Thursday 9 October 2008

Out of Time

(Rue des Mathurins, 75008)
I have this strange affliction which means that I arrive exactly on time to any appointment. Not a minute early and not a minute late, but at precisely the moment when the hands of the clock click round to the scheduled meeting time.

After a while I began to feel as if I had some kind of time-keeping device in my head, so I stopped wearing a watch. We can always be aware of the time if we choose, as time is omnipresent today - on our computer screens, our telephones, in the Metro - so a watch became merely an item of jewellery. In France though, the one place that time seems to disappear is in the street.

Clocks have been used as urban decoration throughout Europe, popping up on civic buildings or in town squares in most major cities. What would London be today without Big Ben, or Prague without its astronomical clock? Paris though has no major timepiece, and no sounds of music or chiming on the hours. Throughout history it would seem that this capital city has not encouraged its citizens to be punctual.

Why then did the architects of the edifice situated on the corner of Rue des Cascades and Rue des Mathurins decide to add such a handsome clock to the facade of the building? The construction is unusual in several ways, and is rather classical for the date it was apparently built (the year 1903 is inscribed beneath the clock) which was at the height of the Art Nouveau revolution. This classicism, which can also be seen in the Flemish style gables and coat of arms statue, probably also explains the presence of the timepiece, which would have added a touch of seriousness and respectability to the structure.

Today, it is dificult to see what the building houses as it seems to have no front entrance, but nameplates around a side door appear to indicate that it is home to a number of banks. In this particular district it is likely that the building has always been associated with banking and was probably originally a headquarters building.

One further point of interest explains why I finally decided to wear a watch again. With chemists being the only timekeepers in the city, I often found that it was difficult to keep track of time whilst walking the streets of Paris. Typically this building would have been no use to me whatsoever as its clock has long since stopped keeping up with time!

Further Information
This building is diagonally opposite to the Cricketers Pub, so could be familiar to many ex-pats. If anybody has any information on this building and its history I'd be very interested to hear from you as I can find no mention of it online.


Anonymous said...

At this place used to stand the Hotel de Louvois, home of a descendant of Louis XIV's minister.
This Marquis de Louvois was sent into exile by king Louis XVI, after he had squandered through the dowry of three successive spouses..
The present builing was built in 1903 as headquarters of La Compagnie Internationale des Wagons-lits.

Adam said...

Wow Alain, thanks for that very complete reply! The train connection explains the clock then.

Anonymous said...

I should have mentioned my source : Dictionnaire historique des rues de Paris, by Jacques Hillairet.

Adam said...

I think I should get myself a copy of that book. It looks like it could be very useful!

PeterParis said...

Interestin post ... and interesting comments. (I have the book.)

There is one clock, normally working, the oldest one in Paris I believe, on the corner of the Palais de Justice. Beautiful!

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