Rue de Grenelle
Probably the best place to catch at least an outside view of the mysterious courtyard life of Paris. The houses are largely eighteenth-century hotels, still well up in the world and now converted to ministries and embassies. Blank low fronts to the street, an arch and a glimpse of square-cut gentility – rarely true elegance – behind. Elegance must lie in the sequences of internal rooms, totally inaccessible; but the most attractive building is now the Mairie of the Seventh Arrondissement, built by Boffrand as the Hotel Brissac, with a finely detailed pair of triumphal arches. Like Pall Mall in London, this is the kind of place that you must see to understand one segment of the city; the total result is much more than the visual reward. (Don’t go at the weekend because everyone will be away in the country and the courtyard doors will be shut.)
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Fontaine des Quatre Saisons, rue de Grenelle
Paris Tourist Map Bouchardon, 1739-45
One of the most luxurious stand-pipes in Europe. Turgot, father of the financier, was requested to provide a water-supply for the newly-built aristocratic suburb. He did so with this masterpiece of French Rococo, emerged for once from its armour of good breeding. The actual water comes out of two rude heads, low down. Above, the superstructure appropriate to a full-blown palace rocks in and out, charged with enchanting statues and reliefs – the four seasons, cherubs doing seasonal things, the architecture really responding: it is no accident that the whole thing was designed by a sculptor. It is divorced from reality and functional needs and yet returned to reality through awareness of its artificial position. Here is an exact parallel to the anguished webs of sound that Gluck span around his ephemeral, eternal shepherds and shepherdesses.
Temple de Panthemont, 106 rue de Grenelle
Contant d’lvry, 1747-56
A glimpse of the individuality which can grow up within this broad impassive framework of Paris (another example is the Ukrainian-Catholic church of Saint-Vladimir in the boulevard Saint-Germain not far away). The Temple was built as the chapel of a convent by Contant d’lvry; he equipped it with a grumpy dome over the street end which contains some highly competent grisaille paintings. It is now a Protestant church, with plain fittings and an organ where you would expect the altar, so the tradition of austerity is maintained after all. The atmosphere, which is very strong, is of a formidable, precise, yet not inhibiting calmness.
Le Pagode, 87 bis rue de Babylone (corner of rue Monsieur)
Behind a low stuccoed wall in this sober part of Paris is a full-sized pagoda, impressively solid.
Mighty odd it looks, too, amongst all the surrounding Louis-Quinze. It is now a cinema, and the projectionist’s box is tacked on to one end, overhanging the rue Monsieur.
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