Wednesday, February 14, 2024




We are back in Paris.  This year, we are living right in the heart of the bustling city, but our fifth-floor view 
is wide open and spectacular.  From our south-facing windows, we look out on to the Bourse de Commerce and its adjacent gardens and walkways. The gardens are home to house sparrows whose songs outside our windows add a touch of brightness to these cloudy Paris mornings.

From our balcony, we see the undulating, translucent glass canopy of the Les Halles  shopping center.  Looming up behind it is the multi-colored glass and metal structure of the modern art museum of the Centre Pompidou
We have to go outside to see the flying buttresses of the imposing Saint Eustache church, whose bell tower announces its presence with the melodious chiming of the hours. 

On 13th-century Paris maps. our street is visible just inside the now non-existent walls of Paris. The main market of Paris was located in the surrounding area, where Les Halles now stands. Built on marshland that had been drained and converted to fields, the market would occupy the same area for almost 800 years.  It began as a dry goods and grain market and over time, wholesale food halls were added. 

Different structures were built and demolished over the centuries, but the most famous of the buildings were the beautiful iron and glass pavilions erected in the 1850s.  The buildings, designed by Victor Baltard, were one of the must-see sights of Paris for more than 100 years. They were demolished in 1973, and the market was moved outside of Paris. 
For years the site was a huge hole in the ground as various ideas for the new construction were debated and rejected.  

When the new shopping center was finally built, it was in the opinion of many, an eyesore in the heart of Paris. 
The remodel, with its two and a half hectare canopy composed of 18,000 glass panes was completed in 2018.  Like the pyramid of the Louvre before it, it is loved by some, hated by others.
In 1582, near the emplacement of the market,
 Catherine de Medici, the queen consort of France, built
 L'hôtel de la Reine.  She adorned her sumptuous residence, known afterward as L'hôtel de Soissons, and its large formal gardens with paintings and sculptures from her extensive art collection.  Catherine enjoyed her palatial residence for just seven years. She died in 1589 and for almost two hundred years afterward, the estate passed to various counts, dukes, princesses and princes. The last owner, the Prince of Carignan, died in financial ruin in 1741. His creditors clamored for compensation and in 1749, the building was razed and its material sold to pay his debts.  

The only vestige of Catherine's fabulous home is a 31-meter stone column.  It is thought that she had it built for her Italian astrologer Cosimo Ruggieri, a supposed master of the occult, but its actual purpose has never been confirmed.  

As in the days of Catherine de Medici, the building is once again filled with art. Originally a grain market, then a stock exchange, it is now Paris's newest museum, The Pinault - Bourse de Commerce Collection.  Renovated at a cost of more than 200 million dollars by the French billionaire François Pinault, the museum hosts temporary exhibits showcasing Pinault's vast modern art collection. The Medici column remains and is now topped by Philippe Parreno's "Mont Analogue." The museum's describes the art piecee thusly:  "a lighthouse signalling the Bourse de Commerce from the top of the Medici column, Mont Analogue throbs with lights of different hues and sends its utopian message out in the Paris sky" - and right into our living room.

The museum also houses a restaurant, La Halle aux grains,  located in the rotunda of the dome. Its big windows give  us a birds eye view of the restaurant. In one window are the chefs in their toques, surrounded by the sous-chefs and their helpers, all of them hard at work.  Waitpeople rush into the brightly-lit kitchen and then glide smoothly into the elegant, softly-lit dining room.  Candles flicker, wine glasses are raised, delicious food is enjoyed while behind the scenes the chefs work non-stop late into the night. It's like a private viewing of the English television series, "Upstairs, Downstairs." 

Down below, there is drama as well. People pass through the park day and night in an ever-changing scene: rushing or lingering, talking, laughing, crying, embracing.  There are, however, some constants - the five or six dogs, who arrive every morning with their owners in tow. While the owners exchange polite greetings,  the dogs, without any pretext of French decorum run toward each other with a wild canine joie de vivre - 
happy to be in the park, happy to see their friends, just happy to be alive.  

We know exactly how they feel.  

A bientôt,

For more photos, click here