Paris Meridian Medallions

A close-up photo of one of the medallions.

Paris Meridian Medallions
Would you believe that there is art in Paris that most people never see and often walk on unknowingly? Few people are aware of these 135 bronze medallions embedded in Paris’ pavement, which start north in Montmartre and go clear across Paris, where they end at the Cité Universitaire on the edge of the city limits and Parc Montsouris.
I had noticed one of them while visiting the Palais Royal; it was a little bronze circle embedded in the pavement with the name Arago and north and south represented by the letter n and s. Since I had no idea who Arago was I thought nothing else about it until a friend told me that the medallions represented a meridian line that used to be used in Paris.
Why did Paris have its own meridian? Actually, the French were very advanced in the science of time and the measurement of the earth. French scientist Abbé Jean Picard first measured the length of a degree of longitude and computed from it the size of the earth in 1655. In fact, the metric system was started at this time, the meter being 1 ten-millionth of a meridian quadrant from the North Pole to the equator. France, along with Ireland, adhered to the Paris Meridian for time keeping until 1911 and for navigation until 1914, when it finally converted to the Greenwich Meridian with the rest of the world.
Who was Arago? He was a scientist and a statesman who became director of the Paris Observatory where he lived until his death in 1853. There is a monument to him across Arago Boulevard in Place Ile de Sein in the 14th arrondissement but the statue of him was melted down during World War II and never replaced. In 1995 Paris commissioned Dutch conceptual artist Jan Dibbits to create a new memorial. And now you can follow the path of this art through gardens, streets, buildings, courtyards and quais, through the 2nd, 6th, 9th, 10th and 12th arrondissements. As you do so you will notice that practically nothing built in Paris is on any straight north, south, east or west axis, neither streets or buildings. You can find a medallion on one side of a building and have to go blocks out of your way to get to the other side to find yet another medallion. The whole thing can become rather addictive.
I found a list that gave approximate locations of the Arago medallions and set out thinking that they would be easy to find. This was not true. I soon learned, however, that noting the direction of north and south would help me find the next medallion if I followed the imaginary line from one to another. During my search, I discovered that many have been dug up leaving an empty round hole in its place. People stopped to ask what I had lost as I walked around scanning the ground, searching for these mysterious spheres. It was easy to confuse the medal discs from a distance with the many gas or plumbing coverings, which are everywhere but unnoticed until now.
I had hoped to do the search all in one day, and this could be done, but after 3 exhausting hours the first day, I spread it out. My husband joined me on day one at the observatory, or at least at the locked gates of the garden where the observatory is. The observatory itself is built on the line of the Parisian Meridian with the four facades oriented towards the four points of the compass. We found the monument to Arago with several medallions from there and ended up in beautiful Parc Montsouris where the marker for the southern edge stands. Going straight north from this we found 4 more medallions and discovered they are always embedded in cement or asphalt, never dirt or grass. One day I walked through the Saint Germain des Pres area, through the Luxembourg gardens (there are 6 there) and even went into Saint Sulpice church where there is an obelisk on the north/south axis in a corner. The early church officials used to use this to watch the movement of the sun to determine the date of Easter. It is an ancient calender, actually, and has nothing to do with the Paris Meridian Line.
I walked through Palais Royal, across the street to the Louvre where not only does a line of medallions run through the courtyard behind the glass pyramid, but there is also one inside the Louvre. I went on the other side of the Louvre, found one on the quai, crossed Pont des Arts and found one in front of the Institut de France and then one behind it.
The northern marker is in Montmartre but can’t be seen as it is in a private courtyard. I walked downhill from here through Montmartre finding medallions all the way to Pigalle where most had been removed at some point leaving either round holes or nothing. The line continued all the way down to Boulevard Haussmann.
It turned out to be a very interesting way to see Paris. I didn’t go to just one metro stop to see a monument such as the Opéra, but walked across neighborhoods with a new eye, realizing how small Paris can be, how connected all of the neighborhoods are. It turned out to be an adventurous way to explore Paris.

Vegetables From My Garden

Since we are now here in Paris, we had to leave our vegetable garden behind, untended and even unwatered. We considered putting a watering system on the vegetable garden but with the high cost of water in Provence and the fact that the garden is just about finished for the season, we decided against it. I’m wondering what, if anything, will be left when we get back. There were some green tomatoes that weren’t ready when we left. I assume some birds will get a treat.
I’ve decided that next summer I will not replant eggplant or carrots. I find I just don’t use that much eggplant. I love ratatouille but I can’t eat that much of it. I made a huge dish of it for Maurice and I, froze alot of it, and we still haven’t finished it. Zucchini can be cooked in many more different ways so I will replant that vegetable. I love carrots but, man, are they alot of work. After pulling them up, I have to wash them outside to get all of the dirt off that I can, then wash them with a scrub brush at the sink to get off smaller amounts of dirt in the little crevices, then peel them, cut them up and cook them. For just one pan of cooked carrots it took me almost 2 hours. They were good-I cooked them in a little water, butter, a teaspoon of sugar to bring out the sweetness, and salt and pepper-but very labor intensive. I think I will just buy them all ready to go at the store next time.
Next season I want to plant some asparagus and artichokes. Maybe I will try onions and garlic as well. In all, the garden was alot of work, but well worth it

Back in Paris

We are back in Paris where it has been very hot. The temperature in Provence is actually higher when you look at the themomoter, in the 90’s when we left, and it only shows it to be 85 or so here in Paris, but it certainly feels hotter. The streets retain the heat, there isn’t much of a breeze to be felt and the metros and buses retain the heat. Even with the windows open in the metro, the breeze just feels warm. I really can’t complain as I remember two summers ago when it got above 100 every day-now that was hot.

Palais Royal is always one of the first places I return to in Paris. Here is a look at some conceptual art done in a place where the parking lot used to be. I think it represents all of the columns along the covered arcades here.

One more photo of my favorite fountain there. I like the way the columns are repeated over and over in the silver balls along with the clouds in the sky.

French Dentists

I couldn’t find a photo of teeth for this blog entry, but here is a great poster of the red kiss!

French Dentists

I have never liked going to dentists, even if they are American. Unlike my own children who have never had a cavity, I have had many fillings, caps and a few root canals. All of this makes me hate going to dentists because they always find something wrong with my teeth.
Before I left the States I was getting my teeth cleaned and was told by the dental hygenist-something they don’t have, by the way in France-that the dentists in France were horrible and that they were known for their bad work. So, of course, when I found myself not only living in Paris but with a painful tooth, I was filled with trepidation. Not only was I having to make the dreaded trip to a dentist, but it was a French dentist. I may hate them, but there is comfort in the familar. It turned out that I had to have a root canal. Basically, I felt like it was similar to the two I had had done in the States although I had to return three times before it was all finished. I didn’t find the experience to be that much different and it cost a whole lot less. Instead of $1000 charged in the States, it was 100 Euros which, thank you Socialized Medicine, was reimbursed.
A few months ago I gave a tour to an American dentist and his family. He told me to never have work done by a French dentist because they used arsnic when filling teeth. I have had a filling done in France and I was wondering if they used a poison to do it. My only complaint, up until that point, was that I couldn’t comfortably floss near my French filling as it was rough and caught on the floss. On my next dreaded trip, this time for the nightmare of gum scraping-not for the weak of heart-I asked my dentist if he used arsnic. He told me that he didn’t, that it was something used years ago, thank goodness.
So, what can I do? I am living here now and have to use French dentists. I can wait until I return to the States, in most cases, for some things but without insurance it is very expensive. Bad or not, my dental work is going to have to be done here.



Basically, when it comes down to it, people around the world are pretty much the same. When it comes to cultural things, this is where I see many differences. Just hearing what the French think about Americans, as in our food and cooking, makes me realize how much is going on in the background of our thinking with all of our assumptions and theirs. At one time, before so much travel and television, many Europeans must have thought that all of us road horses and carried six shooters. I know my own husband is fascinated that I am part Cherokee Indian even though I tell him that just about anyone from Texas has this distinction. It really isn’t that rare there. Face it, we are all a big mixture of races anymore. I’m sort of fascinated that one of Maurice’s relatives, several decades ago, was a gypsy and if I tied a scarf around Maurice’s head and placed a crystal ball in front of him, he could play a gypsy in a movie.
There are some cultural things in France that always come to light-the French love of Jerry Lewis, for what ever reason. There is also an old French movie, filmed in the 70’s, I think, called The Grand Blue. It even has an American actress in it. I found a CD from the movie track in Maurice’s car once and he talked about how great the movie was and how fantastic the movie was. I put the CD on in the car as I drove on a long trip and almost went comatose from it. It was nice at first but it never changed. It was something with which you could watch the fish in your aquarium, sort of drifting and dreaming like a slow moving fish amongst the waving seaweed. Finally, a few years later, the movie was on TV. I sat down with interest to watch it. What can I say besides, “Snore” ? It was about scuba diving and some guy with an obsession with going realy deep in the ocean and finally he goes too deep, and as his American girlfriend is at the top of the water in a boat sobbing, he sort of drifts off (rather like me) and drowns. I just didn’t get it. Why was this considered so great in France?
I recently saw another French movie, another old one, called A Man and A Woman. It has a great theme song which I can always hum but, again, I didn’t get it. The woman in it couldn’t commit to this race car driver or something like that. I know there are Americans out there who love foreign movies. I like a few of them, such as Amelie and Crouching Tiger, Sleeping Dragon, and many English films. It makes me think I am not of a superior mind, one of those intellects with deep understanding of the deep meanings in obscure films. There is nothing I can do about it, though. Maybe it is because I watched so many years of American TV, not to mention movies. I’m not ashamed to admit that I loved The Sound of Music. Call me a low life. At my age, I’m only going to watch what pleases me.

My Favorite French Recipes

A great window in some little village in Provence

I continue to find that most French people don’t consider Americans to be good cooks. I recently had some French people at my house for the week-end and asked them why this was. While they were scarfing down my bar-b-que and mashed potatoes, they told me that they thought this was because so many Americans ate out at restaurants, and especially fast food places, rather than cook at home. Of course, most Americans that I know, myself included, cook and eat 95% of their meals at home. Eating out is a treat for me, not a daily occurrence. Even when I worked in the States, I took my own food or a frozen meal for lunch. Anyway, I was thinking about what they said and got to thinking that the person who said Americans eat out too much has never once, in the 4 years that I’ve known her, ever cooked a meal for me. Any time we have eaten at her house, it has been take-out food, always good, but all she did was reheat it. I think it is the way of the civilized world now. When there is good food you can buy, when you work full time and you are hungry or having guests, sometimes the easiest way is the best.
A really good way to cook green beans is the recipe below. The fresh basil makes them taste fabulous to me. Before, I had always cooked canned green beans with some bacon and onions and garlic salt. In fact, to this day, my children don’t like fresh green beans, but prefer the soggier canned kind.

Green Beans With Tomatoes (Haricots Verts a la Provencale)

1 pound ripe tomatoes
1 Tb olive oil
1 shallot, finely chopped
1/2 pound green beans, trimmed and cut into 2 or 3 pieces
2 Tbsp chopped fresh basil
salt and pepper

Peel and seed tomatoes and chop coarsely.
Heat the oil in a heavy saucepan over medium heat, add shallot
and garlic and cook for 2-3 minutes until just softened.
Add the chopped tomatoes and continue cooking for about 10 minutes until
the liquid has evaporated and the tomatoes are soft, stirring often. Season
with salt and pepper.
Bring a large saucepan of salted water to a boil and add the beans and cook until
desired tenderness. Drain, stir into tomatoe mixture, then add basil. The basil makes
this especially good.