The words Paris, reflections, and mirrors conjure up images of the Hall of Mirrors at Versailles. But Paris holds many more mirrors and reflections. The streets and shops of Paris are a City of Reflections best revealed to the unhurried flâneur who is willing to experience small pieces of Paris slowly.
Bare tree limbs and spidery branches against a bright blue sky. Is this late fall or early winter in the country? Or a setting for an Edgar Allen Poe story? What is the faintly visible extension near the bottom left of the image? What are the nearly invisible initials in the bottom right? This is no ordinary photo. It is scene changer. Something I saw when I brought a slow walk to a halt, then looked.
It started out with a small street scene. I moved closer and peered into a rearview mirror. I stood still, moved my head and upper body side-to-side, then up-and-down. Every movement rewarded me with small, reflected scenes of Paris. It was my little game, and in the snippets of the Paris of Reflections I was seeing what was not visible to those who looked directly. And the initials KYMCO? Kwang Yang Motor Company, founded 1963 in Taiwan.
My Paris is a city of shops. My dominant mental maps of Paris are about where I find certain types of shops. I love the wonderful collection of camera shops on Rue Beaumarchais. I look at shop fronts and, oh yes, I often go inside, too. In the 4th arrondissement, my wandering often brings me to Miroir Brot, 15, boulevard Henri IV, a venerable French institution.
Miroir Brot (depuis 1826) on boulevard Henri IV has the quintessentially elegant Parisian shopfront one expects from a purveyor of fine goods. Pause to take it in. The blue is rich, deep, well-maintained. The mirrors on display—each an object of beauty—are so elegantly grouped they look as if there is no other way for them to be and yet each is an individual, giving its own reflected image of the street and its environs.
The plate glass windows also attract my attention. After all, I am a historian of technology with an interest in the 19th-century improvements in glass-making technology that led to bigger and bigger pieces of glass. These in turn helped to create the kinds of shops that made Paris a global shopping destination. But my window-shopping at Miroir Brot takes in more than history and the elegant display of fine products.
The artistic array of mirrors is a show in itself. More than that, the plate glass window temporarily holds a golden semi-transparent reflection of the building on the other side of boulevard Henri IV. This juxtaposition of seemingly disparate elements is one of the most important characteristics of Paris. The reflections make the scene look more expansive. But at the same time, the reflections bring things closer to me and help me see Paris in different perspectives. While the reflections in the mirrors and plate glass are intriguing, the visible part of the interior becomes more mysterious.
But let us look more closely. Look at the mirror and the reflected image in the mirror in the lower left of the photo above. The photo below is of the same mirror, but when I moved to a slightly different position, it changed the world held in that mirror.
The mirror has turned the view upside down and yet I see more. Perhaps it is simply because I have to work more to understand the scene, simple as it is. Reflections allow me, or perhaps force me, to see with different eyes.
With the image below we return to a grouping of mirrors that Miroir Brot has so kindly provided the flâneurs of boulevard Henri IV.
As with so many of the window displays I have admired in Paris, it offers the eye so much, because so little has been arranged so artfully. Each mirror captures and projects ever changing images as one walks by or simply with the passage of time. Let us look more closely at the image in the mirror on the upper right.
The reversed mirrored image seems to have concentrated the richness of the architectural heritage. It is the visual equivalent of what we do in cooking when we concentrate the flavours in, say, a red wine reduction. I pay particular attention to the bus, because it took me a moment to figure out what it was. I am more aware of the trees. Then another mirror and its images distract me.
Here the smaller image of the upsidedown chimney superimposed on the larger view of the right-side-up chimneys forces me to think about chimneys. I pay attention to the details. I have to assure myself that indeed these are the same two chimneys in each part of the mirror. Would I have noticed them were it not for the mirrors? Probably not.
Paris is many cities. One of mine is the City of Reflections.
Text and photographs copyright Norman Ball.