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I. Along the Seine River, or The Megalomaniac “Capital of the Empire”

This part is all about XIX° century Paris. You may not be interested in this list of avenues named after powerful men but it cannot be overlooked. Paris is in many ways the megalomaniac jewel of one of the most powerful empires of all times, that truly believed it held the “highest form of civilization”. And visiting / living in Paris is also about living in this sublime monster. The city was aimed to be a staple of modernity, it is a recent city (compared to Amsterdam) and is extremely coherent architecturally for most of it was torn down and built again with great fervor, capital and cheap labor between 1880 and WWI, and unlike London or Berlin was never destroyed.

— Starting from the Eiffel Tower. In front of it lies the Palais de Chaillot (known as Trocadéro) painfully trying to compete with the tower. The two were built for different universal exhibitions. I’s a blast to walk up the tower. If you can stand hours of queuing.

— Inside the Trocadéro there is the Cité de l’architecture et du patrimoine (museum of architecture). The permanent collection is not great apart from hosting a two-floors replica of an apartment from the Cité Radieuse. The museum also currently hosts the exhibition Aerodream on ’60s and ’70s inflatable structures, in their own words “from spatialism to pop art, from Gutai to Groupe Zero, from action art to radical architecture.”

— The Palais also hosts the National Theatre of Dance, far from the cheapest place but only incredible pieces are shown there.

— Next to Trocadéro, rue Benjamin Franklin, there’s a 1903 building built by the Perret Brothers (who will much later design Le Havre). It’s a rather strange grey building, slightly geometrical yet still art nouveau that happens to be one of the first fully concrete buildings in France.

— On the other side of the Eiffel Tower there is the “Grand Palais Éphèmère” where Paris Photo is currently happening. It is a massive temporary pavilion that has been installed there while the Grand Palais is under renovation.

— Walking down from the Trocadéro you can reach the Palais de Tokyo. They unfortunately just closed the exhibition and it will be closed in November. Check the bookshop though. In the same building you also have the Musée d’Art Moderne de Paris (Paris Museum of Modern Art) where they have a few good exhibitions (notably Anni & Josef Albers, and Jean Cortot—very French graphic design painter). In general it’s a very good low-key museum stuck in between the gargantuan reputation of Palais de Tokyo and Centre Pompidou. It’s also Paris’ most famous skateboard spot.

— In front of Palais de Tokyo there is the Musée Galliera (Paris’s fashion museum) that just opened an exhibition Vogue Magazine 1920–2020 that could interest some of you (I did not hear anything about it yet).

— As you walk down the street to Métro Alma-Monceau you can take Avenue Montaigne which is the center of luxury shopping in Paris where Chanel, Dior and many others all have their giant flagship stores. Avenue Montaigne ends up on les Champs-Élysées.

— Once on les Champs-Élysées, pass Avenue Franklin Roosevelt and walking towards the Obélisque you will cross Avenue Winston Churchill, your first major axis of megalomaniac power (the avenues before were only breakfast).

— Looking South you have the Grand Palais, France’s answer to London’s Crystal Palace (yes, built for another universal exhibition). Behind the Grand Palais, on the other side of the river you have the Palais des Invalides… Napoléon’s Mausoleum. Behind the Invalides, the “World Heritage Centre” (Unesco’s Headquarters, a staple of “realistic utopian architecture”).

— Looking North you have the Palais de L’Élysée, the discrete palace of Napoléon, nowadays used as the French président house and office.

— Continue East on the Champs-Élysées and you will reach the Egyptian Obélisque (the oldest thing in this city). You are now standing at the center of a cross of buildings and meanings—the powers of God, Politics, Culture and Military—an incredible piece of megalomaniac urbanism, most def the central point of the Empire. Looking South and North, two identical replicas of the Parthenon. One, a church, for God. The other, the French parliament, political power. Looking East, the Louvre, the former Royal Palace, transformed into a museum after the revolution. Does it celebrate culture or aristocracy? I myself do not know, in France the two are always kind of connected. Looking West, the Arc de Triomphe, “Napoléon’s present to its army”… and behind it “La Défense” the financial district that joined the power show in the ’60s. And at the center of this giant urban cross a stolen antique pillar proudly erected—the Obélisque—unites it all… “Civilization”. Oh yeah.

— From the Obélisque I would suggest a coffee in the Jardin des Tuileries (the former Royal gardens, pretty neat French formal garden—nothing like Versailles though)…

— North side of the garden is rue de Rivoli, the perfect façade.

— Behind rue de Rivoli you will find Place Vendôme. If you want to see only one neoclassical square with a huge column at its center, go for this one.

— A little further, rue Saint-Anne, Paris’ “Little Tokyo”. Nothing fancy, good place to have ramen. Seoul-vibe is not far too, there is a big “K-Mart” that opened recently.

— Back to the Tuileries Garden. It is bordered by quite some museums. Musée du Jeu de Paume is a photography museum, they currently host an exhibition of 20th century iconic “must-see” photographies. Not sure about it. Musée des Arts Décoratifs is a design museum but they have no interesting exhibition currently apart from one on ‘90s funky fashion designer Thierry Mugler. Soon they will have an exhibition on Prisunic though, some kind of Tatiesque proto-Ikea furniture brand that did its best to raid French ’60s households with plastic modernism. And on November 17 they have a lecture about the history of French graphic design… but that will be in French.

— Last but not least, the Louvre Museum and the Musée d’Orsay. I’m just mentioning The Louvre. Go there but don’t go there. It’s a pity not to go but it’s a pity to go. I like it, it’s always bigger than I think I think. The Louvre covers anything from the start of Civilization to the Industrial revolution. Musée d’Orsay is the most “Paris” Museum, it’s an impressive place. It covers French art—Impressionism etc.—from 1848 to WWI, “the good years of the Colonial Empire.”

— By the way, when it comes to colonial “treasures” it goes as followed:

— The Louvre safeguards the loot from MENA and Napoleonic wars,
— Musée Guimet from South-East Asian colonies,
— Musée du Quai Branly from Sub-Saharan Africa, Indian Ocean, Polynesia, Americas and Caribbean isles (France still holds territories in all these places).

II. La Rive Gauche, or Where Have our ’50s Gone?

The neighborhood of the gallery, it’s a mixed bag of universities and elitist “Grandes Écoles” cemented with a touristic petrified identity of what the neighborhood once was. It indeed used to be, up until the ’60s, the meeting place of many left-wing intellectuals (Beauvoir and Sartre, the early French theory crew, etc.) and this legacy attracts many American tourists who for better or worse fantasize the place. If this spirit still exists in Paris it has certainly drifted East and North, but for what it’s worth there are still interesting spots around. One warning though: step into a student bar (there’s a few nice ones around the gallery, just by the gallery and the École des Beaux-Arts) and you’ll pay your wine the price of wine. Step into a tourist bar and you’ll pay your wine with your tears. Check for prices before you sit anywhere and don’t be ashamed to say “le moins cher” (the cheapest) when the server asks what wine you want.

— Right at the center of Saint-Germain-des-Prés you will find two iconic, very touristic cafés where the ’50s intellectual pack used to chill. They are the “Café de Flore” and “Les Deux Magots”, just so you know. You may want to take a selfie there.

— At the Western tip of the neighborhood the most bravest of you can try to sneak in Paris’ 1928 Glass House. It is a private house and visits happen but sparsely. But I’m sure one can easily sneak in the courtyard where the house is located.

— The neighborhood ends South with the Jardin du Luxembourg which is the nicest French formal garden in Paris.

— Right by the Luxembourg, on a small hill stands the Panthéon, another neoclassical Greek temple where are buried, since the revolution, a bunch of “great patriotic men” (although in 1995 Marie Curie’s grave was moved there and since then a few other women). It also hosts Foucault’s pendulum.

— Just next to the Panthéon are the Sainte-Geneviève Library which has an impressive (and very studious) reading room, as has the Sorbonne Library. The access is free and open as are other libraries in Paris such as the oval and Labrouste reading room of the BNF-Richelieu, the BNF, the BPI and the Kandinsky Library in Centre Pompidou.

— Going down the Panthéon hill towards the South is rue Mouffetard, a cute touristic medieval street that has survived the successive city works. The students from the design school usually hang there around La Montagne Sans Geneviève.

— Going down East from Panthéon you will find the Arènes de Lutèce one of my favorite small park, hidden behind surrounded buildings.

— Two steps further is L’extas’eat, the only crepe restaurant I would advise in Paris. The woman who has been running the place for the last 50 years is incredible. It is very cheap, expect zero fanciness but a lot of heart in these crepes. I hope she has not closed down with Corona though.

— Down the street is Paris’ Grand Mosque, its gardens are a very nice place to sit for a talk and a sweet mint tea.

— Facing the Grand Mosque lies the National Museum of Natural History, with its Grand Gallery of Evolution (with Dinosaurs too). It is an interesting example of how the then-recent Darwin’s theory was central to the power tension between the secular state and the Church, so much that the state invested in this massive pedagogic installation.

— Going down North you will find the Collège de France, a free access place where famous international scientists and scholars are invited to give a series of lectures on their “expert” topics, that range from quantum theory, history, sociology, art history, etc. If you are curious about a lecture on “Revolution as Hope” or “Scale and Conformal Invariance in Ultracold Gases” or “Liberal and Illiberal Projects in Today’s Europe” or “Shishak I: A Pharaoh of Biblical Proportions” they are happening right now.

— Next to the Collège de France is the rue Champolion which is full of small indy film theaters. la Filmothèque du Quartier Latin has a Kubrick retrospective these two next weeks.

— As you walk North towards Saint-Michel I absolutely advise to visit the bookshop Un Regard Moderne. The owner Jacques Noël has been collecting all kinds of fanzines and independent publishing oddities from all other the world since he started the bookshop in the ’70s. It’s incredible and it’s not expensive. But the guy can be a bit rough, he feels like he really doesn’t want anyone who likes his books less than him to go home with them.

— Cross the river and you will arrive on l’Île de la Cité, the Island where Notre-Dame stands, between Rive Gauche and Rive Droite (left side and right side of the river). You could pass by the Place Dauphine a very nice square to get an expensive glass of wine. Or the Sainte-Chapelle, a small but touristic, pretty neat masterpiece of gothic glasswork.

III. La Rive Droite, or The Heart of the Beast

North of the River. Châtelet, Le Marais, Bastille, République, Canal Saint-Martin, etc. That is more or less where everything happens in Paris. That’s where, further from the tourism of the petrified historical center, life goes on. The real center of the city lies somewhere between Bastille, République and Pompidou. You wanna work, drink, eat, go out, it’s anywhere Rive Droite. But Paris can also be rough and when it is, it’s on the Rive Droite too: homeless, beggars, crazy people, junkies, men and women, young and old, are far from uncommon, nor is being asked money every ten minutes when you sit at a terrasse. It honestly can be heartbreaking even after many years and there is no perfect way to deal with it. Prepare you emotional shield, give 1 or 2 euros if you want, or say constantly no sorry if you want. Catcall is also ubiquitous. For better or worse the Parisian women I know almost never react and go on their way.

— Centre Pompidou. This is an amazing building and I strongly suggest that you pass by just to see it (and get inside) even if you do not take a ticket for the museum. They have several big exhibitions right now but I would just mention a huge one on Ettore Sottsass and a smaller one on Saul Steinberg (one ticket gives access to the whole museum + exhibitions). You can also visit the Kandisky Library or the Sound/Experimental Music Archives.

— 5 minutes Westward, Pinault Collection “Bourse de Commerce” just opened. Although I personally loathe these private billionaire’s foundations (see its competitor Fondation Louis Vuitton) it might be interesting to see how Tadao Ando intervened in this XIX° century rotunda building. Except that expect to pay a lot to get a glimpse of François Pinault’s speculative home decoration signed Jeff Koons, Damian Hirst, Xavier Veilhan and co. subsidized by French massive tax cuts.

— East of Centre Pompidou you will find the Marais, that extends to République and Bastille, forming a triangle. You can pretty much eat or have a drink anywhere around there, the place is hip. There are a few things you must check out.

— Must-see of this Autumn: Lafayette Anticipations has an exhibition on Martin Margiela (free entry). The building (the only Rem Koolhaas’ inside Paris) is also interesting. If you go there, ask to visit their printing/publishing workshop (not public normally) which is absolutely amazing.

— The CCS Paris (Swiss Cultural Center) just opened an exhibition for this year’s “most beautiful Swiss books” and many other things. You can also check the CCS bookshop which has a good selection.

— Apart from the CCS, there are a few other bookshops around you may want to check out: Yvon Lambert (art), Volume (architecture), Ofr. (fashion and magazines), After 8 Books (anything with a good design) and Philippe Le Libraire (best comics selection in Paris, you may check that out because comics / “graphic novels” are a big thing in France).

— Le Marais is also a pretty big shopping place, you may wanna pass by Muji, APC, Cos or Uniqlo, or the many second-hand stores of the neighborhood.

— The Musée Picasso is also in the neighborhood, if you only know him superficially you may want to visit it. Setting aside the controversies that surround the character, together with Matisse his legacy is huge in France, notably in French graphic design .

— Going North of Le Marais you will stumble across the square Place de la République,

— On the way you can pass by La Gaité Lyrique, Paris’ museum of digital arts, they seem to be big on light installation these days.

— Close by you will find the Marché des Enfants Rouges, the oldest covered market in Paris. It’s cute and fancy, and there’s all kind of expensive cheeses, wines, and organic fresh food.

— A little further is rue du Faubourg Saint-Denis, one of two Paris’ black holes (the other one being Belleville) where all social classes, origins, cultures collapse onto each other along the 600 meters of the street. It is the street that fascinates me the most in Paris. Walking north from the Porte Saint-Denis you may stop by an old French-style canteen (bouillon), a Kurdish anarchist bar run by sisters or their parents’ bookshop-restaurant, have a coffee at the hippest café in town, eat a cheap Indian lunch in the Passage Brady, or a delicious sandwich made by an old and nostalgic Jewish-Tunisian man, have a drink in the cour des Petites Écuries or at the Château d’Eau and check the afro hairdressers, eat a too big salad made by a too generous grandmother in a dodgy internet café, get a lunch around the Mauritius quarter, etc. etc. etc.

— Further up the street you can join the Canal Saint-Martin, if you miss Amsterdam’s canals, that’s (one of) the place around to be have a drink or eat something.

— And if you want to visit a graphic design studio you may want to pass by the studio of the girls from Espace Ness which is around (write them before).

IV. North, Crass and Life

The roughest part of Paris. East of Boulevard Barbès is rough as hell, West gentrified as hell. The stones look the same but every street is a social border. Continue West over the train tracks (a historical social wall) of Saint-Lazare and it gets rich as hell.

— The Cent Quatre has no interesting exhibition currently but you may want to check the museum which is a rare exemple of a cultural institution that includes and coexists with its poor neighborhood. You may also pass by the neighboring brutalist Orgues de Flandre.

— Montmartre hill is one of the most Venice-style touristic places in the city but its small streets and squares are indeed cute, and the view from the top of the hill is stunning. Halfway down the hill is Halle Saint-Pierre, a small museum with a great collection of “Outside Art”. Down the hill, the Moulin-Rouge and many cool bars and restaurant rue de Clignancourt and rue Custine.

—An old unused railway circles Paris: la Petite Ceinture. Only some parts have been transformed into public parks but all parts stay accessible if you look for the right entrance. Several abandoned stations are nowadays reclaimed for different purposes: I would suggest you to go to La Station — Gare des Mines for electronic music and La Gare / Le Gore for jazz music.

V. East, Hills and Chaos

The left-wing Paris. It can be rough, but it’s too hilly for any megalomaniac urbanist to build an Avenue in there and therefore the weight of the city never takes over the casual livelihood of the streets (rue de Belleville, rue de Ménilmontant, rue de Bagnolet, rue de Montreuil) and makes it the most pleasant place to be in Paris.

— The Parc des Buttes Chaumont is the best English landscape garden in the city.

— Down the park are the headquarters of the Communist Party, an interesting building designed by Oscar Niemeyer.

— Rue de Belleville (from Métro Belleville to Métro Jourdain) is the other black hole of Paris. It is poorer down the street towards Métro Belleville, and gentrifying as you walk up to Jourdain. It’s a great place for any social activity, to eat (among other things) Chinese food, or if you look for a calm café I would advise you to sit by half-way up the hill, or on a small square, or to check (every Tuesday and Thursday) a poetry/rap open mic. The parallel Rue de Ménilmontant (the more hilly) and rue de Bagnolet (the more calm) are similar sister-streets.

— The cemetery of the Père Lachaise (Zombie sentence written on its doors: “Qui credit in me etiam si mortuus fuerit vivet”) is beautiful and huge, a mini-Paris inside Paris. A dead Paris, that is. It’s also a thing to have sex on Jim Morrisson’s grave, apparently.

— Next to Père Lachaise you can find my favorite Chinese restaurant in the city: Chez Nanchang. This place has managed to extract a fancy “vintage” image out of the Cultural Revolution which is, I guess, remarkable… Anyway the food is also incredible.

— If you happen to be around in South East you can go to Les Pères Populaires for a weekday lunch, an afternoon coffee or an evening beer. If I only suggested one bar/restaurant in Paris it would be this place.

— Next to Les Pères Populaires, you can visit Montreuil’s fleamarket (every weekends). It’s huge, it’s cheap, it’s very rough and it is an interesting world in itself where you can find more or less anything that can be sold.

VI. South, Not (that) Boring

The South is a mix bag of many identities but always feels a bit out from the center, and therefore there are many places there that are easy to make yours.

— Still on the North side of the Seine river the Cinémathèque Française (musée of Cinema) is hosted in a building designed by Frank Gehry but pretty shy and included in its surroundings. For the Nouvelle Vague amateurs: they are opening an exhibition on Alain Resnais.

— South of the river you will arrive in Les Olympiades, the biggest and most coherent ’60s/modernist/concrete/tower neighborhood of the city. If you are around you can stop by Lenouvô Cosmos for a drink or a meal.

— Next to Olympiades, in avenue d’Ivry and avenue de Choisy is the biggest Chinese neighborhood in continental Europe with many restaurants, supermarkets, etc. etc. etc.

— La Butte-aux-Cailles is a small neighborhood that is very suburban/village like if you need a break from the city’s chaotic energy. If you wanna swim the public swimming pool of the neighborhood, which waters come from warm waters deep under Paris, is one of the oldest in Paris.

— Parc Montsouris is the other big English garden in Paris.

— Next to the park in the cute Square de Montsouris where you can find Le Corbusier’s 1922 Ozenfant House.

— South of the Park is the Cité Internationale Universitaire (International Student City) a park where many countries have built houses for their students. The houses/buildings look like huge pavilions and the whole place like the Giardini della Biennale. I would definitely check the The Brazilian House (Le Corbusier, again… and it’s not over yet) and the Dutch College.

— Square Denfert-Rochereau you will find the public entrance of the Catacombs, the general name for the countless tunnels under Paris: stone mines, cemeteries and more recent diggings. I’ve never went through this official door but I’m sure it can be interesting too.

VII. West, Money and Statutes

Money flows but values do not change. The place is very conservative, very right-wing, very rich.

— At the edge of the neighborhood is located the Jardin des serres d’Auteuil, a beautiful XIX° century botanical garden built to grow and preserve colonial findings. Access is free.

— Next to the botanical garden you will find the rue Mallet-Stevens and the Square du Docteur Blanche where the Fondation Le Corbusier (small museum, big archive) is located. This is a weird island of early XX° century modernism in Paris.

— You won’t be able to get in the adjacent neighborhood: it is the Villa Montmorency. Gated communities are normally not a thing in France but at the heart of the richest neighborhood of one of the richest cities in the World there is the Villa Montmorency, where a bunch of billionaires form a small separated community. Former French president Nicolas Sarkozy lives there, he’s just been sentenced to jail for corruption but is allowed to make his years at home.

— In the heart of the Bois de Boulogne (huge but boring park) you will find the Fondation Louis Vuitton, built by Franky Gehry for Sarkozy’s best pal, World billionaire podium contender, the big boss of LVMH, to host his family’s art collection (again with “cultural” tax cuts). I hate LVMH and I hate this place, it’s an horribly expensive, always unsurprising, touristbait shit. Yet… they currently host an exhibition on Charlotte Perriand, which is an important designer I really like. So I don’t know. (I have no systematic hate against private fondations, Fondation Ricard gives surprising chances to artists and can occasionally be an interesting place, as can Lafayette Anticipations or EDF Electra).

— As you walk back towards the North you will pass by the Arch of Triumph (it’s actually very nice to get in and on the rooftop) and another beautiful park of the city, the really affluent Parc Monceau.

Microsite 1. The Opéra

The neighborhood, centered around its 1870 protopostmodernist, eclecticism-excessive Opera house lies somewhere between the busy Rive Droite, the “Empire” Paris and the rich West. It is the center of the late XIX° century urbanist plans, where avenues have fully replaced the street. Nothing is small, nothing is slow.

— You may want to visit Printemps and Galerie Lafayette, the two most iconic XIX° century grand magasin (department store) in Paris, facing each other. I’m not fan of malls but these are worth a visit. The whole place is centered around shopping, giant stores like Uniqlo, H&M, etc.

— The Korean Cultural Center just moved around, they currently have a free exhibition on “Hangul alphabet and design” that might be interesting. They often have free concerts.

Microsite 2. Beaugrenelle

With Les Olympiades, Beaugrenelle is the other Tower-Modernism neighborhood of the city, built a little later in the ’70s on a former industrial zone. It is the only neighborhood inside Paris that fully applies the geographical separation of transportation modes (La Défense in the suburbs is also like that). Cars drive under the city in tunnels, people walk above these tunnels on gigantic concrete slabs from which towers grow.

— Under the ramp that goes from the car level to the pedestrian slab, you can find if you really look for it one of my favorite places in Paris, the Korean restaurant K-Bop. It is only open for lunch but is an oasis of homeliness in the middle of an incredible concrete scenery. At the car level, in the tunnel under neon lights, you will also find a few Korean restaurants, supermarket and karaoke places.

— North of Beaugrenelle, next to the famous Pont de Bir-Hakeim, you will find the Maison de la Culture du Japon (Japanese Cultural Center). Exhibitions are polished and uninteresting but the entrance is free as are their toilets which are an effective soft power tool promoting Japan’s technological achievements. I greatly advise these toilets.

That’s it for today, I’ll tell you a few things about the suburbs another time.