n my recent trip to Paris, I chose to stay close to the Centre Pompidou near the lively section of Paris called le Marais.
The Centre Pompidou building, located in the fourth arrondissement of Paris, is a sight to behold. The building, built by Rogers and Piano and others, came into being in 1977, made not of the so-called noble materials of glass and wood, but synthetic glass and colored plastic. In an area of Paris referred to as the Beaubourg, it’s been called an “inside-out” building. On the outside you see color coded structural and mechanical functions, which are usually out of sight. Plumbing, for example, is represented by green ducts; climate control belongs to blue ducts; electrical systems are in yellow; and circulation and safety are in red.
High tech? Well, not exactly. The media dubbed the style of the building as “high-tech”, but this was later disputed by Piano. “Beaubourg,” he said, “was a joyous urban machine, a creature which might have come out of a Jules Verne novel, a sort of bizarre boat in dry dock… It is a double provocation; a challenge to academism, but also a parody of the imagery of technology of our time. To consider it as a high-tech object is a mistake.”
Originally intended to be called the Centre Beaubourg, after an old neighborhood in Paris, I wondered what was characteristic of this old neighborhood. Apparently located too close for comfort to the famous markets at Les Halles, this area was constructed on the 12th century garbage dump for the market. Hence, the citizens sarcastically named this part of the 4th Beau bourg, or beautiful village. Meanwhile, this part of Paris escaped the Hausmannian beautification project of Paris, and “It had therefore retained its maze of alleys, passages and cul-de-sac and is one of the few remaining medieval areas in Paris!”
For some reason, I used the term “the Beaubourg” to refer to the Centre Pompidou. My daughter, who was my unelected arbiter in all things French, said, “Mom. That’s not what it’s called.” Well, because she is a very just individual, one day she came home and said that Renzo Piano referred to the place as “the Beaubourg.” Needless to say, my cachet went up significantly.
Restaurants galore, as you can imagine, abound in the 4th. One in particular, the Café Beaubourg, has an arctic theme (who knew?) with polar bears and many, many sheepskin rugs draped over chairs and benches. I found myself there three times in one day: first, looking for a friend, drinking the most delicious hot chocolate. (You have not had hot chocolate unless you’ve tasted it in Paris). A person who looked exactly like my friend, with her cute little hat, walked on by past the café, where I was avidly looking out the window waiting for her. Now I hadn’t seen her in 3.5 years, so maybe she didn’t look like that anymore? But wow, was that ever a doppelganger. That uncanny resemblance prompted me to check the address, which was wrong. I was at 45 rue Beaubourg and not 30. So off I went to fetch my friend, and I brought her back for an omelet there, which was delicious. And then my friend, who was really an angel in a hat, helped me get all up and going at the Airbnb. Later that night, my Irish friend, who had come to share a Paris adventure with me for five days, was intrigued by this café. So back we went for round three. By this time I was a celebrity!
Let’s go inside the Centre Pompidou (named, finally, for a French president) and see an art exhibit. I was especially taken by S.H. Raza, (1922-2016), a well-known Indian artist specializing in modern art. It’s as if the Impressionists went to India, and, in fact, Raza trained in France. The colors are rich oranges and reds. There were no postcards or posters, for that matter, so I am going to link you to the site at the Pompidou, just to look at the pictures. The site is a bit clunky, but if you scroll down, you’ll find a horizontal panel of his work.
Perhaps our vagabonds would find themselves at home outside in the lively courtyard of the Pompidou, where all manner of amusements abound, and graffiti is a gorgeous art form.
I remember sitting outside in the Centre de Pompidou courtyard, on a kind of sloped concrete bench with one of my step-daughters, in her glory as a teenage queen bee. Would-be suitors thronged about as she was quietly chaperoned by yours truly. For the males, it was as if she were someone they had been searching for. Godot? Have we asked this question before? Could Godot be a woman?