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My Paris: A Literary Ballade
by Jimmy Hall
Paris, France belongs to me, I own her. Maybe not the city of bus tours and landmark itineraries, but my own private Paris of personal perceptions and pleasures. That's mine, and exactly what I strive to share.
Don't get me wrong, guidebooks do an adequate job of presenting the basic sites to tourists. They are a necessary evil for finding the string of major monuments, gardens, and museums; the problem is that a group of tourist attractions doesn't properly showcase the true character of this loveliest of international cities. Sure, see the major points of interest like Notre Dame, fashion houses on avenue Montaigne, the Arc de Triomphe, Sainte-Chapelle, Louvre, Musée d'Orsay, Eiffel Tower, and others; cruise the Seine and see Paristoric as well, but take at least one day to see the real Paris, the one I love. Keep one foot in the past, the other in the immediate future.
Typically, I leave my right bank hotel room on rue St-Roch (1er) at 10 a.m. and stroll to Brentano's bookstore at #37 avenue de l'Opéra (2e). Fitzgerald used to read his own books here. I'm doing it. Opting for Hemingway, I glance at a dozen books and finally buy one, then head for the terrace of the Café de la Paix, just across from the sumptuous Palais Garnier (9e) site of the Opéra de Paris. Soon I am reading, sipping bière, and munching on a fromage plate amidst a throng of others, just as "Papa" did in late 1921. There's no hurry, the world is prancing by.
After an hour and a half I begin to feel guilty and lazy, so I leave. My desire is to walk the surrounding area further. Wandering at first toward La Madeleine, at #35 boulevard des Capucines I find the site of the former residence of Nadar, location of the first Impressionist exhibition in 1874. Something magnificent was started here. Doubling back toward the café, at #23 I visit another of Hemingway's cute little hangouts, Le Trou Dans le Mur. Aptly named it really is a hole in the wall. At any rate, nothing beats strolling in Paris, so I continue onto the boulevard des Italiens. Once again, I've made it across the place de l'Opéra without being hit by a bus!
Near the end of the boulevard, I cut right and roam through the passage des Princes onto a lost gem in Paris, the rue de Richelieu. This was the high-society street of the 18th century. Four early American Presidents lived here prior to taking office: John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, James Monroe (with Thomas Paine), and John Quincy Adams called numbers 17, 30, 95, and 97 home. I am at the high end of the street, near Monroe's, but walking south at a decent pace.
The French don't mark those residences, but Simon Bolivar (one of the same buildings) and Molière are commemorated, and Molière also has a lovely fountain in his honor. Washington Irving's home at #69 no longer exists. As always, I stop at the green park at square Louvois, and point my video camera towards the old site of the Bibliothèque Nationale de France. This irritates the French gendarmes to no end; with my sunglasses, moustache & beard, and a beret I apparently look like a security threat to them! Never mind it is a sunny, warm day.
Looking towards place des Victoires, the former carriage hub of Paris, I cross rue des Petits-Champs. Great. Next, I enter the best-kept secret in the City of Light: the Palais Royal Gardens, ensconced between rue de Montpensier and rue de Valois (1er). Pretty. Beautiful. Historical. I am running out of adjectives for this quiet retreat from all the town's hustle and bustle. Forget the Duke of Orléans, the speeches that started the French Revolution, and King Louis' childhood; this is where Grant and Hepburn were in the movie "Charade!"
Thirst again becomes a problem, so I continue across rue St-Honoré and then make it to the rue de Rivoli and parallel the Louvre, with the Tuileries outdoor café in mind. The ugly Joan of Arc statue at place des Pyramides, where she was wounded, gets only a moment's attention before I enter the formal gardens. After skirting the central lake and fountain, I eye the café's red table-canopies a little to the northwest. It's incredible how good a Kronenbourg tastes after a walk! While drinking, I can't help but wonder how long the great Ferris wheel will stay in the place de la Concorde in the distance. It is somewhat out of favor.
Back on track, I timidly cross the quai des Tuileries (where I was once hit by a government car) and start over our third (U.S.) President's favorite bridge, the Pont Royal. To the left are the islands of Paris and to the right are the Eiffel Tower, Musée d'Orsay, and the Grand and Petit Palais (both built for the Exposition Universelle of 1900). Once across the lovely River Seine, the rue du Bac (7e) is my next path.
This old street was once used as a route for transporting building stones from the quarries outside of town. Thomas Jefferson walked it to his daughter's school, nearby. For me it is a convenient way to reach the rue de l' Université. This is charming, old Paris, indeed where the magnificence of the past lives on in its heritage. These buildings don't look like much today, but they have harbored many of the most famous people in history. The shops are amazing, too. James Joyce and T. S. Eliot each individually lived at #9, now the Hôtel Lennox. Joyce finished Ulysses here. Wise ol' Ben Franklin briefly stayed at numbers 2-4 before moving to Passy (16e).
Further on, this street changes names and becomes rue Jacob (6e). Very notable. Franklin, Adams, and Jay signed a treaty with the British at #56. A few steps down, Ben and his grandsons rented an apartment in #52 also. Lovers of literature will be familiar with what is now the Hôtel Angleterre at #44. This is overwhelming most of the expatriate writers of the late 19th and early 20th century took this building as their first temporary lodgings in Paris, Hemingway and Anderson included. By now I'm practically in Heaven!
The intersection with rue Bonaparte was an expatriate Mecca. They all took meals on the corner at Le Pré aux Clercs, but not me not now. Many more writers, artists, and diplomats inhabited this area. Henry Miller lived at both #36 and #24 rue Bonaparte during various times. American diplomats stayed at #17. I do adore Les Deux Magots Café, so I head towards St-Germain-des-Prés for a rest at the famous watering hole before back-tracking toward the river.
Thirty minutes and a Perrier later, and I'm refreshed wandering again. (Jean-Paul) Sartre lived over on the northwest side of the square, yet my legs keep moving north. Passing rue Visconti, I can imagine Miller teaching his wife June to ride a bike there. In my memory I also recall Racine and Balzac each having places on that street, which I have seen in the past. The most famous art school in history (Ecole Nationale Supérieure des Beaux-Arts) is on the end of rue Bonaparte. Amazing. Soon I am at the quai, desperately looking for artifacts or books within the many dark green riverside stalls (known as bouquinistes). Old black and white postcards are always a good find, as are back issues of magazines. Several are for sale.
Having enjoyed a very long walk and parts of Paris that are often neglected, I set my mind on an evening at Harry's New York Bar near place Vendôme. Alone, I cross the romantic Pont des Arts and circle the front of the Louvre before deciding to grab a ride on the Métro. Five blocks of walking are saved by riding to the Tuileries station, only a couple of blocks from my hotel room. A quick shower and change, and I'm waiting in a taxi for the short ride to rue Daunou by 8:45 pm.
Easy as that and I've had another great day in the French capital with only one thing missing, companionship. Paris is not a place to be dateless. Like it so often does, Harry's has the solution for that. A lovely woman, half French and half British, is sitting to the immediate left inside, where Ernest often sat. She is very friendly, knowledgeable, and nice. It has been a fine day and evening. Who knows what the night may hold? Another typical time in paradise.... This Paris is open to all, and it is not in the guidebooks.
Copyright © 2002 Jimmy Hall All Rights Reserved.
Reproduced with the kind permission of Jimmy Hall (also featured as one of our Travel Experts), whose recent séjour to Paris involved quite the ambitious balade! Jimmy is an aficionado of economics, travel, Paris history, and he appreciates smart women. Dabbling at writing for now, he fancies himself as the next Hemingway.
Bibliography: Walks In Hemingway's Paris, Noel Riley Fitch, April 1992 ; A Guide To Hemingway's Paris, John Leland, June 1989 (out-of-print).
Image sources: Aerial view of the Grand and Petit Palais, from A Digital Archive of Architecture © Jeffery Howe, PhD, Professor of Late 19th & Early 20th Century Art at Boston College, Boston, MA All Rights Reserved.