Saturday, 25 February 2017

Other Stuff to do at Paris Austerlitz

I wrote the other day about the short story machine at Paris Austerlitz station. This is by no means the only diversion to fill in your wait. If you have time you can take a little wander and look at the building itself (quite ace, actually) and its surrounds.

There is a lot of work happening at the station, which includes restoring the old train shed (the glass canopy) and building a new wavy concrete canopy along one edge to take the TGV trains for Tours when they move over from Gare Montparnasse in 2020 (not so long away, scarily enough for those of us who still get a surprise it is the 21st century now)

The old train shed

Trains, Cranes and Automobiles (and a boat).
The station is only 50 metres from the river and has great photo ops
I love the way the metro station is attached.
Just across the road is the newly restored Galerie de Paléontologie et d’Anatomie Comparée

And there is always some art to look at. I was particularly taken by a set of
re-imagined renaissance heroes by Sacha Goldberger.

Friday, 24 February 2017

La Petite Ceinture

A panoramic composite view of the 15th arrondissement from the Petite ceinture.

La Petite ceinture ('little belt') is an abandoned railway line that runs for about 30km around Paris. Until recently it has mostly been out of bounds. The railway company still owns the land and there has been a lengthy argument about what to do with this serendipitous brownfield space. Most people want it in public ownership and repurposed for leisure activities. Up in the 18th arrondissement the local residents took matters into their own hands a few years after the railway closed and have created some much loved community spaces and facilities. However, despite spending time in the area, we've never visited this section of the Petite ceinture (kicking ourselves now, to be honest...)

One of the many info boards along the track.

So when we went to Paris in early February one of the attractions of the apartment we rented in the 15th was that it overlooked the 1.5km section of the Petite ceinture in this arrondissement. This part has been developed by the local authority to form a walking path and long skinny nature reserve. Left for 25 years to become overgrown it became a wildlife haven, a corridor for foxes, hedgehogs, birds and bumble bees.

The new path, incorporating the old rails.

The section through the 15th is the most gentrified. It's used by joggers and dog walkers primarily. It has lifts from street level up to the old track bed at regular intervals, benches made from 'sleepers', and decking 'platforms'. A generous path was formed by packing the track with hoggin so that there was a level walking track but the rails are still visible, integrated into the path.

The lift in front of our apartment, taken from the apartment window.

All along the track are information boards describing the wildlife you might encounter at that spot. One of the most impressive is a tall dead tree, sprouting honey fungus out the top, nicknamed la Chandelle ('the candle'). The info board explains the tree has been left there for large wood boring beetles.

The entrance to one end of the section of the Petite ceinture that runs through the 15th.

The information board at the beginning of the section says:

Constructed around Paris under the Second Empire (1852 - 1869) this railway line transported passengers up to 1934 and goods up to the end of the 70s. In the 15th arrondissement, it particularly served the Citroën factory and the abbatoirs of Vaugirard. Since then the vegetation has spontaneously appeared on the banks, ballast, bridges and walls, forming different strata where numerous animal species can live.

To allow public access to the site the City of Paris has landscaped it whilst preserving the railway heritage and improved the unique biodiversity. The trail is reversible in case of occasional rail usage.

The Petite ceinture in the 15th brings together varied and interesting natural habitats in Paris such as woodland, grassland, wasteland, woodland edge and vegetation colonising the ballast and walls. Each of these environments harbours different animal species. Two hundred and twenty species of plants and animals live here or use it as an ecological corridor between the Parc André Citroën and the Parc Georges Brassens.

Along the wooded slopes 21 species of birds nest, amongst them the threatened Spotted Flycatcher Muscicarpa striata (Fr.  Gobe-mouche gris). In the more open areas like the woodland edges, the grassland and the ballast, bees, wasps, butterflies and beetles come to nectar.

This walking trail was developed so that the public could use it whilst respecting the existing natural heritage. The habitats have been preserved and elements of the railway heritage have been conserved and reused. Finally, in order not to disrupt the lives of the wildlife, no lights have been installed, and the site is closed at night. The banks are not accessible.

Maintenance is timed so that it does not disturb wildlife, particularly nesting birds. The idea is to maintain three stages of vegetation, and the grassland is mown once or twice a year. Woodland clearings are created to encourage the growth of local trees and shrubs, such as Field Elm, which is becoming rare, or English Oak and Sycamore. The trunks of dead trees and piles of wood are left as habitat for micro-organisms, fungi and wood boring insects. These all work to decompose dead wood and are essential for maintaining the ecological balance in a forest ecosystem.

Thursday, 23 February 2017

I want!!

If you have to have a chimney, you'd want one like this if at all possible:

And if you're going to have one, you may as well have its matching pair at the other end (although I am not convinced by the ornamental metalwork):

I am not sure if they are identical, but I do know where they are.

Do you?

Wednesday, 22 February 2017

A Short Story

If you're on Paris Austerlitz Station (and most likely some others) with time before your train, SNCF have installed some diversions. Not only do they have a piano (like this one, in Paris Montparnasse station), they also have a short story dispensing machine.

Its free, and easy to use - all you need to do is decide how long you want to be reading for and press the corresponding button. I decided that as I had 30 minutes a 5 minute story in French would be more than enough, so pressed that button.

Your story comes out printed on what looks like a high quality cash register roll, a metre (3') long. You will need your reading glasses.

The story I received (one of which apparently there are thousands) was this one (or if you want it in english, this one)

Tuesday, 21 February 2017

Paris at Night

When we were in Paris the other week I convinced Susan (and myself) that as we had Mobilis passes for the Metro we should go out after dinner and look at a sight. Usually we're not very good at that - in winter, after dinner, one hunkers down in the warm and listens to the radio.

We are glad we went out though. It was very cold, with a chill wind, but the clearest from fog the whole of the 4 days we were there. It made for some amazing photos.

 Astronomy and architecture

I am rather pleased with these photos - considering I use a long lens and slow shutter speed and no tripod (420mm lens, and anywhere between 3/4second and 3second shutter speed) they have worked quite nicely, just by bracing myself and hanging on. But some pics I just couldn't make work - like this one of the big brown thing taken from the RER station. Looks more like HG Wells on a bender....

Next time we are in Paris we will have to go out at night again - it was rather pleasant to do something different.

Monday, 20 February 2017

The French Presidential Hopeful You've Never Heard of

While we were away in Paris a tall ruggedly handsome man in his early 60s came to town and held a public meeting in Chaumussay. He was the Occitan (Basque) member of parliament Jean Lassalle and he was on the campaign trail. He is known in France for travelling round the country and meeting ordinary people, but he also needs to get the signatures of 500 mayors to validate his canditature for president. In addition he was touring to promote his new book, Un Berger à l'Elysée, which is basically his manifesto.

As well as being the deputy chairman on the conseil général and a deputé in the national parliament, he has been mayor of his birth place, Lourdios-Ichère, for decades. The small town, population 146, is near the border with Spain. He is also the head of the World Mountain People Association, a global network of people who live in the mountains of more than 70 countries. In 2013 he spent much of the year walking across France to get a feel for the mood of the population.

Jean Lassalle talking to Jean-Michel Chedozeau. Photo courtesy of J-M Chedozeau.

“Everywhere I went I witnessed a crisis in the standard of living, a loss of identity and the loss of a sense of a common destiny”. He found the situation equally bad in the cities and the countryside. Scepticism about globalisation, distrust of politicians and latent racism were common among people he spoke to, he said. [France24]
Back in 2006, when a Japanese manufacturer announced the closure of their factory in the Pyrenées he went on hunger strike in protest at the loss of jobs. The company was persuaded to stay and Lassalle lost 21 kilos in weight.

His genuinely 'honest broker' stance has led him to make what seem to be naive errors of judgement. Just recently his inability to adopt a slick political sidestep meant that he has stated in public that he cannot confirm that President Assad of Syria bombed his own people.  Even his supporters are bemused, and it will probably cost him the candidacy and possibly his political career. He is also anti marriage for all. Despite these lapses I get the impression he is widely liked by his parliamentary colleagues and certainly known for delivering amusing speeches which reduce the house to tears of laughter. He is considered hard-working and devoted to his country, if distinctly quixotic.

His manifesto, Un Berger à l'Elysée, is poetical and romantic in style. He wants to return to an idyllic world where there is no national debt, no globalisation, no French troops overseas, and European agreements are completely revised. He's not anti-Europe, but thinks considerable reform is necessary.

Jean Lassalle's manifesto. Photo courtesy of J-M Chedozeau.

Our friends Jean-Michel and Martine are interested in Lassalle and were delighted when he dropped in to their restaurant after the meeting (which they tell me was not well attended, partly because it wasn't widely advertised). It is clear Lassalle has the common touch and a certain charisma, but even in these interesting times, no one except the man himself takes his presidential campaign seriously. Many right-minded good hearted people would no doubt like to vote for him, but to do so is worse than wasting a vote. Sadly, voting for these sorts of minor candidates in the presidential election is tantamount to giving your vote to the far right because it splits the moderate vote. I think most of my friends are going to swallow hard and vote for the centrist Emmanuel Macron, despite his lack of party machine meaning that any government he forms will necessarily be a coalition, so who knows what we'll get.