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DIY The Da Vinci Code Tour: Paris Part I

Thursday, January 27, 2005

Paris: Part I

Shocking Night at the Ritz

In The Da Vinci Code
After he gives a talk at the American University of Paris on mysterious runes at Chartres Cathedral, Robert Langdon returns to the famous Ritz hotel for a good night's sleep. A late-night visit from the police inspector Bezu Fache leaves him shocked: the man with whom he was supposed to meet earlier that day, Jacques Saunière, has been murdered.

On Tour
Ritz Paris. Ever since César Ritz opened the doors of his hotel in 1898, the mere name of this venerable institution has become synonymous with luxury. You could easily spend days here without even venturing onto the magnificent place Vendôme. There's the famed Ritz Escoffier cooking school, where you can learn the finer points of gâteaux; the Hemingway Bar, where Colin Field reigns as a world-ranked bartender; and the Greek-temple-ish subterranean swimming pool. Guest rooms match this level of luxe; even in the "humbler" spaces, modern conveniences are cleverly camouflaged among the gleaming mirrors, chandeliers, and antiques. The most palatial suites bear the names of famous Ritz residents: the Coco Chanel, the Prince of Wales, and the Elton John.
ADDRESS: 15 place Vendôme.
NEIGHBORHOOD: Louvre/Tuileries.
MÉTRO: Opéra.


Prime Suspect

In The Da Vinci Code
Jacques Saunière's body is discovered in the Louvre's Denon Wing, not far from two of Leonardo da Vinci's greatest works. Near the body, the police have found an enigmatic message. With the help of Saunière's granddaughter, talented cryptologist. Sophie Neveu, Langdon unravels the message: a series of clues that will lead the two on a quest for the Holy Grail.

On Tour
Denon Wing, the Louvre. The Italian painting collection begins at the western end of the Denon Wing. Some rooms here are slowly being remodeled; the Mona Lisa is usually in Salle 3, but through 2005 she is in Salle 13. Seek out the paintings by the original Renaissance man, painter-engineer-inventor-anatomist Leonardo da Vinci (1452-1519). His enigmatic, androgynous St-John the Baptist hangs in Salle 5, along with more overtly religious works, such as the 1483 Virgin of the Rocks, with the harmonious pyramidal arrangement of its figures. Continue down the corridor, past masterworks by Raphael and Giuseppe Arcimboldo; you'll soon find yourself in the midst of a crowd, approaching the Mona Lisa (properly, La Gioconda, known as La Joconde in French). With all the guards and barriers, it feels as if you're visiting a holy relic, and in some ways you are. This small painting was Leonardo's favorite.
It has belonged to innumerable French rulers since its acquisition by François I, including Napoléon, who kept it on his bedroom wall. The wife of one Francesco del Giocondo, a Florentine millionaire, was 24 when she sat for this painting in 1503. (Some historians believe the portrait was actually painted after her death, and Langdon has an altogether different theory about the origins of the image.) Either way, she has become immortal through Leonardo's ingenious sfumato technique, which combines glowing detail with soft, depth-filled brushwork.
ADDRESS: Palais du Louvre.
NEIGHBORHOOD: Louvre/Tuileries.
MÉTRO: Palais-Royal.


Convenient Decoy

In The Da Vinci Code
Neveu and Langdon flee the Louvre in her SmartCar (!), heading first to the rue de Rivoli and then down the Champs-Élysées to the Arc de Triomphe. Heading north out of the rotary, the car makes a hard right down boulevard Malesherbes and makes a beeline for Gare Saint-Lazare, where Neveu's purchase of two train tickets to Lille provides a convenient decoy.

On Tour
Champs-Élysées. Marcel Proust lovingly described the elegance of the world's most famous avenue, the Champs-Élysées, during its belle epoque heyday, when its cobblestones resounded to the clatter of horses and carriages. Today, despite the constant surge of cars and the influx of chain shops, there's still a certain je ne sais quoi about strolling up Les Champs, especially at dusk, as the refurbished streetlamps are just coming on. The café tables are always good for people-watching, while the cinemas, nightclubs, and late-hour shoppers ensure the parade continues well into the night. Originally cattle-grazing land, the 2-km (1¼-mile) Champs-Élysées was laid out in the 1660s by the landscape gardener André Le Nôtre as a park sweeping away from the Tuileries. Traces of its green origins remain in the lower section of the avenue, where elegant 19th-century park pavilions house the historic restaurants Ledoyen, Laurent, and Le Pavillon Élysées.
NEIGHBORHOOD: Champs-Élysées.
MÉTRO: Champs-Élysées-Clemenceau, Franklin-D.-Roosevelt, George V, Étoile.

Gare Saint-Lazare. The beaux arts-style Gare Saint-Lazare was built in the late 1880s to accommodate travelers to Paris's Universal Expo of 1889, for which the Eiffel Tower was also erected. Though the station now fulfills 21st-century transportation needs, the grandeur of the architecture (which includes some buildings from the 1840s and 1850s) remains. In the right light you can almost imagine the scene that inspired Monet's 1877 painting Gare Saint-Lazare.
ADDRESS: 108 rue Saint-Lazare.
NEIGHBORHOOD: Montmartre.
MÉTRO: Gare Saint-Lazare.


Help in the Quest

In The Da Vinci Code
Having lost the police, Neveu and Langdon head in a cab to Paris's west side, traveling via the Bois de Boulogne's Allée de Longchamp to the Depository Bank of Zurich, where a deciphered message from Saunière tells them they'll find a "cryptex" (a device whose code must be broken to reveal its contents) that will help in their quest for the Grail. The fictional Depository Bank of Zurich is said to be "adjacent to the Roland Garros tennis stadium," which is in the park's southern section. (The bank is said to be on rue Haxo near the stadium; the real-life rue Haxo is on the eastern edge of Paris near the Cimetière du Père-Lachaise.)

On Tour
Bois de Boulogne. Until Napoléon III's time, the 2,200-acre Bois de Boulogne was a wild woods. But the brilliant landscape architect Jean-Charles Alphand, a protégé of Baron Haussman (the prefect who oversaw the reconstruction of Paris in the 1850s and 1860s), created a series of elegant promenades, romantic lakes, and formal playgrounds based on the London-style parks the emperor admired. Le Bois became an immediate hit with Parisians and remains popular today with rowers, joggers, walkers, riders, picnickers, and lovers. Parisian style and elegance are on full display at the French Open tennis tournament, held in late May at the beautiful Roland Garros stadium. The park becomes a distinctly adult playground after dark, especially along sections of Allée de Longchamp, when prostitutes of all genders come prowling for clients.
ADDRESS: Main entrance at bottom of av. Foch.
NEIGHBORHOOD: Bois de Boulogne.
MÉTRO: Porte Maillot, Porte Dauphine, Porte d'Auteuil (also Bus 244).

The second part of the Paris tour will continue tomorrow.
posted by Ivan, 1:09 pm

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