Sunday, 28 March 2010

the Future

There is a street not far from here (a bit up the hill, towards Télégraphe) called rue de l'Avenir - street of the Future (or perhaps Future Street). It sounds so promising, so full of anticipation and optimism.

It slopes up from the rue Pixérécourt, flanked on either side by turn of the century apartment blocks. One yellow and red stripy brick. One pale Paris stone.

Then abruptly, after barely more than twenty metres, the buildings are cut and the street crashes against a taciturn facade of white render and square windows. Like a curtain drawn across a stage. The name suddenly seems wistful. Future street is a dead end street, and not much longer than a bus.

Looking on Google maps later on, it is clear. The future arrived in the shape of new apartment blocks. Efficient square blocks, with neat apartments tightly arranged around a central core, not a square metre wasted. They work to their own square and fair logic, and do not yield to the existing irregular pattern of streets and buildings.

city portrait 02

Tuesday, 23 March 2010

Bitumen Lamb

Bitumen Lamb (or slightly more elegantly - Le Gigot Bitume) is a French building site tradition, a kind of cousin to the topping out ceremony, where a tree is often hoisted up onto the highest point of a newly completed structure.

In France there is none of this messing around, it is straight to the important business of lunch. I arrived on site (a secondary school refurb/extension in the western suburbs of Paris) just as the champagne aperitif was being served. We were shortly taken outside, to see our lunch being prepared. The charcoaly smell of fresh bitumen was overpowering. I have always quite liked the smell of roadworks, but never really in a way that gets my appetite going. Anyway, lunch was apparently in the bottom of the boiling and steaming bitumen mixer. To much cheering our chefs lifted a wire basket out, placed it on the ground and dowsed the five or six black parcels in it with cold water. Then it gets a bit like pass the parcel. The black bitumen rock is tapped on the ground like a boiled egg to break it open. Underneath are layers of brown paper, and once these are peeled back, layers of silver foil, and finally, a delicious joint of lamb, roasted with tomatoes and onion. Slightly disappointingly, I couldn't detect any background notes of bitumen in the meat.

Monday, 15 March 2010

Jardin Austère

Last Sunday was a day of crystal clear skies and a bitingly cold wind. Looking out of the window on the train out to Versailles everything looked bleached under the brilliant sunshine, as on a hot summer day.

It was a perfect day to see the gardens. Their naturally austere and rectilinear nature is exaggerated to an extreme state of at this time of year. It is a garden, made of things that we think of as 'nature' - trees, grass, other plants, water. Yet it doesn't really feel like a garden, more like some strange abstract world of planes and lines. A giant minimalist sculpture.

The fountains are off, their pools empty, their sculptures petrified.

The statues are wrapped up in fabric and tied with string, as if Christo had been by.

The unwavering hedges are sparse and brittle - made of twigs and dried curled up brown leaves.

The trees are bare. The plane trees make tree shaped drawings against the sky with their silver barks. The other trees remain neatly cut into long oblongs. Grey and brown, and some, if seen from the right angle, a deep red.

Le Jardin de Versailles
Sunday March 7th 2010



Sunday, 14 March 2010


Plaster casts of gargoyles.
Cité de l'architecture
Paris 75016