Rosemary Flannery reviews the new book How Paris Became Paris by Joan D Jean.
How Paris Became Paris is a must addition to the library of Paris lovers. De Jean traces Paris’ fame and status as a singularly great and beautiful city back to the work of 16th and 17th century monarchs, dethroning Baron Haussmann as the mastermind of modern urbanization. Her principle protagonist is Louis XIV, who laid the template for broad tree-lined boulevards, lovely parks and squares, and grid planning. In many ways, the revelation of DeJean’s formidable research is how deeply in touch and invested the king was with Paris while residing himself in Versailles.
By the mid-17th century, Paris outshone other cities literally as well as figuratively with its innovative and beautiful street lighting, establishing it as the ‘City of Lights’, allowing for longer business hours, greater security and naturellement, the new nightlife. Paris was also the first to establish a public mail system and ingenious public transport, with its horse-drawn omnibus carriages. Her chapter on the Pont Neuf is one of the most fascinating: the ‘new bridge’, the first to be built entirely of stone and without houses, exalted the Seine; its innovative ‘balconies’ lent it to the admiration of the city’s fine perspectives as much as to its purpose of crossing the river. Commerce, theatre, thievery, amourous rendez-vous – it all happened on its paved sidewalks, yet another phenomenon. The bridges and the parks led to an intermingling of the social classes and to the democratization of the city.
As far back as the 1650’s, Parisian architecture was envied and admired by other European capitals, who would eventually copy it. The proper proportions for city squares and correct height for their surrounding houses were studied by the Sun King’s experts in 1674, thus establishing the unique and pleasing harmonies of the Parisian landscape. With DeJean’s history of the evolution of the Ile St Louis - the ‘enchanted island’ – we learn of young architect Louis LeVau’s creation of the ‘French style’: houses with balconies and purpose-built rooms, often in graceful round or oval shapes. These elegant mansions, magically reflected in the Seine, contributed to the city’s prestige.
DeJean delves into the political and economic exigencies of the times: financing the many wars of Louis XIV spurred the gigantic fortunes of self-made men – ‘financiers’ - who were awarded select plots of land in today’s districts of the Marais, St-Germain-des-Pres and the 7th arrondissement, settings for their fabulous mansions. New words evolved to describe them: millionaires, nouveaux riche and parvenu.
Surprisingly, although Dejean speaks of the ground-breaking 1676 map of Paris conceived by the brilliant architect-engineers Francois Blondel and Pierre Bullet, she omits mention of their earlier collaboration on the triumphal arches honoring Louis XIV’s military victories: the majestic Porte St Denis and Porte St Martin, still presiding in today’s 10th arrondissement. And while crediting Henri IV with the Pont Neuf and the Place Royal – today’s Place des Vosges – she claims he ‘added but a few streets’. Yet he opened 68 new streets, and projected a stupendous ‘Place de France’ in the northern Marais, a hemicycle of eight streets to be named after principal provinces radiating out from a rampart, crisscrossed with streets named after minor provinces. This plan was cut short by his assassination in 1610, but echoes of it prevail in Marais street names: rue de Bretagne, Poitou, Saintonge and Beauce.
Although DeJean hails Louis XIV for his notion of a ‘grand dessein’ (design) for the city, the term was first employed by Henri IV – whose works earned him the nickname ‘le grand macon’ – the great builder. Tribute to his prodigious construction of the 460-meter long Grand Galerie of the Louvre with its river views is curiously lacking.
Quibbles aside, the book is fascinating. DeJean describes the early elegant boutiques of the courthouse arcades, and the rise of the luxury goods industry under Louis XIV and his brilliant finance minister, Jean-Baptiste Colbert, in mesmerizing detail. Shopping as an activity and the ‘selling of emotion’ evolved from the creation of products under strict standard and quality controls set then, which hold sway to this day. Her detailed report of the five-year Fronde – a rebellion against the royalty – with the ensuing rise of propaganda, breaking-news journals printed with their date and hour of press, and vaudeville songs evoking the tempo of the city, is integral to understanding modern demonstrations.
A dedicated scholar, DeJean’s acknowledgements, notes, bibliography, credits and index consume 82 pages of this 307 page book – leaving the typical Paris lover a little hungry for more information and for her next book.
Rosemary Flannery is author and photographer of Angels of Paris: An Architectural Tour through the History of Paris, published by The Little Bookroom in 2012. The French version, Les Anges de Paris, will be released in October 2014 by Guy Tredaniel Editions.
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New! Eye Prefer Paris Cooking Classes I am pleased as punch to announce the launch of Eye Prefer Paris Tours, which are 3-hour walking tours I will personally be leading. The Eye Prefer Paris Tour includes many of the places I have written about such as small museums & galleries, restaurants, cafes & food markets, secret addresses, fashion & home boutiques, parks, and much more. Tours cost 210 euros for up to 3 people, and 70 euros for each additional person. I look forward to meeting you on my tours and it will be my pleasure and delight to show you my insiders Paris. Click here to watch a video of our famous Marais tour
I am happy to announce the launch of Eye Prefer Paris Cooking Classes. Come take an ethnic culinary journey with me and chef and caterer Charlotte Puckette, co-author of the bestseller The Ethnic Paris Cookbook (with Olivia Kiang-Snaije). First we will shop at a Paris green-market for the freshest ingredients and then return to Charlotte's professional kitchen near the Eiffel Tower to cook a three-course lunch. After, we will indulge in the delicious feast we prepared along with hand-selected wines.
Cost: 185 euros per person (about $240)
Time: 9:30AM- 2PM (approximately 4 1/2 hours)
Location: We will meet by a metro station close to the market
Class days: Tuesday,Wednesday, Thursday,Friday, Saturday, and Sunday
Minimum of 2 students, maximum 6 students.
Click here to sign up for the next class or for more info.
Check it out at www.eyepreferparistours.com
New! Eye Prefer Paris Cooking Classes
I am pleased as punch to announce the launch of Eye Prefer Paris Tours, which are 3-hour walking tours I will personally be leading. The Eye Prefer Paris Tour includes many of the places I have written about such as small museums & galleries, restaurants, cafes & food markets, secret addresses, fashion & home boutiques, parks, and much more.
Tours cost 210 euros for up to 3 people, and 70 euros for each additional person. I look forward to meeting you on my tours and it will be my pleasure and delight to show you my insiders Paris.
Click here to watch a video of our famous Marais tour