Steve Watson


      Information: Travels: France: Paris







Arrived in PARIS.


Landed at Charles de Gaulle airport after one heck of a long trip, as it seemed. I went via Baiyuan (Guangzhou) with a 5 hour stopover there. That flight took 9+ hours; then from there to CDG took 13 hours (23:00 to 5:40 + time difference to be worked out.) it took almost no time to get out of customs but I had real trouble contacting Joey, who owns the apartment I rented and who needs to come to meet me at the place. My phone wasn't roaming (was there something I was supposed to do at home?) and I couldn't work the public phones, and they only gave 10/20e cards, and I didn't have the change for a 10e, and they wouldn't give change, and then the phone numbers wouldn't work (one has to dial 06 as not marked) and so on. Eventually I got out on a very crowded train and up endless flights of steps, it took two changes but that part was relatively without drama. At the moment I'm in Cafes Richard on Fbg St Antoine (actually Av. Ledru-Rollin) just across the road from the Ledru-Rollin stop, and just a bit east of the Place de la Bastille, taking a break while I wait for Joey to turn up at 11:30. It's 9:20 now, so I may go for a bit of a walk while I'm waiting.


Map of Paris

The historical centre according to a tourist map I found online.

The red circle is pretty close to where I was staying.


I waited in the park across the road with my luggage for a couple of hours reading and watching folks. He did turn up eventually. The rest of the day I did little, but went for a short walk about the neighbourhood and did some grocery shopping. I was going to have a short nap at about 6, but I didn't wake up until a bit after 10 pm. So I called it quits and started trying to set up my phone for roaming. That turned out to be a bit of a saga; mostly because the Vodafone site kept on hanging in the middle of the process and I was never sure just how far I'd got, so I had to keep repeating steps. In fact I didn't get it all done until the next day.


My Paris Apartment

129 rue de Faubourg, Saint Antoine, Paris, Ile- de- France.

Compact but very comfortable.







Had a nice leisurely breakfast of bacon and eggs (actually the bacon is some kind of weird jambon cru which was the closest I could get in the shop; and the eggs are strange foreign 'oeufs', but they'll do for now. Also in the morning I completed some of the housekeeping for work, which was pretty tedious, but there were no real difficulties.
Off on the metro and out to l'Etoile and the Arc de Triomphe. Quite nice. Declined to buy a ring from an entrepreneur whom I met there. Walking down the Champs Élysées I was impressed by the street in a general sort of way, but it really wasn't anything special - it's just a shopping street. As I went further East towards the Place de la Concord, however, it began to improve; and by the time I got to the Grand Palais and the Petit Palais I was feeling much better about it. I tried to get into the big place but there was nowhere that didn't require a ticket, and there was no indication of anything worth seeing so I went to the little one instead. Much nicer. Impressive ceiling painting - by Tiepolo, I'm informed.


Petit Palais

Contains a small but interesting art gallery - just like every other building in Paris


Continuing on to the Place de la Concord , I went into l'Orangerie and gazed in the appropriate imitation of awe at the 'Nympheas.' Actually, as is often the case, these things look better in books. In this case it seemed very poorly done, and the errors in perspective were more obvious, but it would make a nice wallpaper. (Not entirely a dismissal: William Morris is not to be despised for his patterns.) Also there were other paintings by a range of impressionists or near impressionists including some from other countries. There were some by Chaim Soutine that I quite liked. They reminded me a bit of my aunt Sylvia's domestic nightmares.

It was getting on a bit now, so I strolled past the Jeu de Paume and over the Rue de Rivoli, past l'Eglise de la Madeleine (which had construction work defacing it) and up the rue Malesherbes to the boulevard Haussmann. Stopped for a coffee and then onto the metro and back home. Quite a good day, I thought.

Pont Alexandre III

Crosses the Seine just past the two Palais. Continues Av. Winston Churchill.



a. Boats on the Seine moored just near the bridge.

b. Place de la Concorde: The obelisk is from Luxor. It wasn't stolen - it was a 'gift' from the viceroy of Egypt in 1829







Today I visited the Louvre. Yay! I'd been warned not to attempt too much so I determined to see the Ancient Near Eastern sections first and then whatever else took my fancy. I walked through the Tuileries to get there, which was not much of a garden I have to say, but I might have gotten a bad impression from the bitter cold of the day. Everyone here is wrapped up in a lot of black coats.  I am pleased that the  the pyramid was not as offensive as I had thought, and I had little difficulty getting through the small queue to the entrance under it. Once inside, however, it became a lot more difficult to find your way around. The maps didn't help much and the constant level changes wore me out.

The Tuileries

Pretty flowers and a very French scene.


The Louvre

Looking past the pyramid above the main atrium. Built by I. M. Pei, much to the consternation of architectural purists. I believe that Mary Magdalene is also buried beneath it.


I saw a few things here that I've read and written about, and a lot of stuff that I've been familiar with for a long time. Here was the Moabite Stone written by Mesha' to gloat over the wretched house of Omri. I did an essay on the Omride dynasty way back in 1980 (was it) and I became familiar then with this monolith and its significance. I didn't see Hammurabi's law code, and I wonder if I just missed it or whether its not on display at the moment. It's a pity either way. On the other hand, I did see the Stele of the Vultures and took the opportunity of the good lighting to take some snaps of it - which actually seem to have turned out ok. There were also lots of little statuettes of Gudea, as well as some of similar form but not of him. (That was interesting; one gets a mistaken idea of the general nature of the archaeological relics from only seeing the selected few that are presented in books and so on.) I also got good pictures of the famous wall plaques of Ur-Nanshe. I failed to get pictures of some Tell Asmar votive figures. (Actually, I didn't read the labels. Are those figures here? I'm not so sure now. I wonder what I saw?) other failed pictures include the mace of Mesilim, King of Kish. I didn't even bother trying to take photos of the seal cylinders or the seals since I know from experience (from Boston to Istanbul ) that they just don't come out.

That was pretty exhausting but I thought I should make the effort to see the Egyptian section too. I thought it was much less interesting, though there were a few good sights in there too. Better labels than the Cairo museum, that's for sure, but a smaller sample.

Nike of Samothrace

Created in the 2nd Century BC presumably for display in the Samothrace Temple Complex along with at least two others. It was discovered in 1863. One of its companions is now in the Wiener Kunsthistorisches Museum, and the other is on display on Samothrace. The theme is a common one - I saw a similar figure in the museum at ancient Olympia, for example - but this is be the most impressive of them.


Stele of the Vultures 

This is a piece that I know very well. The picture is a detail from the famous stone commemorating the defeat of the men of Umma by Eannatum of Lagash in one of the interminable border-canal disputes between those two cities. I don't actually have the vultures in this picture, nor the Anzu- bird, who is in another fragment - but note the crushed enemies under the proto-phalanx in the top register. This was found in Telloh, the site of ancient Girsu (part of the conurbation we know as Lagash. It dates to some time in the EDIII (ca. 2600-2350) and was found in parts by de Sarzec in the 1880s.  


Wall Plaque of Ur-Nanshe

Showing the King of Lagash (lu-gal lagashki) (ca 2500 BC? - EDIII in any case) as the builder or at least the maintainer of the city, and in the second scene a classic banquet with reception. The inscription says "Ur-Nanshe, King of Lagash, son of Gunidu, built the temple of Ningirsu, built the temple of Nanshe, built Apsubanda." These plaques are of unknown purpose - apart from being obviously honorific. The hole in the middle was to allow them to be fixed to a wall of still-wet mud by a clay nail. Note that Ur-Nanshe is the grandfather of Eannatum from the Stele of the Vultures.

Seeing these things 'in the flesh' after having studied them for so long is a real buzz.


I went back to the apartment at 6:30 for a bit of a rest and recuperation, but since the museum is open till 9:45 today and my metro ticket is all day, I thought I ought to go back and at least see the Mona Lisa. I did it and it was much easier to find; there are signs all the way to it. There was only a small crowd too, so there wasn't any difficulty seeing it and taking ones time in front of it - not that there's really that much to see. I was more impressed really with the large paintings in the gallery that the ML room opened from. Gericault's ''Medusa", Delacroix "Sardanapalus", plenty of stuff by that vile toad David, and so on. I tried to get photos, but it was a complete waste of time. Never mind.

On the way back I walked out to the Place de la Bastille just to see how far things were. They weren't far at all. I should walk around here more.






Started the day with grocery shopping. Bought a couple of ready to eat meals. We'll see how they go.
Walked plenty. Across to the Bastille, then to the Place des Vosges as recommended, through the Hotel Sully, down the Rue de Fourcy and across the Pont Marie and to the little Ile St Louis. On to the cathedral of Notre Dame. It's certainly an impressive pile, that could do with a bit of a clean up and a bit more space, but I didn't go in because there was a queue a mile long. Perhaps I'll try again on Monday when the tourists might be a bit thinned out. Got a little mixed up at that point and wound up on the south side of the river. That was ok because I found a pile of good bookshops, including Abbey Books, which was an amazing English language place. It was so cramped I really didn't have room to turn around. I couldn't even bend down to pick up the cat.

Hotel Sully

South of the Place des Vosges


Notre Dame

A couple of tympani


Abbey Bookshop

A refuge for anglophones. 


Then I moseyed over to the Pompidou Centre and had a dreadful coffee to rank with the coffee I had in MacDonalds in Nerang. Went around the Museum of Modern Art which was pretty tedious, but the whole thing was saved by a little installation which had turntables spinning in front of spotlights and on the turntables were random objects that cast bizarre shadows on the wall. Inspired by Plato's parable of the cave no doubt, it was somehow amusing and relaxing. Of course it's impossible to photograph, but it made me feel quite positive about the place where I'd been getting pretty fed up till that point. I also quite liked a wire mesh fence where the standard meshing connected with much fancier shapes and patterns. Enough of that: I didn't expect to get much satisfaction from modern art and I am not disappointed by the experience. Now I'm having a quick coffee on Rambuteau. Also much nicer. It's 9:13pm, and I walk home through the restaurants behind Place des Vosges and back through the Bastille.

Pompidou Centre

Another modern building that horrified the purists. I can't say I blame them, but the building does seem to work - even if the ideology of 'honesty' and 'functionalism' and, above all, épater le bourgeoisie, in architecture is juvenile.


Pompidou Centre

The art of fencing







Just walking around today, since most things are closed. walked down Ledru-Rollin to the Seine (after having accidentally walked up it to the Cimitière.) stroll through the Jardin des Plantes, wandered through the deserted Nouvelle Sorbonne, observed the Institution du Monde Arabe's beautiful building (with a rather desolate square outside it,) and so back home. Oh, don't forget the overhead garden that crosses the street down near the waterfront and the Gare du Nord. Nice, and popular.

The Institute du Monde Arabe

Near the Seine on the Blvd St-Germain. Couldn't see much n the way of exhibits this day, but the exterior was nice.


Promenade Plantée

A converted railway line that runs for some way beside Ave. Daumesnil creating a type of overhead bushwalk and garden. It actually starts near the Bastille Opéra, but I didn't know that till later. It's an idea that I think started in New York, and it's a good one. The book says that the arches of the viaduct have artist's wokshops in them so it is called the Viaduc des Arts. 







Visit the church of Saint Denis. The church is on an ancient site where there had been Merovingian and Carolingian predecessors and is dedicated to a patron saint of France. He is not in fact (so far as there are facts) the same Denis as was called the Areopagite, but it's a mistake that has become part of the tradition. The church (Abbey, Basilica, Cathedral) was the royal burial ground of the French kings from the 10th century, but is most notable to me because of its connection to Abbot Suger, who (from 1135) built the narthex and extended the ambulatory and in other ways made this the earliest building in which we now recognise the true 'Gothic' style. 

Plan of St Denis

Note the inclusion of the earlier structure - and the inclined head of the ancient choir extension. 


Detail of the Central Portal Typanum

Showing scenes of the last judgement


Rose Window

The north window and scenes of the creation. Let there be light through this window. As Suger said:


The dull mind rises to the truth through material things,

And is resurrected from its former submersion when the light is seen.


(From the verses on the doors - a famous sentiment.)


I tried to take photos of the interior - the nave (the origin of the 'rayonnet' style,) the crypt, the tombs, etc. but none of them turned out satisfactorily. This is a recurring problem.


Returned to go to the Musee d'Orsay, but I find that it is closed on Mondays. Pity: I suppose I'll have to see it when I come back here in a month.

Finally made it out to the Eiffel Tower. It took 2 hours of queuing and shuffling to get to the top (and 14.5e). The view was impressive over the top of Paris, but it was very cold and rather unpleasant. I was glad to get back down. I really did it just to say that I'd done it - exactly like the Empire State Building. I was in the line for this sight for two hours, and when I got to the ticket counter they stopped for 30 minutes because there was an abandoned bag or a broken lift (we had both stories officially.) Not so much fun that I'd ever consider doing it again - exactly like the Empire State Building.

The Eiffel Tower

The base of the tower is actually much more impressive when experienced than the entire tower seen from a distance. There is a certain awesome massiveness about this 'useless and monstrous' construction. The sides of the tower are named for the features or neighbourhoods they face. This is the South-East or Military School side of the tower.


The Eiffel Tower List

On one of the horizontal spaces around the tower - how I wish that modern architecture had terms like 'entablature' to guide the eye - there is a list of 72 names of the notable savants of France.



The Eiffel Tower

A view of the top and a view from the top. I'm looking down at the Palais de Chaillot and the Trocadero gardens. And the people look just like insects! "Look down there. Tell me. Would you really feel any pity if one of those dots stopped moving forever?"







Out to Chartres . Quite a pleasant day trip. The trains were easy to use and comfortable and took me straight to the cathedral with no mucking about. The cathedral itself was very impressive and I enjoyed wandering about looking at the famous sculptures of the West Portal and the windows from the nave to the small chapels about the ambulatory. I was very pleased to be able to get satisfactory photos of the tall figures that were the focus of Kenneth Clark's discussion of the new faculty that Gothic man added to the repertoire of humanity, and the blue virgin window. 

Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Chartres

A general map and elevation and a sadly low resolution guide to the windows. 


The Western Facade 

The Cathedral in its place; showing the western rose window above the portail royal.


The North Transept 

Porch and Rose



Some very impressive sculpture in the Portail Royal (by the Chief Master of the construction) which idealises in a new way; very differently from the cool correctness of the classical style or the crude hieroglyphic style of the earlier mediaeval period. This is a new view of the capability of perfection in man. 



Western Rose Window

Scenes of the Last Judgement.


The Blue Virgin in the Belle Verrière 

This part of this window is from about 1180. The image of the Queen of Heaven sitting on the Throne of Wisdom cradling the Christ Child echoes the cult statue in the crypt of the church.



Laid in the floor of the nave of the church, and covered by pews on my visit, but still visible. These used to be reasonably common in churches, but their function and origin is uncertain. They may be modelled on pagan customs but were given a Christian interpretation as depicting the way to Jerusalem. A poem from Piacenza (a church with several connections to Chartres) says "The labyrinth represents the world we live in, broad at the entrance, but narrow at the exit, so he who is ensnared by the joys of the world and weighed down by its vices, can regain the doctrines of life only with difficulty. " 


What was also very nice was that while I was there they had a service. The first I knew something was happening was when I heard the sound of the (huge) organ and then someone singing. I was in the ambulatory and when I passed the choir stalls I saw a large congregation gathered - and not just old people either - as well as a presiding clergyman in all his finery. I listened to his talk for a while and the kids doing readings and the intervals of song until they got to the actual communion service when I left and walked back to the train.

Coffee and croissant at the train station was very nice and only 2e.