Sunday 27 November 2016

Passages couverts à Paris

Visited La Fayette to view their Christmas Tree suspended from the shops magnificent central glass dome. The glass was done by master stained glass designer Jacques Gruber at the turn of the C20th in a Neo-byzantine style, but our ultimate destination was to visit some Paris Passages.
A distant glimpse of Sacré Coeur on our way to the first arcade
Passage des Princes
There are around 20 unique and charming covered passageways in Paris mostly built between the turn of the C18th and the mid C19th. Were these arcades an early precursor to the shopping malls we know today? They were created by linking some of the grand boulevard buildings with a covered glass walkway, and have typically Belle Epoque Parisian architectural features - each passage hosting it's own unique character. Some have very upmarket boutiques and food shops selling delicious patisseries; others are filled with interesting ethnic shops and restaurants. There are beautiful antique and jewellery shops, and even shops filled with all kinds of things that you didn't realise you wanted until you peered into their enticing windows.
Passage Jouffroy kept us busy for at least two hours. It houses Musée Grévin with its famous waxwork models, the Hôtel Chopin - an original and reasonably priced place to spend the night, and lots of very quirky shops

Gourmets can enjoy eating in the unmissable tea rooms of Valentin, but we found a memorable Thai restaurant which served us all a beautifully presented and delicious lunch.

 In the elegant passageway Galerie Vivienne we came across a bridal couple dancing 
Special thanks to our lovely DiL for taking us to the passageways and sharing her knowledge, and a big thank you to our eldest son for treating us to a memorable meal

Sunday 20 November 2016

Subterranean Paris

Underground Paris resembles a Swiss cheese with hundreds of kilometers of tunnels built during Roman times lying far below the elegant Parisian boulevards and metro.
However, only a small section is actually accessible to the general public.

That is, apart from a faceless, covert, underworld group of people, known as "Cataphiles". They enter the vast network of tunnels that criss cross the city illegally by way of secret entrances. It is estimated that at least 300 Cataphiles visit this dark labyrinth every week crawling along the narrow, low passageways, dropping down or climbing up through small holes to different levels, and often encountering unexpected obstacles and hazards such as rock falls, flooding, and large pools of water. I can only assume that the dangers experienced in this dark, mysterious, unmapped, underground world excites them and is accompanied by an extreme adrenaline rush. 
The descent for the paying public is via a stone spiral stairway of 130 steps; including exploring the passages the whole visit lasts approximately one hour. I should say that it is not a good idea to go if you have any anxieties about being underground or find descending or ascending steps for a long distance difficult.
Between street level and the area where the Catacombs are located, the visitor travels back in geological time for nearly 45 million years. Descending through a succession of rock layers before reaching a limestone bank from the Lutetian period. The Roman name for Paris was Lutetia, and the limestone cut from that stage provides very high quality cut stone commonly referred to as "pierre de Paris" - Parisian stone. Notre Dame, The Louvre, and  most of Paris's principal buildings were built from this stone.
 This shell was more than one metre in length
Entrance to the Catacombs - "Stop, this is death's empire!"
 Thus begins the pathway that leads through the remains of more than six million Parisians.  

Overflowing cemeteries were a huge problem for 18th century Paris. Those living in the neighbourhood of Les Halles near Les Innocents, the city's oldest and largest cemetery, were amongst the first to complain. They reported that the cemetery exuded a strong smell of decomposing flesh. 
In 1763, Louis XV issued an edict banning all burials from occurring inside the capital. At that time the church was very powerful and chose to ignore the ruling as it did not want it's cemeteries disturbed or moved. However, in 1780 a prolonged period of spring rains caused walls around Les Innocents to collapse, spilling rotting corpses into the surrounding neighbourhood, this episode finally resulted in the removal of millions of bones from various city cemeteries into the quarry. The task took 12 years to complete with some of the oldest bones dating back more than 1,200 years.
The Inspector General of the Quarries, Héricart de Thury was responsible for developing the Ossuary. The long bones and skulls were arranged decoratively to form a back wall behind which other bones were piled. He also created signage indicating from which Parisian cemetery the bones originated.
The Catacombs became a great curiosity for the more privileged Parisians - the first known visitor of note was the Count of Artois, later France's King Charles X. 

Public visits began during the beginning of the early 19th century but infrequently. As a result of the wave of increasing curiosity that attracted a growing number of visitors the government decided to allow monthly visits. Today the Catacombs are open every day apart from Mondays and some Public holidays throughout the year.
Crypt of the Passion: The Barrel
At midnight on the 2nd April 1897, a two hour clandestine concert was held around The Barrel attended by 100 members of Parisian "high society"  which featured Chopin's Funeral March, La Danse Macabre by Camille Saint-Saëns, and Marche Funèbre from Beethoven's Eroica.

Wednesday 9 November 2016

Sunday 6 November 2016

It was a Peaceful Autumn Day

 "The gilding of the Indian summer mellowed the pastures far and wide
The russet woods stood ripe to be stripped, but were yet full of leaf.
The purple of heath-bloom, faded but not withered, tinged the hills....
Fieldhead gardens bore the seal of gentle decay;
....its time of flowers and even of fruit was over."

from Shirley ~ Charlotte Brontë 

Wednesday 2 November 2016

Mercury Glass

Mercury glass was very popular during the Victorian period. It was known as poor man's silver, and provided an inexpensive alternative to the silver objects that furnished the churches and grand houses of the wealthy.
In recent years there has been a revival of objects made from mercury glass - candlesticks, vases, and baubles for the Christmas tree.
Mercury is a toxic substance, but mercury glass is actually a misnomer having no mercury in it whatsoever. It is made from clear glass which is mould-blown into a double walled shape and coated on the inside with a silvering formula made from silver nitrate and a grape sugar solution. This is inserted through a small hole that is then sealed. In the beginning some manufacturers did try to line the glass with a mercury solution, but the practice was quickly discontinued due to both the expense and toxicity.
HMS Beagle travelling through the Straits of Magellan
As a child I recall that my grandmother had a large Admiral FitzRoy barometer containing glass tubes filled with mercury. She had inherited it from her aunt, who had married into the famous Darwin family.  
Admiral FitzRoy was appointed meterorologist aboard the hydrographic survey vessel HMS Beagle in 1826 exploring the coasts of southern Patagonia and Tierra del Fuego. These waters were unchartered and plagued by dangerous tides, storms and blizzards. Two years into the voyage and the captain, Pringle Stokes, had had enough - gripped by depression he shot himself, and FitzRoy became entrusted with the command of HMS Beagle at the young age of 23. On his second trip Charles Darwin was invited to join him on the Beagle's voyage and as we now know this voyage was to have a profound effect on Darwin's thinking resulting in a lasting legacy for the future development of science. 
In my Grandmother's Admiral FitzRoy barometer some of the mercury had escaped from the glass tubes and formed silver balls in the bottom of the container. If I shook it gently some of the balls would amalgamate and make big globules, and if I shook it a bit harder they would disperse into a myriad of tiny balls. I now realise that it was a very stupid thing to do, but at the time it excited my curiosity - I don't expect that my grandmother knew what I was doing, nor would she have been aware of the inherent dangers lurking in her sittingroom. I was fortunate that the wooden barometer cabinet was well sealed, thus preventing the escape of such a noxious substance.
More about Admiral FitzRoy here