Apr 12, 2014

Glass and Steel: Dôme du Colombier

One fine day, I find myself thinking again and again about the combination of glass and steel as I wander. It's not a topic that normally appears in my daydreams and thoughts, but on this particular day, I feel I've been transported to 19th century Paris. And you will too if you walk through the Passage Grand Cerf (Passage of the Big Deer).

It's one of approximately 20 old covered arcades/passageways that still exist in the city, leftover from about 140 that were built during the turn of the 19th century. Those that remain are generally hidden away and easy to overlook. At the Grand Cerf, some French wit on display: a jeu de mots (play on words) in this café name on both the word "passage" and the phrase "pas sage" which means "not well-behaved".
The passages used to be a way to stay dry in the rain, and keep off the sewage and horse-manure filled streets. They're an elegant alternative to the streets, with not only sunny glass and steel above but also beautiful tile work below. Now they're a way to be bled dry, rain or shine, with cute cafés, beautiful art galleries, chic clothing boutiques, and adorable (but never cheap) knick-knacks.

After lunch in Japantown, I come across the Passage Choiseul, and a theme for my day starts to emerge.


It's a gorgeous day, so I walk the whole way home, down streets I don't normally take, and I come across the old Bourse, which I've seen from afar. Up close, I realize I can actually go in it, and it's fascinating. Yet another example of something that's not even on the Paris tourist radar, yet would be the most remarkable attraction in so many other places in the world.
Originally, the Halle des Blés (Grain Exchange) built in the mid-1700s, it caught fire and was eventually converted into the Bourse -- or money market (stock market in modern parlance) -- in 1889. The modern Bourse is no longer located here, but it is owned by the Chamber of Commerce, which somehow seems fitting. And both in its old and new incarnations, it makes sense then that the artwork is also dedicated to commerce. The 1400 square meter mural (just over 15,000 sq. ft.) that surrounds the dome -- also from the late 19th century, by painters Laugée, Luminais, Mazerolle, Clairin, and Lucas -- represents commerce from around the world.
The United States makes a big appearance. I think we American are selling animal furs in that basket and laid out on the ground.
Back on the streets, heading home, I come across an unusual and decidedly late 20th/21st century building made -- fittingly -- of steel and glass.
All this glass and steel makes me wonder if this architectural heritage was in any way the inspiration for the pyramids at the Louvre.
Just before hitting home, I cross Les Halles, where the glass and steel buildings of the markets, designed by Victor Baltard and built in 1863 were all torn down in 1971 to clear out the market that had been the heart and soul (or, as Zola called it, underbelly) of old Paris. The ancient, rather unkempt markets, which had preceded even the beautiful buildings and been there since the year 1183, simply brought too much dirt, disease, traffic, and vermin to Paris, and so they were torn down and the market was moved (in a spectacularly choreographed all-night long move to the suburbs). An ugly underground mall was built, but the space hasn't been used for much. Till now.
The city is finally hard at work on the latest, greatest, and possibly last (?) incarnation of the spot: prettier shopping areas and also huge outdoor spaces for the city, nestled between the massive 16th century church of Saint-Eustache and the Bourse, right in the heart of Paris. It looks like it's going to be a very welcome open spot, though I'm sure they will never let us actually walk on the grass here, either. Sigh. The new main structure going in is also glass and steel, but with a very different feel.

I don't think it will have quite the charm of a covered passage, but it will be so interesting to see it completed and to see how it fits in the Paris glass and steel tradition.
THE CHEESE: Dôme du Colombier
The Dôme du Colombier is a raw goat's milk farmhouse cheese from the town of Colombier, in the Dordogne region of southwestern France. As the name suggests, it's a large dome of a cheese, about a foot tall. It's a hard cheese -- as you can see from the crumbling and cracking on this razor thin slice (hey, on a cheese this tall, and with this many cheese to buy, I get the smallest slice possible). It's also a hard cheese to find, since the only place I've ever seen it is at the Androuet store. It may be sold elsewhere, but it's certainly not a mass-produced, common cheese.
The cheese crumbles then melts in the mouth, and has a lovely, mildly salty, nutty, herby flavor. Yes, the moldy rind is edible, but we mostly choose not to eat it -- not because of the mold but because it's such a tough, dried-out crust.
In honor of the dome of the beautiful steel and glass-topped old Bourse, a cheese both shaped like and named after a dome.


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