I feel extraordinarily lucky to live close to the Invalides and Pont Alexandre III, which is often described as the most beautiful bridge crossing the Seine. The bridge, named after the Russian czar visiting Paris for its inauguration, was built for the Exposition Universelle of 1900 when Paris still stood majestically at the centre of the world. The Paris world fair that year stretched from the Invalides to the Eiffel Tower — in other words, the exhibition grounds covered my neighbourhood. Every nation had a pavillion at the event showcasing the epoch’s great technological marvels. One was a moving staircase (today we would call it an escalator). Another was a sound recording machine. Oscar Wilde visited the Exposition Universelle and apparently recorded a stanza from his poem, “The Ballad of Reading Gaol”. Wilde died in Paris only a few months

I was at my usual spot on the Café Tourville terrace with Oscar and Leo perched next to me on silver rattan chairs. We were settling nicely into our new life in Poodleland. The Café Tourville is just across from the Ecole Militaire, the French army academy where Napoleon trained as a young and obscure officer. The café has become my caffeine stop following a meandering stroll with Oscar and Leo that usually ends on the Champ de Mars. The terrace offers a wide vista of several boulevards converging on one place – an animated Impressionist tableau of the morning Parisian bustle going by in a blur of colour and hurried movements. When I look up, I can see the tip of the Eiffel Tower peeking over a row of burnished Second Empire façades. On our way here I stopped

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Bastille Day is upon us again. I can already hear French fighter jets thundering overhead doing their practices rounds for the big day when they roar over the crowds amassed along the Champs-Elysées, leaving a thrilling super-sonic trail of red-white-and-blue smoke. Every July 14th evening, thousands converge on my neighbourhood in the 7th arrondissement for the annual fireworks lighting up the Eiffel Tower.  The French are profoundly attached to their fête nationale. Their annual republican spectacle cements solidarity and emboldens deeply felt convictions about the grandeur of France. Never mind that the Bastille prison was nearly empty when it was stormed on July 14, 1789.  I must confess that the July 14th celebration is yet another French ritual that I fail to comprehend. I don’t mind the fireworks, even though the feux d’artifice explosions on the Champ de Mars transform my quiet

For the millions of tourists who visit the Eiffel Tower every year, the monument is a symbol for Paris itself. I have been looking up at the tower for so long now that I almost regard it as a familiar friend. And yet every time I glance up, I see something different. When I was a student in Paris the Eiffel Tower was of little interest to me. I suppose I regarded it snobbishly as a tourist trap, a place to be avoided, like the Champs-Elysées which one learned quickly was disdained by Parisians and was an absolute no-go zone. Even years later when we were on a family holiday in Paris and Rebecca suggested we take David to the top of the Eiffel Tower, I groaned at the prospect. I was wrong. The Eiffel Tower may be the most

According to historical accounts, bichons were for centuries among the favoured lapdogs of the French nobility. They reached the height of popularity under King Henri III, the last of the Valois monarchs before the arrival of the Bourbon dynasty in the late 16th century. Henri III’s alleged homosexuality has been the subject of much debate among historians. We do know, however, that his favoured male companions were known as “mignons” and that his over-indulged bichons were always be-ribboned.  The verb bichonner in French – for pamper – must surely come down to us from the eccentric court of Henri III. After the French Revolution ended the Bourbon dynasty with the sharp blade of the guillotine, the bichons pampered by France’s aristocracy fell on hard times. Many were released into the streets of Paris and became common dogs trained to do

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One scene in my book Home Again in Paris takes place over dinner at the Fontaine de Mars, a well-known restaurant in my 7th arrondissement neighbourhood that became famous when Barack Obama decided to dine privately there with his wife on an official visit to Paris. Besides its cuisine from southwestern France, the restaurant is known for the enormous Roman-style fountain facing the terrace (see photo above). It was built in 1806 to celebrate Napoleon’s victory in the Battle of Austerlitz. The restaurant, in fact, is named after the fountain whose name, fittingly, refers to the Roman god of war. I don’t mention in the book something that has long intrigued me about that fountain. It’s the tiny, discreet sign etched into the stone on the lower right of the fountain facing the street: “CRUE JANVIER 1910″. Tourists casually passing by

An old photo of the Gare d’Orsay, built as a train station in 1898 and today famous as a museum for Impressionist art. Nothing much has changed in the past century, except the transformation of the old train station, built in 1898 as a train terminus for the Exposition Universelle that opened in 1900. Just above the station are the two towers of the Sainte-Clothilde basilica, to the left is the Invalides dome, and on the right stands the Eiffel Tower. The one object that gives away the date of the photo is the “Grande Roue” (Ferris wheel) just to the right of the Invalides dome. It stood at one end of the Champ de Mars during the Exposition Universelle and was demolished in 1920. We can therefore date the photo to circa 1900. The photo was probably taken from

Photo of the Seine during the Exposition Universelle in 1900: This photo taken in 1900 when the Paris World Fair was on shows a view that I see every day as I live nearby. Not much has changed since. The photo, showing the Pont Alexandre III over the Seine in the foreground, could have been taken last night. Except of course for the spectacular buildings, no longer standing, constructed along the Seine specifically for the World Fair in 1900. The Pont Alexandre III was also built for the Exposition Universelle — one of the few vestiges of the event, along with the Grand Palais, still standing today.

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