After a glorious sleep in, we finally emerged from our luxurious hotel room in an actual sunny day. Each day so far has been quite grey with ocassional drizzle but today was beautiful…cold, but beautiful.
Of course, we took breakfast at La Beaujolais, recognised by the lady of the house before setting out for the day.
Heading along the Seine, we crossed the river on the Viaduc de Passy. This amazing structure, built between 1903 and 1905, features a road bridge with a rail viaduct rising down the middle of it. It was renamed the Pont de Bir-Hakeim in 1948 to celebrate a military victory, quite a rare thing in France…
It also features a big statue of Joan of Arc, sitting astride a rather skinny horse, sword held out, screaming for British blood. It’s rather ugly (an odd thing when it comes to Joan) but full of ferocity and determination. It was created by Danish sculptor Holger Wendekinch in 1930 and sits on an extended parapet, looking towards the centre of Paris along the river.
After a delightful encounter with the escalators on the opposite bank that take a lot of the hill out of the sudden and steep rise, we headed for Honore de Balzac’s House.
Balzac, it is said, influenced an awful lot of writers, giving the world a new realism via European literature. He is often called the French Dickens (in France, Dickens is called the English Balzac) but it’s probably more likely that he influenced Charles rather than the other way around. Having seen the massive list of his works, I feel quite ashamed to say I’ve never read any of them. Mind you, I’m no fan of Dickens so if his style is similar then I’d probably struggle to enjoy him.
His house is now situated between tall apartments and office blocks, nestled on a terrace edge which, once upon a time, would have afforded superb views of the Seine. While it’s three storeys, visitors only have access to the top floor which is full of representations of Balzac and the characters from his magnum opus, the Human Comedy.
Above is a rather dashing bust of Balzac by Pierre-Eugène-Emile Hébert. It’s a lot more flattering than the one that Rodin carved. He made him look all bloated and gruesome.
Sadly, there was nothing in English (apart from the Rough Guide entry) and I wonder that some student of French literature doesn’t do a few translations for those of us who enjoy visiting small buildings once owned by great writers. (Lao She’s house in Beijing, is another example.)
Still, the museum is free, so there’s nothing to really complain about.
Having filled ourselves with French literature, we needed a coffee and settled for a salon de tea on Rue Mozart. It was a small place with cakes and coffees. We ordered lattes and pastry and settled down for a bit.
It wasn’t long before the place started filling up with women. Clearly we’d stumbled on some sort of French club for little old ladies. It was rather disconcerting, to say the least. We paid and left.
Needing some lunch, we found a close by patisserie and bought baguettes to have in a heavily dog populated park. It was all very pleasant until the school kids were let out for their afternoon cigarette break. Not that we were too bothered, we had to make tracks to our next destination.
Last time we were in Paris (or maybe the time before that) we visited Le Corbusier’s house but it was closed. (Actually, it’s La Roche’s house that Le Corbusier designed.) This visit, Mirinda rang up and booked us onto an English tour. And what an amazing house.
We went all over with a remarkably funny young chap who gave us a potted history of both the house and the architect.
It was built to display La Roche’s extensive art collection, though none of it is there now. The pictures on the walls today were from an exhibition of photographs of Corbusier buildings and places he visited. Anyway, it was well worth the visit though we were both amazed that anyone could live there. It wasn’t what you’d call warm and inviting and the bedroom was like a monk’s cell.
Naturally, having walked all over the house and listened to a good hour of architectural history, we needed coffee so settled into a lovely cafe just down the road. One of the things I love about Paris is how you can sit in a cafe for hours and no-one cares.
Eventually we left the warm and cosy cafe and headed out to see the Statue of Liberty. She stands at the end of the Ile aux Cygnes, a strip of land that runs up the middle of the Seine between two bridges. I knew that Lady Liberty was made in France by a Frenchman but what I didn’t know was that she was originally meant to be an Egyptian farmer holding a plough with a fire on his head.
The sculptor, Frédéric Auguste Bartholdi, wanted to build a massive statue, inspired by the Colossus of Rhodes, to stand at the entrance of the Suez Canal. He made drawings and went to visit the site and speak to the men in charge. However, the Egyptians, having originally being quite keen on the idea, went cold for reasons known only to them. Bartholdi then decided to make Lady Liberty for New York Harbour instead.
The version we saw today is one of four small scale models that preceded the final version that now stands on Liberty Island.
By this time, we were a bit worn out so we headed back to the hotel for a good rest before going to dinner.
The other night we passed an Italian restaurant (Villa Verdi) a couple of blocks away and thought we’d try it. And I’m so glad we did. A fantastic meal served by the friendliest staff imaginable. I ordered everything in Italian, telling our waiter how much I’d love to Italian. He thought I was hilarious, particularly my lack of command of Italian…and French. It was a very funny meal. Of course there was the rather awkward moment when Mirinda, flamboyantly put her coat back on as we were leaving, sweeping four glasses off a table. There was a horrendous smashing with the waiter telling us not to worry; that a good night out should always be celebrated with broken glasses. He was a very nice man!