Just Above Sunset
November 14, 2004 - But George Feydeau was talking about a flea in her ear - not a bee!

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I found this item from l'Agence France-Presse (AFP) by way of The Tocqueville Connection quite odd.  I hadn’t noticed these bees.  Are they new?  And I do not frequent Fauchon, so I hadn’t seen sale item.


This calls for investigative journalism, I suppose.  Were John Cage to write an opera, well, he would incorporate them somehow.  One expects a phantom, and gets…  And this "wall of honey" idea in the Marais might be worth investigating.


The item?


Received Thursday, 11 November 2004 03:40:00 GMT


PARIS, Nov 11 (AFP) - Buzzing busily aloft Paris' bastions of operatic art and ballet, hundreds of thousands of bees may seem unlikely tenants for the city's two main opera houses but the venues apparently suit their honey-making down to the ground.

While stars or divas tread the boards below, more than 500 kilos (1,100 pounds) of honey are produced every year by the 450,000 bees that have lived on the roofs of the baroque Palais Garnier and modern Bastille Opera houses for about 15 years.

On sale at the Palais Garnier souvenir shop for 11 euros per 125 grammes, this unusual brand of honey with its delicately spicy flavour is also sold by Fauchon, Paris's best-known luxury grocers.

The bees' supervision is a labour of love for 70-year-old Jean Paucton. As a member of the French Beekeeping Society and a retired props man at the Paris Opera, he was responsible for first bringing the bees to the opera houses.

Back in 1983, in the throes of moving into his house in the country, he bought his first swarm of 50,000 bees, but a hiccup forced him to seek alternative temporary shelter for the hive.

Having obtained the say-so of his bosses, Paucton provisionally stored his bees above the rafters of the Palais Garnier standing 73 metres (240 feet) over the bustling Parisian traffic.

Several weeks later, when he returned to collect them he found the bees had not waited his return to go pollen collecting but had discovered for themselves the abundance of the gardens of the Louvre and Palais Royal, as well as nearby flowering balconies.

"Honey was flowing in the gutters," he recalled. Today the colony of bees at the Palais Garnier numbers eight hives while four others have been set up with equal success at the Bastille Opera several kilometres away.

The article goes on to explain that these bees thrive in central Paris, and details comments from another Parisian beekeeper, Olivier Darne.  And we discover that with the support of the culture ministry and Paris City Hall, Darne is now working on seeing more beehives installed around Paris including a permanent "wall of honey" in the Marais district in the heart of the capital next spring.

And the idea - urban beekeeping -is spreading now to Toulouse and Nantes.


Very curious.


Ric Erickson of MetropoleParis – sort of the Just Above Sunset stringer there – follows up.  Investigative journalism, of course.


PARIS, Friday, 12 November: The newspaper of record, Le Parisien, has not gotten to grips with this important news story about bees.  It's understandable because Thursday was a holiday reserved for remembering WWI and a certain number of pages were given to recounting the exploits of some of the 15 living survivors, who were about 106 and 110 years old yesterday. Before he passed on, also yesterday, Yasser Arafat was 75 years old in Paris too, requiring yet more newsprint.


Oddly, the fact of living through WWI, les années folles, the depression, Communism, WWII, a bunch of other wars, the wall, the dawn of TV and rock'n'roll, the pill, the Twingo, the wall falling, Gulf Wars I and II, as well as about 30 Eurovision Song Contests, and still being alive in 2004 was not, in itself, newsworthy. That one or two of them weren't gaga, was newsworthy, because it was good for a sound-bite.


Bees, even ones that live in opera houses, are not much good for sound bites. Imagine, there you are in your 180 euro seat watching 'La Belle au Bois Dormant' - nothing to do with turkeys - or listening to il Trovatore - by G Verdi - not a turkey either - and suddenly the view is darkened by a swarm of 250,000 crazed bees, or your hearing is interrupted by furious buzzing - eh? - not too bloody cool!


Do you seriously think that opera fanatics give a fried fig for the needs of plants on balconies in the romantic 9th arrondissement? And if they sell the honey from them in the opera Garnier's museum shop, why did it take me three days of research to verify that there is indeed a museum shop in the Palais Garnier? What the dickens is so secret about it? No doubt it is one of Heather's Secrets of Paris http://www.secretsofparis.com/news35.htm  and she's got it copyrighted.


On the other hand it must be fairly well known that the city is seriously in the honey business, and the Senat too. Everybody knows where the hives are in the Luxembourg and the bees at Montsouris have the choicest location. You can see their little chalets in parks all over Paris. I wouldn't be surprised to hear that the Minister of Culture has his own set in the Tuileries somewhere, somewhat closer to Fauchon than the opera.


What I don't understand is why the AFP story wasn't about PSG beating Olympic Marseille on Wednesday. It's gotta be right up there on the scale of rare events, although the paper says PSG has done it eight times in a row, going back to 2002. For those not paying attention, the Paris club Paris-Saint-Germain has had a very bumpy season start and I would be surprised to learn that they have even won eight games this year. They almost got demoted into the bush leagues a couple of weeks ago.


Then there's the Côte d'Ivoire story. The French refugees arriving in Paris are complaining to police about rape and pillage. It sounds like the old days, which were also recently celebrated, with Arte-TV showing the 'Battle of Algiers' last week. Nobody, as far as I know, is calling the new ones 'pieds noirs' yet.


Finally, the word of the day - yesterday actually - is 'poilus.' This is the French word for ordinary WWI soldiers. It means guys who sat around in waterlogged trenches, freezing cold and starving, for four years while being bombed and gassed, without shaving. Covered in hair. The hairy ones. And a couple of them were on TV last night; not complaining about any strange syndromes. Weren't the good old days great?




Yep, not a major story, these bees.


Events more too fast for these less important things.  But why fif it take Ric three days to find the gift shop at the Garnier Opera House?  Why are they hiding it?





Anyway here’s the bee place, from September 21, 2003 Photography in these pages.


The Garnier Opera House in the center of Paris on June 20, 2000 (a visit on my birthday) - all cleaned up for the millennium.  It's kind of impressive.  No phantom.  And the full restoration should be done in a few more years.  Here are the details.


LA FAÇADE SUD et la loggia de l'Opéra-Garnier à Paris ont été restaurées, pour la première fois depuis 1867, sous l'égide d'Alain-Charles Perrot, architecte en chef des Monuments historiques. Deux années d'études et un an de travaux ont été nécessaires pour mener à bien les réparations pour un coût de 65,4 millions de francs (9,97 millions d'euros).  L'une des difficultés de cette restauration fut d'adapter les savoir-faire à la diversité des matériaux - trente-six en tout.  Plus de dix sortes de marbre - parent la façade de leurs couleurs. Les mosaïques ont été fabriquées en Italie et retaillées à l'identique par le fabricant qu'avait choisi Charles Garnier. Les Renommées, ces statues de sept mètres de haut réalisées par Gumery et représentant la Musique et la Poésie, ont été totalement démontées afin de remplacer l'ancienne structure de fer par une nouvelle en inox.  La restauration du Palais Garnier se poursuivra jusqu'en 2007.


That day the lobby was closed so I didn’t get to see the Marc Chagall ceiling – but there's good stuff on the roof!

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Copyright © 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006 - Alan M. Pavlik
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