Of all the free Paris events devised by Mayor Bertrand Delanoë, October’s Nuit Blanche remains my current favorite. The term nuit blanche translates to “sleepless night,” and that’s what it is—a one-day arts explosion that lasts only from dusk until dawn. In selected parts of the city that differ every year, museums, courtyards, parks, squares and churches play host to every kind of art, film, music, installation or happening you can imagine. The works range from grand statements to humorous gestures—some appearing in venues customarily closed to the public, others in local post offices or swimming pools. This year’s event takes place on Saturday, October 3.
Poetry is projected on bridges, light shows embellish monuments, and breathtaking installations pop up in offbeat locations. Delanoë claims Nuit Blanche “offers modern art a truly original context” and, when you see the whole Place de la Concorde bathed in deep blue light, or watch a half-submerged orchestra play cruising down the Seine (in a transparent boat), he’s certainly vindicated.
Huge efforts go into making the night accessible. The official Nuit Blanche website (in French) is detailed, and its whole program is available for download. On the day itself, while TV stations run teasers and updates, Paris newspapers offer their own pull-out guides. At least one métro line stays open all night, and extra night buses are always made available. Even with all this, navigating Nuit Blanche is a challenge, but with a few tips anyone can share in the fun.
The basic rules are simple. Check weather predictions carefully (Nuit Blanche 2003 was notable for its chilly downpour). Dress comfortably, making sure you can walk and keep warm. Don’t carry much, but do take a readable map. If you are female without male company, plan to visit outer suburbs or parks earlier, not in the wee hours. Also, eat beforehand; it’s hard to grab sustenance later.
The Nuit Blanche is meant for strolling, so choose a few things, concentrate on these and let the rest of your route just happen. But do get a (free) copy of the official program. These are supposed to be available two days beforehand, but they are usually late and then disappear quickly. Every mairie and library in the city should stock them, as should the information counters of the RATP. They’re invaluable, so don’t be shy about asking for one.
While programs tell you artists and venues, the projects are merely described. This means the most remarkable moments come as surprises. Once, at the Museum of Jewish Art and History, I stepped into the dark courtyard and found a giant disco ball—made from Stars of David and Islamic crescents cut out of mirror. Hidden lights bounced onto this spinning globe from the roof, sending eerie reflections chasing around the walls. It was a breathtaking experience, all the better for being shared.
So: try to decide what might interest you. Nuit Blanche artists are often stars from different fields—Alain Ducasse, Patti Smith, Bill Viola, Sylvie Fleury. If you see an artist or a proposition you like (such as “dressing Notre-Dame with crystals”), plan to investigate!
Just remember that events in big places are always crowded, as are areas like the Marais and the Latin Quarter. Pace yourself, be prepared to wait in line and remember, transportation may be spotty and you may well find yourself walking home. If so, try not to worry. This kind of nuit blanche is definitely good for your health.
For this Nuit Blanche, the Latin Quarter is participating for the first time ever, with especially notable sites (the Cathedral of Notre-Dame and the Grande Mosquée of Paris). Below are a few recommendations; all except the Grande Mosquée are accessible to the disabled.
Nuit Blanche: Girls’ Guide Picks
At Notre-Dame, Swiss artist Sylvie Fleury is installing giant illuminated crystals. Focused on fashion, Fleury created a spectacular Swarovski crystal trophy for Europe’s 2008 soccer champions. There will be medieval music from 8:30 p.m. to 9:30 p.m.; music on the cathedral’s famous Grand Organ from 9:30 to 10:45; and film projections from 11 to midnight and then again from midnight to 1 a.m.
Forecourt of Notre-Dame or Place Jean Paul II. Nearby métro stops: Cité, St.-Michel, Hôtel de Ville.
At the Grande Mosquée, the garden and courtyard will be connected by a giant projection, In the Beginning: Litany, by Armenian artist Sarkis, with music by John Cage. At the point of access to the prayer room, a mirror will exude a perfume of roses to symbolize earth and heaven’s union.
2, Place du Puits-de-l’Ermite, in the 5th Arrondissement. Nearby métro stops: Gare d’Austerlitz, Censier-Daubenton, Place Monge, Jussieu. No disabled access.
The Gothic church St. Séverin will fill with 40 speakers spreading the voices of 40 singers performing a 1573 Thomas Tallis composition, a work that won Janet Cardiff the Millennium Prize for Fine Arts in Canada.
Eglise St. Sevérin. 1, rue des Prêtres-St.-Séverin, in the 5th. Nearby métro stops: St.-Michel, Cluny–La Sorbonne, Maubert Mutualité.
At the Luxembourg Gardens, artist Michel de Broin will suspend a phenomenal mirror ball that, when targeted by a battery of projectors, will fill the night with a “whirlwind of sparkles.”
Corner of rue Gay-Lussac and blvd St.-Michel, in the 5th. Nearby métro stops: Odéon, Mabillon, Maubert Mutualité, St.-Sulpice, Rennes.
Also: Be on the lookout for surprise projections or installations, especially in normally closed courtyards. The Marais is famous for these and, inside its Hôtel d’Albret, French artist Vincent Olinet will plant a magical tree blossoming real flowers.
Hôteld’Albret. 31, rue des Francs Bourgeois, in the 4th. Nearby métro stops: Chemin Vert, St. Paul.