Don't miss the beautiful details of the Arc de Triomphe
The eighth arrondissement on Right Bank of the Seine River is part of the business and tourist center of Paris. Its land area is a tad under 1.5 square miles (about 3.9 square kilometers) and has a population of about forty thousand but hosts over one hundred seventy thousand jobs, the most of any Parisian district.
L'église de la Madeleine, often called la Madeleine is a church built to honor Napoleon’s army. Towards the end of the Twelfth Century the site contained a Jewish synagogue that was seized and consecrated as a Church dedicated to Mary Magdalene. In 1757 construction started on a new church, one demolished prior to completion. Then a new church was started but work ceased during the French Revolution. Napoleon and others got involved and finally the church was consecrated in 1842, almost one hundred years after rebuilding commenced. The building is Neo-Classical but inspired by a Roman temple at Nimes in the south of France. You can’t miss its fifty-two Corinthian columns, each twenty meters (over sixty feet) high.
The Madeleine’s organ is top of the line; the famous composers Camille Saint-Saëns and Gabriel Fauré were church organists. I am told that this is THE place to have your wedding and the list of Madeleine funerals is quite impressive including the likes of Chopin, Saint-Saëns, and Josephine Baker.
The Palais de l'Élysée (Élysée Palace) is the official residence of the President of the French Republic and hosts meetings of the Council of Ministers. The gardens are the site of a presidential party on July 14th. If you manage to wangle an invitation take my advice and don’t talk about storming anything.
The Palais was bought by Louis XV as a residence for his mistress Jeanne-Antoinette Poisson, better known by the name Madame de Pompadour. Louis’s political opponents hung signs on the mansion’s gates “Home of the King’s …”. Even worse she was blamed for the Seven Year’s War. Later the building went through some hard times serving as a a furniture warehouse, a print factory, a dance hall, and finally as home away from home for those Russian Cossacks who occupied Paris in 1814. Let’s just hope that they didn’t put their feet all over everything. Once they cleared out things started looking brighter for the Élysée. Napoléon III used to meet his mistresses there while living at the Tuileries Palace only an underground passage away. A French President died there in the arms of his mistress right before the end of the Nineteenth Century. In a weird incident during World War I a gorilla escaped from a nearby zoo and tried to kidnap the wife of the President of the Republic. Believe it or not a President of the French Republic and member of the Académie Française, Paul Deschanel, was said to jump into trees during state receptions, possibly imitating this unnamed gorilla.
The Élysée remained empty during World War II. Charles de Gaulle lived there from 1959 to 1969 but preferred receiving official state guests at a nearby building. To quote him "I do not like the idea of meeting kings walking around my corridors in their pyjamas." Socialist President François Mitterrand usually returned at night to his Left Bank lodgings or to a friend’s appartment elsewhere. Don’t pity the poor forsaken Élysée; its estimated annual budget for drinks alone is one million euros, well over one million dollars.
The Arc de Triomphe is a monument honoring French soldiers, in particular those who served in the Napoleonic Wars. It is located in the center of the Place Charles de Gaulle, previously known as the Place de l'Étoile, at the western end of the Champs-Élysées. This monument, built in 1806, is 165 feet (over 50 meters) high and almost as wide as it is high. It is the second largest such arch; the largest one is in Pyongyang, North Korea. Its design was inspired by the Classic Roman Arch of Titus. The interior walls list over 500 French generals and the names of major battles of the Napoleonic wars, somehow omitting Waterloo. When Baron Haussmann redesigned Paris he redid the neighboring Place de l'Étoile, heightening the Arc’s visual impact without solving those nasty traffic jams that just happen when a traffic circle serves twelve busy avenues.
Both France and Germany have held victory marches past the Arc de Triomphe. Beneath the Arc lies the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier of World War I with an eternal flame, the first in Western Europe since the end of the Fourth Century. Would you believe that a drunk was able to extinguish this flame? Can you guess how? You might climb 284 steps to the top, or you can take the elevator and walk 46 steps. And yes, there is a replica at the Paris Las Vegas resort.
The Théâtre des Champs-Élysées is an Art Nouveau theatre several blocks away from the avenue of the same name. In 1913 it hosted the initial performance of Igor Stravinsky's Rite of Spring that degenerated from catcalls and fistfights into a full-scale riot. The Théâtre is home to several orchestras and other cultural events and hasn’t seen a riot in a long, long time (probably since 1913). Performances tend to be quite pricey, not surprising given the neighborhood.
The Grand Palais (Grand Palace) is a large glass Art Deco exhibition hall built for the Paris Exhibition of 1900. It recently reopened after being closed for twelve years after a glass panel fell. The Petit Palais (Little Palace) across the street is home to an art museum, the Musée des Beaux-Arts de la Ville de Paris.
The Hôtel de Crillon is an exclusive luxury hotel located at the foot of the Champs-Élysées at the north end of the Place de la Concorde. The hotel dates back to the mid-Eighteenth Century. Marie Antoinette was a frequent guest and took piano lessons there. This joint is so chic that its gourmet restaurant is decorated with seven different types of marble. Its top-floor Leonard Bernstein suite actually contains one of Lenny’s pianos. I’d be surprised if you have to demonstrate your piano skills to rent the suite. After World War I President Wilson and the American peace delegation stayed there, as did several other American presidents and the German high command during World War II. Space unfortunately precludes me from listing other fabulous, or at least famous, guests.
And let’s not forget the annual Debutante Ball attracting the likes of the great, great, great granddaughter of the writer, Leo Tolstoy, the niece of George Bush, and the granddaughter of an executive vice-premier of China.
If you need to relax after thinking about this Ball and why your fifteen to nineteen year-olds weren’t invited, stop by the beautiful Parc Monceau at the northern end of the district. Unlike most French parks, it is laid out as an informal English garden. It is the site of the first silk parachute jump.
We’ll finish our Parisian tour at a train station; not just any train station but the famous Gare Saint-Lazare that opened in the 1830s. For some reason it has attracted Impressionist artists such as Édouard Manet and Claude Monet who even chose to live in the neighborhood.
Of course you don’t want to be in Paris without sampling fine French wine and food. In my article I Love French Wine and Food – A Midi Viognier I reviewed such a wine and suggested a sample menu: Start with Huitres de Bouzigues (Oysters from Bouzigues). For your second course savor Bourride (Fish with Aïoli, a local mayonnaise). And as dessert indulge yourself with Crème Colane (Dessert Cream with Lemon, Vanilla, and Dill Seed). Your Parisian sommelier (wine steward) will be happy to suggest appropriate wines to accompany each course.
Levi Reiss has authored or co-authored ten books on computers and the Internet, but to be honest, he would
rather just drink fine French or other wine, accompanied by the right foods.
He knows what dieting is, and is glad that for the time being he can eat and drink
what he wants, in moderation. He teaches classes in computers at an Ontario
French-language community college. His central website is
www.wineinyourdiet.com devoted to the health and nutritional aspects of wine and its place in your weight-loss program. Visit his global wine site www.theworldwidewine.com and his other websites devoted to Italian wine, Italian travel, and Italian food.
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