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The Bookends of the RER A: Work vs Play

La Défense "courtyard"La Défense “courtyard”I had the occasion to go out to La Défense yesterday to an office of a professional advisor. It had been many years since stepping out onto the “parvis” — the heart of what is known as “La Défense” on which resides “La Grande Arche” and constitutes the “cour” (courtyard, if you will).

Riding out to La Défense for an urbanite like me seemed like quite a trek. RER A gets you there fast, but you can also access it from Métro Line 1, the T2 tramway and a Transilien train. When exiting, you must have your ticket to allow the doors to open and make your way out. Little did I realize that La Défense is part of “Zone 3” and my ticket, only good for zones 1 and 2, wasn’t releasing the doors.

I wasn’t the only one with this problem, but there was no one there to assist, to remedy the situation or control it. Like the others, I ‘snaked’ through the doors just after someone else exited (who was clearly more clued in than me) bruising my shoulders in the process (I don’t recommend doing this!).

(Can someone explain why this is not made obvious to us unsuspecting new visitors to La Défense or why the city simply won’t include it in zone 2?)

The towers of La DéfenseThe towers of La DéfenseLa Défense is a forest of towers. The development of the district was begun in 1951 by a special agency: the “Etablissement Public d’Aménagement de la Défense” supported by French President François Mitterrand who wanted a contemporary version of the Arc de Triomphe. The Grande Arche was designed by Danish architect Otto von Spreckelsen, is 110 meters wide (361 feet), made of Carrara marble panels and houses offices on the sides with a rooftop open to visitors.

The first of the plans of the office park surrounding La Grande Arche had two rows of skyscrapers of equal height, then in 1964, another plan approved 20 office buildings of 25 stories each. These plans went out the window when companies began to insist on taller towers. Now this resulted in a mixed bag of towers, the tallest being the Gan tower of 179 meters high (589 feet).

As I exited one of the dozens of exits possible, without finding a “Plan du Quartier” (map of the vicinity) to assist me in locating the best exit to take, given where I was going, the vision of the Grande Arche, the open parvis and the towers was overwhelming. It was like landing on the moon…but certainly not like a Parisian moonscape. The sense of out-of-proportion can make the largest of individuals feel like an ant on a deserted island. The massive concrete and glass structures are not only NOT of human scale, but are void of human or natural elements at all. There are no trees, no amenities, no nothing, except concrete walkways, on which sit the glass and steel structures, inhabited by gray-suited business people who are moving quickly from one point to another, carrying their briefcases and talking on their phones.

Of course, it’s been this way from the beginning and I’m just now experiencing the shock of it. All I could think was how unlucky all those thousands of people are who working there day in and day out — 180,000 of them, on 560 hectares (5.6 million square meters, or 60,277,898 square feet), surrounded by 72 glass and steel buildings and skyscrapers that house 1,500 corporate head offices including those of 15 of the top 50 companies in the world.

I couldn’t wait to leave. Getting back on the RER A train, now with a newly-purchased special ticket in hand, but talking on the phone absentmindedly, I saw a door flip open and ‘snaked’ through, not realizing that once again, I had evaded the turnstile and gotten in without canceling the ticket. If I had been caught by a controller, I would have been as surprised as anyone as it certainly wasn’t intentional.

Chez Martine di MattéoChez Martine di MattéoOn the RER I headed in the exact opposite direction to dine chez Interior Architect Martine di Mattéo in her beautiful old country home in the little village of Quincy-Voisins, in the Seine-et-Marne department just near Disneyland Paris Landing at the station at the entrance to Disneyland, I didn’t have a valid ticket and once again ‘snaked’ through with a friend to exit. It struck me as we exited the station to see the theme park lit so brightly that it was the RER A bookend to La Défense — except that instead of ‘all work,’ Disneyland is for ‘all play.’ The themepark is situated on 1781 hectares (17.8 million square meters, or 191,705,059 square feet), provides 10,000 jobs, added 30,000 jobs to neighboring counties and hosts 10 million visitors each year.

Disneyland ParisFlooding out of the gates at the dinner hour were the opposite of gray-suited business people — parents with kids and teens dressed warmly in their down jackets, hats and scarves, carrying instead of briefcases, balloons.

Where would you rather spend your day?

A la prochaine…


7-8-13adrianleedsbyPhilMashAdrian Leeds

Editor, Parler Paris & Director of The Adrian Leeds Group, LLC

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P.S. Save the Date — Saturday, February 8, 2014 for Money Matters for Women 2014. I will be presenting  at the one-day conference hosted by WICE at The American University of Paris. You’ll learn how to take control of your finances including planning for the future, property investment in Paris and France, starting a business in France and much more. More details to come.


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