Leaving Paris, quel dommage (what a shame)
The twelfth arrondissement of eastern Paris is located on the Right Bank of the Seine River. It contains one of Paris’s largest parks, the Bois de Vincennes described below. Its land area is about 6.3 square miles (16.3 square kilometers) counting the park. If you exclude the Bois de Vincennes the land area is less than 2.5 square miles (about 6.4 square kilometers). The population is about one hundred thirty seven thousand inhabitants, and the area is home to over one hundred twelve thousand jobs, mostly in the Bercy area near the Seine.
The Place de la Bastille was the site of the infamous Bastille prison, destroyed in the early days of the French Revolution. The square is shared by the fourth, eleventh, and twelfth arrondissements. Nothing of the old prison remains, except the memories. At the center of the square is the Colonne de Juillet (July Column) a 154 foot (fifty meter) column commemorating the 1830 Revolution in which King Charles X was overthrown in favor of his cousin Louis-Phillippe.
The Bastille was built in the late Fourteenth Century to help defend Paris and was converted into a prison, mostly for political prisoners, in the Seventeenth Century. At the time of its destruction the Bastille was composed of eight eighty foot (twenty-four meter) towers and an armory. By that time the cachots (dungeons) had been abandoned and the prison was not considered the worst in the city. When it was stormed on July 14, 1789 the jail contained seven inmates: four counterfeiters, two madmen, and a young aristocrat on the outs with his father. During the storming ninety-eight attackers and one defender died. Others died afterwards, including the governor. During excavation for the Paris Metro the remains of one tower surfaced and are on display in a nearby park. The Bastille square is often used in political demonstrations, and the area is full of night life, in particular to the northeast.
L’Opéra de la Bastille (Bastille Opera) is a new home of the Opéra National de Paris. It was supposed to replace the old Paris Opera House (Palais Garnier) described in our companion article I Love Touring Paris – The Ninth Arrondissement but such was not to be the case. Given the city’s size and cultural importance it seems that Paris can support two (actually more) opera houses. Interestingly enough the winner of the international competition was an unknown architect from Uruguay. Every one of the Bastille Opera’s nearly three thousand seats has an unrestricted view of the stage. On the other hand it is said that the acoustics are disappointing at best. The building, replacing a train station, was inaugurated on the two-hundredth anniversary of the storming of the Bastille but its first opera performance was almost a year later.
The Promenade Plantée is a 2.5 mile (4.5 kilometer) long elevated park constructed on an abandoned Nineteenth Century railway viaduct, running from the Bastille Opera almost to the Bois de Vincennes. The Promenade is said to be only elevated park in the world. Some portions are enclosed and others are open and provide great views. There are pedestrian and cyclist routes and arcades with arts and crafts workshops. The Promenade was featured in the 2004 movie, Before Sunset.
The Cimetière de Picpus (Picpus Cemetery) is the only private cemetery in the city sitting on land seized from a convent during the French Revolution. It is a few minutes from the Place de la Nation, site of a 1794 guillotine in 1794 that dispatched up to fifty people a day. After the beheading of Robespierre the violence stopped. Among the cemetery’s dead are the Marquis de La Fayette, who died a natural death, his wife, and her sister and mother who died in the terror.
The Palais Omnisports de Paris-Bercy (Paris-Bercy All Sports Palace) is an indoor sports arena hosting a wide variety of sports including Basketball, Boxing, Gymnastics, and Show Jumping. It also hosts popular concerts with the likes of Britney Spears, Celine Dion, Madonna, and many, many more. The Palace seats up to eighteen thousand spectators.
The Bois de Vincennes (Vincennes Woods) is an English-garden type park covering over 3.8 square miles (a little less than 10 square kilometers). This Parisian gem is almost three times as big as New York’s Central Park and four times as big as London’s Hyde Park. The Bois de Vincennes was once a royal hunting preserve, and was transformed into a military exercise area after the French Revolution. Napoleon III made it a public park in 1860. Be sure to see the Château de Vincennes, once a royal castle, and later a porcelain factory, a state prison holding the Marquis de Sade among others, and even an arms factory. The famous spy Mata-Hari was executed here. The Château de Vincennes also served as the military headquarters of the Chief of General Staff in 1940 during the unsuccessful defense of France against the German invasion of 1940. The Bois de Vincennes is also home to a small zoo and four lakes.
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 Syrah I reviewed such a wine and suggested a sample menu: Start with Garbure (Cabbage Soup with Poultry). For your second course savor Cassoulet Toulousain (Bean and Pork Stew). And as dessert indulge yourself with Violette de Toulouse (Violet Flower Crystallized in Sugar). 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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