Greetings

Many thanks to friends, colleagues and total strangers who have shown interest and given support throughout the year.

And to those who have cricked necks after taking up a bit of pavement spotting yourselves …

HAPPY CRICKNESS !

King Street, South Newtown

Carpet runner

There are many artworks to see in the streets of Paris, both classical and contemporary, permanent and temporary. Whether you have set out with guidebook in hand to visit a particular attraction, or whether you are simply wandering, you are bound to encounter artistic surprises even if you don’t ever visit a museum.

It was while I was on a wander that I came upon the beautiful garden of the Palais-Royal. At the southern end of the garden is the palace itself, built in 1629 (now government offices), while the other three sides are bounded by colonnaded buildings added 150 years later. These colonnades –one side open to the garden and the other side originally lined with boutiques, cafes, restaurants, hair salons and museums – are the forerunners of the 19th century passages or arcades that I wrote about in a previous blog.

I walked down Galerie de Valois on the eastern side, glancing in the windows of its expensive fashion salons and art dealers. Along the length of the tiled floor I noticed what seemed like a carpet-runner with a striped pattern in black and white. It took me a while to realise that I was walking on a temporary art installation. Notices attached to the arcade’s iron railing informed me that the work was Text(e)-Fil(e)s by digital artist Pascal Dombis. On the 252 metre long ribbon Dombis has reproduced thousands of lines of text taken from the works of both notable and obscure authors who have written about the Palais Royal, “for two centuries the most fashionable and visited place in France and even Europe”.

Sometimes I wonder whether people who write on the ground really intend for passers-by to read their messages. Similarly, I wonder whether the inspiration and effort that goes into horizontal artworks might not be wasted. As I loitered in Galerie de Valois I did not see one person look down at the ‘carpet runner’; and even as I moved about taking photographs from this angle or that, no-one looked to see what it was that had caught my attention. But then perhaps Parisians are inured to tourists with digital cameras and are too sophisticated to want to be seen taking any notice of what a tourist is photographing.

Arcades

The arcades of Paris (les passages couverts) were a shopping sensation in the 19th century and they are still famous, not least because Walter Benjamin’s great unfinished work The Arcades Project (Das Passagen-Werk) used a study of the arcades as a way of revealing insights into the realities of urban living.

There were some 150 of these arcades built between 1800 and 1850. In their day they offered a treasure-trove to shoppers in Paris away from the weather and the dirty, unpaved streets. Now there are fewer than 20 left, most of them in run-down condition but still offering a variety of shopping and eating experiences. The pavements – or floors – of the arcades carry the story of their decline (or sometimes their revival, as in the case of the almost-glamorous Galerie Vivienne).

In a stretch of the Passage des Panoramas that I photographed parts of the original paving had been replaced by asphalt, but there were some sections of flagstone and a few shops had remnants of the original coloured tiling – a different pattern for each shop, sometimes with the name of the original business spelt out in tiles. Others had rectangles of synthetic carpet outside their premises.

Manhole covers (3)

Manhole cover in Avenue Bosquet

I have a certain fondness for manhole covers. They are reminders that the pavement is not only a floor but a roof – the roof of a busy world of tunnels, tubes, chambers and canals; of light, electricity, water and workers. Manhole covers are shutters on the skylights in this roof.

Readers of this blog will know that earlier this year I was lucky enough to do a tour of the underground Tank Stream in Sydney, and to photograph several manhole covers from below. But now I have gone one better – I have toured the sewers of Paris, or at least a small section of them. Parisians are justifiably proud of their sewer network, their ‘city beneath the city’, designed and built in the mid-1800s. So proud that they have a museum – Le Musée des Égouts –  where, descending beneath the street of Quai d’Orsay, you can walk through tunnels with drinkable and non-drinkable water flowing through pipes beside you, and a river of sewage running along canals beneath you. In the photograph below on the left you can see the tunnel lights reflected in this river.

Bruneseau Gallery of the Paris Sewer Museum

I tried to find a manhole cover that I could photograph from below but the best I could do was the iron stairway leading up to one. I could not stretch my arm far enough beyond the museum barrier to photograph the cover itself.

Afterwards, when I returned to the fresh air of the street, I walked along Avenue Bosquet and, assuming that I paced the distance out correctly, found the manhole cover I had nearly photographed in the chamber below.

Steps beneath manhole in Avenue Bosquet

The beating heart of a city

A short visit to Geneva reminded me that however high its standard of living, however conservative its ruling majority, however picturesque its heritage sites, and however manicured its parks, a city – being a place of people – inevitably has its scruffy side.  Nor does graffiti occur only in the scruffy parts. Graffiti (including pavement graffiti) can undermine the intended mood of any place.

The International Monument to the Reformation is located in one of those manicured parks in the grounds of the University of Geneva. Unveiled in 1909, its statues and inscriptions honour the people and events of the 16th century Protestant Reformation, in which Switzerland had a central role. The central group of statues depicts Calvinism’s main proponents, William Farel, John Calvin, Theodore Beza and John Knox. And there, on the decorative paving at the foot of the wall I found two desperately heartfelt pieces of graffiti painted by Raf, who loves Romane F-K more than anyone.

Act Up

Rue de la Verrerie

In Paris the pavement is used as a noticeboard, just as it is in other cities. I have seen a number of stencils announcing – or advertising – one thing or another. But SIDA ÇA PLOMBE L’AMBIANCE , usually coupled with a pink ACT UP PARIS stencil, seems to be the most prevalent, although most examples are looking a little the worse for wear.

Roughly translated as AIDS: it weighs down the atmosphere (but I stand to be corrected on this), it is the slogan that Act Up-Paris used at the LGBT Pride March on 26 June this year in an effort to mobilize the LGBT community’s acknowledgment of HIV-AIDS and of people living with the disease.

Rue Vieille du Temple

Tags in Paris

Rue des Deux Ponts

I did not know whether there would be much pavement graffiti in Paris, but I should not have worried. Despite the incessant street cleaning, there are tags to be found in many places, mostly done in white-out. Like the French language itself, they tend to be rather long-winded.

Esplanade des Invalides

Pont de la Tournelle

Urban versions

Graffiti Tunnel, Waterloo

On the last day of the Royal Geographical Society Annual Conference in London, a group of delegates went on a field trip to study ‘urban subversions’. They watched parkour practitioners on the South Bank, skateboard tyros in the Undercroft, and graffiti artists in the Leake Street Tunnel at Waterloo. In the tunnel they were obliged by me to take note of what was on the ground as well as on the walls.

Thanks to organisers Oli and Brad, this was all very interesting, but I’m afraid my eye was drawn away to rather ordinary chalk marks that had almost certainly been left by hash house harriers. I’ve mentioned this urban version of cross country running before. Recreational runners may not be exactly subversive but they do extend the range of uses of streets and public spaces. And as they pound through the city in the early hours of the morning they leave pale traces of their passing in the form of chalk arrows and symbols.

Chalk arrow on Waterloo Bridge

Chalk mark at the Undercroft skateboarding area on South Bank

Exhibition Road experiment

Exhibition Road in London is a mess. In a busy cultural precinct, it runs past the Victoria and Albert Museum, the Natural History Museum, the Science Museum and the Imperial College, and links South Kensington Station with the Royal Albert Hall and Kensington Gardens. But right now, from one end to the other, there are barricades, wire fences, earth moving equipment, temporary traffic lights and improvised pedestrian crossings.

It’s all part of a big experiment, with Exhibition Road planned to become the first shared-space street in London. Apparently the local residents are not happy with the scheme, presumably because they are less interested in accessibility for cultural tourists and more interested in parking spaces and easy access to and from the area for their very flash motor cars.

According to information posters hung from the wire barriers, the street will have “a kerb free single surface” and “visual and tactile lines distinguishing pedestrian areas from those used by vehicles”. Just this week workers have begun to pave some areas of the street with artificial cobblestones, forming geometric patterns in a range of designer greys. Road users will have to learn to read these patterns. When the work is all finished the paving will have become the instructions for its own use.

1 5 6 7 8 9 10