Friday, August 10, 2012

Alice in the Marais

"Curiouser and curiouser,"

thought Alice to herself as she stumbled across BHV's floating numbers...

Where shall I go in the Marais today? 

"If you don't know where you're going, any road will get you there." 

I guess I could go back to yesterday, 
before I lived in the Marais...


"I can't go back to yesterday, I was a different person then"

I suppose I should write about the History of the Marais


Focus on the adventures first. 
Explanations take such a dreadful amount of time out of one's day. 

"Alice had got so much into the way of expecting nothing but out-of-the-way things to happen, that it seemed quite dull and stupid for life to go on in the common way." 

So, she decided to sit for a spell

writing a forward memory

instead of a backwards one...

’The question is,’ said Alice, ‘whether you can make words mean so many different things.’

Bibliotèque Forney

Hôtel de Sens, Bibliotèque Forney
1, rue Figuier; Paris, France 75004

The Forney library is a rarity among libraries. While it is a 19th-century library, inaugurated in 1886, it has (since 1961) been housed in the Hôtel de Sens, a medieval building built between 1475 and 1507.

The library was created by Aimé-Samuel Forney to promote artistic craftsmanship for the city's workers. Forney, a philanthropist who left no heirs, instead left the city a legacy that funded a new type of institution: a professional library that Parisian workers could use to perfect their skills.

The Forney library, originally located in Forney's neighborhood of the Faubourg Saint-Antoine (11th arrondissement), was the first library in Paris to stay open late so that visitors could make use of it after work.

It is not necessary to register to visit the Forney library. However, if you wish to borrow books, you'll have to register at the Accueil desk. Simply fill out a fiche d'information titled: Inscription dans les Bibliothèques de la Ville de Paris, present a valid photo ID (passport), and bring a small photo of yourself (to put on your membership card). With parental supervision, children can also receive cards and have borrowing privileges.

The library collection is located on 3 distinct floors. The reading room is spacious and divided from the stacks by a triple-arched screen of open stone lacework. The poster collection is up a winding stone stairway inside one of the turrets. The collection includes decorative, graphic and fine arts as well as collections on wallpapers, textiles, posters and advertisements. On the 3rd floor, I found a book on sardine advertisements, which I thought was quite drôle. 

As well as having computers (some with Internet access), there is plenty of seating and space to view books, make notes, and consult the library's many catalogs. However, the librarians are well-informed, friendly, and enthusiastic in their help, so if you have questions, I'd start with them first. For example, much of my research is not located at the Forney, but when inquiring whether or not they had information on the subject I was seeking, they were able to direct me to other libraries in Paris. Not only were they familiar with their own collection, but those of the other libraries as well.

If you wish to get online, look for a computer with a red dot on the top of the monitor (same place where you'd find the integrated camera on a laptop), enter your membership code (this number is below the bar code on your card), and your birthdate as your secret code (day/month/4-digit year of birth). Voilá! You now have access to the Internet for 1-hour. I presume you can sign-in again for another 1-hour session, however, I only needed to be online for about 30 minutes, so I didn't have a first-hand opportunity to find out. Besides, given that I can sign-in from anywhere, including home, I figured my time was best served exploring the many shelves of the library, which I did with great delight.

Visiting Paris' Bibliotèque Forney is a treat for any bookophile.  For those who do not speak French, the library also has a pretty sizable collection of books in English.

Taking a photo of my children in the courtyard of the Hôtel de Sens

Sunday, June 3, 2012

A Snapshot of the Marais

The invention of the daguerreotype in 1839, initially believed by Baudelaire to be an offense to the artist domain, claiming that the reproducibility and mechanical aspects of the photographic process rendered it artificial and unauthentic, is the very device upon which we now rely to see 19th century Marais.

The Age of Mechanical Reproduction might have removed art from its "sphere of authenticity," but it did not prevent the Marais' unique artistry - Paris' own country in the city - from being captured in time. 

Napoleon III hired Charles Marville to document older neighborhoods of Paris prior to Haussmann's influence. His photographs captured 19th century Paris like no other historical testimony available to us today. 

Félix Nadar dans son Géant 

Despite the ambivalent reception photography had in the nineteenth century artistic domain, the novelty of preserving early photographs is now considered an artform. 

The artiste démolisseur preserved the integrity of Paris like no other non-collective artform could... by capturing a moment in time... the preservation of history. 

Much like how the virtual world now captures primary source contributions on a global scale, photography in the early 19th century reproduced history in a way that continues to captivate the imagination of those transfixed by these romantic mechanical images. 

I look forward to taking my own photographs of the Marais, of capturing its ever-evolving social and architectural moments to illustrate to future generations that while a photograph is nice, to truly feel connected, nothing compares to being there in person. 

Welcome to the Marais 

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Early Origins of the Marais

In 879, the emperor Charles the Bald donated the flooded lands, now known as the Marais, to a religious community - the St. Opportune Abbey. 

First Bible of Charles the Bald (Paris, Bibliothèque Nationale, MS lat. 1) presented in 846
9th century manuscript Bible commissioned by Count Vivien (aka Count Vivian Bible / Vivian Bible)
495 mm x 345 mm / 423 vellum folios

The draining of the lands turned them into fertile marshes (marais), the parisian term denoting farming of vegetables and aromatic plants. 

One of the earliest religious brotherhoods to take part in this new vegetable farming directly outside the courts of Paris were the Maison du Temple and the St. Martin of the Fields brotherhoods. The order of the Temple built their fortified church in the Marais in 1240. 

Prior to leaving for the crusade in the 12th century, King Philippe Aguste commissioned a high wall to be built around Paris to protect the city from Viking raiders.  

The agricultural fields of the Marais were not included inside this original enclosure, but a fortified gate was built, allowing access from the city to the surrounding fields. 

In the mid-14th century, while the Turks were overrunning Hungary and one-third of Europe was in full revolt against the Church, Charles V built a new city wall protecting Paris, this time it included the Marais, where he moved the Royal Court. 

Bastille Saint-Antoine was then a fort-bastide. It was built on the line of the city walls south of the Porte Saint-Antoine and surrounded by its own moat. 

The fortress commanded the river and its approaches, furnishing protection to the Hotel Saint-Pol, the new location for the royal court. 

19th Century reconstruction of the Hotel Saint Pol Huyot. The Bastille is at the bottom, the Church of St. Paul is to the left and the Celestine monastery is on the right (in blue). The wall built by Charles V is visible in the foreground,  as well as the tower Barbeau and the door leading to the Rue du Petit-Musc.

Shaded location of the Hotel Saint-Pol.  
The main entrance door of the King's residence (in red) looked toward the river Seine.
The Queen's home (yellow) and the Dauphin (blue) were north of present day Rue de Lions St. Paul. 
There were gardens along the Rue du Petit-Musc.

Why did Charles V move the French Court to the Marais? 

Since his youth, the dauphin had good reason to be alarmed by the growing power of the Confrerie de Bourgeois, the municipal authorities of Paris. 

Statue of Étienne Marcel by Antonin Idrac next to the Hôtel de Ville

Étienne Marcel, wearing colors of the revolt, marched to the Louvre, broke into the apartments of the dauphin, and in the presence of the prince, assassinated Robert de Clermont, marshal of France, and Jean de Conflans, marshal of Champagne. The dauphin barely escaped by consenting to wear the red and green cap of the republican leader.

Determined to secure his residence with the Association de la Marchandise de L'Eau, the prince regent forsake the Palais and the Louvre and moved the Royal Court to the Marais.

His purchases included the hotel of the comte d'Etampes, the hotel of the Archibishop of Sens with its gardens, and the smaller hotels d'Estomesnil and Pute-y-Muce as well as the estate of the abbots of Saint-Maur. Upon receiving the throne, Charles V declared the Hotel-Saint Pol the property of the crown.

The royal court was a group of palaces rather than a single building whose gardens were shaded by trellises and covered with vines in what would eventually become a future haven for the amusements for generations of aristocrats, artists, scholars, and those seeking refuge from the staunch régime. 

Monday, April 30, 2012

Early History of the Marais

The Marais (marsh or swamp) is one of the oldest quarters in Paris; standing in propinquity to the Île de la Cité.  During the Roman era, the arteries rue St. Martin and St. Antoine were built to cross over the Marais.

A place where "time-worn stones" and "ever-flowing streams beneath the bridges" connect the sprawling northern arc around the edge of the Right Bank wall, the Marais emerged from out of the marsh into the fashionable Marais neighborhood we know today.

The crown played a major role in the development urban housing through the process of lotissement - the parcelling of land into small lots whose entrances faced newly designed streets.  Henry IV 'of Navarre' (r. 1589-1610), is credited with giving the Marais much of its characteristic architecture. 

King Henry was insistent that architects follow building regulations, which kept straighter building lines on the street. Here, as elsewhere at the time, timber-framed buildings were banned, while greater care was taken to make building heights more uniform. 

In the 14th century, the fortress compound of Charles V included all of what is now the Marais - the 3rd and 4th arrondissements of Paris (Pont Royal and the Porte Saint-Denis).

In 1962 de Gaulle's Culture Minister André Malraux passed a law permitting the designation of 'conservation areas' (secteurs sauvegardés) - areas of great historical importance or aesthetic value. The Marais was the first area in Paris to be given this grand treatment.

Malraux's pioneering law turned the Marais, which at the time was one of the unhealthiest and most decaying parts of the old city, into a tourist hotspot - one of the most chic districts in town.

Nurturing the idea of le Vieux Paris, the Fifth Republic presided over the historic patrimony of the city. Under the prescriptions of the 1962 Malraux law on conservation areas (secteurs sauvegardés), the Marais was restored.

Utilizing draconian powers of expropriation (knocking down eyesores), the private-public company, fulfilling the mission of conservation in the Marais, took old buildings and converted them for modern uses - upgrading services along the way.

New economic activities were introduced into the neighborhoods with the intent on retaining the Marais's architectural and cultural historic character.

While the Marais had fallen into inner-city deprivation (60% of homes had no running water and no WC, the amount of green space was approximately half the city average, and some housing blocks had 2,000 individuals per square hectare vs. the Parisian average of 300), the success of the Festival of the Marais in 1961 - a cultural festival held in the old hôtels - convinced Parisians that the Marais was worth saving.

The Marais, a highly heterogeneous locality, socially and ethnically, had long since had an artisanal character and lively air (though at one point that air was considered insalubre (îlot insalubre - an insanitary district designated for improvement).

Restoring the dilapidated Marais back to its former glory after years of neglect and foreign occupation meant the removal of sheds, lean-tos, additions, and workshops from the courtyards and inner spaces of the great aristocratic hôtels. The aim was to restore the Marais back to the approximated state of the neighborhood in the mid-eighteenth century.

This historical cleansing - curetage - hasn't been without its conflicts. The two principles - le Vieux Paris as something worth saving and the support of the historic patrimony of the city - has resulted in distain for work of quality dating from the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. This conflict requires a great deal of meticulous care and historical verification to determine which components stay and which components go.

Nevertheless, the restoration process has produced some architectural gems. By the 1980s the Marais had been transformed with its ethnic diversity retained - though there was a clear shift in its social texture. Still today, many of the workers, artisans and small businesses, which have historically given the district its appeal, have been leaving in droves due to rising prices and confining spatial restrictions. Residents, on the other hand, have benefitted with rising property prices, with a new middle-class community arising from the neighborhood's beautification process.

One particular development has been the emergence of a liberal community in the Marais. Still, the Marais remains highly culturally and ethnically diverse even though the population tends toward the better-off. The beautification of the Marais has placed it directly on the main tourist trails.

The restoration and establishment of museums have also played a large part in the Marais' appeal. The Musée Carnavalet in Madame de Sévigne's old haunt, the Musée Picasso in the Hôtel Salé, and the Maison européenne de la photographie on the Rue de Fourcy are must sees while visiting Paris.

The resulting respect for le Vieux Paris with the exigencies of modernization has produced a kind of museumization of the neighborhood (old corner shops are now trendy boutiques; shoe-shops retain old signs - Boulangerie - with their enamelled figures dating back to the nineteenth century).

Located on the right bank of the Seine at the foot of the Belleville and Montmartre hills, there's no doubt as to why the historic Marais quarter is a central component of the heart of Paris.