Monday, September 27, 2010

Paris I

Paris is messy. Graffiti is absolutely everywhere. Broken glass and empty cans litter walkways and stairs. The subway and the regional trains feel dingy and worn down, with cut up seats and broken down escalators. Sidewalks are peppered with cigarette butts and empty wrappers.

It is possible that it's worse than other European cities, or that Europe is messier than I remember it. More likely I've got used to Osaka which, local protestations to the contrary, is a remarkably clean, neat city1.

Singer, Woman.

Not all graffiti is ugly. This kind of stencilled decorations were pretty common too, and at least they improve on the usual unimaginative tags.

Charles de Gaulle

While Paris architecture is quite beautiful, the Charles de Gaulle airport is an example of minimalism gone wrong. It's a depressing concrete wasteland with dim, gloomy halls and low-ceilinged passageways. It has the feeling of something that was really cool when new, but now just feels neglected and ageing.

If you stop to look for a moment, however, there are many places where the design really shines, such as the passage above. I could look at this kind of scene all day. Where the airport falls down, I think, is that this kind of bare-concrete minimalism doesn't scale well. As an accent, as a part of something larger it's really cool. When done throughout a multi-hectare complex it just becomes intimidating and ugly.

Paris in August also feels more than a little like a huge outdoor theme-park as much as a living, breathing city. The locals are away on their summer vacations and the foreign tourist season peaks so that's not exactly surprising. The big tourist spots are silly crowded. Meanwhile, many local restaurants and shops are closed for summer, leaving the less touristy areas almost deserted.


A butcher is opening for the day.


Lunchtime at a local brasserie. Most if not all guests seemed to be visitors.

I suspect summer really isn't the best season for this city. The beautiful old buildings and stone-paved streets seem better fit for autumn, with fallen leaves drifting along rain-soaked streets and the small caf├ęs becoming warm, bright refuges from the cold and the damp. The modernist architecture sprinkled throughout the city would also benefit from less sunlight to expose every crack, flaw and stain (*cough* Beaubourg *cough).

Notre Dame

Notre Dame cathedral at night.


The Pantheon in early morning.


Luxembourg subway station. The subway is undoubtedly cool, but dingy and poorly maintained.

Hotel Observatoire Luxenbourg

Hotel Observatoire Luxembourg.

We stayed at hotel Observatoire Luxembourg, a smallish medium-class hotel right near the Luxembourg park. It was a surprisingly good experience. it' s an independent hotel, I believe, so it doesn't have that smooth but bland efficiency of large chains. We had some minor issues: The bathtub plug handle was broken so I borrowed a monkey wrench from the front desk (I'm sure they would have been happy to fix it for us but I think this stuff is fun). The breakfast was supposed to include hot food like sausages, potatoes and scrambled eggs, but that was never ready early in the morning when the dining room first opened.

Observatoire Luxembourg

The lounge, and in the back the breakfast room. Pleasant.

On the other hand, the slight quirkiness also made for a memorable visit. At a chain hotel we would perhaps never have encountered a broken bathtub plug handle; on the other hand I'm pretty sure they would never, ever let me borrow a few tools to fix it myself. The room was spacious and quiet, the breakfast we did have was good, and the atmosphere was overall very pleasant. Yes, I would happily stay there again.


Hotel stairway.

Me, Ritsuko

Me and Ritsuko, at the hotel. I really like the style of this place.

The conference was about half an hour away by foot, so I left early each morning. Waking before dawn is not normally a favourite activity for me, but the jetlag really helps when you travel west like this. And early morning photography is not something I normally get to do a lot of - my body values its morning sleep thank you very much - so that was a novel aspect too. I realize I really should try to do some early morning photography in Osaka too, but as that means getting up early in the morning...

Early Morning

Near Luxembourg, right before dawn.

Paris Mosque

The Paris Mosque, right next to the conference venue.


Paris, from Zamansky Tower.

#1 Neat in the garbage-and-graffitti sense; I did not say "beautiful". The best thing you can say of Osaka streetscapes is that it's surprising, and occasionally surprising in a good way.

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