Jun 25, 2015

A New Paris Perspective: Tour Guyotte


Actually, my new perspective on Paris is a rather old perspective on Paris, from the top of the 16th century Tour Saint Jacques, in the 4th arrondissement. It's perfectly central, with nothing blocking it, so there's a 360 degree view here of the city that most people don't get to see, partly because the tower is only open for small groups, with advance tickets (which sell out in minutes, sometimes seconds), on limited days during the summer season. So right about now, I'm feeling pretty lucky.


It wasn't always just a lone tower, standing tall in the middle of a square, for no purpose at all other than the rare tourist visit. It was part of a church, built up over centuries. This clock tower was built from 1509-1522. And then, in 1797, the church was sold, post-French revolution, to be, essentially, a stone quarry. We get our modern word "vandalism" from this post-French revolution period, when the French were dismantling heritage buildings for parts. In a speech to the senate, Henri Grégoire -- bishop, revolutionary leader, and senator -- lambasted the pillaging of France's patrimoine, making reference to the East German tribe called the Vandals, who ravaged and looted Rome in 455.

You will not be surprised to see that the tower itself has been, over the years vandalized in every sense, not just used for parts but also tagged. I'm assuming these are from decades gone by and not the current crop of tourists, who a) are well-supervised in small groups and b) seem awfully well-mannered to me.

Be warned that in order to climb the tower, you must be able to climb the tower -- around 300 tiny, turning steps to a wide-open balcony. I think this precludes anyone in a wheelchair, on crutches, with claustrophobia, with inner ear problems, out of shape, with fear of heights, or under the age of 10 (the regulation, because there really are not significant safety barriers at the top).

If you do meet all the necessary criteria, you'll still be lucky if you get to climb it, because it's tough to get a spot. Usually, the reservations open on Monday morning at 10am (and not a minute before) at the Des Mots et Des Arts website, for Friday, Saturday, and Sunday tours.

One of the things I like most is that it feels like a work in progress. That is to say, they didn't make everything neat and perfect. They've left in bits from all the different centuries and various incarnations of the building, including church clock tower, possible site for Blaise Pascal's scientific experiments, metal foundry (till the third fire, when the city put that to a halt), and meteorological data center.


I guess at some point in recent history, somebody was very worried about those 300 steps. Still plastered on the wall are instructions for mouth-to-mouth resuscitation.

The history of the building includes early financing and support by none other than Nicolas Flamel, famed alchemist mentioned in the Harry Potter tomes (it turns out his secret to making gold out of nothing was to marry an extremely rich widow). The little alley with the H&M at the corner (where his house used to be) and the green grass down the strip is now named after him. As you go up, the view just gets better and better.

Till you're on the top, with a really remarkable view of some building you don't normally see from the air, including the Pompidou Center. That thing really irks me.

Hotel de Ville (City Hall):

Notre Dame. Of course.

The Eiffel Tower, and the Théâtre du Châtelet, home to Gigi's The King & I performances

The Conciergerie along the Seine. And the ghastly Tour Montparnasse looming behind it:

Sacré Coeur and Montmartre:

The Church at St. Eustache and Les Halles -- currently a construction site and, in the near future, a low-slung canopy that will once again cover a market (but what used to be a dirty, rat-infested fresh food market will now be a shopping mall. I'm sure there will be an H&M there, too).

Looking down the Western axis, you see the Louvre and, in the distance, La Défense with its square "arch" more-or-less in line with the Arc de Triomphe.

What I find most beautiful are simply the rooftops, and crazy angled roads, and hidden courtyards. So Parisian.

THE CHEESE: Tour Guyotte

Tour Guyotte is a raw goats' milk cheese from Burgundy. It's a soft, mossy, spring goat cheese covered either with silvery green or rusty orange tinged molds. It's named after the Guyotte, a small river in the Saône-et-Loire department of the Bourgogne region, and a tributary to the Doubs and, ultimately the Rhône.

The cheese is, as the name suggests, in the shape of a tower. It's a dry, crumbly cheese; well, it has to be dry and nearly hard in order to hold its shape. If it was a gooey cheese, it would look more like a cow patty than a tower. The flavor is salty and herbaceous with a little pepper kick at the end.


A tower for a tower. And just to emphasize it, I take my remaining nubbin and photograph the cheese Tour Guyotte on a platter showing two of the most famous towers in Paris, the Tour Eiffel and les tours de Notre Dame, which can be seen clearly from the Tour Saint Jacques.


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