Paris: Favorite Bench in the City
By Theadora Brack
Everybody’s got a favorite bench in the world. I’ve got mine, too. So this week, let’s hoof it on up to my pet perch, located at Place Émile-Goudeau in Montmartre. Here the unstoppable showstopper Dame Nature dresses to the nines—winter, spring, summer, and fall, and definitely at l’heure bleue. Slaying picture perfect moments as she works her 24-karat magic on the ancient buildings. Mine eye has seen the glory.
Do pack the camera and a sketchbook because this square is also the perfect spot to mull over art’s function in urban street planning, day and night. The Art Nouveau street furniture blends so well with the trees that the eye can’t always separate the organic from the man-made. Power dressing right on point, the city’s attention to harmonious detail and its resulting beauty never, ever fail to re-energize my spirits.
Now, let’s commandeer one of the coveted benches. Scoot on over!
On the left
You’ll see Pablo Picasso’s former digs. Named “le Bateau-Lavoir” because of its resemblance to one of the laundry barges on the Seine, this former piano factory was converted into artist studios around 1880. Rent was just fifteen francs, noise and chaos abounded, and newspapers served as table linens. From 1904 to 1909, Picasso shared a tiny room with artist Fernande Olivier, three dogs, and one mouse.
It was here that Picasso also met Georges Braque, who was living on the other side of the hill. “Notre pard,” Picasso took to calling the six-foot boxer, race car driver and dancer, a phrase he pinched from “Les Histoires de Buffalo Bill.” A tight bond was formed, and Cubism took flight. Picasso’s Les Demoiselles d’Avignon—considered by many art historians to be the first modern painting—was painted here.
Tip: Where did Picasso and Fernande shop for their secondhand duds? At the nearby Halle Saint-Pierre, that’s where. Located in Montmartre’s fabric district, the former 19th-century market is now an art museum, similar in spirit to Switzerland’s Collection de l’Art Brut and Baltimore’s American Visionary Art Museum. Featuring works by self-taught and outsider artists, art lines the walls in the café, too.
Sample HSP’s house red and the homemade quiche and gaze up through the big windows at Sacre Coeur to your heart’s desire.
Now, on the right
Meanwhile, back on the bench at Émile-Goudeau, your eye will spy one of the Wallace fountains, rocking a monochromic emerald green with high waist detail and a slit at the knee. In Paris, there are 108 such “fontaines Wallace” and three functional “puits artésien” (artesian wells). The largest model, nicknamed the “Brasserie des quatre femmes” (brewery of the four women), sports four caryatides, each symbolizing kindness, simplicity, charity, and sobriety.
Shape of water: The Wallace fountains were named after the British philanthropist and art collector Sir Richard Wallace, who generously financed the installation of the first 50 fountains throughout Paris after the Franco-Prussian War left the city with almost no clean drinking water. Designed by Charles Auguste Lebourg, these cast iron fountains in four versions remain celebrated darlings of the Paris streetscape.
Tip: Thirsty? Don’t fret. You’ll find the Wallace fountains in various sizes located in all the city’s busiest parks, squares and at intersections in each arrondissement. The water is free for the sipping; all you need is an empty cup or bottle. Most grocery stores stock these, along with other sightseeing supplies: contact solution, eye-drops, bandages, Ibuprofen, and the almighty important sunscreen.
Just do it. Because as famed Francophile Benjamin Franklin once put it, “When the well is dry, we know the worth of water, my friend!”
Happy Spring! Stay hydrated!
(Instagram fanatic? Please leave a link below. Here’s where to find more of my Paris pics: @theadorabrack)