"At the turn of the nineteenth century the scientific flâneur (a contradiction in terms, since flâneurie is supposed to be purposeless) was Eugéne Atget, an obsessed photographer who was determined to document every corner of Paris before it disappeared under the assault of modern 'improvements.' He had been born in 1857 near Bordeaux and as a young man had worked variously as a sailor, actor and painter. Penniless but driven, Atget carried his tripod, view camera and glass plates everywhere with him, shooting all the monuments but also the fading advertisements painted on a wall, the dolls in a shop window, the rain-slicked cobbled street, the door knocker, the guay, the stairwell, even the grain of the wood steps."[NOTE: All the pictures get sharper when you click on them.]
This reminds me to stop complaining about dragging around my Canon rebel, which takes much better pictures than my Canon Spotmatic, but doesn't fit easily into my pocket. Paragraphs like these help me figure out who I am and what I'm doing on this blog. Though I can think of friends who would disagree, I don't think I'm as obsessed - my attention is too scattered over too many things - but I do think about documentation of things and people that are often overlooked. And as patient and tolerant as my wife is, I need to mind her needs as well as mine.
I read the above passage on the plane, after taking pictures on the Pont Alexander III. Reading about the bridge today, it's draw becomes obvious. Andy Strote writes that there are 37 bridges in Paris
"By far, the most elaborate over-the-top concoction is the Pont Alexandre III which connects the Grand Palais . . . and the Petit Palais on the right bank with the Hôtel des Invalides on the left bank."But I didn't know that. In fact the first two pictures I took were from underneath the bridge.
We'd been walking along the Seine and after going under the bridge, we decided it was time to cross over to the other side of the river. I started noticing bits and pieces of the bridge.
These cherubs caught my eye, but I was too late to get the perfect moment with the sun breaking through the clouds in the background.
Then I looked back and saw how the bridge was perfectly aligned with the dome of the Invalides, under which Napoleon is entombed. We'd been there the evening before.
And the bridge lights were incredibly ornate.
I looked back again and found the name Pont Alexander III (pont is bridge).
There was this muscular female figure (actually there were two) holding a torch. I've since learned from Wikipedia that these are the Nymphs of Neva. You can sort of see them in the middle of the bridge in the picture below.
We did figure out this was not a run-of-the-mill bridge, but we didn't know anything specific.
I've since checked. It was build to commemorate Russian-French friendship and Czar Nicholas II laid the stone for this bridge name after his father.
A View On Cities explains more:
"The bridge was built at the end of the nineteenth century as part of a series of projects undertaken for the Universal Exposition of 1900. The exposition took place on either side of the Seine river and the new bridge would enable the millions of visitors to more easily cross the river.
Construction of the bridge, designed by the architects Résal and Alby, took almost three years. The structure was first prefabricated in a factory and later transported and assembled by a large crane.
One of the requirements for the bridge was that it should not obstruct the view on the Invalides and Champs-Elysées. This resulted in a very low 40 meters (132 ft) wide bridge with a single 107.5 meters (353 ft) long span and a height of only 6 meters (20 ft)."And on the other side of the bridge - from the Invalides - is the Grand Palais, built for the Universal Exposition.
I tried think about the grandiose nature of this bridge in the context of Paris. All the buildings in the central part of Paris are huge five or six story blocks that house shops on the bottom and apartments above. (Well, I don't know that exactly, but at least much of above are places people live.) Most people live in these large, if ornate, buildings. They don't have personal backyards - though in behind the street-side facade there are green areas - or personal garages for the most part. But they have Paris - the trees, the streets, the cafes, the public places to walk or sit on the grass. They have wonderful public spaces and a great transportation network that makes owning a car unnecessary.
All of the beauty and convenience is available to everyone, it's not hidden in people's privately owned spaces. Am I ready to give up my backyard? Not yet. And Anchorage offers access to much more natural spaces to flaneur.
This idea of flâneurie would seem to be at least a cousin to the idea of meandering, I topic I wrote about after reading the introduction to David Copperfield. It appealed to me then and does still now.
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