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Paris Culture

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 projets, such as the new Bibliothèque Nationale de France, now hampered by an inefficient computer system. The Opera Bastille opened in 1989 on the bicentennial of Bastille Day, but the merit of its architecture and the quality of its productions have been questioned.

Major venues, in addition to those detailed below, include the Palais des Congrès, place de la Porte-Maillot, 17th (tel: (01) 4068 2222), for opera, ballet, pop stars and the enormous Palais des Sports, Porte de Versailles, 15th (tel: (01) 4828 4048).

Tickets for concerts of all kinds can be purchased at FNAC Forum des Halles, 1-5 rue Pierre Lescot, 1st (tel: (01) 4041 4000), or FNAC Musique at 4 place de la Bastille, 12th (tel: (01) 4342 0404), and 24 boulevard des Italiens, 9th (tel: (01) 4801 0203), the Carrousel du Louvre directly beneath the Louvre, 1st, or at Virgin Megastore, 56-60 avenue des Champs-Elysees, 8th (tel: (01) 4953 5000). However long the queue, ticket touts at the Opera and concert venues are to be avoided.

Music: The Paris Opera performs ballet and opera at the Opera Garnier, place de l'Opera, 9th (tel: (08) 3669 7868) and Opera Bastille, place de la Bastille, 12th (tel: (08) 3669 7868 (box office); tel: (01) 4343 9696 (information); tickets FFr30-590). Large opera productions are also performed at the Theatre Musical de Paris (see below). The varied programme at the Cite de la Musique at La Villette is strongest in contemporary music and home to the internationally renowned Ensemble Intercontemporain, but also features ancient music, jazz, chansons and world music. It has two important venues: the Conservatoire, 209 avenue Jean Jaurès, 19th (tel: (01) 4040 4646), and the Salle des Concerts, 221 avenue Jean Jaurès, 19th (tel: (01) 4484 4484). Big names in French contemporary and experimental music to listen out for are Pierre Boulez, Pascal Dusapin and Luc Ferrarie.

A series of orchestras, including the Orchestre Colonne, Orcheste Lamoureux and Orchestre de Paris are based at Salle Pleyel, 252 rue du Faubourg-St-Honore, 8th (tel: (01) 4561 5300). Other prestigious venues for classical music include the Salle Gaveau, 45 rue de la Boetie, 8th (tel: (01) 4953 0507); Theatre des Champs-Elysees, 15 avenue Montaigne, 8th (tel: (01) 4952 5050), and the Theatre Musical de Paris, 1 place du Chatelet, 1st (tel: (01) 4028 2840).

Theatre: The Comedie Française, 2 rue de Richelieu, 1st (tel: (01) 4458 1515), is the national theatre, renowned for its production of the classics. Theatre National de la Colline, 15 rue Malte-Brun, 20th (tel: (01) 4462 5252), plays contemporary French drama. New talent is sought out at fringe theatres such as Guichet-Montparnasse, 15 rue du Maine, 14th (tel: (01) 4327 8861). Peter Brook is based at the Bouffes du Nord, 37bis boulevard de la Chapelle, 10th (tel: (01) 4607 3450). The Odeon, Theatre de l'Europe, 1 place de l'Odeon, 6th (tel: (01) 4441 3636), hosts foreign-language productions.

Dance: The main ballet venue is at the Opera Garnier, place de l'Opera, 9th (tel: (08) 3669 7868). Major productions are also held at the prestigious Theatre de la Ville, 2 place du Chatelet, 4th (tel: (01) 4274 2277), where works by high-profile choreographers such as Karine Saporta, Maguy Marin and Pina Bausch, are frequently shown. The Theatre Musical de Paris, 1 place du Chatelet, 4th (tel: (01) 4028 2840) hosts ballet companies from abroad.

Film: The first public screening ever ('Le train entrant en gare') was shown in Paris by the Lumière brothers in 1895. Today, Paris remains an important cinema capital - in any given week, over 300 films are shown. The city's largest (18-screen) cinema is UGC Cine Cite Bercy, 2 cour St-Emilion, 12th (tel: (08) 3668 6858), with a 16-screen UGC Cine Cite Les Halles at place de la Rotonde, Nouveau Forum des Halles, 1st (tel: (01) 3668 6858). Although the multi-screen UGCs and Gaumonts are on the increase (many based on the Champs-Elysees and in Montparnasse), Paris is still teeming with small art cinemas, clustered in the 5th and 6th arrondissements. Among these are Le Champo, 51 rue des Ecoles, 5th (tel: (01) 4354 5160), near the Sorbonne and Racine Odeon, 6 rue de l'Ecole-de-Medicine, 6th (tel: (01) 4326 1968), 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.

Cultural events: Paris offers plenty of choice and a wide variety of lively festivals. Among these are the free, city-wide Festival de la Musique (21 June), the Festival du Film de Paris (early April) and the biennial Festival d'Automne (Sep-Dec) contemporary dance event. Free concerts are held within the city's churches, during the Festival d'Art Sacre in the weeks preceeding Chistmas. Listings are to be found in Pariscope (website: and L'Officiel des Spectacles; classical concerts are listed in the monthly Le Monde de la Musique and Diapason.

Literary Notes
The written word and words uttered during long cafe discussions on the Left Bank, have done much to create the mythical Paris which visitors still hunt out today. Victor Hugo's historical novel The Hunchback of Notre-Dame (1831) is set in fifteenth-century Paris, Les Miserables (1862) in the poverty-stricken Parisian underworld. Ernest Hemingway's A Moveable Feast, (1964) depicts the bohemian Paris of the inter-war years, while Henry Miller's Tropic of Cancer (1934) and Tropic of Capricorn (1939) portray a sexy city. A more reflective image is portrayed in Anais Nin's interlocking works. For Nin, Paris allows the development of her sexuality and, 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 the city: in the lingering smoke of the Cafe de Flore and Les Deux Magots, boulevard St-Germain, where the existential discussions between Jean-Paul Sartre, Camus and Simone de Beauvoir used to rage. Joyce used to drink at the recently renovated Le Bullier, Port Royal, on the fringes of Montparnasse. Hemingway dined at the Closerie des Lilas, still popular with the publishing world. Samuel Beckett's favourite haunt was Le Select.

The place of pilgrimage par excellence is the Père Lachaise cemetery, presumed resting place of medieval lovers Abelard and Heloïse. The great seventeenth-century playwright Molière and fable-teller La Fontaine lie in good company with Oscar Wilde, Sarah Bernhardt, Champollion, Delacroix, Ingres, Gericault, Bizet, Balzac, Proust, Colette and Piaf. Jim Morrison was famously buried here in 1971. It is yet to be seen whether the ultra-Parisian work Au bonheur des Ogres (The Scapegoat) by Daniel Pennac will redefine the Parisian myth.

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