Eastern approach to Paris
Paris is lucky in its main road approaches. This one, after stumbling through the cheerful inelegant eastern suburbs, runs into the Bois de Vincennes, the road lined with big trees which are just not formal enough to be an avenue. Before the chateau it deflects a few degrees: enough to let in the Eiffel Tower, not quite on the axis, and the columns in the Place de la Nation, framed in a finny perspective of elegant bent-over lamp-standards.
If you stand on top of the Chateau de Vincennes and look at the hillocks of Paris, the nearest, barest and most striking of them lies about a kilometre south-west, in the middle of the wood. A geological freak? Not at all: this is a reinforced-concrete mountain for goats.
Map Of Paris Districts Photo Gallery
Any zoo which can do this is worth a visit. Vincennes Zoo is much more: in fact I would put it among the best things in Paris: and especially for Englishmen, uncertain and self-conscious about how to treat natural objects whether they come from the jungles of Africa or their own bottom-ends. At Vincennes, the problem has been solved – or rather dissolved, removed altogether; the animals are simply treated as civilized and sophisticated human beings. The result is remote from both the artificial urbanity of Regent’s Park and the artificial rurality of Whipsnade. You neither feel the cruelty of cages nor are you gazing at specks on the other side of a colossal field. The site is part of the Bois, and all the big trees have been kept. Inside, a complete concrete landscape has been created: each main enclosure is a mound of concrete rocks. Inside the concrete shell are the cages, and a public way through (not the well-locked doors marked ‘Service’); outside is a landscape which reproduces as nearly as possible the animals’ original condition. Wet or dry, cold or hot, the animal has an environment, and so has the viewer. Outside there are a few fences: almost everything is done with that English invention, the ha-ha. In the case of the lions, it is a thumping deep moat: but the animals are only twenty feet away, without bars, and you are bound together anyway by the trees which flow across the site – and also by the concrete, which is used as gently and sympathetically as most architects would use wood. The results can be overpoweringly beautiful: dappled giraffes against the turning leaves of October, gnus standing so still that when you come to a statue of a bear you look nervously for the water-jump: a flock of flamingoes, one-legged in their lake, turning the buzz of traffic around the perimeter into a mirage.
This is the French spirit at its best: sympathetic, intelligent, witty, capable of producing a precise effect with a relaxed shrug. The designer, whoever he was, should be celebrated along with the Perrets and Corbusiers.
Paris Map With Districts
Musee Municipale de l’lndustrie du Bois
This oddity is just south of Lac Daumesnil, not far from the Zoo. The pavilions, left over from the 1931 Exposition, are the most interesting part: bulky, shingled roofs, still basically Art Nouveau, looking like an advanced Civic Centre of the early 1900s in Finland and very well done. They enclose lots of logs, beautiful fragments of wooden aeroplanes of the 1920s, some stuffed lions and a grandiose absence of visitors.
Paris Map Districts
A romantic industrial landscape where the Seine and Marne meet, with a tiny garden on the point itself which will be good fun when the trees grow up. Across the Seine is the unsophisticated, enthralling power station at Ivry – a Parisian Lots Road which has obeyed Nature’s funny industrial laws which engineers sometimes understand and architects so often don’t. The chimneys with their reverse taper, top to bottom, gleam like a set of organ pipes. Beyond them, the first bridge over the combined Seine-et-Marne is a colossal concrete structure which as far as I can see now carries nothing more than a footbridge. Perhaps it is only the novelty, but this self-evident absurdity seems easier to take than the English equivalent. Our lot are just that much more serious and self-deluded.
(The point is on the east side, reached from either the Pont d’lvry across the Seine or the Pont de Charenton across the Marne.)
Paris Map By Districts
The Seine now gives no idea of Maupassant’s Paris, which was a pleasure-ground curving in great loops from Boulogne to Saint-Denis and back to Bougival. But the Marne still can, and especially in the boucle or horseshoe sweep between Joinville and Saint-Maurice (half a mile across the neck but eight miles by river). A road runs along the bank around the whole of the inside of the horseshoe, and the best part is between Bonneuil and Champigny. Islands choc-full of trees like overcrowded ferries, a few men fishing from rowing boats in the placid water, the banks interrupted by villas or an occasional unsophisticated cafe. It is traditionally the Paris East Enders’ playground – this relaxed unselfconsciousness is the opposite of the frozen prettiness of Neuilly.
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