Paris City Map


Jouy is just in the countryside beyond Villacoublay; and only just, for the wooded valley of the Bievre is being rapaciously overbuilt. The inside of the church is rapacious too, in a different way, cluttered with God-seeking objects. And then, at the end of an unlovely south aisle, where you can walk right up to it, is ‘La Diege’ (from ‘Dei Genitrix’), a twelfth-century Virgin and Child: God not only sought but found. It was restored by Viollet-le-Duc after being walled up at the Revolution, and it would be handy to know whether he tampered with the expressions on the faces. Because, if not, this is Gothic sculpture at the exact moment of waking up out of the stone. This powerful, unsentimental virgin and this impudent child are utterly still, engaged with their whole being in contemplation and demonstration. But they are not static: boundless energy has been compelled into an immobility which is all the more monumental. As soon as there is nobody there, you feel, they will come off parade and scamper about, like any mother and child. No wonder it was and is venerated.

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Short of the huge ‘general aviation’ airfields in America, there is nothing like this anywhere. Flying is a personal hobby of mine, but surely nobody could fail to be affected by the intensity and exuberance of Toussus. It is the main light airport for Paris; not only that, but there are five other airfields within five miles, one of which (Villacoublay) is as busy with military aircraft as Toussus is with civil. The nearest, Buc, is only a mile away, so that the circuits have to be in opposite directions to avoid intermeshing. For good measure, Orly is ten miles to the east. On a fine day there are aircraft all round the horizon. This situation, which seems to be handled in perfect safety, as it is in America, would give an English controller apoplexy. The Jodels and Rallyes land within a few feet of the bar terrace and the hangars are all simple sheds, leaving character and elegance to the aeroplanes, which is as it should be. This elegance and energy (subsidized, but that in itself means governmental energy) is a very important part of France. Everything feels directed and alert, the opposite of muddling through.

(It is now possible that Toussus may close soon, as part of a plan to build a vast satellite town for Paris at Saclay. So see it quickly.)

Viroflay: Notre-Dame-du-Chene

L. Sainsaulieu, 1965

Another new church of the same temperament as Marly-le-Pecq: honest, sophisticated and prepared to use the new shapes now available as means, not ends in themselves. As at Marly, there is a sweeping main area which ends in a lift-shaft of space at the east end, whisking up out of sight. Viroflay is less overpowering but more ingenious; a vast basketwork of wood like an upturned ship’s hull which turns with inimitable suppleness into a wood-panelled apse with the top invisible, delicately strutted. These new churches are genuinely French, precise yet sonorous, and the most hopeful of the country’s new buildings; they help to rinse away the taste of dozens of vulgar exhibitions of rubble stone.

(Viroflay is on the N10 between Versailles and Sevres. Coming into Paris, turn right at an intriguing railway viaduct which is half stone arches and half iron Doric columns.)

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