Friday, January 27, 2006

Gare de l'Est

Place du 8 Mai 1945. 10e arrondissement.

34 million people pass through the train station every year, making it the fifth-busiest station in Paris.

The Gare de l'Est is always a bit of an emotional sight for me because it was the train station from which thousands upon thousands of soldiers were sent to the trenches of Verdun in world war one. They all passed under the half-rosette of its glorious entrance, and for many it was their last sight of the civilian world...a point of no return.

The Orient Express still runs from here to Vienna and Budapest, even though it looks a bit different. It first departed from the Gare de l'Est to Istanbul on October 4, 1883.

Between the thirteenth and eighteenth centuries, the square in front of the train station was the site of the Saint Laurent Fair otherwise known as the Carnival -- a much-missed festival now in the twenty-first century.

The original building of the Gare, now its western wing, was built between 1847-1850 by François-Alexandre Duquesney with the help of the engineer Pierre Cabanel de Sermet. Commissioned by the Compagnie du Chemin de Fer de Paris à Strasbourg, the building was originally called the Gare de Strasbourg, and served the railroad line Paris-Strasbourg, functioning since 1844. Streets in the neighborhood still recall the origins of the first passengers: Boulevard de Strasbourg, Rue d'Alsace... and restaurants in the area still reflect the choucroute and galette influences.

All the shoe ads are a little ironic given that this is a place devoted to other forms of transport...

Luckily, the French decided to change its name to the Gare de l'Est in 1854, well before the embarrassment of losing the province of Alsace to the Germans during the 1871 Franco-Prussian war. Growing railway traffic made extensions necessary, so the engineer Bertaud imitated the original building, adding on to it symmetrically, between 1924 and 1931.

Today, trains leave from here for eastern France, Germany, Switzerland and Austria.

Pigeons beware. (So weirdly beautiful...where is Marcel Duchamp?)

Monday, January 23, 2006

graffitti around Château-Landon

Next up: the Gare de l'Est. But first: some more street art, because the graffitti painters get inspired by train stations and transport hubs, and also because I promised more space invaders.

my legs plus a message written on the wall (er, sidewalk), Nebuchadnezzar + FDR:

Here the space invader's eyes match the pattern of light in the windows behind him - they would be looking in the same direction if they weren't on different planes. I hope that was intentional.

and on the rue Etienne Marcel:

Sunday, January 22, 2006


a chilly view of Paris from within the tubes of the Centre Pompidou...

Saturday, January 21, 2006

camping on blvd. sebastopol

I was too shy to take a photo of any, but pup tents have been popping up all over the streets of Paris. The organization médécins du monde has been giving very high quality tents out to homeless people all over Paris for the winter. I thought that the issue of homelessness couldn't possibly be made vivid or interesting ever again -- it was one of those issues that had just been worn out, exhausted, beaten into the ground along with all the unfunctional solutions that had ever been suggested for it -- but this effort has actually made it shocking and interesting to think about again. Not only do the domed tents with their space age materials keep the homeless warm, give them some privacy on the street, provide a place to keep their things safely, and give them a permanent location where food aid and medical workers can find them, but it also makes the homeless seem much more of a permanent fixture on the street, a part of my neighborhood on rue du Temple in front of the Monoprix, or at the pl. de Châtelet. They look familiar, and also strangely bourgeois -- I would find it hard to afford a tent that nice, although it looks like one that might belong to somebody I know, maybe a distant cousin -- although it's hard to imagine cousins of mine with the street smarts to set up their tent over a heating vent in front of my local Monoprix. The homeless take up a little more space on our sidewalk now, I can't quite ignore them, but they also seem to have a certain right to be there now -- they're established. I've always had a certain sympathy with the homeless from living in places where rents are high and apartments don't feel stable, securely mine -- but now we're even more similar. (Of course I am speaking from a position of privilege in writing this, but we always exist in strange relations of power and powerless towards the things we write about). I like not only that they are leading a more comfortable life now with the tent, but also that they remind me the city is a wild untamed place, the concrete wilderness, asphalt jungle; we're both camping out in it, finding a little shelter in the wilds that is our own.

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

space invaders

I had been noticing pixellated mosaics of space invaders around Paris for some time now -- mostly on street corners. (I even pointed one out to my mother on a visit, and she insisted it was nothing special: "that's how the workmen communicate to each other" -- ha!).

But nope, there is actually someone behind them, and he's discovered a new building material. Space invaders in bas relief! As Parisist says, les invaders se font cubes.

avenue Ledru Rollin, in the XIe. More photos coming soon.

(Photo by Space Invader).

Saturday, January 14, 2006


The Bauhaus Archiv has one of the best-designed websites I've ever seen. I adore their fonts. For some reason, the building didn't really take exceptional photographs -- no comparison to the experience of being there -- probably because I was so distracted by the people I came with! but you get a fairly literal idea of it. The building is a humorous little surprise on the banks of the canal that keeps unfolding as you get closer and your lines of perspective change. It wakes you up.

Clearly setting itself up as the definitive institutional source on the subject, the Archiv defines the Bauhaus period as 1919-1933, and has very good exhibits (most recently: collages by Marianne Brandt).

Gropius designed this building in 1976-79 specifically to be an archive of the movement; it replaced an earlier Gropius-designed building from 1964-65 in Darmstadt that must just have not worked out. Their website describes his role quite hilariously: Gropius war über seine Amtszeit hinaus für das Bauhaus die inspirierende Persönlichkeit und integrative Autorität. Auch nach Schließung der Schule hat er für die Anerkennung und Verbreitung der Bauhaus-Idee gearbeitet. In other words, Gropius was their "inspiring personality and integrating authority." Ja.

I also highly recommend the group portrait taken of the founders, here.

Paul Klee was involved for a short time, and Wassily Kandinsky was a bona fide member of Bauhaus. It was impressive to look through their Bauhaus shop and see just how many well-designed objects of daily life are still being used today, in versions that often cost less mere pennies to buy.

Other major members: Josef Albers, Marcel Breuer, Lyonel Feininger, Walter Gropius, Johannes Itten, Hannes Meyer, Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, Laszlo Moholy-Nagy, Oskar Schlemmer, Marianne Brandt, Marguerite Friedländer, Lothar Schreyer, Gunta Stölzl, Georg Muche.Nearby, you can see one of the Spree canals flowing by.

Clearly, I was fascinated by the ducks walking on water. Miraculous!

Berlin looked like the wintry steppes when my plane landed at Schoenefeld -- dusts of snow scattered across the rocky landscape and a few twisted trees. To think I canoed here once.
At least the ducks are happy.

This, my favorite photo of the day, is just beautiful.

Thursday, January 12, 2006

for and against monuments

I love this -- nothing to be added -- except perhaps to say that it was taken on the Kreuzberg, a man-made hill with man-made waterfalls in the Kreuzberg neighborhood of Berlin that I always stay in---so close to my old apartment in Neukoelln (of David Bowie fame)--
--and it appears to be painted on a monument in praise of Germany's conquest of France in the 1880s when the Germans occupied Paris in 1870-1871, right after the Paris Commune revolt. It was winter, and a very brutal time (according to my Martial sketches); 71,000 French died during the siege, 47,000 of whom were civilians defending their city. 12,000 of the attacking Prussians died. The victory cemented the newly established Germany, which had only recently become a nation...empire-grasping will do that.
You get some pretty good bird's-eye-perspective-visual-domination of the surrounding city from the Kreuzberg. Napoleon would have liked it. This is Mehringdammstrasse you're looking down, with the Fernsehturm half-hidden on the left.
Potsdamerplatz! Can't you just look at this and see how cold it is?

Another anti-monument of sorts. The Palast der Republik 's story is so contested and well-known that I will only retell it briefly. The Palast was built on the ashes of the Berliner Schloß, a Wilhelmine palace that had been greatly damaged by Allied bombing in 1944 and 1945 but nonetheless had at least one wing still standing and could have been repaired. Instead, the DDR government bombed the foundations as a remnant of uncommunist monarchist nostalgia (and let's be fair, the old palace was pretty blah). The ruins were next to Alexanderplatz, a very central part of East Berlin, but the DDR was strapped for cash for much of its existence, so twenty years went by until the government felt they could properly build a modernist, futuristic building that would overshadow all the cutting-edge avant-garde buildings being put up in capitalist parts of the world at that time -- because the bright future of the communist utopia was here, dammit. Built in 1973-1976, the Palast really was quite beautiful in its coppery way, and it had some parliamentary spaces as well as restaurants, theaters, and music venues that were for regular people to use, instead of an aristocratic or financial elite.

Some people say that East Germans nicknamed it Ballast der Republik ("Ballast of the Republic"), Erichs Lampenladen ("Erich's Lamp Shop", referring to Erich Honecker and the 1,001 lamps hanging in the foyer, made by the "class enemy" in West Germany), or Palazzo Prozzo -- but I can't vouch for any of that.After German reunification in 1990, it was found to be dangerously contaminated with asbestos and scheduled to be demolished. You can imagine the many metaphors people have seen in that. One idea was to create a green space near Alexanderplatz with its turf; a plan that has been gaining increasing momentum is to rebuild the Schloss on its spot, erasing history (because Disneyifying life is so meaningful).
When I lived in Berlin, a canvas cloth with the Schloss facade painted on it was hung over the Palast and we expected its demolition at any moment. Differently-nostalgic Ossis would like the building to remain forever. It seems unclear what the future of the building will actually be, although it's clear that the solution will be uninventive, unoriginal, and unable to look to the future, whatever it is.
Meanwhile, the Palast is pretty cute. A group called the Temporary Palace Use group (Zwischenpalaztnutzung) has built a cloth mountain inside that looks rather like a geodesic dome reproducing, and occasionally they throw parties inside in the best Berliner squatter tradition (of 16 years standing now). That's the Rotes Rathaus you see reflected in it -- and really, it's quite appropriate that it's a building that reflects its surroundings (that's probably why it's survived so long) because of all the dreary fights going on around it about what to remember, when, and what the ethical and cultural issues at stake are in the physical encrustation of memory it fixedly -- or not so fixedly -- embodies.

Saturday, January 07, 2006


See what a dangerous place the library is -- you could break your neck there. Or slice yourself on one of the sharp corners. The library is very difficult to get into...

On the other hand, once you get in, it's comfortable and very hard to get back out again...

this is what the library area would look like if I were an Impressionist painter:

(it was snowing and vaporous)

My favorite time of day there is dusk, when four or five giant flocks of larks take their turn swooping down over the hidden low-depths garden, shrieking all at once like a high-pitched version of static on a television set, dive-bombing the pine trees several times and then finally settling in a particular one -- one per flock -- and turning the branches black with their bodies. That is something I am not able to take a photograph of, yet.

Thursday, January 05, 2006

G--- L---, or: the symphony of consumption

can you guess where this photo was taken?

okay, okay, I'm not going to hold out -- too much longer -- :
The Galeries Lafayette -- built originally in 1893 by Theophile Bader and his cousin Alphonse Kahn as a haberdashery on the corner of rue Lafayette and Chaussée d'Antin. They were successful and expanded fast: in 1896, the company purchased the entire building at n°1 rue La Fayette and in 1905 the buildings at n°38, 40 et 42, boulevard Haussmann and n°15 rue de la Chaussée d'Antin.

At night, the facade gets a second facade on top of it -- in sparkly lights.

Balzac, cited by Benjamin: "The great poem of display chants its stanzas of color from the Church of the Madeleine to the Porte Saint Denis." [And the Galeries Lafayette]
Théophile Bader commissioned Georges Chedanne and then his pupil Ferdinand Chanut to design the interior, which looks to me like a giant opera house without a stage -- the boxes are just rotated around each other so that the audience is the show -- one can see and be seen, enjoying the pleasures of voyeurism as well as shopping. The glass and steel dome and Art Nouveau staircase were built in 1912 -- doesn't it look like the commodity fetish has taken over the aura of the sacred, and become the new sun we should orient ourselves towards? It looks like candy. It's run now by a conglomerate which also owns BHV and about 600 Monoprix stores, as well as little spin-offs; the families Meyer and Moulin helped build it up and still own a controlling portion of the company: 61%.
Citation by Benjamin from A. J. Wiertz: "Sun, look out for yourself!"

"There are relations between department store and museum, and here the bazaar provides a link. The amassing of artworks in a museum brings them into communication with commodities, which -- where they offer themselves en masse to the passerby -- awake in him the notion that some part of this should fall to him as well." [Benjamin, L5, 5]

Look, a Christmas tree. (I hope this gives you some idea of scale -- the Galeries are certainly too big to photograph without a panorama camera).

"Squares, o square in Paris, infinite showplace,
where the modiste Madame Lamort
winds and binds the restless ways of the world,
those endless ribbons, to ever-new
creations of bow, frill, flower, cockade, and fruit--"
Benjamin's citation of Rilke, Duineser Elegien.

Fashion: Madam Death! Madam Death!
--Giacomo Leopardi, "Dialogue between Fashion and Death"

Nothing dies; all is transformed.
--Balzac, Pens
ées, sujets, fragments
[epigraphs to convolute B]

Fashions are a collective medicament for the ravages of oblivion. The more short-lived a period, the more susceptible it is to fashion.
[B9a, 1]

Another photograph of the light in the Galeries Lafayette -- taken by a camera in fast motion.

"The subject of this book is an illusion expressed by Schopenhauer in the following formula: to seize the essence of history, it suffices to compare Herodotus to the morning newspaper... Our investigation proposes to show how, as a consequence of this reifying representation of civilization, the new forms of behavior and the new economically and technologically based creations that we owe to the nineteenth century enter the universe of a phantasmagoria. These creations undergo this "illumination" not only in a theoretical manner, by an ideological transposition, but also in the immediacy of their perceptible presence. They are manifest as phantasmagorias. Thus appear the arcades -- first entry into the field of iron construction; thus appear the world exhibitions...Corresponding to these phantasmagorias of the market, where people appear only as types, are the phantasmagorias of the interior, which are constituted by man's imperious need to leave the imprint of his private individual existence on the rooms he inhabits. As for the phantasmagoria of civilization itself, it found its champion in Haussman and its manifest expression in his transformation of Paris.
Nevertheless, the pomp and the splendor with which commodity-producing society surrounds itself, as well as its illusory sense of security, are not immune to dangers... humanity figures there as the damned. Everything new it could hope for turns out to be already a reality that has always been present; and this newness will be as little capable of furnishing it with a liberating solution as a new fashion is capable of rejuvenating society."
[From the Exposé of 1939]
Don't worry, according to Benjamin, the twentieth century will be an improvement on the nineteenth -- or can be, depending on us -- as he says in a different document also dating from 1939... and the twenty-first?

if you enjoyed or were puzzled by this or the other quotes in this entry, um, please go over to the little link from at the left-hand margin of this blog and click on it a few times! (ha, I am kidding...but do have a look at Arcades or Illuminations sometime). merci bien...

Monday, January 02, 2006


while I get back the energy from my New Year's celebration and all the visitors there have been this season, I hope you have been enjoying yours... here are some lovely ladies from a MUCH WARMER day a long time ago in the Tuileries, who are also ready to wish you a bon réveillon...

(i do miss... the sun)

bonne Année!