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Last updated : Nov 2009
Paris Culture Guide
Paris Culture Guide - TravelPuppy.com
Parisians are almost as passionate about their culture as they are about their food and restaurants. The French government takes art and culture very seriously, pumping money into the arts, supporting French cinema against Hollywood imports, and embarking on grandiose grands travaux, such as the new Bibliothèque Nationale de France, Quai François-Mauriac (telephone number: (01) 5379 5959 or (01) 5379 5379). The Opéra Bastille opened in 1989, on the bicentennial of Bastille Day, although the merit of its architecture and the quality of its productions have recently been questioned.

Major venues, in addition to those detailed below, include the Palais des Congrès, 2 place de la Porte-Maillot, 17th (telephone number: (01) 4068 0005), for ballet, opera and pop-star performances, and the enormous Palais des Sports, Porte de Versailles, 15th (telephone number: (01) 4828 4010).

Tickets for concerts of all kinds can be purchased from the following:

FNAC Forum des Halles, 1 rue Pierre Lescot, 1st (telephone number: (01) 4041 4000)
FNAC Musique, 2 rue Charenton, 12th (telephone number: (01) 4342 0404). Carrousel du Louvre, 99 rue de Rivoli, 1st (telephone number: (01) 4316 4747), located directly beneath the Louvre
Virgin Megastore, 52 avenue des Champs-Elysées, 8th (telephone number: (01) 4953 5000). However long the queue, ticket touts at the Opéra and concert venues are to be avoided due to high prices and the prevalence of worthless fake tickets.

Listings are to be found in Pariscope and L’Officiel des Spectacles. Classical concerts are listed in the monthly Le Monde de la Musique.

Music

The Paris Opéra (telephone number: (08) 9289 9090 performs ballet and opera at the Opéra Garnier, place de l’Opéra, 9th and Opéra Bastille, place de la Bastille, 12th and tickets cost €30-110.

Large opera productions are also performed at the Châtelet Théâtre Musical de Paris, 1 place du Châtelet, 1st (telephone number: (01) 4028 2840).

The varied programme at the Cité de la Musique, at La Villette, is strongest in contemporary music and home to the internationally renowned Ensemble Intercontemporain. It also features ancient music, jazz, chansons and world music. The Cité has two important venues, the Conservatoire National de Musique, 209 avenue Jean Jaurès, 19th (telephone number: (01) 4040 4545), and the Salle des Concerts, 221 avenue Jean Jaurès, 19th (telephone number: (01) 4484 4484). Big names in French contemporary and experimental classical music to listen out for are Pierre Boulez, Pascal Dusapin and Luc Ferrarie.

A series of orchestras, including the Orchestre Colonne, Orchestre Lamoureux and Orchestre de Paris are based at Salle Pleyel, 252 rue du Faubourg-St-Honoré, 8th (telephone number: (01) 4561 5300).

Other prestigious venues for classical music include the Salle Gaveau, 45 rue de la Boétie, 8th (telephone number: (01) 4953 0507), Théâtre des Champs-Elysées, 15 avenue Montaigne, 8th (telephone number: (01) 4952 5050), and the Théâtre Musical de Paris, 1 place du Châtelet, 1st (teephone number: (01) 4028 2840).

Theatre

The Comédie Française, 1 place de Colette, 1st (telephone number: (01) 4458 1515), is the national theatre, renowned for its production of the classics. Théâtre National de la Colline, 15 rue Malte-Brun, 20th (telephone number: (01) 4462 5252), plays contemporary French drama. New talent is sought out at fringe theatres, such as Guichet-Montparnasse, 15 rue du Maine, 14th (telephone number: (01) 4327 8861). Peter Brook is based at the Bouffes du Nord, 37 bis boulevard de la Chapelle, 10th (telephone number: (01) 4607 3450). The Odéon, 1 place de l'Odéon, 6th (telephone number: (01) 4485 4000), hosts foreign-language productions.

Dance

The main ballet venue is at the Opéra Garnier (see Music). Major productions are also held at the prestigious Théâtre de la Ville, 2 place du Châtelet, 4th (telephone number: (01) 4274 2277) where the works of high-profile choreographers, such as Karine Saporta, Maguy Marin and Pina Bausch, are frequently shown. The theatre has another venue, Les Abbesses, with the same contact details at 31 rue des Abbesses, 18th. The Théâtre Musical de Paris (see Music) hosts ballet companies from oerseas.

Film

The first public film screening ever, ‘Le train entrant en gare' was shown by the Lumière brothers in Paris in 1895. Today, Paris remains an important cinema capital, in any given week, over 300 films are shown.

There is no English-language cinema in Paris, however, most movies are shown in the original language, with French subtitles. UGC have a major presence in Paris with the city’s largest (18-screen) cinema, UGC Ciné Cité Bercy, 2 cours St-Emilion, 12th (telephone number : (08) 9270 0000).

There is also a 16-screen UGC Ciné Cité Les Halles, place de la Rotonde, Nouveau Forum des Halles, 1st (telephone number: (08) 9270 0000). Although the multi-screen UGCs and Gaumonts are on the increase (many based on the Champs-Elysées and in Montparnasse), Paris is still teeming with small arthouse cinemas, clustered in the 5th and 6th arrondissements. Among these are Le Champo, 51 rue des Ecoles, 5th (telephone number: (01) 4354 5160), near the Sorbonne, and Racine Odéon, 6 rue de l’Ecole-de-Médecine, 6th (telephone number: (0892) 68 9325), known for its all-night showings. Some cinemas are worth seeing just for their decor, one such is kitsch Le Grand Rex, 1 boulevard Poisssonnière, 2nd (telephone number: (01) 4508 9358). Recent movies Amelie or Le Fabuleux Destin d’Amelie Poulain (2001), directed by Jean-Pierre Jeunet (of Delicatessen (1991) fame) and Moulin Rouge (2001), directed by Baz Luhrmann, were both set in Montmartre and took box offices worldwide by storm.

Cultural Events

Paris offers plenty of choice and a wide variety of lively festivals. Among these are the free, city-wide Fête de la Musique (21nd June), the Festival du Film de Paris (early April) and the Festival d’Automne (September to December) contemporary dance event. Free concerts are held within the city’s churches during the Festival d’Art Sacré, in the weeks preceding Christmas.

Literary Notes

The written word and words uttered during long café discussions on the Left Bank have done much to create the mythical Paris that tourists and visitors still hunt out today.

Victor Hugo’s historical novel The Hunchback of Notre-Dame (1831) is set in 15th-century Paris and his Les Misérables (1862) in the poverty-stricken Parisian underworld.

Ernest Hemingway’s A Moveable Feast (1964) depicts the bohemian Paris of the inter-war years.

Henry Miller’s Tropic of Cancer (1934) and Tropic of Capricorn (1939) portray a sexier city.

A more reflective image is portrayed in Anais Nin’s interlocking works. For Nin, Paris allows the development of her sexuality and (perceived as equally sinful) creativity.

George Orwell describes the poverty of the 1920s in Down and Out in Paris and London (1933).

Traces of literary heroes and heroines and their fictional creations are sought throughout Paris, in the lingering smoke of the Café de Flore and Les Deux Magots, boulevard St-Germain, 6th, where the existential discussions between Jean-Paul Sartre, Albert Camus and Simone de Beauvoir used to rage.

James Joyce used to drink at chic Le Fouquet’s, 99 avenue des Champs-Elysées, 8th, while such luminaries as Jean Jacques Rousseau, Voltaire and Oscar Wilde frequented Le Procope, 13 rue de l’Ancienne-Comédie, 6th. Ernest Hemingway dined at the La Cloiserie des Lilas, 171 boulevard du Montparnasse, 6th, still popular with the publishing world, and Samuel Beckett’s favourite haunt was Le Select, 99 boulevard du Montparnasse, 6th.

The place of literary pilgrimage par excellence is the Père Lachaise Cemetery, presumed resting place of medieval lovers Abélard and Héloïse. They lie in good company, along with the great 17th-century playwright Molière and fable-teller La Fontaine, Oscar Wilde, Sarah Bernhardt, Champollion, Delacroix, Ingres, Géricault, Bizet, Balzac, Proust, Colette and Edith Piaf. Contemporary poet, singer and icon Jim Morrison was famously buried here in 1971.

Heather Reyes’ Zade (2004) is set in Père Lachaise and swirls around the ghosts of Jim Morrison, Marcel Proust and Oscar Wilde.