dressmaker. Alongside them were a printer, a confectioner, a commercial employee and an opera singer!
Such accidents were far from rare in Paris, with Le Petit Parisien reporting similar incidents in almost every edition. The victims of these accidents all made it home safely in the end, but perhaps they read with interest a news brief that was published in Le Figaro that same day.
|Le Figaro, Saturday April 1st 1905|
Friday, 15 June 2012
‘Urgus Tabarovitch, 1932-1952’, reads the plaque, followed by a quotation in Russian (Ukranian?). Translated to French, but partially torn away, all we can see is an enigmatic “C’est l’irrésistible besoin de savoir” (it’s the irresistible need to know) - perhaps a message aimed directly at those attempting to hunt down this mysterious character.
A biography for Tabarovitch does exist on the internet, but unsubstantiated online sources are notoriously unreliable. The story though is a fascinating one.
Tabarovitch was always something of an outsider. As a young boy he once said to his mother that he “would have liked to have been a bird, to fly, escape and get away from everything”. He developed a passion for art, but with his creations being restricted by a repressive regime, he chose to retreat further towards the margins of society. Flying remained his dream, but he also wondered how flight could somehow be mixed with art.
At the age of 19 he designed and built his own biplane, nicknamed turkey, and was delighted when he managed to get it flying in 1952. Although this gave him more freedom, he was still unfulfilled artistically until he began experimenting with his creations in ‘aerial destructuration’. This consisted of a cow’s bladder, inflated with a mixture of paint and gas, that he attached to his flying machines. As he flew, he released the mixture in order to create ephemeral coloured skies, always covering the same space of 4 square kilometres.
He continued doing this, producing dozens of variations, until one day in 1982 when his machine crashed in a field near Kiev. During his lifetime he remained unknown – ‘except to his neighbours’ – but his name began to circulate amongst contemporary artists following research into the archives of the ex-Soviet Union by a young Russian student.
The story reads a little like an elaborate surrealist hoax, and this sentiment is further heightened by the existence of a micro-blog on the artist’s life. Here we discover (in only four posts) that he was an insomniac throughout his life and rarely slept ‘more than two hours a night’ (when he wasn’t stitching cow bladders), and that he made herbal potions to help him get high and relax. His sleeping problems surely weren’t helped either by the fact that he slept in a bed that was 160cm long, despite measuring 198cm himself!
Interestingly, the last post on the blog links to an article that supposedly appeared in French current affairs magazine ‘Le Point’ (dated January 2010), suggesting that a plaque would soon be placed on a wall in Paris, in agreement with the city authorities and a mysterious organisation called the ‘Cercle des poetes disparus’.
Why this would happen is not explained. If Tabarovitch did exist, he certainly had no links to Paris, and no particular reason to be celebrated in the city. There seems to be no logical reason either why it would be placed in the 16th near the Trocadero, when the magazine article mentions a possible spot in the Latin Quarter.
If Tabarovitch did exist, it is certainly a life that deserves further investigation and celebration. If he didn't, I would like to know who invented him and why!
Wednesday, 6 June 2012
|Le Petit Parisien, September 15th, 1902|
|Le Petit Journal, September 15th, 1902|
|Le Figaro, September 15th, 1902|
Indeed, the previous year, the Journal des Insitituteurs had already highlighted this potential danger to its schoolteacher audience, suggesting that it might be something to look out for in the classroom. The case they highlight occurred in Marseille, with a 14-year-old boy falling into a coma after wearing a pair of shoes that had been tinted by his mother. Once again, it was the colouring of a pair of yellow shoes with a black dye that seems to have been the cause of the malaise.
|Journal des Instituteurs, September 22nd, 1901|
As these articles in the press imply, the use of this potentially toxic substance was relatively common at the time - and in fact it still is today. According to this Canadian report, it is still frequently used in the United States in the fabrication of shoe polish, and can even be found in apples and educolorants. The report however does conclude that aniline - at the small doses at which it is generally encountered - is not a danger in Canada to human life or health.
Friday, 1 June 2012
The situationist Guy Debord once spoke of undertaking “a static-dérive of an entire day within the Saint-Lazare train station”, but it is murky zone outside the station perimeters that offers greater potential for a drift. Debord was interested in the exploration of a fixed spatial field, but the world of the train station bleeds out beyond its physical boundaries, having a profound influence on the architecture and activity of its surroundings.
To this end, it can be observed that station environments the world over are much the same. Step outside the entrance and you will see cheap hotels and fast food outlets, sex shops and taxi ranks. There will generally be no sign of any indigenous culture, and rarely will you see anything to lift the heart. Indeed, a friend's first experience when arriving in the Italian city of Naples was treading on a dead dog.
Whilst train stations are quickly rebranding themselves as leisure destinations (the Gare de l’Est has been transformed into an upmarket shopping centre, as has the Gare Saint Lazare), the zones outside remain hostile to the casual visitor. However, in cities that are becoming more and more sanitised, a walk in these territories can offer a vision of a different world and a previous time.