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Rue Mouffetard

A kind of full-time Petticoat Lane south-east of the Pantheon, by repute the most colourful of Parisian streets. In context this means no more than that it is old, crowded and not dead straight; the character depends entirely on what people put into it. But at the bottom end, and appropriately enough beyond the rue Jean Calvin, the people swamp the architecture; the narrow street and the narrower alleys north of Saint-Medard are full of a hoarse, vigorous life which is quite different from the animation of the boulevards. An actual blend of France and North Africa has produced the equivalent of Rome or Barcelona.

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Paris Map Arrondissement Jardin du Luxembourg

The formal parts are disappointing. Too many flowerbeds on the ground and too much rustication on the Palace chivvy the visitor into feeling not quite free to make his own gestures. But go anywhere under the trees and the magician-city’s trick works again: the space apparently endless, everyone doing what they want and leaving you to do the same, the outside world not shut out but brought to heel, presented in tamed vignettes. Where an English park might attempt an illusion of countryside and risk a let-down of going back to the real world beyond the park gates, this accepts the city and pulls it through a sieve of tree-trunks and branches. Most sophisticated near the rue des Medicis, where a sloping basin of water bordered by sombre swags of ivy leads to the seventeenth-century fountain. But also very agreeable down at the far end, beside the rue d’Assas, where you can watch gravel-croquet as well as boules and where the schoolboys troop out of the Lycee Montaigne at four o’clock, smoking a crafty fag or two as they go.

University of Paris, Institute of Art and Architecture

Eugene Bigot, 1927

A bizarre, fretted skyline sticks up very rude indeed in the view south from the Luxembourg gardens. Things get no better on a closer look; this is Art Nouveau re-interpreted with the naivete of a primitive painter. The complex transcriptions from the vegetable world come out dead flat, stamped out with an unforgettable directness in the kind of brick that sits in an overwrought band across the rebuilt areas of the First World War: diagonal patterning, formidable arches, battlements you would need stilts to fire from Low down near your hands there is a terracotta band with a variety of Renaissance subjects, beautifully done. It is like a brick balloon inflated to its limit with an unquenchable puff: the toy fort become as real, through sheer creative force, as the Douanier Rousseau’s lions.

An eminently rational nation Institute of Art and Architecture, University of Paris

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