Perhaps this is the most famous street in the world. In any case, it is believed that the world is divided into those who have been there and those who want to go. The Parisians deserve envy, for whom the abode of the blessed is always at hand. More precisely – under the feet. Only in Paris you can go to heaven – speaking in ancient Egyptian, to the fields of Yalah, or, in French, to the Champs Elysees – without dying. But the fashionable “paradise” in the middle of Paris is small, it does not hold all at once. Slightly less than two kilometers – from east to west, from the Carousel arch through Tuileries Park to Triumfalnaya, from Place de la Concorde to Place de la Zvezda. Closely even to monuments, buildings, sculptures, styles and eras: they have to huddle together on the legendary highway, like pieces of juicy kebab on a skewer. Moreover, they are “arbitrarily” strung out: instead of constituting a certain historical and artistic sequence, they interrupt each other and intermingle without any embarrassment … The Elysian Fields were conceived in their time as a prospect, primarily a parade. So it remains to this day. And in every sense of the word. Say, having gone there early in the morning on May 14 of this year, I encountered a solemn procession in honor of the anniversary of the Union of Former Fighters – an organization created by Charles de Gaulle exactly 60 years ago, immediately after the war. On the sidewalks in my eyes, as in the film with Louis de Funes, black and blue crowds of policemen were scattered. After clearing the “vent” of pipes and oboes with test trills, the brass band played. The noble banners of the Resistance soared above the pavement. With wreaths and bouquets of flowers in the hands of a rather slender column, elderly men and women hung with orders were sent to the Eternal Flame in the square that bears the name of their late leader, the first president of the Fifth Republic (he was recently erected a monument – here, nearby, near the Grand Palace). The gait of these people is still surprisingly hard, it can even be called a bravo – in a firm, unlike French manner, as if veterans of the Napoleonic Old Guard are marching. Such actions take place on the Champs Elysées regularly, and the most magnificent of them, of course, on Bastille Day, July 14. Then, instead of old men, active troops are passing along the avenue: from Alpine shooters in “retro” uniforms and horse guardsmen in picturesque cuirassas to “tough guys” from the Foreign Legion. Accepts parade president. On such an occasion, stands are being built along the plane tree alleys on the sidewalks, but only lucky lucky invited guests take their places. Light tanks and armored personnel carriers are rolled past them, almost touching the steel sides. But the latest and also traditional “attraction” of a large parade is available to all Parisians and guests of the capital, no matter where in the city they are. Mirages supersonic fighters spray in the air gas jets in the colors of the national flag. Somehow, it is possible to achieve great stability of this effect, and the blue-red-white “clouds” hang over the street for a long time. The parade is completed before lunch, and in the evening the stands are already dismantled, but the traffic on the street has not yet been resumed. The fields are full of people – everyone is waiting for the fireworks, after which the street is empty. This rarely happens on it, especially in the summer, but on July 14 everyone will probably go home to celebrate. And now the sky is colored with lights, and on the roadway – horse manure smeared with fighting “caterpillars” … This picture seems to me highly symbolic for the Champs Elysees.
On the “Red Square” in Paris The purpose with which I came this time to France – to write an article about the Fields – caused a sudden enthusiasm among my Parisian friends, fair snobs. Unexpected because it was not about Montmartre or the “left-wing” Latin Quarter, places of “true Parisian” and in its own way refined. Champs Elysees is another matter: a lot of “international” glass and concrete, elegant, but faceless design. Crowds of tourists – and nothing but entertainment, ranging from simple to desperately expensive. In general, the citadel of bourgeois decency and chic, where “serious people” live and work. Renting a room here costs up to 6,500 euros per m2 per month, and still there is a queue of those who want to do this. And yet, even for the most aesthetically minded French people (including those who are afraid to admit this), there is a certain high meaning in the Elysian highway. Just like for us – in Red Square. It seems to have nothing special in it, but there are hardly many significant events of the new Russian history that have bypassed it or the adjacent territories. So it was in the Fields – which was not the only thing that happened to them, especially since the political life of the country was blown up by the Great Revolution. In early October 1789, it was from here that a whole “army” of angry Parisian housewives went on foot to Versailles, following the family of Louis XVI, under the slogan: “He who applauds the king will be beaten with sticks, and he who insults the king will be hanged” . But soon, as you know, the French mentality changed and the main avenue of Paris was already announced in other sounds. The Jacobin guillotine blade was whistled in the air. Then – Napoleon drums thundered. Workers at the opposite end of the Fields, on Star Square, started to pick up with pickaxes and shovels, where the emperor ordered to build the Triumphal Arch, the world’s largest monument of military glory (1806). Then the logs from the felled plane trees cracked on fire – these were Russian Cossacks in 1814 grilled meat right in the middle of the highway. In the end, only one fire remained, but the Eternal – it was lit under the Arch at the tomb of the Unknown Soldier of the First World War. And all this is only the tip of the Elysian historical iceberg … Majestic history, the pathos of big events, breaking through the daily bustle, hubbub and sparkling of multi-colored windows, are kept by the “initiates”. Those who, rather, by vocation than by duty, try to save the connection of time. Among them are my acquaintances: the general inspector of the monuments of the capital, Christian Prevost-Marsilasi, and Jean-Louis Topin, one of the main architects of the memorial and places of interest in France (the number of these architects coincides with the number of historical provinces of the country). As “initiates,” to whom, as I have already said, Fields “belong”, my interlocutors themselves live in their immediate vicinity: Monsieur Prevost is on Faubourg Saint Honore Street, and Monsieur Topin is on Wagram Avenue, two steps from Square Stars. Such a place of residence is, of course, prestigious, but the main thing is that it is dictated by the fact that Fields for experts is not just a street, but a road. This becomes clear from a leisurely detailed story, supported by a multitude of plans, charts, photographs, and even diagrams that my fellow travelers graciously took for a walk. And also – out of how delicately but firmly they, layer upon layer, remove the textbook gloss, which, in the popular presentation of the Field, has been covered for a long time; of the details known to my guides and unknown to many guidebooks; from what has largely become the content of this article.
Failing Elephant Here, say, is it widely known that at first Napoleon I, in honor of his exploits, intended to erect not the classical form of the Triumphal Arch, but a giant statue of an elephant? It is difficult to say exactly what brought him to think: either stay in Egypt (hardly, however, General Bonaparte met with elephants there – on the banks of the Nile they never were found), or the traditional surprise and delight that an 18th century European experienced at the sight of exotic giants. By the way, in the topography of Moscow there is also a trace of this delight. Old-timers here are always ready to show you a dent in the old wall of the house of the XVIII century on Solyanka street. According to legend, an elephant leaned against it, presented to Elizabeth Petrovna by the Persian Shah. Just the same one whom, in Krylov’s fable, “through the streets … was taken, as you can see, for show.” Whatever the case, court architects dissuaded the emperor from an extravagant idea. It was decided to build a structure of classical Roman forms. But then, from 1813 to 1846, the mock of an elephant with a tower on its back in Paris was still standing – in the Place de la Bastille. In it, according to Victor Hugo, Gavrosh lived. And Arka took her rightful place among the textbook symbols of France, and now very few people think about how hard and in what contradictions it was built. The project of architects Jean Raymond and Francois Schalgren was approved in 1807, but by 1810, when Napoleon Bonaparte decided to bring a new spouse Marie-Louise to the city, only the framework had to grow on the Square of Stars. On it and pulled the canvas with the “painting” – everything that should have been embodied in stone was simply painted there. None of the main actors of the ceremony at that time lived up to the real Triumphal Gates. The unfortunate Austrian princess (aka French Empress) even once in her life traveled under the arch “model”, moving away from the city in 1814, before allied occupation. Raymond and Shalgren soon passed away. And Napoleon himself was destined to be under the arches of the Arch (completed under the “king-citizen” Louis-Philippe), but already in the sarcophagus. That terribly cold December day of 1840 may have seen the most significant gathering of people on the Champs Elysees in the entire 19th century. They say that 100 thousand people came to conduct the lord of the half-world – this time on the very last way, to the Cathedral of the House of Disabled. Now, of course, sometimes more is collected, but since then, both Paris and the Star Square itself have grown. At that time, it could be said that it did not exist: until 1860, the Arch adjoined two buildings framing the entrance to the Champs Elysees – absolutely identical square neogrek pavilions with round domes, porticos and five columns on each side. Why did they stand there, no one in the city remembered for a long time. Only archival “worms” like my today’s companions could explain: these are the remnants of the Etoile customs post. Previously, the city ended here. So to go under the Arc de Triomphe in one direction or another in some way means to enter or leave Paris. Now, on the contrary, it is the heart, the center of the municipal composition. It is easy to be convinced of this, standing in the evening on the viewing platform of the Arch (height 50 meters), when gradually the circular movement around the square calms down. Parisians, having defended themselves in daily traffic jams, leave the center, diving into one of the twelve rays-avenues (the brightest of them are Fields), departing from the square, to the “star” name of which contemporaries added de Gaulle’s name. Optically from such a height, the car seems to be a little more than a mouse, and it is interesting to imagine: here each of them recognizes its mink, its long corridor, with its scent, somewhere far away at the end – its own nook. And tomorrow, waking up, all this “horde” will come together again, attracted by the powerful energy field of the Arch, Stars, Fields … And so every day, for many years in a row. – By the way, pay attention: the avenue is clearly divided into two architectural systems – you will not notice it from below! From the side where the Egyptian obelisk is a rack and beam construction. Squint, take a close-up with your eye: all around are some parallels and perpendiculars. And here, closer to the Arch, the layout is vaulted-arched. I don’t even know why it happened, nobody deliberately intended it. Probably, it just happened with time … – Yes, yes, I guess. Of course, you are right – I am afraid, this time I listened to my learned friend and colleague Monsieur Topin a little absently. It was thought about something else, about something more poetic than beam systems. The Triumphal Arch crowns the day spent on the “paradise” street. Leaving him behind him with a strip of sparkling light, you suddenly find yourself in a space of silence and darkness, slightly disturbed by the flashes of memorial fire. It seems as if it was so specially arranged: by leaning, being, having heard the daily rumble, in short, the charter, you find yourself in the desired solitude. Paris is a delicate city …