Tag Archives: bibliotheque nationale de france

A Few Joys of Paris

If, perhaps, you’ve only dipped into the Paris posts for The Metro of Doom, Adventures in Tea, and The Heat or not viewed my Flickr photostream, you may think I’m not enjoying my August in the capital of France. Such would be a misconception built around how easy it is to write wry, dramatic blog posts about the lesser things in life.

While I do not enjoy the Métro and probably never will — I dislike the heat (as you know, gentle reader) as well as crowds — there are many parts of Paris life that I have enjoyed, such as the aforeposted Galerie Mazarine and la Salle Ovale, downstairs in another wing of the same site of the Bibliotheque nationale, or the Gothic churches, not only the aforeposted St Denis and Notre Dame but also St Séverin and Ste Clotilde.

The cafés, although expensive, are a treat of Frenchness. You can sit yourself down with a 4 euro cup of coffee and Bede’s Ecclesiastical History of the English People et vous vous amusez. For hours. On that one cup of coffee. But I haven’t spent too much time or money at the cafés, due not to lack of desire but lack of time; I am here for French class in the mornings, research in the afternoons and braindeath in the evenings.

Therefore, I more commonly frequent les boulangeries de Paris. A boulangerie is a bakery. All of them sell bread, primarily baguettes, and most also include patisserie (pastry) and viennoiserie (crossaints, pains au chocolat, etc). I have tended to slip either into my neighbourhood artisan boulangerie for a baguette/pain au chocolat/pain suisse or into a location of the chain Paul for the same.

My first experience of Paul was with my fellow Edinburghers shortly after arriving here. Out of zeal for the name of the thing, I purchased une baguette Charlemagne. It was still hot, and as I enjoyed my steaming bread, I imagined the Holy Roman Emperor clad in eighth-century garb with a long, skinny baguette in hand. It’s a jolly image, one that stays in my fecund brain each time I order a baguette Charlemagne.

Another aspect of daily life I quite enjoy in Paris is the architecture. A simple block of flats that in some cities I know would be dressed stone/concrete straight and flat all the way up will in Paris have a few frills and windowboxes. Between this reality and the Gothic churches dotting the place, Paris is visually pleasing. As I walk around, I need only look up to find something to delight the eye and warm the heart in the deadening August heat that leaves my heat cold and misanthropic.

Music on the Métro makes it more bearable. There’s no guarantee you’ll get music, of course. And most of the time I ride the Métro, there is barely room to stand as we sweat against one another through the subterranean world beneath the city. Nonetheless, one of my first nights in Paris a very happy-looking woman with an accordion got into the train and began playing les chansons traditionelles for us. It was great! I gave her some change. This happy occurance has transpired a few more times for me, and it always makes me smile. Ethan claims to have encountered a jazz ensemble on the Métro. It certainly beats the beggars. (I still don’t like the Métro. Maybe if it had as many seats as the Toronto Subway…)

Besides the sites, parks, and museums, besides some good times with my fellow Edinburghers and classmates, these are a few of the notable things that have made Paris a lovely place to be.

Galerie Mazarine at the Site Richelieu, Bibliothèque nationale de France

This image of the staircase up to the Galerie Mazarine was all I could find

For my month in Paris, I spend my mornings attending French class and my afternoons at the Bibliotheque nationale de France. They house their manuscripts at the Richelieu Library, and the Salle de Lecture is in a part of the building known as the Galerie Mazarine, build in the mid 1600s.

The Galerie Mazarine is one of those long, Baroque galleries you see in movies about Louis XIV and the like. It has many high windows along one side, each topped by a golden scallop. The other side, parallel with the windows, are false windows, painted with pastoral scenes. The majority of these are hidden behind shelves of books and a modern wall that dwell here now, the use of les lecteurs at the Richelieu.

Many long tables cross the floor of the Galerie for les lecteurs, with a counter a little over midway along the Galerie. It is at one of these long tables I sat yesterday and today, beneath a crystal chandelier. The candles are equipped with lightbulbs, but the chandelier is now also fitted out with other incandescent lights that point straight down from the midst of the crystals; the candle-bulbs are off. Most of the room’s lighting, however, comes not from the chandeliers but from the modern world’s ubiquitous fluorescent tubes.

Of course, it is not the chandeliers or windows, or even the false windows — lovely though they be — that make this room. It is the ornate, Baroque ceiling above it all, above the gold-and-white moulding. Painted on this ceiling, separated one from another by golden Baroque ornament, are many images of scenes from Ovid’s Metamorphoses.

Straight ahead from seats 23 (yesterday’s) and 22 (today’s), above the entrance, are Romulus and Remus being found by their adoptive shepherd parents as the she-wolf suckles them.

Off to my left was an image of the Achaeans taking the Trojan women to their ships. The right — pretty much straight above my head — in one of the larger painted panels was Aeneas escaping Troy, Anchises on his back. Creusa stands behind, weeping. That must be her ghost.

With such a ceiling as this, the Galerie Mazarine could easily be the most beautiful library workspace I have used, were it not for the modern encumbrances such walls with modern books and lights up above that block the view of the Galerie.

But it is a very beautiful salle de lecture, and I am happy to be spending a month working with manuscripts in it!