Yesterday I had some time to kill so visited the Centre Pompidou, where I have a student membership for the year — one of those pinch-me-Paris-is-home facts (like every late-night crêpe).
Centre Pompidou, sixth floor, is a view that makes you feel you couldn’t possibly want to see anything besides what spreads before you. Friday was the first real snow, and everything, ground, rooftops, cloudy sky, was very white, like museum walls.
Recently they dismantled Adel Abdessemed’s sculpture of soccer players on the square before the museum, but the sloped plaza is still interesting. I always think the arched tubes resemble periscopes and imagine a corps of underground men spying on the tourists and breakdancers and fair-weather musicians.
The plaza inspires writing, like Kevin Dolgin’s starry-eyed treatment online at McSweeney’s: “This plaza is a kind of free, permanent outdoor theater, a modern Cour des Miracles where just about everybody imaginable comes to mix together in a riotous hubbub of art and music and street performances.” (Not under all this snow.)
French people call the place Beaubourg.
Eric Hazan writes in his exhaustive book, “The Invention of Paris,”: “…not far away is a whole new quarter, with its good points and bad, organized around the Beaubourg centre. (I never say ‘Centre Pompidou’, as the late president had deplorable artistic taste — his office decorated by Agam — and besides he was opposed to the Piano-Rogers project, which was only adopted thanks to the stubbornness of the jury chair, the great Jean Prouvé.)”
I enjoyed my afternoon at the museum. I’d already seen the Dalí exhibit and appreciated his lobster-phone, so I walked around the Modernists floor, examined blues, Miró’s and Klein’s.
A few weeks ago, I was questioning a French friend about buildings in Paris and noticed he called the place “Beaubourg.”
Ah. Perhaps he found Georges Pompidou’s taste offensive. I asked him why.
“Beaubourg? Beaubourg. I don’t know why I call it Beaubourg,” he said, crossly. “It is just Beaubourg.”
(For some history, more Hazan: “This immense paved promenade, this strange emptiness in such a dense region, was the work of Haussmann, though not finished until the 1930s. He assiduously destroyed the network of little streets — Rues Maubuée, de la Corroierie, de Vielles-Etuves, du Poirier, du Maure — that had served as a tragic setting for almost all the insurrections of the first half of the nineteenth century…. Around the Centre itself, which is now part of the Parisian landscape — good architecture always ends up triumphing over whinging critics — , semipublic companies have wrought their ravages: the ‘Horloge quarter’ with its gloomy passages, bankrupt shops, wretched gadgets and suspect smells, has the same relationship to a genuine quarter as a works canteen has to a traditional Paris bistro.”)