Saturday 12 September
I have mentioned that we were in Paris for an OU degree ceremony. This was the day when it was to take place. Jane would be there all day, not only running the OUSA stall but also, as a member of the OUSA executive committee, taking part in the procession of dignitaries – and in full academic dress because she already has one OU degree.
This was all to happen in the Palais des Congrès, which is close to the hotel. I went in the morning to help put up the stall (one part of the operation is a lot easier if there is someone tall to do it) and then I was on my own for the day. I wanted to see la Défense. Jane had been there the year before, when she went to the degree ceremony without me, and I had seen her photos of it.
I walked for about a quarter of an hour across Versailles to the other RER station, a walk that took me through the middle of the market square and past some absolutely splendid-looking food shops of all kinds.
La Défense is a modern commercial area to the west of Paris. It was controversial (naturally) when it was built, but Paris has kept really tall buildings out of the centre, and with the Eiffel Tower the argument against tall structures is bound to be a bit weak. La Défense can be seen looking west along the Champs Élysées behind the Arc de Triomphe at l’Étoile. Looking eastwards from la Défense gives the reverse view across to that arch, which is clearly visible; notice in the photo how the low sloping roof in front of the Arc de Triomphe is divided so as not to break the view of the arch. And at la Défense itself there is a huge square arch that mirrors the design.
The buildings are big – there’s no getting away from that. But I was impressed by the way in which the form is managed to offer variety, and especially how the way in which the buildings reflect the sky and each other to give an appearance of lightness and depth rather than solidity and denseness. Overall, there is no feeling of oppressive height, a result of buildings, which are not all skyscrapers, being placed around a spacious central esplanade.
Leaving la Défense, which has a large shopping centre in the underground part, I took a metro into the city centre. Fortunately, my RER ticket opened the barrier; otherwise I don’t know what I would have done as there seemed to be nowhere selling metro tickets. I went to the Hôtel de Ville, where there was some sort of environmental exhibition going on in stalls set up as lovely little pointy tents of the sort you see in medieval paintings. From there I crossed to the Île de la Cité. I wanted to check whether Sainte Chapelle would be open on a Sunday (I had an idea that it was a functioning place of worship but it isn’t), and I wanted to find the entrance to St. Michel station that had a lift in case we wanted to spend Monday morning in the centre with our luggage.
I found Ste. Chapelle next to the Palais de Justice and then set off looking for this station. On the way I discovered that the statue of St Michael at the end of the boulevard is a war memorial, something I had never noticed before. In fact I had assumed that it was a lot older than that. After getting lost and ending up back at the Cluny Museum (wrong station) I found the elusive station with a lift, but it was out of order. Well, if it was out of order on a Saturday afternoon we were not going to risk it on Monday morning so that was that. I set off back to Versailles.
Travelling back and forth on the train I had noticed an area of new buildings in the area of Javel and Boulevard Victor Pont du Garigliano stations. I stopped off to have a look at them. Though nothing like la Défense, they were still interesting. It was a bit late, however, so my exploring was limited (and I was feeling just a little tired, I admit).
Back in Versailles I got ready for dinner. There were a lot of OU people around that day and we set off for the restaurants which surround the market in Versailles (a logical place to find lots of good restaurants), where we split up into smaller groups, partly because the number of people was too great for any restaurant, and also to allow vegetarians, omnivores and other special tastes to find their own place. We ended up in the Ducis restaurant, which did us very well, and then we returned to our hotel.
PS. I prepare my blog posts in Windows Live Writer, which has its own idiosyncratic way of dealing with captions – it puts them any way it likes!