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Paris in disguise

Talking projected heads behind the Louvre
Talking projected heads behind the Louvre
Judith Nelson

How Paris camouflages itself

Louis Vuitton becomes a huge trunk during extensive construction on the Champs
Louis Vuitton becomes a huge trunk during extensive construction on the Champs
Judith Nelson

I have traveled to my favorite city, Paris, almost every year since I was in college. In all that time, I still haven’t seen all there is to see. However, each time I go I am fascinated by something new and different. You never know what you’ll come upon in the ever-changing City of Light.

One year it was an impromptu lighted talking rock show behind the Louvre, where faces and voices were projected on large rocks at night to the entertainment of passers by. Sculptures in the Tuileries Gardens change each year, as does the artwork in the Palais Royal Gardens. And, being an avid follower of Cow Parades all over the world, I enjoyed seeing the unique Parisian interpretation of the plastic bovines. I am always filled with anticipation when I visit Paris.

One of the unexpected pleasures I have discovered is Paris’s penchant for cleverly and artistically camouflaging and disguising construction or work in progress--or whatever just doesn’t look good. The Parisian sensibilities are offended when something, no matter how small or briefly, defaces their beautiful city. Remember the outrage engendered by both the Eiffel Tower and Pei’s famous pyramid when they were built? Parisians don’t like change.

However, alterations, construction and other changes must occur. Their solution is to make the mess an entertaining or intriguing piece of art during the process. One year I was astonished to see and hear a large, colorful Russian submarine seemingly parked in the center of my favorite Tuileries fountain close to the Louvre! The children (and I) were enchanted, and authentic-sounding recordings played continuously, furthering the reality that it was, indeed, a Russian sub. During the fountain reparation, a new form of entertainment was used.

Another time, at the other end of the Tuileries close to the Place de la Concorde, I was amazed to see two immense Sumo wrestlers holding aloft a huge pink storage container. Delighted children played beneath it. Definitely not your typical construction trailer!

Stores change locations and redecorate all the time. I was unprepared on one trip to see the largest Louis Vuitton trunk in the world gracing a corner of the Champs Elysees. It was beautiful, unforgettable, and meticulously detailed.

Another trip took me just off the Champs where I literally couldn’t believe my eyes. A large office building was wiggly and wavy! It was so detailed that it was unsettling, and I wasn't sure if the wine I had for dinner was to blame.

A giant zipper seemingly opening the Champs Elysees to a huge Nespresso store overwhelmed the far end of the Champs, near the Arch of Triumph.

When the Chanel boutique on St. Honore was redecorating, it was adorned with a massive classic Chanel handbag that most of us would kill for. And when Printemps, a large department store, had exterior construction, it was nearly impossible to tell. The huge murals made the store look totally renovated.

Even when there is no actual renovation, murals, graffiti or "face lifts" adorn the buildings. As you approach the Marais, some less attractive buildings decided to have “change of face” without any construction. They were decorated with huge artistic eyes, noses and mouths, guaranteeing a second look regardless of their actual condition.

Then there are the surprises in the most common of sights, such as the Louvre and the Eiffel Tower. One night, and the only night ever in all these years, a rainbow of colors suddenly illuminated the Pei Pyramid. Similarly, when France held the presidency to the European Union, the familiar glittering gold Eiffel Tower was instead blue, with a crowning ring of giant white stars to represent the member countries.

Half of the excitement of going to Paris is discovering what is ageless but still intriguing. The other half is finding out what is new and different, even though that may really be old, and just temporarily camouflaged. Paris really knows how to disguise in style!