Inter Continental

The Paris I saw

haussmannian-paris
Category: Travel

Subway notes on the champs to Morrison’s ‘grave’

There were two stories why Paris was not levelled to the ground during WWII.

One was that the French collaborated with the Germans and declared Paris an open city while the rest of Europe was falling on dead bodies to defend themselves against the Nazi invaders.
The other was that Germany recognised Paris’ cultural importance while planning its conquest at the onset of war; while the Allied forces noted that the city had no strategic value in the D-Day race to Berlin. Hitler himself was rumored to have fallen in love with Paris so much that he had wanted to make it his empire’s capital.

Haussmannian
For what it’s worth, Paris came out of the war unscathed—the Haussmannian side at least. As the cliché goes, “It’s not Paris if it’s not Haussmannian,” referring to the prefect of the Seine, Georges Haussmann, who from 1853 to 1870 and onwards transformed Paris on orders of Napoleon III from an overgrown medieval city to what it has remained to be today. Most Parisians at the time hated Haussmann for destroying the “Old Paris.” His design is highlighted by uniform building heights, grand boulevards, and anchoring elements--monuments. Approximately 70 percent of Paris is Haussmannian.

The city of fashionistas is so full of aesthetics that even the roadside graffiti under the bridges were artistically done in multiple aerosol sprays. A testament to this love for the arts would be the now-ubiquitous Eiffel Tower which was built in 1889 as an entrance arch to the World’s Fair held that year.


Champs-Élysées
At the heart of Paris is the Champs-Élysées, originally fields and market gardens that became a popular public park after the French Revolution in 1799. “Champs” in English is “fields.”

La plus belle avenue du monde,” Champs-Élysées, with its cinemas, luxury shops, al fresco restaurants, and the flagship Louis Vuitton store, indeed is “the most beautiful avenue in the world.”


In Greek mythology is the Elysian Fields, a sacred place for the blessed dead; in Paris is Champs-Élysées where stands the Arc de Triomphe or Arch of Triumph which pays tribute to those who fought and died for France during the French Revolution and the Napoleonic Wars.


Cimetière Père Lachaise
And on Champs-Élysées is the Paris Metro’s George V station to which I sank myself in on my way to visit a dead.

Noting written directions from the concierge at the Hotel Fouquet’s Barrière, where I stayed at along with a group of fellow writers from Dubai, I snickered at the thought that I had barely been in the Paris for a day and there I was going down the stairs to its elaborate subway system on my own.

I stared once more at the gray sky as the sound of arriving trains somewhere came faintly by.

It didn’t take much effort to get to my last stop, the Père Lachaise station. I had wanted to visit the late 1960s pop icon Jim Morrison’s purported grave at the Cimetière Père Lachaise, final resting place for poets like Oscar Wilde and other icons, Haussmann himself among them.

Morrison, lead singer of the American rock band, The Doors, reportedly died of a heart attack or heroin overdose in his rented apartment on 17 Rue Beautreillis in this city, July 3, 1971; he was 27. Questions surrounding his death have remained alive.

Nonetheless “pilgrims” have continued to flock to his supposed burial ground, adorned with flowers over the years.

Lost
Getting back to Champs-Élysées was a challenge I never realized how hard till I started to frantically try finding my way through the labyrinth of interconnecting rail lines and stations—now who’s snickering, I asked myself.

I went again to the concierge’s notes but somehow still missed a station on at least two counts. Why? Because I followed the lines to switch to and the stations to take off as listed going to Père Lachaise. Getting back was supposed to be simply just going through the written directions backwards—but it got to be confusing. It was getting dark per my timepiece and the confusion started getting thicker by the minute.
Of course, Plan B was to just get out anywhere and call the cops so I could be brought back to the hotel. But that would be spoiling the fun wouldn't it?


Snobs?
Other people say Parisians are snobs; they say the French have this condescending air in their heads because they won the 100-year war with the British which started 1399; they had Napoleon, who tenaciously fought against marauders in what is now the Napoleonic Wars; and by Charles de Gaulle’s leadership, their independence after WW II, as they refused to stand down to the Allied forces which had “liberated” them and wanted to put them under military control.

But this could probably be a sweeping misrepresentation. Trying to decipher my way back to George V station, I asked help from people each of whom made sure, despite some having a not-so-good conversational English, that I boarded the right train for the next station and on till I finally was climbing up the stairs again where the Arc de Triomphe was just where I left it. And I was back snickering. I made it, after all.
Finding your way in a big city’s underground rail system is like entering the woods—easy to get to where you’re going; difficult to get back especially when it’s getting dark.
All said, the Paris I saw was one that gave me a state of mind I would love to keep forever.
The trip was organized by Atoute France, the French tourism board, in cooperation with KLM-Air France.

There you have it – an explorer’s story about getting lost from the Seine to the Cimetière Père Lachaise while on adventure holidays enjoying fun activities in romantic Paris.