As the late, great Ronnie Corbett, CBE (1930 -2016) used to say, “I have digressed”! This blog continues my story from “J’arrive!” which concluded, …on the 20th April 2013, I moved into my apartment, stopped eating out every night, and everything changed.
This is the main entrance to my apartment block in Rue Monge, named after Gaspard Monge (1746-1818), mathematician and one of the founders of the Ecole Polytechnique. ( I used a less impressive entrance at number 17):
In France, dwellings are classified according to “pieces” i.e. habitable rooms excluding kitchens, bathrooms and corridors, so:
- Studio = 1 piece
- 1 bedroom + 1 reception = 2 piece
- 2 bedroom + 1 reception = 3 piece
My apartment had 3 pieces:
It was designed by Georges-Eugène Haussmann, commonly known as Baron Haussmann (pronounced House-Man, what a cool name for a domestic architect!) The Haussmann façades are strictly regulated with regard to height, colour, material, and general design, to ensure that they are visually harmonious:
- Ground floor fronts parallel to the street and occupied by shops or offices.
- Mezzanine with low ceilings used by shops or offices below.
- Second floor with a balcony, the largest and most desirable apartments with the highest ceilings.
- Third and fourth floors in the same style but with less elaborate stonework and lacking balconies.
- Fifth floor with a single, continuous, undecorated balcony.
- Mansard roof, angled at 45°, with garret rooms and dormer windows, originally occupied by the concierges and servants of the people in the apartments below.
- The horizontal lines continue from one building to the next: balconies and cornices are aligned without any noticeable alcoves or projections.
I was fortunate to get a second floor apartment with a balcony (interestingly, there is no word in French for “French Windows”!):
The view from my balcony overlooked Rue des Écoles where it meets Rue Saint-Victor at Place Maurice Audin, named after the mathematician and communist activist (1932-1957).
I had some pretty impressive neighbours, including André-Marie Ampère (1775 – 1836) the physicist and mathematician who was one of the founders of the science of classical electromagnetism. He lived above the HSBC bank at 29 Rue Monge:
Also Louis Braille (1809 – 1852), educator and inventor of a system of reading and writing for use by the blind or visually impaired, who lived above the post office at 30 Rue du Cardinal Lemoine :
Not to mention Ernest Miller Hemingway ( 1899- 1961) American novelist, short story writer, and journalist. The first apartment that Hemingway rented was on the third floor of 74 Rue du Cardinal-Lemoine:
and Eric Arthur Blair (1903 – 1950), better known as George Orwell, who lived just down the road in a boarding house above 6 Rue du Pot de Fer, but he doesn’t have a plaque because he was rude about the place (Down and Out in Paris and London hasn’t helped the tourist industry in either city!):
Rue du Pot de Fer where Orwell lived
My “local” was Cafe St Victor at 11 Rue Monge, named after the Abbey of St. Victor, which occupied the area until it was destroyed in the French Revolution:
Just around the corner from Hemingway’s place was my favorite, Café Delmas, at 2 Place de la Contrescarpe, overlooking a lovely fountain. The word contrescarpe refers to the outer slope of a ditch before the city walls.
Many of the newer roads follow different levels to the routes anciennes, resulting in step changes such as these steps from Rue Monge to Rue Rollin:
Paul Langevin (1872 – 1946) was a prominent physicist who developed Langevin dynamics and the Langevin equation. He was one of the founders of the Comité de vigilance des intellectuels antifascistes (Intellectual Antifascist Vigilance Committee), president of the Human Rights League from 1944 to 1946, a lover of Marie Curie, filed two patents covering ultrasonic submarine detection, and is entombed in the Panthéon.
Just opposite my apartment entrance was Square Paul-Langevin, which backs onto the wall of the former Ecole Polytechnique building, with a fountain dating from 1714, a floral covered monumental staircase, and a childrens’ playground resulting in something you almost never hear in central London – children’s laughter!
Cherry blossoms in Square Paul-Langevin 30.03.14
These beautiful trees were in the Jardin Tino-Rossi, Quai Saint-Bernard. This is the site of the old wine warehouse, built in 1663 and demolished soon after Hemingway left – presumably they didn’t need a wine warehouse in the 5eme after Hemingway left?
The famous Bouquinistes (book stalls) start on the left bank just west of Pont de Sully on Quai de la Tournelle and run westwards all the way to Quai Voltaire. On the right bank they run from Pont Marie westwards to Quai du Louvre, therefore the Seine can be considered to be the only river in the world that runs between two bookshelves:
The best route between my apartment and the river (450 meters in distance and a 6 minute walk) was Rue des Bernardins, named after the college two streets away. The building on the left is Hôtel de Nesmond, a former absinthe distillery:
The Collège des Bernardins, a thirteenth century Cistercian monastery, is situated at 20 Rue de Poissy:
At one end of Rue d’Ecoles in Jussieu , is l’Université Pierre et Marie Curie, also known as University of Paris VI, it was established in 1971 from the Faculty of Sciences of the Sorbonne, although it can trace its roots back to 1109 and the Abbey of St Victor:
whereas at the other end of Rue d’Ecoles is the more famous Panthéon-Sorbonne University, also known as University of Paris I, derived from the Collège de Sorbonne, founded in 1257 by Robert de Sorbon:
and just up the road from the Sorbonne, opposite the Pantheon, is the Mairie du 5e (Town Hall of the 5eme). The building was designed by Jean-Baptiste Guenepin and completed in 1849 by architects Jacques Hittorff and Victor Calliat . There is a useful tourist information office inside:
One of the most beautiful buildings in the 5eme is the Musée du Service de Santé des Armées, at the bottom of Rue Saint-Jacques by Port-Royal RER station. Originally a Benedictine abbey, it was transformed into a military hospital in 1793, and is considered to be the best example of Baroque architecture in France.
To the west of my apartment was Place Maubert. They executed so many Protestants in Place Maubert that eventually Pope Paul III wrote to King Francis I asking him to stop! Better known nowadays for the Marché Maubert food market, there is also a fantastic parade of food shops:
- Quatre Saisons for fruit & veg
- Poissonnerie boulonnaise for fresh fish
- Boucherie Volailles for raw meat and cooked chickens, sausages and hot potatoes
- Charcuterie St Germain Traiteur for pates, terrines, and expensive bits of veg in pots
- Fromagerie Laurent Dubois for cheese
- Vins for wine (obviously!)
- Then across the square to La Parisienne for some of the best baguettes in Paris!
I love this view from the roof of the Maison de la Mutualité, at 24 Rue Saint-Victor, an art deco conference centre with meeting rooms, restaurants and a rooftop terrace:
and this view from the most famous restaurant in the 5eme, the Michelin starred Tour d’Argent, at 15 Quai de la Tournelle. According to the river cruise tour guides, if the flag is flying above the building then you know that the owner André Terrail is dining in the restaurant.
I love this intriguing entrance to Hotel Des Grandes Ecoles ,75 Rue du Cardinal Lemoine. The word “hotel” causes great confusion and should be translated as “great hall” or “large building”. A particularly hapless English family once entered a Hotel de Ville (Town Hall) at closing time and were locked in for the night, but don’t worry, this one is a real hotel in the English sense!
Next door at number 73, is this art nouveau building designed by the amusingly and possibly appropriately named, V. Rich, Architect:
and just a stone’s throw away is a section of the medieval wall of Paris in Rue Clovis. There is another section embedded in the building next to the fire station and a section in the basement of the post office which opens once a month for viewings.
Square René Viviani, named after France’s first Minister of Labour ( 1863 – 1925), has a medieval well remaining from the Clunesian priory of St. Julien and also the oldest tree in Paris, a robinia pseudoacacia, more commonly known as a locust tree, planted by Jean Robin in 1601, it is now supported by two concrete crutches. The tree lost its upper branches to a shell during the First World War, but continues to bloom every year. A tramp lived under the tree, the same one, for the whole time I was in Paris:
Just beyond is the famous English language book shop, Shakespeare and Company, 37 Rue de la Bûcherie. Hemingway shopped here, and it features in Woody Allan’s film, Midnight in Paris:
I’m very conscious of my limited abilities with the camera, pen and keyboard and there is so much that I have been unable to convey; the feel of the wind on your face when cycling through Paris, the way the sunlight falls through the louvers of the window shutters, the warmth of the rain as you walk home in the early hours, the smells, the tastes, the noise, the bustle, the energy. Paris throbs with an intense energy and as you learn to attune yourself to it and absorb it you feel so alive. I lived there for 18 months but then, as suddenly as it began, it was all over. On the 10th of October 2014 at 09:51, I updated my Facebook status with a quotation from Homer’s Iliad book 3:
Abandon the gods’ high road and become a mortal;
suffer for Paris, protect Paris, for eternity . . .
and then, with brutal efficiency, the Eurostar returned me to Angleterre.
Hemingway concluded his Parisian memoirs thus:
“If you are lucky enough to have lived in Paris as a young man, then wherever you go for the rest of your life, it stays with you, for Paris is a movable feast.”
But I don’t believe Hemingway really appreciated Paris. If you are lucky enough to have the opportunity to live in Paris, seize it, regardless of your age or sex, and those of us lucky enough to have done so do not carry Paris in our stomachs but in our hearts!
This concludes my experiences of Paris, but I will post a final blog on the history of the 1968 uprising – thank you for reading this far!