Paris:- Wednesday, 5. June 1996:- My other partner,
Mrs. E., works in the centre of Paris and besides what she
does there, she is quite a good 'indic,' 'spitzel,' or
'informant.' She brings back flyers, brochures, catalogues;
of the sort that don't fall in my letter-box. Mrs. E. tends
to 'overhear' what people are saying on the train, in the
office, at the coiffeurs - while shopping - she tells me if
the city is grouchy, happy or resigned - what the general
On Monday she gave me a brochure, produced for the opening of a new 'media' store on the boulevard Montmartre. This was enough to make me think of the rue du Faubourg Montmartre so I looked it up in my secret reference source to see if there was anything interesting about the street. I made a mistake and looked up the reference for the rue Montmartre instead, and it seemed interesting enough, because as Paris expanded, this street was extended further, towards Montmartre. As it starts at the same point as the rue Montorgeuil, which was featured in last week's Metropole, I decided to start at the top or north, end.
However, I had the other street, the 'rue du Faubourg' in my memory as the location and here I am - and wondering if I'm in the wrong place. I am. The rue du Faubourg Montmartre starts at rue Lamartine and runs down to the boulevard Montmartre, and then it becomes the rue Montmartre and continues to Les Halles. I am at the wrong end without a map and it is hot as blazes.
I do my usual swivel-head routine with a slight breeze in my face and note that there are a lot of restaurants that look pretty good - I would try them just from their outside looks. There seems to be a lot of traffic coming my way and it is nervous and impatient - there is tooting - but it could be normal.
When I get to the corner of rue de Provence - rue Richer, I
recognize the shop, 'A la Mère de Famille'
immediately, and I know for certain where I am. The Folies
Bergère is in the second block to the left, and the
boulevard Montmartre is coming up. Right after the shop, at
number 31-bis, I find the entrance to the Passage Verdeau,
with the helpful tip that it is a shortcut to the
Suddenly I have gone from a hot and noisy street into a mall built in 1846. The Passage Verdeau, which is an extension of the more well-known passages Panorama and Jouffrey, was sort of a dead-end until the recent reconstruction of the nearby Hôtel Drouot, the auction house; which has prompted a number of antique dealers to install themselves here.
I dislike most plastic so I was drawn the antique cameras in the window of Photo Verdeau. Up until sometime recently cameras were made out of chrome-plated steel, and I find them nice to look at - for their workmanship - the engraved marks, the burled winders and focus rings and the grooves of the lens threads. Metal things are made with metal tools, not throw-away rubber molds. The owner showed me a Leica 3C from 1941, that had slight defects in the chrome on the base-plate, due to a wartime shortage of chrome no doubt.
This passage is separated from the Passage Jouffrey by the rue de la Grange Batelière and since I am doing streets today instead of 'malls' I return to the Montmartre for the final block to the boulevard.
There is really a lot of traffic, and now it is even hotter
and more impatient. I see the relatively small sign that
announces the restaurant Chartier at number seven and when
I enter the hall that leads to the small 'cour' before the
revolving door, I sigh with relief for the shade and the
fact that the old boy is still here - just as it is 'there'
in all the guide books. Historic monument, 350 seats, open
until 21:30, not too expensive and worth a look if not a
The restaurant 'Le Grand Zinc' does in fact have a large, curved zinc-topped bar, but contrary to the big Löwenbräu sign outside, it has no weisswurst and no leberkäse - the beer may be Bavarian, but the food comes from no further east than Alsace - but otherwise, a eater's-looking eatery.
Directly across the street is the entry to the Cité
Bergère, dated 1825, which used to be called Passage
Montmartre. Heinrich Heine lived at number three in 1834
and Frédéric Chopin stayed in a furnished
hotel at number five about a year earlier - according, I
suppose, to guest registration ledgers. I wonder who has
bothered to look these up.
These last two are just before the boulevard Montmartre and in this heat, I will forget about the rue Montmartre - I think I'll have to go to the other end of it anyway, as it is not terribly interesting from here to the bourse area, at least.
At last I see the reason for the flood of irritated traffic
- the police have blocked off the wide boulevard Montmartre
and are turning everything into the narrower rue du
Faubourg Montmartre. On the boulevard I check out the 'new'
media store, but there is nothing to report about it except
for the large size of the security men at the door.
The rue du Faubourg Montmartre is not one of Paris' great streets, but the bit from the boulevard to the corner of the rue de Provence - rue Richer, has 'something' - Parisian - and beyond, there are those interesting restaurants. The Passage Verdeau was most interesting, but Paris passages are a subject in themselves, and I will treat them one by one as time goes by.
Meanwhile, it is hot in Paris, and there are a horde of travel buses parked all over the boulevard des Italiens, where it splits off from the boulevard Montmartre and I see people with red flags, and what happens next... Is elsewhere in this issue of Metropole.
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