Posts Tagged ‘Paris’

“Paris 26 Gigapixels is the name of the biggest assembled panoramic image of the world. It shows Paris in a very high definition. A gigapixel is 1 billion pixels! The image is a stitching of more than 2000 individual photos.”

The result is more than impressive. This awesome initiative has been talked about everywhere in the web during this past 2 weeks. It’s an interesting follow-up on our previous article on the views of Paris.

Now, just use this picture to pick your favorite place in the City of Lights and book a Paris Ambassador guide for a stroll there!

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Here is the excerpt of a tourist & historical book published in London in 1815, written by an English journalist willing to know more about the French capital.

[Voici l’extrait d’un ouvrage touristico-historique publié à Londres en 1815, et rédigé par un journaliste anglais soucieux de se confronter à la capitale française.]

“Paris possesses this sort of moral and historical interest in the greatest degree: but it is also rich in what is calculated to strike the eye by picturesque and grand effect; to satisfy the sensualist, by supplying various and artful enjoyment; to delight the gay, by dispensing a profusion of captivating pleasures; to gratify the tasteful, by a combination of skill, elegance, and feeling; to suggest reflection, and pleasingly employ research, by effigying the events of a far distant date, and picturing manners that have long been obsolete; to administer to the wants of the scholar, by supplying vast collected stores of all the materials of human knowledge; and, in fine, to afford a matchless treat to the student of mankind, by discovering and displaying to even common observation, all that can give a thorough insight into character and condition.

This last circumstance forms the most extraordinary peculiarity of Paris. Compared with the cities of most other countries, it is like a glass bee-hive compared with those that are made of straw. You see, without trouble, into all its hoards; — all its creatures perform all their operations, full in the face of all: what others consign to secrecy and silence, they throw open to day-light, and surround with the buzzing of fluttering swarms. Of the French, or, at least of the French of the capital, it may be said, that the essence of their existence is a consciousness of being observed. People, in general, permit this only to take its place with various motives and feelings that check each other, and produce a mixed conduct, — in which a person lives a little for his forefathers, a little for himself, a little for his family, a little for his friends, a little for the public, and a little for posterity.

But the Parisians, (for to them I confine my remarks, as they are the only specimen of the nation with which 1 am acquainted), live only for the bustle and notice of present society. Hence it is, that they have not a notion of retirement, even where they dress and sleep, but, at the expence of much convenience, receive company in their bed-rooms, which are furnished accordingly: — hence the cleverest individuals are not happy, unless they mingle with the silliest in coteries : hence Paris is full of literary societies, libraries, institutes, museums, &c.: hence every thing choice that it possesses is made a common exhibition of; and the multitude are invited to examine that which philosophers only can understand, and admire that, the beauties of which can be only appreciated by cultivated intellect, guided by refined taste.”

A Visit to Paris in 1814, by John Scott

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“Little by little, the tide of houses, always thrust from the heart of the city outwards”

The history of Paris can be observed through the evolution of its frontiers. Yesterday the early Gaul, in search of protection against invaders, settled in the Ile de la Cité which frontiers were naturally drawn by the Seine river. Today the boulevard périphérique, a ring road completed in 1973 with a traffic exceeding one million vehicles a day cuts Paris intra muros from its suburbs.

The function of the walls that surrounded Paris has evolved over time. They were initially designed to protect the city from external agressions. Louis XIV, who left Paris for Versailles, replaced Charles V walls with boulevards in 1670.

In 1784 a new barrier appeared: the wall of the Farmers-General. Unlike its predecessors, it was was not designed to protect Paris from invaders but to collect taxes. It was very unpopular and a song went on “le mur murant Paris rend Paris murmurant“. It was destroyed during the Revolution but restored by Napoleon.

The gates that punctuated the barriers have always attracted various traffickers of more or less legal goods, smugglers, prostitutes and all sorts of shady businessmen. The French picturesque expression dubbing prostitutes “vénus de barrières” conjures up these forgotten times. Today one may still observe working girls on the boulevards des Maréchaux, or elegant transvestites hailing cars around the périph’.

It is striking to see how the Parisians often assimilate their own identity with the limits of their city and insist on their difference with the “banlieusards“.

The natural trend of the city has been to expand and to assimilate new districts. Victor Hugo wrote amazing pages that suggest how this natural and irresistible process took place as if the city was possessed by some sort of inexhaustible vitality.

Peu à peu, le flot des maisons, toujours poussé du cœur de la ville au dehors, déborde, ronge, use et efface cette enceinte. Philippe-Auguste lui fait une nouvelle digue. Il emprisonne Paris dans une chaîne circulaire de grosses tours, hautes et solides. Pendant plus d’un siècle, les maisons se pressent, s’accumulent et haussent leur niveau dans ce bassin comme l’eau dans un réservoir. Elles commencent à devenir profondes, elles mettent étages sur étages, elles montent les unes sur les autres, elles jaillissent en hauteur comme toute sève comprimée, et c’est à qui passera la tête par-dessus ses voisines pour avoir un peu d’air. La rue de plus en plus se creuse et se rétrécit ; toute place se comble et disparaît. Les maisons enfin sautent par-dessus le mur de Philippe-Auguste, et s’éparpillent joyeusement dans la plaine, sans ordre et tout de travers, comme des échappées.

Little by little, the tide of houses, always thrust from the heart of the city outwards, overflows, devours, wears away, and effaces this wall. Philip Augustus makes a new dike for it. He imprisons Paris in a circular chain of great towers, both lofty and solid. For the period of more than a century, the houses press upon each other, accumulate, and raise their level in this basin, like water in a reservoir. They begin to deepen; they pile story upon story; they mount upon each other; they gush forth at the top, like all laterally compressed growth, and there is a rivalry as to which shall thrust its head above its neighbors, for the sake of getting a little air. The street glows narrower and deeper, every space is overwhelmed and disappears. The houses finally leap the wall of Philip Augustus, and scatter joyfully over the plain, without order, and all askew, like runaways.

Victor Hugo, Notre Dame de Paris, 1831
The Hunchback of Notre Dame

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During the 19th century, Paris attracted the most ambitious people who would escape their modest rural condition in search of success, power and affluence. In these post-revolutionary days, success was no longer determined by birth only, but also by talent, determination and social abilities.

Balzac, a great contempter of modernity nostaligically praised an idealized vision of rural simplicity. He depicts here the effects of arrivism in the modern urban life as a sort of rat race disguised under the garb of hypocrisy.

Les émotions de Paris sont cruelles pour les âmes douées d’une vive sensibilité : les avantages dont jouissent les gens supérieurs ou les riches irritent les passions ; dans ce monde de grandeur et de petitesse, la jalousie sert plus souvent de poignard que d’aiguillon ; au milieu de la lutte constante des ambitions, des désirs et des haines, il est impossible de ne pas être la victime ou le complice de ce mouvement général ; insensiblement, le tableau continuel du vice heureux et de la vertu persiflée fait chanceler un jeune homme. […] Ce combat dessèche, rétrécit le coeur, pousse la vie au cerveau et produit l’insensibilité parisienne, ces moeurs ou sous la frivolité la plus gracieuse, sous les engouements qui jouent l’exaltation, se cachent la politique ou l’argent.

Life in Paris is a cruel ordeal for impressionable natures, the great inequalities of fortune or of position inflame their souls and stir up bitter feelings. In that world of magnificence and pettiness envy is more apt to be a dagger than a spur. You are bound either to fall a victim or to become a partisan in this incessant strife of ambitions, desires, and hatreds, in the midst of which you are placed; and by slow degrees the picture of vice triumphant and virtue made ridiculous produces its effect on a young man, and he wavers. […] His heart is seared and contracted by this struggle, the current of life sets toward the brain, and the callousness of the Parisian is the result—the condition of things in which schemes for power and wealth are concealed by the most charming frivolity, and lurk beneath the sentimental transports that take the place of enthusiasm.

Honoré de Balzac, le Médecin de Campagne, 1833
The Country Doctor, translator: Marriage, Ellen.

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Bienvenue à Paris !

Welcome to Paris Ambassador, a blog dedicated to explore the secret treasuries of Paris.
I am a long time Parisian and a Paris lover. A lover too of French culture and French history. Paris has been the scene of spectacular historical events throughout centuries. Let’s explore Paris and bring the past back to life !

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