Friday, September 28, 2007

Citroen on the Champs

the new Citroen showcase officially opens tomorrow, but I got a sneak preview yesterday. If you were walking down the Champs last night, you probably noticed the fleet of Citroens and the spotlights. The building is on the same site that Andre Citroen bought back in 1927; in more recent memory, the showroom was also a Hippo restaurant. No loss, tearing that thing down.
For the past three years, while the construction site was under wraps, I've been wondering about the origami-inspired facade, trying to figure out if the building was going to be a success or not. And now? Well...I'm still deciding. I love the architect: Manuelle Gautrand's buildings are smart and quirky, and she deserves kudos for getting this "C42" built at all--construction was a logistical nightmare. They could only deliver structural elements between 1am and 6am, couldn't block traffic at any time, were building right beside a metro entrance...and the site doesn't have access to a back alley, so everything had to be done from the sidewalk of the most prestigious street in all of Paris. Amazing it ever got finished.
The pleated, multi-faceted draped glass facade she has created is appropriate in all sorts of ways--referencing the original glass vitrine building of the 1920s and 30s, taking the logo (that double chevron of Citroen) and abstracting it upwards, and playing with the idea of glass and movement--the way you glimpse different angles of the world as you're driving fast through city streets. But inside, the main body of the building bores me. It's very white, very red, with some reflective elements to show off the feels like the set for a gameshow.
The only interior part that delighted me was the very top floor. This is where C42 comes into its own: the kaleidescope effect of the facade (which extends right over the roof and down the back of the building), the feeling of light and freedom suspended above the busy Champs...superb. Worth visiting. But I'm not sure it's an enduring addition to the Champs. I'm going to have to go back and stare at it some more.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Literary Booze #1

the literary booze entry is inspired by a weekly column in London's Time Out. there doesn't seem to be a similar column in Paris...and lord knows, there's no dearth of possibilities. to begin, here's Ernest Hemingway from A MOVEABLE FEAST: "I met Joyce who was walking along the Boulevard St.-Germain after having been to a matinee alone. He liked to listen to the actors, althought he could not see them. He asked me to have a drink with him and we went to the Deux-Magots and ordered dry sherry although you will always read that he drank only Swiss white wine." the Deux-Magots (6 place Saint-Germain-des-Pres) has more than its fair share of other literary ghosts, from Oscar Wilde to Janet Flanner...i've never tried ordering sherry there, but i'll try it. see you there?

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Saint-Eustache with colour bars

the old Les Halles church of Saint-Eustache is one of my favourites--fabulous gothic-feeling Renaissance architecture, accoustics adored by composers, and the mightiest organ pipes in all of France (there are free recitals every Sunday at 17h30). But Saint-Eustache also has a great commitment to contemporary art--all kinds of artists have been invited to show work in the main church space.
So this weekend, I dropped in to check out the current installation by Kees Visser. I was dubious--Visser is known for his straight lines, and I wasn't sure how that would work in the entranceway of the church.
But the combination of Saint-Eustache's soaring architectural lines and the rows of organ pipes make a surprisingly perfect locale for Visser's metallic bars. The installation was first conceived for the Thouars Chapelle Jeanne d'Arc--the photo is from there, taken by Jean-Luc Dorchies.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

CITE de l'Architecture et du Patrimoine

on Monday, French President Sarkozy finally inaugurated the Cite de l'Architecture, which has been partially open since January. You've probably seen photographs of the location--the Cite is located inside the Palais de Chaillot, just across the Seine from the Eiffel Tower. It's the ultimate fashion shoot location.

The original Musée des Monuments français was founded in the late 1800s by Viollet-le-Duc. The museum survived until 1997, when the entire wing of the Palais de Chaillot closed for renovation for a decade. Plagued by scandal, the Cite is finally looking gorgeous again. Monday's official ceremony was attended by some of the biggest names in architecture, including Norman Foster, Zaha Hadid, and Richard Rogers.

While the Minister of Culture should have had the prestige of opening this museum, Sarko is famous for leaping ahead of his ministers--making their announcements for them, appearing at their ceremonies to upstage them, and being generally lousy at delegating. But in this case, Sarko's presence wasn't inappropriate: most French presidents are obsessed with Paris architecture (think of Mitterand & his Grands Projets), and in June, Sarko announced that he was interested in a new Haussmann vision. What exactly that means remains to be seen...

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Eritrea, 6 years later

Shortly after 9/11--and conveniently ignored while the world press grappled with events--the media in Eritrea was essentially eliminated. Eritrea...not a country you hear much about in the news.
Located in the Horn of Africa, Eritrea became independent in 1993 & initially seemed to have amazing potential--its population was educated and committed to good government, there was a sudden flowering of the press, and strong Western support. And its capital, Asmara, is known for its incredible Art Deco architecture--legacy of its period as a colony of Italy.
But today Eritrea is the only African country to have no privately-owned news media, and has the worst freedom of expression record on the continent. It is one of the world's leading jailers of journalists, most infamously because of the week of Sept 18-25, 2001, when at least 18 journalists were rounded up, all free media was banned (and remaining media workers fled or went into hiding). Since these mass arrests six long years ago, it is believed that at least four imprisoned journalists have died due to horrific conditions. Last year, ten state journalists were also arrested.
This month, the Bush administration decided that Eritrea is a state sponsor of terrorism for alleged links to Islamist militants in Somalia. This briefly brought the conditions in Eritrea to the front pages of world media, but it seems unlikely that the government's increasing isolation will change conditions for the surviving prisoners. See this link for details about the conditions of their imprisonment, and here for a sample petition letter for Eritrean president Issayas Afewerki.

Monday, September 17, 2007

gardener's London

spent the weekend in London, and managed to get up early enough on Sunday to visit the Columbia Flower Market...if I had a garden, a balcony, or even a windowsill in London, this is where I'd spend a lot of time. Azaleas to zinneas, tropical grasses and winding vines--you can buy just about anything for 5 pounds. Since my old fave market Spitalfields is currently being turned into an upgraded mall experience, I was happy to wander down Columbia road listening to the flower hawkers and admiring a truly fabulous straw cloche at the Fred Bare hat shop.

Appropriately, that night we stayed in the Pavilion Hotel's "flower power" room (floral wallpaper, wrought iron furniture, floral-painted antique headboard, floral bedspread, thistle-shaped lighting fixtures...ought to be hideous but in fact it's gorgeous) Unlike the thousands of deadly-boring, peeling-wallpaper hotel rooms across London, the Pavilion has personality to spare--which makes it a great place for decadent rock&roll photoshoots. But even with all the antique furniture, faux-marbling, and rock star lighting, it's inexpensive and quiet--not what you'd expect in a place with a purple Lamborghini parked outside.
this is the hallway's fainting couch...ideal for changing your shoes after a very long day of shopping & sightseeing...

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

back in Paris

sunshine in Paris...but the streets are empty because everyone has suddenly become obsessed with rugby. did they put something in the water?? i swear a year ago, if you asked a Parisian about rugby, he would have simply shrugged and made that "boof" noise (indicating total dismissal). and yet now, i've even heard a French sports historian on the radio discussing the possible French origins of the game. there are fleets of kilt-wearing rugby tourists wandering the city (generally congregating in the sun, outside pubs) and arty posters (in odd locations) advertising both the rugby & football "Dieux du Stade" calendars. the rugby photos feature a lot of skin & chains--according to the press blurb, the chains symbolize the players' great commitment to the game. Uh-huh. Well anyhow they were photographed by Steven Klein in the former music pavillion of the Comtesse du Barry, out in Louveciennes. I hope her ghost was wandering around during the shoot, I'm sure she'd have been highly entertained.

Sunday, September 09, 2007