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Jill McCracken’s Travel Diary

Thursday, 10 Feb 2011

Location: Paris, France

MapFirst Activism in Paris and Evading Security in the Marais

Today our architecture class met near the Picasso Museum and learned that the Place des Vosges that we had seen last week used to be called Place Royale. They changed the name because Vosges (in France) paid the first taxes to the state, so they renamed the square after that area. We were still studying the l'hotel particuliers style so we popped into the Hotel Napoleon (1620) to see its staircase entrance mouldings and the rare landscape painting in the foyer. We walked along Rue de Parc Royal, where most of the buildings were designed by Jean Thirriot. We back-tracked along Rue de Sevigne (1545) which leads back to St. Catherine's convent, where we had already explored earlier in the semester.

We stopped in at Hotel de Marle which now houses the Centre Culturel Suedois. The roof design was of particular interest, it looks like an inverted boat. Across the street we looked through the park that holds pillars and statues rescued from the Tulleries. The park was set up specifically to preserve these chunks of stone in a public place and backs onto the History of Paris Museum (Musee Carnavalet). The orangerie of the l'hotel particulier that holds the museum is actually home to remnants of 4000 B.C. "France". These tools and boat pieces obviously aren't "French" as we know it, but that's pretty cool.

We passed by the Musee Cognacq-Jay housed in l'hotel Donon - it is an architecture museum and might come in handy later! We trotted by Francois Mansart's house. He was an architect who became known for being an annoying perfectionist. The house has no internal staircase, only an external one. Later his house was used as a meeting place for followers of the Rationalist movement in France (Auguste Compte). We walked around the block to hit the front entrance of the Musee Carnavalet - its huge black metal gates with gold adornments reminded me of Versailles. The name "carnavalet" was chosen in a mistake. The Parisians couldn't pronounce the name suggested by a lord in Brittany, so they just fudged it. In the courtyard of the museum there were statues of the seasons, the four elements and allusions to Greek mythology, as well as a giant statue of Louis the XIVth. This is a free museum in Paris and every room is decorated based on a particular interior design style in France.

I saw on a shop-banner above me" "ART IS A DIRTY JOB BUT SOMEBODY HAS GOT TO DO IT." We then entered the courtyard of the Hotel d'Albert, which is now the Headquarters of the Paris City Hall Cultural Affairs division. We walked down rue Elzevir which was named after a particular type of paper that was invented and made here. We stopped in a the Hotel de Rohan which was built by Alexis Delamir around 1705. We stood outside for 5-10 minutes because the gate was locked and we couldn't get in. But a man entered with a code and we snuck in, then had to run through the gates to get past security. I swear, I might get arrested in architecture class. There is a beautiful sculpture of "Horses of Apollo Drinking After Running" that is reminiscent of the Apollo fountain at Versailles. The security gates closed behind us and we were stuck there again - but inside the courtyard! Prof. Olivier is magic though and we somehow got through the alarm again and escaped unscathed by security.

We continued on to the Credit Municipal and then to the Hotel Soubise that houses the National Archives. All of the archive workers are on strike right now because Sarkozy wants to close the archives and make it a museum to France instead. Well, that's vague. What kind of museum? What kind of history? Giant banners blaring "SAUVONS LES ARCHIVES NATIONALES!" hung everywhere. I signed a petition to save the building; it was my first instance of activism in Paris!

We passed by the Eglise des Blancs Manteauz which used to be on the Isle de la Cite but when Haussman razed the island they moved the church's facade to Le Marais to preserve it. We stopped on the corner of rue Temple and looked up to see the towers of Notre Dame poking into the sky then continued to Cafe de la Gare, a theatre that used to be a bus station. The poet who coined the word "surrealism" used to hang out here but I can't remember his name. We turned down rue Simon Francs and looked up to the George Pompidou Centre. The building is designed "inside out", so all of the water and gas pipes are actually on the outside. All of the structural supports are also on the outside so the walls within the buildings are moveable and create giant open spaces. We stopped to examine a moving sculpture fountain built by Jean Tinguely and Nikki de Saint Phalle. All of the black figures are Tinguely's and the colourful ones are his wife's. The whole fountain makes an moving orchestra. An excellent end to the day, I looked up and realized we were standing on Place Stravinsky. All of the street names have a reason behind them and I love it!