The Adaptation of Alleyways Part 6: Paris / Brand New Start

Looking into my future at Versailles. 

Paris was the perfect cap. After the understated yet deservedly charming people of Scandinavia, Paris felt like a whiplash. It was a not so subtle reminder of what this trip has provided me; a brand new start. Perhaps I didn't necessarily need a new start, but after five years in Iowa, and three weeks in Scandinavia, it was time for a new perspective. Paris was exactly this. It was fiery. It was exciting. It managed to toe the line of madness. 

This concept of madness spills over in heaps in Parisian public lives. Many enjoy sitting outside of their cafes for this exact reason: to watch it all unfold. In a world (that certainly includes myself) that obsesses over being politically correct, somehow Paris managed to avoid it almost altogether while still providing loads of respect to one another. They speak out with the panache and exuberance that I had not yet experienced on my trip. This public environment undeniably transformed their alleyways, or as they are called in France, passages. 

Passage du Grand Cerf masterfully captures the beauty of a glass covered passageway. 

What makes La Passage du Grand Cerf so Successful?

1. Identity - Every one of the dozens of passages that I discovered while in Paris (primarily in the north-of-Seine neighborhood of Montmarte) had an identity of some sort. This identity generally arose from its exterior conditions within its context. The most successful passages, though, managed to set themselves apart from the rest of the ho-hum passages of Paris. In la Passage du Grand Cerf, the alley was littered with art as well as complimentary shops. This provided users with an idea of what to expect when visiting this passage. 

2. Art - I already started getting into it above, but it bears repeating (and even it's own fancy point). Art was a major part of la Passage du Grand Cerf, as the art ranged from the ironic deer head decor (du grand cerf translates to the large deer), to the beautiful geometric installations hanging from the ceiling. It provided people plenty to see as they passed through. 

3. Location/Access/Signage - These three points are really parallel as they are what initially draw people into the passage.  Located along the incredibly charming Rue Saint-Denis, there are many people out grabbing sandwiches and crepes eager to see where the next charming street takes them. With clear access on two ends, and interesting signage above, it is clear as to what makes this one of the more well designed passages within Paris. 

4. Scale - This is true for all passages in Paris. All passages are roughly 12' - 15' across. This provides just enough room for traffic on either side to be comfortable. It also means that when vendors place items along the passage, this actually causes people to run "collide" into each other and the items/stores. Collision theory (not the scientific one) is something being done in Las Vegas where it banks on having people running into others and activities. This then gets people to interact with each other and their environment more. This passage applies this principle (consciously or not) dutifully.  

It is difficult to chronicle other passages within Paris in specificity, as there were a vast array of them throughout the city. One that stood out from the others was Passage Brady. Located along Rue Saint-Denis, I also passed it with regularity during my time in Paris. It is described as Little India by some, where you can find an array of beautiful spices and intricate trinkets. I spent some time in Passage Brady, even grabbing a small Indian meal while there. This passage was again proof that a specified identity can set your space apart from another. 

Passage Brady proves Paris' diversity even follows through to the alleyways. 

News and Notes

  • Quite possibly my favorite moment in Paris was walking Rue Saint-Martin at midnight one night. The moon discouraged no one. In cafe windows crotchety old men still locked horns, young couples still managed voiceless communication, and loners still sat peering wistfully upon the exhaled streetscape.
  • In the spirit of new beginnings, I will be moving to Sacramento, California in just over a week. I have accepted a position at Callander Associates, a fantastic Landscape Architecture firm based in North Central California. With very little experience out that way, and without the ability to form my own thoughts on the situation, I'll quote Albert Einstein "The only source of Knowledge is Experience." I am catching on to this concept more and more....and boy does it make sense. 
  • This is my last city specific post for The Adaptation of Alleyways (for now!). But I will be posting my wrap-up post as soon as I begin to develop my findings and presentation for Iowa State. 
  • I am currently listening to.......ALB. A local of Reims, France, ALB manages to mix all sorts of silly percussion into his video below. My favorite of the songs in La Blogotheque video (a production that follows artists throughout the streets of France as they perform) is called a Brand New Start. It begins at 3:46 in the video, with a crowd of people banging their silverware over a killer riff. Enjoy it boys and gals.