11 January 2019

Descent From The Grand Boulevards

I'm staying in a place just off the Place de Clichy--where the 8th, 9th and 18th Arrondissements meet.

The 18th is best known for the Sacre-Coeur de Montmartre and its many winding cobblestoned streets. And the Moulin Rouge.  And, oh, the Place Pigalle. My uncle, who spent time in Verdun, France with the US Army, told me that when he and his fellow soldiers had their leave, they headed for Paris  and from the Gare de l'est, straight to the Pigalle.  The cab drivers, he said, all knew the drill.  But as for me, I went only to the Montmarte.  Really, I did!

The 8th is often nicknamed "Elysee" because the boulevard, and the President's residence are located in it.  So are many of the world's best-known fashion houses and France's largest corporations.  The 8th also shares the Arc de Triomphe with the First.  And the 9th is often referred to as "Opera" because the Garnier (not to be confused with the Bastille) Opera house is found there.  It's also called the "Grands Boulevards" district because some of the city's more iconic thoroughfares, including the Boulevard Haussmann, lace it.

I walked down a few of those Boulevards today on my way to Paris Bike Tour.  Along the way, I encountered this:

Now, I know Milton is a common name in English. I couldn't help but to wonder, though, whether the person who named the street was thinking of the poet who wrote Paradise Lost--especially after I encountered this a couple of blocks away:

These scenes of the creation, fall and expulsion of Adam and Eve are behind the pillars of this church:

the Parish of St. Vincent de Paul, next to the Franz Liszt Square.  While the Sacre Coeur de Montmartre is actually located atop a hill, the St. Vincent de Paul only seems to be because of its placement on land that was built up.  Thus, while it stands over everything else in a neighborhood that doesn't have (thankfully!) high-rise buildings, it doesn't dominate the way the Sacre Coeur or even the Notre Dame do in their environments.

Interestingly, the church's organists have included some distinguished musicians.  The one you are most likely to recognize, though, is one whose name you associate with something else:  Louis Braille, the inventor of the tactile writing system for the blind still in use, virtually unchanged.

From there, I passed by the Place de la Republique.  Given that any number of riots or rebellions (depending on your point of view) have begun there, over every sort of cause imaginable, it's not surprising that some of the gilets jaunes have protested--and probably will protest again--in that square.  There, I found something one of the gilets jaunes--or people who are in completely different parts of the political, social and economic spectrum--might have written:

La France est un dictature!! La resistance est un devoir!  You don't need to know much French to get the gist of that:  France is a dictatorship!  Resistance is a duty!  Actually, you could substitute the name of many other countries, including my own, for France: Most countries, I think, are dictatorships, whether of political leaders or the economic elites.

After some more walking, I reached the Centre Georges Pompidou and enjoyed a crepe and coffee in a nearby cafe.  Then I walked to Paris Bike Tour, just across the pedestrian- and bike-mall known as as Rue Rambuteau from the Centre.

The first thing I noticed is that they occupy a smaller space than I recall from the last time I rented one of their bikes.  And it was closed.  Turns out, from December to March, they are open "only by reservation."  In one way, it's not surprising, as there probably isn't much demand for their tours during the winter.  But I had to wonder whether Velib, Ofo and other services have eroded their rental business.

So, I guess I'll be using Velib after all: I don't want to spend too much of my remaining time in search of another rental outlet.  Or, perhaps,  I'll get lucky and find a cheap used bike somewhere. 

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