Tuesday, August 16, 2005

La Defense: Europe's Biggest Business Park or Post-Apocalyptic Sculpture Garden?

Today, I went to La Défense. It was totally barren. I had the entire place to myself for a few hours this morning before tourists started appearing at La Grande Arc around noon (like gnats to ripe cheese, folks). I should have known something was up when my supermarket was closed this morning (I needed supplies to picnic in the Bois de Bologne-- a HUGE park on the west side of town). But, I just chalked it up to it being a Monday-- nothing is open in France on Monday. But, La Défense-- Europe's largest buisiness center, home to multi-national corporations, the city's only concentration of skyscrapers, and a Starbucks in every building's lobby (a novel concept to sidewalk café-loving Parisians), would surely be filled with suits working overtime, tourists, and international VIPs. But no.
I started the morning off with my bus schedule and a croisant. The Paris bus system is not an effective means of transportation to get to La Défense-- but I haven't spent a lot of time in the western part of the city, and wanted to see as much of it as I could: thus, the bus. I figured I could get within a few blocks by taking three buses. But, after missing my first transfer stop, I decided to get off at the Opera (today's other post) and look around. Having totally sidetracked myself, I finally got to the Neuilly (a very posh city that borders Paris' west end).*
This was the end of the line (line 43 to be exact) and let me off right in between the l'Arc de Triomphe and La Grande Arc. I couldn't believe my luck. I was actually much closer the La Grande Arc, but had a wonderful little Green to take pictures from! No one had ever told me about this little place and yet, it was right in front of the depot. I had to walk more than a couple blocks and cross over the Seine, but I did get to see much more of the city (okay, much more of Neuilly).
Upon arrival, I was greeted with totally empty (as in abandoned-- not just void of people) office spaces. Windows were broken, floors were covered in dirt and leaves, there was graffiti on everything. I passed two or three giant buildings whose ground floors were exactly the same, and at one point, I had to use an escalator to get to another tier in the cement landscaping. The stairs were blocked off, but here was this escalator-- en plein air, w/o any kind of covering-- just a random escalator, running at full speed as though thousands of commuters were trekking up and down it. It too was dirty and covered with graffiti. I half expected radioactive tumble weeds to blow by me! And I was the only one there-- standing, dwarfed by these ultra modern skyscrapers, abstract art, and fountains. Just me! There wasn't any noise (this is not a residential area), there wasn't any traffic (it is separated from the roads and trains), and all was perfectly calm (okay, eerily calm). A freak flash of nature destroyed all life on Earth ('cept me), and left all of man's deferences to commerce standing. Quelle sensation!
Finally, as the morning wore on, tourists and joggers started to emerge from the oblivion.
It is a remarkable place; carefully planned and every corner a tribute to style and design. The art is all abstract, oversized, and/or very colorful--and available for all to see. There are fountains, pools, and green spaces abound. It is also very free! There is a small fee to go to the top of La Grande Arc, but as I have climbed to the top of every other monument in town, I really couldn't care less if I never again see the Paris skyline. For those not familiar: La Grande Arc was built in the late 80's. It is a giant cube/arch in which the entire Notre Dame Cathedral can be placed. It is an enormous office building, but it is itself dwarfed by its neighboring towers.
After having my fill of La Défense, I headed to the 16th Arrondissement and La Fondation Corbusier. 20th century architect Charles-Edouard Jeanneret (or Le Corbusier) was famous for use of white concrete cubist forms. The center offers documentation of his work, video, photos, ect. But was closed. Why? Why was everything closed today? That is an excellent question. It's not because it's Monday-- at least, today is not just any ol' Monday but a jour de férié (public holiday). So, every museum, every grocery, most bus lines, theatres, boutiques: closed. I was not, however, astute enough to realize this until much later in the day-- after I had walked all over the 16th trying to find the damn Fondation Corbusier!
But, said holiday did make for a wonderfully peaceful day. I didn't have to deal with obnoxious tourists and their devil spawn children. And, when I finally took the metro home, I had a car all to myself. The streets were practically empty and I got to explore much more than I would have, had I made it to where I wanted to go.
So...yea public holidays?

*A very strange bus ride to Neuilly began with a man getting off the bus without his german sheppard. For several stops the dog continued to run up and down the aisle whimpering until we (only about 10 of us on the bus) figured out what was going on. The driver called dispatch and was instructed to force the dog off the bus (thereby leaving the poor guy alone-- several stops from home and owner)! But, the dog didn't want to get off. This would have been comical but he went from whipmering to growling very quickly. Finally, a woman coaxed him off the bus. She returned to her seat, but as we pulled out into traffic, she decided she simply could not allow this dog to be left alone, and demanded the driver let her off (he did and she traipsed off after the dog). Then a smack head gets on the bus and starts tripping out. The driver is once again forced to stop and kick this guy off. He doesn't want to get off the bus either-- but has thouroughly creeped out all the other passengers who are now trapped behind him and unable to get off. Finally, with the help of another passenger, the freak is left on the curb and we make it to Neuilly without further incident. A very strange bus ride indeed.


Blogger madman said...

Enjoy the Hoilday!

3:21 AM  
Blogger The Dark Pig said...

So, if you were the last person on Earth... as eluded to in yee post, is Paris the spot you would choose find out?

3:39 AM  
Blogger Serena said...

I think an airplane or submarine are the only two places I wouldn't want to be when finding that out--I wouldn't be the last person for long.

1:14 PM  
Blogger Bryan said...

What are you doing in Paris? Sorry if this is a dumb question.

4:31 PM  
Blogger Serena said...

Not a dumb question. In fact, I don't think I've ever mentioned it on my blog?
I am studying here for the summer, and then, I will be living in Normandy and attending the University of Caen (think Omaha Beach, D-Day). I study French and Film.

4:35 PM  
Anonymous Super SueAsian said...

Serena, I have something to send you. What is your address. You are going to love this very thoughtful gift!

10:36 PM  
Blogger Serena said...

And that, ladies and gentlemen, is all it takes to scare me.
Sue Asian, your gift is-- I assume-- nothing I want (much like your lies! Plus, it's gonna cost close to 20 euros (or 200 US dollars :) to send it. Tell you what-- e-mail me what it is and I will e-mail you my address.
ps- if you're at work right now, tell everyone I said "Hello." and that I miss them, but I don't wish I was there.

12:55 AM  
Blogger exMI said...

Hmmm random people get on the blog and ask for your RW address to mailk you something. I think not.....

1:08 PM  
Blogger Serena said...

exmi-- hello and welcome.
do not fear, while she is strange, she is not a stranger.

3:18 PM  

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