Paris' Craftsmen Display Their Ware Along Viaduc des Arts

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Reed Travel Features PARIS - With Christmas coming, clients who will be here might not know that they can buy garden statuary, an Aubusson tapestry, a full set of hand-decorated porcelain painted right on location along the Viaduc des Arts. These items might not be on everyone's shopping list and are complicated and costly to ship home, but visitors can buy quality objects here, and in many cases, watch the artisans creating them. In the 18th century, the Bastille neighborhood was known for its highly skilled craftsmen; the new workplaces are boutique-style shops set under the 55 arches of a mile-long viaduct once used by the railroad. In fact, this new Viaduc des Arts, which runs along Avenue Daumesnil in the 12th arrondissement, is not far from the Gare de Lyon rail station. It also is adjacent to the Bastille Opera, a controversial mass of curved glass, with an auditorium seating an audience of 2,700 and fitted with a mind-boggling array of high-tech stage equipment. While many of the Viaduc's ateliers feature furniture or accessories for home, office and garden, others have rugmakers, weavers, glass-blowers, and porcelain painters creating objects for sale. There also are elegant knitted clothes, imported tapestries from North Africa and the Orient, leatherbound books (by the yard for an office) and boxes, pottery bowls and copper plates that shoppers can bundle up and carry home. For a couple of hours of window shopping, the Viaduc offers an interesting combination of French respect for artisanal heritage and neighborhood renewal. The best time to visit is in warm weather, for the project's most attractive asset is the beautifully landscaped and flowering promenade atop the viaduct, where the neighborhood residents come to sit, stroll, picnic and enjoy the particularly Parisian views. Visitors also can dine at the fine Le Viaduc Cafe, whose premises spread beneath two arches at number 43; in fine weather, lunch is served at outdoor tables. The Metro stop for the Viaduc des Arts is La Bastille.

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