National Geographic : 1952 Jun
The National Geographic Magazine Revived, the reveler can watch the trucks and wagons rumble in from the city's out skirts with their neat loads of carrots, cauli flower, leeks, onions, potatoes, and other rural riches. The farmers arrange their vegetables on the pavement as if for a still life-the white beards of leeks laid alternately with the green ends, the frizzled tops of carrots tucked opposite the orange-colored roots, the snowy centers of cauliflower nestled in green leaves. To tour the whole market takes quite a walk. But there is this to be said about Paris: it's a city in which walking comes naturally. No towering skyscrapers oppress the pedes trian; no canyon walls of blank and noncom mittal office buildings shut out the sky and belittle the man on foot. The architectural scale, in short, is to man's measure. Buildings of note and worth are set off by a square or an avenue; they can be seen. Cramped streets there are; but to fol low one is to anticipate with confidence the moment when a twist and a turn will suddenly reveal a guildhall, a church, an old and ornate hotel, a noble statue. Even the massive bulk of Notre Dame de Paris. thanks both to its gracious setting on the Ile de la Cite and to the impeccable pro portions of its great towers, seems impressive but not overwhelming. It is enormously old; the artisans who set to work on it in 1163 laid their stone over a pagan altar dedicated to the Roman Jupiter. Yet as sunset turns its gray walls to rose, the ancient cathedral with its rich central window appears not cold with age but warm with life (pages 768, 802). Eiffel Tower, Symbol with a View A city so deft in the placement of its chief edifices can absorb huge incongruities of style. It would be hard to conceive of a greater architectural leap than that from the flying buttresses of Notre Dame to the girders of the Eiffel Tower and thence to the classical D6me des Invalides, where Napoleon lies buried. But they are all equally symbols of Paris. The Eiffel Tower, set off by the wide spaces of the Champ de Mars, is both a view in itself and an incomparable vantage point for other views. From its peak, on a clear day, one can embrace all Paris and its surrounding coun tryside within a 55-mile radius. Two and a half million rivets hold together this skeleton of steel. In a strong wind one can almost feel the strain on the strange, emaciated structure (pages 775, 804). The tower dominates but does not dim the gleaming roof of Les Invalides. Beneath it, in the curious blue light which filters down from the dome, rests the Emperor's sarcophagus, of antique red granite from Finland. Other gen- erals and marshals of France, from Turenne to Foch, sleep near by in chapels or crypt. It is a stately resting place and, in its somber elegance, peculiarly French. One does not need to make the "grand tour," however, to discover the sights of Paris; a walk in almost any direction will reveal them. Thus, a stroll southeastward from Les Halles confronts one with the dramatic upthrust of the Tour St. Jacques, a beautiful remnant of the 16th-century church of St. Jacques la Boucherie; and, across the square behind it, the broad bulk of the Hotel de Ville, the City Hall of Paris (page 797). The H6tel was rebuilt after being burned down in the turbulent days of the Commune. A flamboyant and appealing example of French Renaissance architecture, it has a profusion of gargoyles peeking over its roofs and a host of illustrious sculptured Frenchmen ready, from their niches, to burst into political speech at the drop of a top hat. Close to the City Hall few steps from the Hotel are the sewers. A a manhole leads to a flight of iron stairs down which I once climbed to the echoing and surprisingly non odorous tunnels. I expected at any moment to see Jean Valjean racing out of the pages of Les Miserables and splashing off around the corner, with Inspector Javert behind him. Rambling Along the Left Bank If Victor Hugo is the literary guardian of the sewers, then the spirit of Ernest Heming way presides over the Left Bank. He lived in this quarter of the city, south of the Seine, and he wrote of it simply and well. One of his characters in The Snows of Kilimanjaro remembered a most colorful part, the Place de la Contrescarpe, this way: "There never was another part of Paris that he loved like that, the sprawling trees, the old white plastered houses painted brown below, the long green of the autobus in that round square, the purple flower dye upon the paving, the sudden drop down the hill of the rue Cardinal Lemoine to the River, and the other way the narrow crowded world of the rue Mouffetard . . . [and] the high narrow houses and the cheap tall hotel where Paul Verlaine had died." * Equally appealing is the section near the Luxembourg Gardens, that lively park where children old and young sail their boats beside the misty fountains, lovers stroll through the flowers, and donkeys draw cartloads of young sters under the ancient trees (page 778). Then there's the Rue Servandoni, just off the Luxembourg. A charming street, it meanders gently to the church of St. Sulpice. * Reproduced by permission of the publishers, Charles Scribner's Sons, New York.