Wednesday, October 3, 2018

A Great Blemish

From The Spectator:
I have the good fortune to be able to borrow a flat on the Île de la Cité in Paris from which I see from one side the towers of Notre Dame above the roof of a 19th-century seminary, and from the other side, across from the Seine, the ornate reconstruction of the 17th-century Hôtel de Ville, which burned down in 1871. To the right of the Hôtel de Ville the classical façade of the Church of Saint-Gervais-et-Saint-Protais rises above terraced streets of Lutetian limestone, and to the left of the Hôtel the same serene limestone forms a terraced background to life in a popular square.

In this part of Paris the banks of the Seine have not been reduced to motorways, and looking to my right I see the river as I remember it from half a century ago, lapping the shores of the Ile Saint-Louis, flowing beneath the arches of the Pont Marie and the Pont Louis-Philippe, and watched by people sitting along the embankment, eating, reading or taking the air. Whenever I need to renew my energies, to finish a book, or to let the world pass by, I come to this place that inspired me to be who I am.

The most interesting feature of the view from my window is that the buildings — with one exception — all harmonise. Even the flamboyant Hôtel de Ville, with its ranks of precarious statuary and grotesque pepper-pot chimneys, attracts to itself no more attention than is its due, being built from the same materials as its neighbours, in a familiar château style, and in deference to the layout of the streets. The surrounding apartments date from the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries, built according to the principle that each new addition must fit to the existing skyline and street plan. Even the 20th-century additions are slotted into the gaps without too much violence, and the overall impression is of a long-standing settlement and a much-loved home. There is nothing like this in London, certainly nothing that so reconciles the grandeur of a great metropolis with the modest needs of those who live in it. (Read more.)

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