This is Paris: City of Two Faces

Monday, August 28, 2017 | Paris, France (map)

Paris's Museum of Natural History, which few tourists find time to visit, contains several imposing galleries of skeletons, all arranged by Victorian-era curators and seemingly untouched ever since.
Understandably, most visitors to Paris can only stay long enough to see the Eiffel Tower, the Louvre, the Arc de Triomphe, and similar must-see attractions. With few exceptions, those classic destinations are classic for a reason, and well worth seeing, but spend more time in the city and you'll have the chance to explore the up-and-coming and edgy, the multicultural and worldly, the odd and the downright macabre.

Having returned many times over the past years (it's just a quick 2.5-hour hop from Algiers—short enough to make a weekend of it), I've managed to work my way down the list and see several of the oddities that—unbeknownst to many visitors—are among the city's most intriguing sites.

This is Paris: City of Cactii. (Jardin des Serres d'Auteuil)
Often thanks to tips from local friends, I've managed to see several of these curiosities in previous visits (the stacked skulls of the Catacombs, flea markets in forgotten banlieues, speakeasies and curio shops), but still had a long list when I arrived in May for a week's stay. (Now almost four weeks into my European odyssey, I had come from the unforgettable Roman wedding, the Tuscan roadtrip, a work conference in Germany, and was now in Paris for a few empty days while waiting for Nina and some family members to arrive.)

Naturally, I set about filling the days by ticking off a few more atypical destinations from my list. I strolled the Marché Mouffetard, explored the Mosque of Paris (greet the ticket attendant in Algerian Arabic and get free entry!), took a jog through the zoo and botanical gardens, and vélib'ed my way all across the city in search of used camera shops.

No question about it: with my heirloom Rolleicord's 65-year old knobs increasingly seizing up from my rather vigorous usage, it was finally time for an upgrade. That became my obsession for a few days of the trip until, at one of the dealers along Boulevard Beaumarchais, I finally pulled the trigger and shelled out a small fortune for a 1959 Rolleiflex 3.5C, the high-end version of my trusted Rolleicord.

This is Paris: Two side-by-side shots taken fractions of a second apart show the extra clarity and color that the Rolleiflex (left) brings. (Shots taken with identical settings and film.)
By the time I got my new toy, Nina had arrived, and I had already dragged her through the Jardin des Plantes' tremendous greenhouses and the adjacent Museum of Natural History, with its exorbitant collection of animal skeletons. They include the mundane, the exotic, and the prehistoric, all snatched up during the glory years of the French empire. Flanking the giants that occupy the center of each hall, the smaller skeletons are faithfully displayed today in Victorian-era wood-and-glass cases, accompanied by yellowed labels meticulously hand-scripted in Latin. The next day we continued to the expansive greenhouses of the Jardins des Serres d'Auteil, followed by a long June afternoon wander among the dog-walkers in the Bois de Boulogne.

At last, my Uncle Chris, Aunt Kari, and cousin Mitch arrived on their summer holiday from distant Colorado, sparing Nina from having to spend the entirety of her very first visit to Paris exploring its least-known sites.

This is Paris: Inside the Mosque of Paris.
With the family, we managed to see quite a few of the classics, from climbing Montmartre and the Eiffel Tower to perusing the Rodin Musem and Jardin de Luxembourg to scarfing down escargot and le fromage qui pue. (Not that I would miss the chance to steal Nina and Mitch away for late-night drinks at my favorite establishment ever, the spectacular club/barber/restaurant/radio station/apothecary that is Le Comptoir Général.)

Paris is a city of two faces. Even if its lofty monuments and galleries full of stuffy masterpieces bring it fame, the city is kept interesting by its oddballs, its immigrants, its connoisseurs, and its creatives. If you're lucky enough to spend much time there, you won't have to choose to see just one of its two faces.

Enjoy a selection of my Rolleicord and Rolleiflex photos from my Paris trip:

This is Paris: Made in Germany.
This is Paris: The entry hall of the Museum of Natural History.
This is Paris: Pedestrians beside the Institut Musulman.
This is Paris: Texting in the Tuileries.
This is Paris: Self-portrait with Rolleicord on Boulevard Beaumarchais, or: How to Kill Time While Pondering Whether to Spend Serious Euros to Replace Your Dear Camera.
This is Paris: An American werewolf and his lovely parents, all the way from Colorado.
This is Paris: But you knew that, didn't you?
For more, visit the full album of my Rolleicord and Rolleiflex photos from Paris.

3 comments:

Lilly said...

J'apprécie énormément votre travail. Bravo pour cet article qui représente à 100% ma ville. J'aime beaucoup l'idée des "deux visages", c'est ce que je ressens aussi.

Ps : la légende en dessous des cactus devrait être "Serres d'Auteuil" je pense.

Andrew Farrand said...

Lilly - Merci beaucoup pour votre message ! Très content de savoir que ça vous a plu, surtout vu que vous connaissez la ville sûrement mieux que moi.
Effectivement pour la légende, j'ai confondu deux photos et j'ai corrigé ci-dessus... Merci pour votre lecture attentive !
Cordialement,
Andrew

Jack Mouslim said...

Great read. J'aime beaucoup ton état d'esprit et ton parcours. Keep up the good work :).

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