Swiss Flights

Paris – city of Magic

Paris is like a kaleidoscope – a cosmopolitan city that constantly reinvents itself and whose citizens live with its contrasts: tradition and innovation.

Annemarie Mahler
Annette Fischer, Christoph Kern

the parisians refuse to have their love of life taken away.

A stroll through the streets of Paris is like a rendezvous with the past and the future. The city’s history is also part of the country’s history. It began 40,000 years ago when the first people settled down at the banks of the river Seine. The Latin inscription on the red-and-blue coat of arms hints at the powerful mariner and merchant guilds that dominated the trade and carriage of goods even under Roman rule. “Fluctuat nec mergitur” (“Tossed but not sunk”) remains the city’s motto to this day. Since last November’s terror attacks, this motto is more topical than ever. The Parisians refuse to have their love of life taken away – their love of the nightlife, of their culinary land of plenty and their adoration for their city in any season of year.

‍Pierre Gagnaire is one of the best chefs in the world. That’s probably why he became a globetrotter, revered in Europe, Asia, America and the Middle East, where he either opens his own restaurants or is valued as a consultant. However, it’s his restaurant bearing his name in Paris, where many guests are also his friends, that remains the most important place for him.
‍One of the most beautiful residences from the 17th century is the Hôtel Salé. It is a protected building and has belonged to the city of Paris since 1962. The Picasso museum moved in in 1985 after an extensive renovation. It closed again in 2009 for renovation, and its reopening five years later in October 2014 was a tremendous success. The museum houses the largest public collection of Picasso’s work worldwide.

Architectural highlights

In recent years, spectacular architectural projects have reshaped the cityscape without replacing the old, the traditional face of Paris. The city can rightfully pride itself in revealing at least one architectural stunner per year. One of them is the new Philharmonie de Paris, which came with a 380 million euro price tag and is located in the Cité de la musique. Popular tourist attractions include the newly refurbished Picasso Museum and the Fondation Louis Vuitton by American star architect Frank O. Gehry. The “glass cloud”, as Gehry describes his creation, is constructed of steel, timber and glass; its completion took eight years. Currently a private museum, it will be gifted to the city after 50 years.

‍The project for the Philharmonie de Paris, inaugurated last year, comes from France’s most famous architect, Jean Nouvel, who won the international competition in 2007. There followed a long wait before the people of Paris finally had a concert hall with 2,400 seats. The photo shows a detail of the roof, which is covered with 60,000 aluminium birds taking flight.
‍All three women love art and have made it their profession: Valentine Meyer (left), independent curator, Chiara Parisi (middle), cultural programme director at the Monnaie de Paris (Paris mint), and Marion Papillon, owner of the Galerie Papillon, in an 18th-century salon in the Paris mint, in the midst of works by Jannis Kounellis, the initiator of Arte Povera.

Another architectural novelty was inaugurated only a couple of weeks ago by Paris’ mayor Anne Hidalgo: the Canopé des Halles is a massive roof over what was once Europe’s biggest construction site on the old market halls square, also known as the “Belly of Paris” as coined by author Emile Zola. A number of public and private institutions join the ranks of interesting renovations: the Museums Picasso, Rodin and Zadkine, the Palais de Tokyo, the Grand Palais, the Docks – Cité de la Mode et du Design and the Monnaie de Paris, the old mint on the left bank of the Seine – not forgetting the new luxury hotels such as the Peninsula, the Shangri-La and La Réserve. None of these masterpieces, however, come close to the popularity of the iconic Eiffel Tower or the Notre-Dame Cathedral, this Gothic jewel that, to this day, remains the city’s most visited monument.

‍In his restaurant L’Arpège (named “Best Restaurant in Europe” only a few days ago), Alain Passard celebrates top-class vegetarian cuisine. He made the bronze lobster in the background himself, as he loves creating and everything that comes out of the ocean – he was born in Brittany, after all. 2016 marks two anniversaries for Alain Passard: he opened his restaurant 30 years ago and entered the exclusive club of three-star Michelin chefs exactly ten years later.
‍The Fondation Cartier for contemporary art was founded in 1984 by Alain-Dominique Perrin, at the time president of Cartier Inter-national, at the suggestion of the artist César. In 1994, the Fondation’s new transparent building was inaugurated, a design by Jean Nouvel. At the back of the building is a wonderful garden of art.
‍The circus has come to town! The bistro Clown Bar right next to the Cirque d’Hiver, built in 1852, is not much larger than a circus wagon. Today, this historic place, where performers and spectators refreshed themselves with a drink or a snack in days of old, nowadays is a popular restaurant. The ceramic friezes depicting clowns, protected historic artefacts, create the perfect atmosphere.

Art and Cuisine

Lovers of contemporary art appreciate Paris’ unmatched pluralism of artistic expression, ranging from new galleries, important art salons and exhib­itions to wonderful retrospectives of the great masters in the national museums. Still, good food is without a doubt the Parisians’ deepest passion. In addition to starred chefs in their gourmet temples, traditional bistros are currently experiencing a new popularity, while young inventive chefs surprise with novel creations. Every quarter has their own market, radiating Mediterranean flair, where, after the long years of the “bread-makes-you-fat” mentality, people are queuing up again to buy their beloved crunchy baguette. The terraces of the myriad of cafés are crowded with residents and tourists alike. This is the quintessence of “savoir vivre”, the art of living. When in 1964 Ernest Hemingway’s autobiographic novel about his life in 1920s Paris was posthumously published in 1964, it was given a most fitting title: “A Moveable Feast”.

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1 You were born in Paris. This is where you spent your childhood and adolescence. What does the city mean to you?

It’s the place where my parents met. My father was Russian, my mother Polish. Paris is the city that took in my family after they were forced to flee for political reasons.

2 What do you love most about Paris?

The Palais Royal and its garden, the Jardin du Luxembourg, the Marais district. That is a place that moves me very much, by the beauty of its architecture and its history. I live quite close to the Opéra Bastille and like to come here on foot, when possible. On weekends, I love to go for walks around Paris with my wife – unfortunately, we can’t do that very often, because I work a lot.

3 What were your feelings when you returned to Paris after ten years at La Scala in Milan?

I was happy, although I liked being in Milan very much, but the two cultures are quite different. I have many beautiful memories of Paris – of my Russian grandmother, for example, who loved ballet more than anything and took me to the Palais Garnier when I was just six years old.

4 You are now the director of not one, but two opera houses. What are your ambitions for these two institutions?

You have to realise that Paris is the only place in the world that has two theatres of such great significance with 2,700 and 2,000 seats, respectively. Between 1 September and 20 July, we perform almost every day. Our ballet company is extraordinary, and I would like the opera to reach this level, too.

5 What advice would you give a tourist who is desperate to get hold of a ticket for one of the opera houses?

I would tell them that you generally end up getting one somehow. We have over one million seats every season, and there are always a few tickets left that you can find on the Internet or at the door.

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