The Essence of Paris

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The Essence of Paris
I’ve been on a yearly trek to Paris since the 1950’s. Yes, there have been many changes, but there are certain things, central to the city that never seem to change. They are the things that make Paris, Paris. The river and street names conjure up historical memories. Visits to cemeteries, tombs and burial places like Napoleon’s tomb at Les Invalids, take us back in time. Some sites go back many centuries. The Procope restaurant was established in 1686 by a Sicilian. It is the world’s oldest café and some of its famous visitors throughout the years have included John Paul jones, Ben franklin and Thomas Jefferson. A plaque commemorating his visit is still on display as is a desk once owned by Voltaire. You’ll find it at 13 rue de l’Anciene-Comedie in the 6th Arrondissement. The ghost of Moliere still haunts this ageless place.   Procope Also tied to more recent history is the famous Eiffel Tower. Built for the Universal Exhibit of 1899, it was supposed to be temporary, and many people fought to have it torn down. It certainly was unusual and many famous people wanted it destroyed. Guy de Maupassant was one such person. But to the surprise of many, after the exhibition, de Maupassant was found on top, eating in the restaurant. When questioned as to why he would eat in a place he disliked so much, he replied, “This is the only place where I can sit in Paris, without seeing this ugly place.” For Picasso, there was another reason for keeping the Tower standing. He said, “The man who creates something new, is forced to create something ugly.” I personally think that the tower is a magnet. It is Paris. It is France. It is forever. How well I remember the days before the year 2000 when the lights on the tower recorded the number of days left until the 21st century.   Kilometre Zero Another very old building is the Notre Dame Cathedral, built on the site of the original city of the Parisi. The old city ruin is open for viewing just in front of the cathedral, deep underground. If you stand about 60 feet in front of the cathedrals main doors, on the Place Du Parvis Notre-Dame, you will see the small metal plaque that shows what the government calls ‘point Zero’. It is from this point that all measurement is made. Just a block farther you can see both the Ste.-Chappelle with its stained glass windows and the famous Conciergerie from where people, including Marie Antoinette, were driven to their execution on the Guillotine during the French Revolution. Yet there’s so much more. A walk around the Pantheon is like walking in history. Dating back to the late 1700s, memories are conjured up about Mirabeau, Robespierre, Zola, jean Moulin and Marie Currie. But for me, my mind returns to Alfred Dreyfus when I walk the streets and parks where he passed. He was the scapegoat found guilty of selling secrets to the Germans in the early 1990s. Someone had to pay and a rich, Alsatian, Jew was the perfect scapegoat. He was found guilty by an anti-Semitic military tribunal and sent off to Devil’s Island. After years of anguish, he returned for a new trial and returned to the army that had not so long ago turned on him. French history fills volumes but you can feel it on every street corner in France. The pigeons in the Luxembourg Gardens are a draw for me. As Gertrude Stein said: Pigeons in the grass, alas…
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