Sunday, July 20, 2008

rue d'Assas

After two years in Paris, I still get caught by surprise by the proximity of otherwise familiar places and street intersections. I think I know where I am, but really I don't have the bigger picture. For example, I'll be strolling around St. Sulpice and take a wrong turn. "Whoa, you mean St. Sulpice is right next door to the Jardin du Luxembourg?" It never fails to blow me away. This happens to me over and over: different pieces of the Parisian jigsaw puzzle getting pressed into place bit by bit, finally etched into spatial memory.

One street that keeps bedevilling my directionally-challenged brain, as it crosses my path in the most unexpected (to me) places, is rue d'Assas. One minute I'll be minding my own beeswax, walking or taking the bus, and next thing I know, there pops up an intersection with rue d'Assas again.

This morning I was determined to tame that rude-ass rue d'Assas perplexity. I decided to climb its entire length so I could try to understand its geography. It's not a major thoroughfare like rue de Rennes or boulevard Raspail, but its trajectory is fairly long. I embarked at the beginning, near Sevres-Babylone, and followed it to the end where it merges with avenue de l'Observatoire. Although not a path of monuments or really any tourist attractions, it does bisect an interesting swath of the 6e arrondissement. No meandering on this journey: it was a straight shot to the end. (My habitual getting-lost routine was saved for the return leg of the trek.)

First, I admired two pairs of caryatids.

It was so early that the early morning joggers were running outside the Jardin du Luxembourg, which hadn't opened its gates. I've seen lots of Guignol shows in parks in Paris, but no Marionnettes. Must return!

By the way, if you hear a French person saying he or she is studying at Assas (pronounced ah-sahss), it refers to this.

I wandered down the courtyard of the Musée Zadkine, which was not yet open. Of course, it was only 7 a.m., so I forgive them. I'll be back for a visit there post-haste. Artist and sculptor Ossip Zadkine called his atelier his "petite folie d'Assas."

The Botanical Gardens of the Université de Paris looked enticing. I'll have to find out if they're open to the public. At the far end I found what I believe to be the largest supply of fig leaves in Paris, an immense and ancient figuier. If I can fig-ure out when the fruit will be perfectly ripe, I'd love to sneak by and pluck a few from the low-hanging branches. Of course, there is little or no use for the fig leaves on statues in Paris!

When you reach the top of rue d'Assas, there is a great view across Paris. You can see past the Senate, and Montmartre on the distant hilltop.

This was the most animated face I'd seen all morning. Le Maréchal de Ney.

The Closerie des Lilas was quiet. Closed.

The Observatoire de Paris was at the top. It's open to the public only once a month, by reservation.

On my meandering trip home, I discovered the Val-de-Grace Hospital in the 5e arrondissement. How could I have never seen this before?


ariane said...

on the val de grace, you must (*must*) if you haven't already, read the chapter on it in julian green's paris ... it is incredibly moving. in it, he speaks of the fragile shell of the dome, that he imagines could be shattered on day, in an act of war. this, he writes, (and i paraphrase), might be the secret of old building: "the more threatened I am, the lovelier i become." ... i think of that sentence often. said...

Just a real pleasure to share your discoveries.

materfamilias said...

Thanks for taking me on this walk with you -- lovely!

BJ Lantz said...

I enjoyed the walk with you! I have visited Paris several times, but the best for walking was last year when I went alone and all I did was walk every day. It was a treat. I am sad because I will not make it to Paris this year (but grateful that I made it twice last year!). Perhaps next... I enjoy your blog ~ keep walking!

Samantha said...

How funny, that's my quartier. I don't want to broadcast exactly where I live on the internet, but I can see many of those pictures from my window!

Anonymous said...

This is so recognisable. :-) If I had time, I used to jump out one stop early so that I could walk to where I was going and get to know the neighbourhood -- that helped. And now I'm doing the same for London, a slightly larger project!

Polly-Vous Francais said...

I'm gradually getting my bearings here. rue d'Assas walk really helped.

I'll keep getting lost forever, but that helps in finding the way.

Ariane, the Val de Grace was indeed so exquisite. I can't wait to return when I'm not in forced motion. I have the Julian Green book somewhere but ahven't read it all. Thanks for the rec.

Sam-- we'll have to get together if we're so nearby!

maitresse said...

happens to me all the time. In my case I think it's bc I'm from NY and have very definite ideas about city layout derived from living on a grid.

that is also my neighborhood-- they call my quartier val de grace-port royal, I believe. do you live near there? we shall have to rendez-vous when I'm back in town.

Polly-Vous Francais said...

Hi Maitresse,

Uh, I'm not sure if I live near there. Maybe I'll be surprised, and it's right around the corner!

Ok, JK. I'm closer to Bon Marche, but can travel. Let's have a coffee when you're back in Paris.

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