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Parisian Passages

2012-03-12

1.jpgUnusual plan for Paris, not so known to the tourists, but still with a big concentration of history, charm, French gourmandise and specialties, colours, interesting shop windows: follow the map to get to the Parisian "passages", or "galleries". Passages are tiny streets covered with glass roofs, with various boutiques, old bookstores, or cosy coffee places and tiny restaurants. It is raining, it is cold, or too hot, atmosphere of these architectural lovely jewels will take you to the fairytale. Passages, besides their practical meaning are also a decoration, micro space creating a special world, separated from the neighbouring streets. Passages are calm but still living with everyday life of small shops, coffee places, pastries shops and restaurants.

It is interesting to look into history in order to understand why and how the passages in Paris were built. Let’s get to a harsher Paris, at the beginning of the 19th century, when the streets were not paved, were dirty, filled with around 70.000 horses and the streets were not lighted at night. In the dust of the streets without pavements and canalisation, in the noise it was difficult to find a quiet place to relax, or talk and walk calmly. Covered passages started to be built as a solution for creating places protected from bad weather, places which were ideal for hanging out, walking or flirting. And at the same time they are a natural and unexpected practical short-cut when you stroll in Paris. You walk through a narrow passage and suddenly you find yourself in another street, another quarter. Together with passages theatres, various performances, bars and even prostitution started to flower.

Most of the passages were built around 1830. The first prototype of future pass2.jpgages were three galleries "Galeries du Palais Royal" built in 1786 by the duke of Orleans around his garden. In the 19th century in Paris there were built about 130 passages. Today there remain only around 20 of them. Most of them were destroyed during the Haussmannian works.

The oldest passage in Paris is "Passage des Panoramas" (from 1799) between the buildings of Bourse and Opéra, it is long 133 metres and wide only 3,20 metres, covered with glass and wood. Narrow, with many restaurants and rich scale of boutiques, you have to stop after each step in order to be able to admire the shop windows, paintings, decorations, signs with the names of the little shops. The name "panoramas" comes from the attraction (before the cinema) of showing panoramic pictures. The American William Thayer, the ships owner, who was paid by the French government after the loss of his ships, bought this passage after the French Revolution. 

In 1816 the gas lightening was established here. Passages do not belong to3.jpg the state and the shop keepers are tenants or owners of the shops. The entrance to the passages is closed at night and only the people living in the passages have the keys to get in. Some of them are open also on Sunday and holidays and some only during the opening hours of the shops.
 
Parisian passages are scattered with old bookstores and extravagant boutiques, which attracted the tourists from the whole world already in the 19th century. In the 2. arrondissement, that means when you walk from the Opera Garnier building you find the jewels such as "Passage des Panoramas", "Passage Jouffroy", "Galerie Vivienne", "Galerie Colbert" (from 1826), or calmer "Passage Choisieul".

In "Galerie Vivienne" (from 1823) you stop in front of each shop window, you cannot walk fast, your steps follow the rhythm of your heart, amazement, excitement from old tiny bookstores with high shelves from the massive dark wood, filled with old and artistic books. The book seller is not only selling the books but he spends his days talking about the books, literature, art, he has something to say about each book. From the shelves with the books, or turning the pages of old books, you absorb the pleasant smell of antiquity, knowledge; you are full of admiration and respect. You look to the shop windows with jewellery, wines, clothes, philatelist collection stamps, or art objects in the galleries, you look to the ceiling, decorated walls, on beautiful colourful mosaic of paved streets, which echoes the nois4.jpge of your slow steps. In the Jouffroy passage maybe you will be attracted by the coulours of the candies and biscuits in the shop „La cure gourmande”, or the pastries in the window of the „Le Valentin” coffee place, or the menu and comfortable wicker chairs of the Zaphire restaurant. You get in and immediately by the door you are welcomed by the little table with three huge tarts, apple, blackberries and chocolate. The waiter smiles at my daughter and asks her if she wants French fries with ham or a pancake with marmalade, nuttela, ice-cream or sugar. Or all together? My daughter gives her back her smile with some teeth momentarily missing and the chocolate pancake wins. I find my happiness with foamy cappuccino and a "Napolitaine" salad with mozzarella cheese and sardines.
 
In the Jouffroy passage maybe you will be attracted by the colours of the candies and biscuits in the shop "La cure gourmande", or the pastries in the window of the "Le Valentin" coffee place, or the menu and in Paris as it is often the case in the big cities, people are different, sometimes you cannot say where is the border between being strange and normal. For an hour we have been sitting only couple of centimetres from the neighbourin5.jpgg table with an elegant elderly couple, practically dressed to the winter weather. My eyes were checking on the lady’s clothes, her colourful sweater and scarf. When the couple got up before leaving, the man started to talk and invited me to a philosophical discussion which is held once a month in his apartment, and he gave me a small yellow paper with necessary information. When we shook hands and they left the restaurant, I read on the small paper that on March 19th they will discuss Platon’s Atlantide, and they ask the participants to bring the financial contribution from 3 to 8 euro and especially I was surprised by the sentence: "Chastity is a big virtue, and that’s why dear friends we remind you that a normal decent skirt should cover your knees, the top must be decent and cover properly your arms. Thank you for keeping this in mind." Paris is full of surprises on each step…
 
Paris is known to be the city of lights. "Passages", or "galleries" confirm this, they are full of light, thanks to their glass roofs, they take us for some minutes or hours, in the distance of some metres to Paris forgotten, old, but still with dynamic beating heart.
 
Maria Dopjerova-Danthine, Paristep
 

Preview of picture in folder Paris street | Jan Schinko jr.