Paris, the inside story
The shop provides an encounter with the French approach to natural history: the urge to classify and collect in the name of science; a preoccupation with the beauty of specimens and their presentation; and the impulse to combine strange objects and animals in quirky assemblages. Nature should not only instruct us, you sense here, it should also enchant us. An old conceit, surely, but one that persists with flair in this singularly French outpost.
- Metro: Rue du Bac
La Pagode: From Japanese gift to cinema
The only way to see the extravagantly decorated interior of the cinema La Pagode (The Pagoda) is to view a film there. They don’t feature Hollywood blockbusters. This is one of the few remaining cinémas d’art et d’essai in Paris: small, independent houses that show art films you are unlikely to see at a multiplex.
As is so often the case in Paris, La Pagode started as something else, in this case an elaborate orientalist bauble, built in 1895 by the owner of Le Bon Marché department store as a present for his wife. But this gesture didn’t work for madame – within a year she had run off with her husband’s business partner. Used by subsequent owners for parties and banquets, this Japanese-themed architectural confection became a cinema in 1931, a precursor to the arthouse cinemas that were so important in establishing the French New Wave. In the ’50s and ’60s, directors as varied as Cocteau, Truffaut and Rohmer brought their works to La Pagode for projection, discussion and debate.
Architectural fantasies have a tough time in today’s world, and La Pagode is no exception. Registered by the French government as an historic building in 1990, the structure is in need of comprehensive restoration.
In the richly ornamented Salle Japonaise, the embroidered wall hangings, elaborate gilt crane and dragon sculptures, and energetic ceiling paintings are impressive, but you can’t help noticing a sheer net stretched overhead the full length of the room. Flakes of paint ‘very rarely’ fall, according to the ticket taker, but that’s like being told that the rickety bridge you’re thinking of crossing has only collapsed a few times.
La Pagode has been threatened before. Director Louis Malle joined a successful call for its protection in the ’70s, and the French have a good track record of protecting their monuments classés. But you may want to lay eyes on this strange and alluring theatre in case yet another round of budget cuts spells its demise.
In the summer, tea is served in the bamboo garden. And if a black cat darts about, don’t be alarmed. ‘That’s Maïs, our house stray,’ the young cashier explains. ‘She’s named after the only thing she would eat when we found her – corn. She can’t bring bad luck!’ Let’s hope her spell works for La Pagode.
- Metro: Saint-François-Xavier
Saint Serge de Radonège: Russian folk in the heart of Paris
Hidden in the far reaches of the decidedly untouristy 19th arrondissement, the Russian Orthodox Church of Saint Serge de Radonège (93 rue de Crimée, 19th arrondissement; 00 33 951 320 166) is not a place often stumbled upon. Through a simple green iron gate is a path that leads to the small church, screened by chestnut and birch trees, that seems a vision from rural Russia. It has dark panelling, pierced and stencilled with bright orange and green flourishes, and inside, a small painted chapel whose every inch is covered in Russian folk motifs and simple Byzantine designs.