Monday 29 December 2014

My Three Favourite Posts of 2014

As has been the case over the last few years, my personal favourites in 2014 are somewhat bizarrely not amongst the top 5 posts of the year. Of course, it is not at all a ruse to add a few more visits to some articles that you might not yet have had the chance to discover…

Although I would have been happy to see these posts in the top 5, in several respects the trio below really do represent what I appreciate most about running this blog; discovering new places, doing some detective work and meeting people. All I wish for in the future is that I continue to find these things.

Here then are my three favourite posts, in no particular order...

Tuesday 23 December 2014

The Top 5 Posts of 2014

At the beginning of 2014 I wasn’t sure whether I’d even make it to five posts across the full twelve months of the year. Two dozen posts later - a still reasonable rhythm of two posts per month (I can scarcely believe I wrote a shade under 150 posts in 2009!) – I am thankfully in a position where I can produce my eagerly awaited annual top 5.

If the production has dried up, I am nevertheless pleased to see that three of these five posts are in the all-time top 10 on the blog. The subjects are scarcer and take a little bit longer to appear, but I’m glad that they still interest you, my reader.

Tuesday 16 December 2014

Challenge 9: the Morrison Hotel Mystery

The death of Jim Morrison is not the only mystery in the Rue Beautreillis. On this street where the leader of The Doors spent the last few months of his life and where he (probably) died, another door stands curiously alone. This large stone gateway is the last remaining element of the Hotel Raoul, a historic house in the Marais, but why was it preserved when the rest of the building was demolished? This is the question that has been asked by one of my readers, Karen.

Tuesday 9 December 2014

The prickly problem of the Russian Christmas tree

The tallest Christmas tree in Paris this December is also the thorniest. Standing almost half the height of the Notre Dame towers, this impressive evergreen was not paid for by parishioners or the city of Paris, but by the Russian government. With tensions running high between Moscow and other European capitals, this gift - or gesture of geopolitical grandstanding - is a feast for the eyes, but something of an embarrassment for the French state.

Tuesday 25 November 2014

The last bastion standing

For nearly 80 years, the city of Paris was protected by thick walls and bastions known as the enceinte de Thiers or the fortifs. Today only one significant element of these fortifications remains standing, although this seems to be more by accident than design. Where is the Bastion n°1 and what purpose does it serve today? 

Friday 7 November 2014

Challenge 8: what lies beneath?

Near the Parc Floral gardens in the Bois de Vincennes are two staircases that lead down to…a brick wall. What was their original purpose and what lies between the two? In this post you will find not only the answer to these two questions but also what this abandoned territory will be used for in the near future.

Friday 17 October 2014

The life, death and afterlife of Auguste Comte

One of the most lastingly popular posts on this blog* - to my continual surprise - concerns Auguste Comte, the 19th century French philosopher behind the doctrine of positivism. Five years after making that post, I finally got around to visiting his Paris apartment and the secular chapel that was opened in his honour nearly 50 years after his death. Take a look inside both here.

Thursday 25 September 2014

The Oldest Basketball Court in the World

The world’s oldest surviving basketball court can be found in the basement of a building in the city’s 9th arrondissement. But how did Paris come to be one of the earliest homes of a sport invented in America? To find the answer, we need to push open the doors of a YMCA hostel on the Rue Trévise.

Thursday 11 September 2014

Paris plants its first forest

In the last few weeks, Paris has opened access to the first forest ever to be planted within the city itself. Covering a narrow strip less than half a kilometre long, and currently home to mere saplings, will it ever feel like a wild woodland?

Saturday 23 August 2014

A drift along Rue de Vaugirard, the longest street in Paris

Running for 4,3km from Boulevard Saint Michel down to the edge of Paris at the Porte de Versailles, the Rue de Vaugirard is the city’s longest street. What could I discover by drifting the full length of this historical artery?

Tuesday 29 July 2014

Elisabethville: a Belgian queen, an abandoned beach resort and experimental architecture

A couple of vintage postcards picked up at a fair took me to a sleepy suburban town on the Seine that hides plenty of surprises.

Picking up the postcards, it was the name that attracted me first. Elisabethville. There had to be a story behind such a name, but the photos on the cards provided few clues. Clearly the town was a recent one, with the postcards highlighting municipal architecture, apparently from the 1960s. Why did the postcard manufacturers choose to promote a town hall annex and an indoor market? Was there anything else in this town?

Thursday 10 July 2014

The Last Comrade on Rue La Fayette

The French Communist Party (PCF) - as we have previously seen - made its mark on 20th century Paris. However, although its two major HQ buildings became iconic addresses, few people know where it all began. A significant clue though remains written next door!

Tuesday 1 July 2014

The Politics of Place Names

Walk almost any street in Paris and you will be connected to a historical person or event. It is the French way to give streets and public places the names of important people and significant moments in the country’s past, but this policy is almost never neutral. A good example is the Place Kossuth, where a once important building is situated. This is the story of that building and an attack by nomenclature.

Thursday 12 June 2014

Sunshine and Rain

As the Metro on the line 2 moves outside and up onto its aerial section between Colonel Fabien and Jaurès you may catch a glimpse of a rather peculiar message. Despite having trains thundering past their windows for nearly 20 hours a day, the residents of one apartment are more concerned about the sun...which seems to be threatened in this location.

Meanwhile, in a unique and incredible museum a few streets from here, it is the rain that is causing headaches. The microclimate over the 10th arrondissement is a little menacing at the moment...

Tuesday 3 June 2014

In Situ: Art storms the Fort d'Aubervilliers

Built in 1843 as one of the outposts of the 'enceinte de Thiers' fortifications that were supposed to protect Paris but never did, the Fort d'Aubervilliers has long been a mysterious space in the city's north-eastern suburbs. Originally a military base, it has since been a somewhat dubious laboratory and most recently a vehicle scrap yard. With the latest occupiers freshly abandoning the site, it has finally opened a window of opportunity for public visits before the fort is once again transformed to fit another purpose. This occasion has been grabbed by local authorities who invited the Art en Ville association to run a two-month long In Situ festival bringing together 40 urban artists from across the world. The result is a huge splash of colour in this semi-abandoned brownfield site, and an event that should not be missed.

Tuesday 20 May 2014

A Cabin in a Concrete Cruise liner...for €2 million

Near the Balard Metro station, the French Ministry of Defence is putting the finishing touches to its new HQ, dubbed the French Pentagon. The construction site punctuates the skyline, offering glimpses of shiny new buildings behind high fences, a panorama that we are forbidden to photograph.

Sitting opposite on the other side of the Boulevard Victor, separated by the neat green carpet of the tramway, is another building that is almost military in form. Around 50 metres long - but only 10 metres wide at its broadest point (barely more than 2 metres at its narrowest) - this nautical looking structure though has no connection to its combative neighbour. This is perhaps architect Pierre Patout's finest moment, and a piece of design history that you could today own - if you have €2 million to spare.

Friday 2 May 2014

A ‘Frantic’ search for Polanski's Paris

Filmed in 1987 and released in 1988, Roman Polanski’s ‘Frantic’ is not the best film ever to be set in Paris. It is though one that continues to intrigue, perhaps because it plays the city against type, relentlessly capturing a paranoid rather than a picturesque Paris. It is this visual aspect that is the focus here, following a request from a reader to hunt down some of the filming locations. More than 25 years after the film was made, could I find places that are perhaps no longer there - or maybe never even existed in the first place?

Saturday 12 April 2014

The Galerie Argentine: Sauvage and Sarazin's metallic misfit

In any city, the three most important words for real estate are location, location, location. Sometimes though, even if you do manage to find a spot in a desirable district you may find that your face just never seems to fit in. This has always been the case with Sauvage and Sarazin's Galerie Argentine. 

Friday 4 April 2014

RIP Zoo Project

Four years ago I wrote about a giant gorilla that had appeared on a wall opposite my kitchen window. It stayed there for at least a year before slowly disappearing behind the rising walls of a new construction. It’s still there now, perhaps one day to be uncovered by future urban archeologists.

I grew quite attached to that gorilla. But then it wasn’t just any gorilla, it was a Zoo Project creation.

Thursday 27 March 2014

How Paris Became Paris…and when

Paris is a 19th century city, transformed from its medieval plan and way of functioning by Napoleon III and the Baron Haussmann. Not so says historian Joan DeJean who in her new book ‘How Paris Became Paris’ argues that the city's most important developments came much earlier. 

Here I briefly review the book and speak to its author about some of the issues she raises.

Friday 14 March 2014

The strange journey of Philippe Starck's giant plastic baby

It started with a tweet. Somewhere out in the city's eastern suburbs there was a giant plastic baby sitting on top of a petrol station. Was it still there, and how did it get there in the first place? Someone thought I might know, or might be curious enough to find out. They weren't wrong!

Friday 28 February 2014

'La Révolution de Paris': walking as a revolutionary act

Around 27 million tourists visit Paris each year, but only a small percentage of these people step outside of the city limits. A specially drawn footpath around Paris – and a new book detailing the route - aims to change this situation. Here I discuss the path and the Paris suburbs with its creator, Paul-Hervé Lavessiere, and with Baptiste Lanaspeze, the book's editor and the publisher of a wider series of urban walks.

Wednesday 12 February 2014

Dead cinemas, living spaces: The Victor Hugo Pathé

Way back in 2008, when this blog was a mere tot, I tried to launch a miniature visual database of disused and transformed cinemas in Paris. One that I missed back then though is perhaps one of the most interesting of all – the Victor Hugo Pathé – which was a special location for several reasons.

Tuesday 28 January 2014

The Hopital Bicêtre: site of a hundred ghosts

As regular readers of this blog will know, I find hospitals fascinating. The Hopital Bicêtre, situated just to the south east of Paris, was always one I’d meant to visit without ever quite finding the time. I was glad though that I did finally make the effort.

Friday 10 January 2014

Map Hacking and Murder in the Villa des Ternes

A private community where it is forbidden to wander? That sounds like an invitation for a stroll, especially when it contains places to investigate!

The Villa des Ternes in Paris's 17th arrondissement is a neat warren of tree-lined roads and imposing buildings dating back to the 19th century. It was originally situated outside of Paris, in the grounds of a chateau that once stood nearby, but little by little the city has crept up around its edges. Nevertheless, it remains private, and the gates at its limits are still firmly locked to outsiders.

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