This is what the Gare Montparnasse looked like over a century ago
The fifteenth arrondissement is located in southwest Paris on the Left Bank of the Seine River. Its land area slightly exceeds 3.2 square miles (a tad over 8.5 square kilometers). It is the most populous of the twenty arrondissements, weighing in at over two hundred twenty five thousand residents and provides almost one hundred fifty thousand jobs.
The Gare Montparnasse is one of six large Parisian railway stations. It first opened in 1840 and was expanded only a few years later. In 1895 a runaway train rode through a two foot (sixty centimeter) wall, left the premises, and toppled onto the street thirty feet (ten meters) below. The train finished this wild tour on its nose, as shown on the cover of the Lean Into It album produced by the hard rock group Mr. Big. No passengers were killed in this grand voyage, but several were injured and a passerby was killed.
On August 25, 1944 the German military governor of Paris, General von Choltitz, surrendered to the French General Philippe Leclerc at the old Montparnasse train station. Happily enough von Cholitz disobeyed Adolf Hitler's direct order to destroy the city as dramatized in the 1966 Franco-American movie Is Paris Burning?. This movie was disappointing at the box office, perhaps because it was hard to follow for those unfamiliar with the ins and outs of the French Resistance.
Twenty-five years later this historic station was torn down and replaced with the Tour Montparnasse (Montparnasse Tower) at the time Europe’s tallest building. Two years after it was built skyscrapers were banned in central Paris, but… Do you remember Guy de Maupassant’s joke about the Eiffel Tower restaurant (if not, see our article on the Seven Arrondissement article)? They make the same joke about the Montparnasse Tower.
In 1995 the French urban climber, Alain "Spiderman" Robert, climbed to the top of the building using only his bare hands and feet and no safety devices whatsoever. (Don’t try this at home kids.) He started his career at age twelve when he was accidentally locked out of the family’s eighth-floor apartment. Alain continued learning his trade in the French Alps. He has vertigo, a type of dizziness, from two accidents. And yes, he has also climbed the Eiffel Tower as well as many other skyscrapers over the world. For a change of pace he climbed the Golden Gate Bridge.
La Ruche (The Beehive) is a weird-looking three-story circular structure that resembles a gigantic beehive more than human living quarters. It was designed by Gustave Eiffel as a temporary wine rotunda for the Exposition Universelle (Universal Exposition) of 1900. You know what other temporary building he designed. The French sculptor Alfred Boucher had the building dismantled and re-erected as inexpensive artist studios that attracted the usual group of hangers-on as well. Can you imagine living in Paris surrounded by artists and paying almost no rent? Admittedly La Ruche wasn’t the Champs Elysées but not everyone’s idea of Paris is the Champs Elysées. It wasn’t far from a famous canteen described in our companion article on the fourteenth district.
The list of its former residents includes many of the greatest painters and artists of the early Twentieth Century. This historic complex came close to being “redeveloped” in the early 1970s but was saved and is still used as art studios. Only the exterior is available for general viewing and you should really stop by. The Musée du Montparnasse (Montparnasse Museum) on the site of the old canteen contains quite a collection from the Ruche’s days of glory. It is just over the border in the fourteenth arrondissement.
Front de Seine (also known as Beaugrenelle) is a mixed commercial and residential highrise development along the Seine River. The complex includes about twenty three-hundred feet (one-hundred meter) buildings constructed around an elevated esplanade paved with frescoes that are only visible from the upper floors. I know where I’d rather live.
Aquaboulevard is Europe’s largest aquatic indoor recreational park. Water lovers will find waves, slides, and swimming pools. The site boasts tennis and squash courts, and a fitness center. If you are not in an athletic mood or have finished your workout there are seven restaurants and a fourteen-screen movie theater on site. Enjoy yourself.
The giant Palais des Sports (Sports Palace) hosts hockey and basketball games as well as large-scale musicals and rock concerts. Don’t confuse it with the Palais Omnisports de Paris Bercy in the twelfth district across Paris. Given Parisian traffic, if you go to the wrong one you’ll probably miss your show. This 1960 building was used as a detention center in the Paris massacre of 1961 during the Algerian War of Independence.
I have a confession to make. Until recently I was under the impression that Paris was home to a single still functioning vineyard, one outside this district. Live and learn. The village of Vaugirard was known for its wines, exported as far back as 1453 at the end of the Hundred Years War. After 1786 when toll walls were built around Paris the city residents crossed them on Sundays and holidays to drink Vaugirard wine, eat strawberries and peas, and dance to the sound of fiddles, musettes, and oboes. I’m reminded of the Goose That Laid The Golden Egg when I read that the money-grubbing winegrowers of Vaugirard replaced their wines with a new stock that yielded much more wine, but of a lower quality. The consumers weren’t fooled for long and by 1810 Vaugirard saw its last vineyard. The last until 1985 when the Clos des Morillons vineyard in the Parc Georges Brassens was replanted with seven hundred Pinot Noir vines. Each vine yields on average about 2.2 pounds (one kilo) of grapes in September or October. The following summer you can enjoy the wine, said to be fairly good.
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 Burgundy Aligoté I reviewed such a wine and suggested a sample menu: Start with Jambon Persillé (Ham in Parsleyed Aspic). For your second course savor Rable de Lievre à la Piron (Saddle of Hare with Shallots and White Wine). And as dessert indulge yourself with Mousse au Chocolat (Chocolate Mousse.) 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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