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In and Out of Paris in Two Parts

Toasting in the New Year with Neighbors

Thursday evening the Mairie (city hall) of the 3rd arrondissement opened the doors of the Musée des Arts et Métiers to its residents to toast the new year with champagne, hors d’oeuvres and petits fours. As our neighbors gathered around the original version of the Foucault pendulum by Umberto Eco that hangs in the center of the once deserted priory of Saint-Martin-des-Champs, Mayor Pierre Aidenbaum gathered his “adjoints” (council members) behind him, to say a few brief words about the future of the district and to wish all a Happy New Year.

Mayor Aidenbaum is an accessible man. I bump into him frequently on the streets and in the neighborhood restaurants, always having time to stop, shake hands and say a word or two. I told him that evening, “Monsieur Le Mayor, je suis très contente avec l’arrondissement!” In my pathetically simple French, he understood my sentiments and hugged my elbows warmly.

As Pascal Fonquernie (director of, colleague and friend) and I listened to his words about all the new programs set forth in the district…WiFi for all, additional public housing, new parks and more green spaces, free Thursday afternoon comedy movies at the Mairie and the myriad of public offerings we will experience the coming year…I tried to remember if I had ever experienced anything like this while living in the States, or if it were even possible.

Champagne was poured freely and passed around with no one at the doors checking our I.D.’s for appropriate age. There were guards dressed in suits with no visible weapons. The museum, the Conservatoire National des Arts et Métiers, which was founded in 1794 as a depository for the preservation of scientific instruments and inventions, was open to visit on all levels and the art respected — no one even dared set a glass down on the barrier ring around the pendulum.

We left in the cold drizzle and when arriving at the corner where the pharmacy sign tells the date, time and temperature, I looked up at that moment to see 1-11 and 11 degrees — the signs of the 11:11 message of synchronicity (see past Parler Paris newsletter).

A Medieval Sunday Afternoon

Pascal keeps an old car for occasional trips outside of Paris. We opted to escape the pollution by heading north to the Medieval cities of Senlis and Compiègne on the A1 Autoroute, Senlis being about 50 kilometers north of the city. The skies were blue and the roads freely moving, putting us in the center of this ancient town within one hour.

Most tourists head south to Chartres to see the famous cathedral and its incomparable stained glass, but the city of Chartres was bombed during World War II and little remains of its charm. Senlis, less known and less frequented, has maintained its centuries-old cobblestoned streets and stone houses seemingly untouched.

“Senlis was first a Gallo-Roman settlement. The monarchs of the early French dynasties lived here, attracted by the proximity of the forest (Forêt de Chantilly) and its venison, and built a castle on the foundations of the Roman settlement. In 987 the archbishop of Reims, Adalberon, called together an assembly, and asked them to choose Hugh Capet as king of France. However, the monarchs of France soon abandoned the city, preferring Compiègne and Fontainebleau. New life was given to the city in the 12th century, and ramparts were built. The popularity of the city later fell, and it slipped into decline.”

Many of the buildings are half-timbered, many are stone. Signs of Medieval France are everywhere, in carvings and doorways and well-tended details. During our wanderings, we spotted one ivied wall with a carved plaque noting it had once been a Gallo-Roman rampart in the 3rd century.

The cathedral at Senlis, “Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Senlis,” dedicated to the Virgin, has one of the earliest (if not THE earliest) monumental sculptural representations of her triumph. She is enthroned in Heaven with Christ in the tympanum while her death and assumption are depicted in the lintels. This theme is also evident at Chartres at the North Portal, at Strasbourg at the South Transept and at Nôtre Dame in Paris.

To see some terrifically beautiful photos of the cathedral, click here.

We lunched extravagantly, elegantly and leisurely at the charming La Vieille Auberge Restaurant Rôtisserie (at the corner of rue du Long Filet and rue Saint-Geneviève) along with the local Sunday diners. This spot has been amazingly serving meals since 1588! Then, off we went to explore Compiègne, about 40 kilometers north, taking the departmental roads, grazing the tiny towns and tree-lined two-laners.

Located on the Oise river, Compiègne dates back to 665 when Saint Wilfrid was consecrated Bishop of York and has an illustrious history. During the Hundred Years’ War, Joan of Arc was captured by the Burgundians while attempting to free Compiègne. Marie de’ Medici’s attempts to displace Richelieu ultimately led to her exile to Compiègne, from where she escaped to Brussels in 1631. The Armistice with Germany, agreed at Rethondes near Compiègne, ended fighting of World War I and another Armistice with France was signed between Nazi Germany and the defeated France also in Rethondes, near Compiègne, in exactly the same place. The starting location of the Paris-Roubaix bicycle race was changed from Paris to Compiègne and most recently, the Communauté de Communes de la Région de Compiègne became a partner in a European Union INTERREG IIIb project called SAND.

The Town Hall is an impressive structure, facing La Place de l’Hôtel de Ville de Compiègne. It was here, with many of the shops on the place open particularly on Sunday thanks to the semi-annual sales, that I found my new winter coat, a bargain at 40% off.

A la prochaine…

Adrian Leeds
Editor, Parler Paris

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