The Hôpital Européen Georges Pompidou, in Paris’ 15th arrondissement, is the flagship of France’s public healthcare system. It opened its doors to “malades” — the French language’s unfortunate choice of word for “patients” — in 2000. This is where I ended up in late 2005, when my health went downhill. I didn’t know anything about the hospital at the time. I just needed an emergency room, and Pompidou had the closest one to my office.
I’ve always been well treated there, and Georges Pompidou has the psychological advantage of a modern and well-considered architecture. Regardless of their quality, many Parisian hospitals have an air of dilapidated austerity. You get the feeling of going back in time — too far, you think, for adequate care. Pompidou, on the other hand, is contemporary and appeasing in its design. It has an open-space, airy lobby, capped by a sloping glass roof that charges the space with an optimism of natural light.
My favorite thing about the hospital, however, is the hot-air-balloon ride.
The hot-air-balloon attraction (officially titled “Ballon Air de Paris”) technically isn’t part of the hospital. It is anchored at the adjacent Parc André Citroën, 14 hectares (35 acres) of green space resurrected on the former grounds of a Citroën car factory in 1992. The park is modern, angular and manicured. But, unlike many of the more-famous Paris gardens, you can set foot on the grass here without a man in uniform hustling over like an angry squirrel, making a “nut, nut, nut!” sound and pointing at a stay-off-the-grass sign.
And, of course, no other park in Paris has a hot-air balloon. You don’t get as high as the 276 meters (905 feet) of the third observation deck of the Eiffel Tower. But the balloon’s 150 meters (492 feet) of altitude — and the sometimes precarious sensation of free-floating — are more than adequate for a bird’s-eye perspective of the city.
I remember being at the hospital at the beginning of my treatments. It was a marathon day, calling for both a transfusion and chemotherapy. I watched the drip-drip of the i.v. with detached resentment. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw a white shape rising like the moon to the level of my window. It was the balloon and I watched it, transfixed. Over the years, on numerous occasions I’ve been lucky enough during a consultation or during a treatment to be in a room with a view of the balloon.
But I didn’t take a ride in it myself until just a week ago. As we lifted off the ground, the handful of passengers crowded on the side of the balloon with a sweeping view onto the Eiffel Tower and central Paris. I lingered, alone, on the other side, watching the hospital right below me grow smaller and smaller. I liked what I felt. The feeling of rising above it all.
Ballon Air de Paris
Open daily from 9 a.m., but flights could be suspended due to unfavorable weather. Call ahead.
Telephone : 01 44 26 20 00