Jun 9, 2015

Then, Now, Wow!: Reblochon de Savoie


You've seen plenty of old photos of Paris, but these photos from 100 years ago are an extra rare treat, because they're in color. This montage, at the Journal du Siècle, is the kind of thing that Parisians and Paris-lovers pass around on the Internet. You won't be surprised to hear that seeing these pictures sets me off on a quest to reproduce many of them, to compare and contrast the same spots 100 years later.

Some spots are relatively unchanged. (All old photos from Journal du Siècle, unless otherwise noted.)

The brightness of Notre Dame itself is not just due to time of day, lighting, or better photographic technology. The cathedral certainly is brighter and lighter than 100 years ago, as it is systematically power cleaned to get off the grime and pollution, which would certainly have been there 100 years ago (even more from fires than cars) on the then-750 years old stones. The Rue de Bièvre (below) is also whiter.
Does anybody else find it ironic that the Rue de Bièvre looks more colorful in the old photo, and nearly black and white in the modern one? The Parvis de Notre Dame (square in front of Notre Dame) was also quite colorful with this international parade, 100 years ago. Now it's a constant parade of international tourists.

The photo below is listed as Quai d'Orfevres, on Ile de la Cité , looking East toward Notre Dame. But that can't be right, since we're looking at the backside of Notre Dame, with the Eiffel Tower in the distance, at the left edge of the photo. If I'm not mistaken (and I don't think I am), it's actually taken from the Quai de Béthune, on Ile St. Louis. Pont de la Tournelle is there, but different, which means the photo was probably taken before 1918, when that version of the bridge was destroyed. The current version was built in 1928. I can't get myself to the exact spot, partly because the trees are so much higher they'll totally obscure Notre Dame, and I realize the shape of the island must have been modified, probably upon the building of the new bridge.

This photo is from the other side of Ile St. Louis, on the Quai de Bourbon, looking across the Seine at the Right Bank. This was back when Ile St. Louis was nothing fancy at all, just a simple, little, rat-infested island in the river, and evidently a fine place to hitch up a house boat for cheaper living.

The Conciergerie is also noticeably cleaned up, here viewed from the Quai de la Corse: When the flower markets are open on Sunday, it looks a little more reminiscent of the olden days.


Here, Hotel de Ville is gussied up for a post-World War I victory celebration in 1919. Again, the building has probably been sandblasted to go from dark gray to almost ivory:

The square in front of City Hall is not always this devoid of people. They were cleaning up from the ice rink on the days photographed (above and below), and also post-Charlie Hebdo, they've made the Hotel de Ville less accessible in general.

At Place de la Concorde, there are at least some flags, but not quite as many:

And more Place de la Concorde:

On the Pont Alexandre III, the major elements of the photo are unchanged (except for the streetlamps), but it's impossible to get the exact same photo looking up to the Grand Palais because of all the cars and barriers. Unless I want to get smushed.

And what used to be this on the Pont Alexandre III to move stuff around...

is now this to move people around...

I can't quite get in place for the Quai d'Orsay, either. But the building is still there:

In many of these places, I know I'm in the right spot, because I can recognize the skeletons of the buildings, but so much has still changed. The Place du Caire:

The corner of Rue Linné and Rue Boulanger, in the 5th arrondissement. You can see how the outside of the building has been spruced up, and the windows, and I bet the insides are a whole lots nicer, too. And way more expensive.

Some places look entirely different. The Quai d'Austerlitz used to be a real shipping dock, evidently, and the Right Bank had some impressive-looking factories. Well, no more of that:

The architecture and the movies may have changed, but this movie theater, the Palais des Gobelines, is still a movie theater.

Just a few doors down, interestingly enough, I find another hundred-year old theater, La Fauvette, being refurbished.
(Old photo above taken from construction site)

This cannon at Les Invalides is still a cannon, though there are fewer war injured (none that I can see) and certainly none in this sort of uniform. The cannons are cleaned up and less rusty after 100 years:

Some places simply don't exist in the same form anymore, so my photos don't all work out so well. Time marches on, and some of these scenes are now, in every sense of the word, history. Below you see the Compas d'Or. The courtyard is gone; the real-estate is just too valuable. One thing that hasn't changed: A century later, it's once again under construction. How much of the past 100 years saw scaffolding here?
The gorgeous flower market at Les Halles is no longer gorgeous, and no longer a flower market. It's a major construction site in a modern setting.

Another then and now pairing at Les Halles:

At the Place de la Madeleine, I simply can't find the buildings in the background, and the sun is so blindingly bright the day I'm there, I can't even see into my camera screen. So I'm really not sure which angle to take the photo from. On the other hand, at least I find some flowers:


I can't duplicate the Quai du Louvre shot, since the quais themselves have been transformed into roads, the bridges have been changed, and even the shape of the quai has been changed. But you get the idea:

At 53 rue Cambronne, the modern buildings once again have less color than in the olden days. And if the flower seller were standing in the middle of the street, she would be smushed under a car by now. It's a recurring theme, everywhere I go: more cars, more parking, more roads...

...except for one spot, back at Notre Dame, where you no longer have the right to park your horse or carriage on a bridge to load and unload passengers and goods. If you time the traffic lights just right, it's actually possible to get a shot with less traffic than 100 years ago!
historic photo on display in front of Hotel de Ville

THE CHEESE: Reblochon de Savoie

Reblochon de Savoie is one of those cheese that seems to have been around forever. It's a classic, with AOC status since 1958, one of the real treasures of French and, in this case more specifically, Alpine culture. The production zone covers a large part of Haute-Savoie and the Valley of Arly in Savoie. It comes in two varieties, and two varieties only: farmhouse or not.

Made from raw cows' milk, it's a thick disc of oozy, buttery goodness contained in a sturdy crust of white mold. The ivory interior is salty and stronger than the word "buttery" suggests, with a hazelnut finish.

Having said that, I've seen some Reblochons that have been around the block of couple times, and they're no longer white or oozy, but rather dried out and orange-ish.

Either way, this speciality of Savoie has a long and rich history that goes back, at least, to the 13th century. At that time, nobles and monks possessed rights to the land, and when grazed upon by peasant's cows, the peasants would have to pay a tax, based on the amount of milk produced. So, naturally, when taxman came around, the cow would mysteriously not produce as much milk as usual. Upon his departure, the cows would be milked a second time; there wouldn't be much milk left, but what was left was extra creamy and perfect for making cheese. The cheese is actually named after this type of fraud -- called "la rebloche", because in the local dialect to "re-blocher" meant to "re-milk the cow".

At the beginning of the 20th century, Reblochon production passed 40 tons per year and, largely because of tourism, winter sports in the Alps, and train networks connection the country, the cheese suddenly was known, purchased, and enjoyed throughout France.


Reblochon de Savoie is a true classic, one that's been around for well over a hundred years and is very commonly eaten. So when these photos were taken in the early 1900s, people were, even then, sitting around the heart of Paris, enjoying a Reblochon de Savoie, much as we are 100 years later. The cheese, like the photos, is both then, now, and wow! But no, I don't have a 100 year old photo to compare.

I do come across another bundle of vintage Paris photos on the Internet but fear this post will be almost a whole blog in itself if I try to reproduce all the photos. Plus, I will wear out my sneakers. So perhaps that will have to wait for another time.


  1. Your pictures are just fabulous !
    What fun to look at every detail …


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