Simanaitis Says

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PASCAL ORY’S BOOK Legend of the Skies: Images and Objects From the World of Aviation offers images of Paris from the air, circa 1910. With the help of Google Maps and the Internet, these provocative views give a time machine shifting between 1910 and now, with brief stops in other temporalities. Come along for this aerial adventure over Paris in Parts 1 and 2 today and tomorrow.

Our Primary View. A 1911 calendar image gets us started. Ory offers no more details about the pilot’s view, thus encouraging our research.

This and following images from The Legend of the Skies.

Bridges along the Seine and the Eiffel Tower can be seen in the distance. The Arc de Triomphe is visible just ahead of the aircraft’s landing gear. Follow the Champs-Elysées forward to the Place Vendôme, its column erected by Napoleon I, torn down in 1871 by decree of the Paris Commune, then erected three years later. The Column Vendôme is still there today; the Commune is not.

The aircraft in our overview is an Antoinette IV, designed by Léon Levavasseur and first flown in October 1909.

The Antoinette IV featured the first V-8 configuration of an internal-combustion engine, designed in 1904 by Léon Levavasseur.

The Opéra Garnier. The Antoinette is buzzing the Palais Garnier, also known as the Opéra Garnier. This home of the Paris Opera, opened in 1875, is the setting for Gaston Leroux’s 1910 novel The Phantom of the Opera. 

The facade of the Opéra Garnier, as seen from the Place de l’Opéra. Image by Peter Rivera.

I recall the area fondly. As noted in “Driving a Parisian Taxicab,” following  the advice of Lieut. Col. Newman-Davis in The Gourmet’s Guide to Europe, 1908, I had already rapped my walking stick on the center of the Place de l’Opera, “the center of the universe.” Well, actually, it was my knuckles I rapped.

L’Avenue de l’Opéra, c. 1910, one of the vignettes showing life in the year 2000.

Sacré-Cœur Basilica. The fanciful aeroplanes from the year 2000 are flying above the Place de l’Opéra, with the Basilica of the Sacred Heart of Paris seen off to the right on the summit of the butte Montmartre, the highest point in Paris. 

The south facade of the Basilique du Sacré-Cœur. Image by Tonchino.

The Grand Palais. Back to our overview: The large golden-roof building along the Seine is the Grand Palais. Its construction began in 1897, part of preparation for the Universal Exposition of 1900. Thus, the Grand Palais wasn’t all that old when our calendar was printed. It also makes several appearances in Ory’s book.

The Grand Palais, 1911, by Géo Dorival.

In 1909, the Grand Palais hosted the First International Aerial Locomotion Show, France’s first air show. It was used as the final stage of the 2017 Tour de France, as part of the country’s successful promotion to host the 2024 Summer Olympics.

The Grand Palais. Image by Gérard Ducher (user: Néfermaȃt).

La Madeleine. In our aerial view about halfway between L’Opéra and the Grand Palais lies L’église Sainte-Marie-Madeleine. This neo-classic structure was originally Napoleon I’s idea of a Temple de la Glorie de la Grand Armée (not to say glory to himself as well). What with one thing and another, including Louis XVIII’s brief reign (1814–1824, except for Emperor Napoleon’s Hundred Days and the latter’s ultimate exile to St. Helena in 1815), the structure’s nave wasn’t vaulted until 1831.

La Madeleine. Image by Jebulon.

In 1837, it was suggested the building might make a good railway station. It was finally consecrated in 1842, with plenty of good tales yet to come. 

According to Wikipedia, “The funeral of Chopin at the Church of the Madeleine in Paris was delayed almost two weeks, until 30 October 1849. Chopin had requested that Mozart’s Requiem be sung. The Requiem had major parts for female voices, but the Church of the Madeleine had never permitted female singers in its choir. The Church finally relented, on condition that the female singers remain behind a black velvet curtain.”

Gloria Steinem wouldn’t be born until 1934.

On this promising note, we’ll pause our aerial time travel evoked by Ory’s Legend of the Skies. Tomorrow in Part 2, we’ll encounter a church featuring one of the first electrically powered organs, a guy named Haussmann, and two fine department stores. ds 

© Dennis Simanaitis,, 2021

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