Weather Report from Buci

Halloween Posters and
Concentrated History in the Latin Quarter

Paris:- Friday, 26. October 1996:- Nobody really trusts the weather forecast to be right. We have been having day after day of truly fine, warm and blazingly bright fall weather. So Thursday night's forecast for an Atlantic front of cloud and rain seemed a bit far-fetched.

Another thing; no matter how sophisticated the forecasts are, their timing is often off - usually late - so rain forecast for morning may only arrive in the afternoon, or if it is a small front followed by more clear weather, it may never happen at all.

Finally, the TV weather maps do not have a dot on them named 'Paris' or any other city - so you have to have geography firmly in mind to figure out what will be coming from the skies in the near future where you are. If the front-line seems to slice right through where you think Paris is, then you can choose the weather on either side as being possible, and take an umbrella with you or not.

This morning, last night's forecast turned out to be correct. Although I started out before daylight, there were hints it was not going to be bright. When it was light enough, it was grey. The weatherlady had said it would be 'humid' and this usually means occasional drizzle, because it seldom really rains in Paris. Steady rain is rare; showers are common in the rainy season - which can be and often is, all year round.

None of this is bothering me much because I have no big program for today's visit downtown - I just want to get a photo of the Halloween poster, for the fête that is being planned for the Marché St. Germain in the Latin Quarter.

I come into grey daylight at the métro station St. Suplice on the rue de Rennes and the street is glistening in both directions, and there is a whole view of one tower of St. Suplice in the direction of rue du Vieux Colombier.

rue des Canettes

Drizzle turns to rain at the place and it is dark under the trees in front of the Yves St. Laurent shop and the café there, with the empty chairs on the sad terrace. In the narrow rue des Canettes the building fronts are almost black and bits of neon signs look like Christmas leftovers. I go right into the rue Lobineau, past a restaurant where I used to eat that is now a pizzeria, to the Marché and its stone arcades.

There is a black Cadillac sedan under the arcades and at the corner, there is a white Eldorado convertible poking out towards the rue Mabillon, with Essonne plates, '91,' and 'Hollywood' on the license-plate frame. At the entrance to the Marché, facing rue de Montfaucon, the is a big black American sedan, dating from the '30's, flanked by Halloween posters.

black limo

That's my poster and I do not feel like asking what, if anything, these cars have to do with Halloween, so I go down Montfaucon between the pizzerias and oriental restaurants to the boulevard. The street does not really glisten from the rain because it is some special asphalt surface that absorbs the wet skylight.

The narrow alley that is the rue de l'Echaudé has been given a new surface so it does not glisten either and the really old restaurant at the end is still in the process of being restored or transformed into a tidy and sanitary yuppie eatery, so I turn right into the 37-metre long rue de Bourbon-le-Château, which has been here since 1610, when it was opened as a short-cut between the Porte Buci and the entry door of the Abbey of St. Germain-des-Prés, in the rue de l'Echaudé. There is a complicated history about the abbey being outside the city walls, until Louis XIV caused all danger to the city to be removed in the 17th century, but the rue de l'Echaudé pre-dates this arrival of peace by 242 years, and the abbey was presumeably exposed to invaders for all that time.

My surprise, is to come out on the rue de Buci, when I expected it to be the rue de la Seine. It is raining a bit more seriously so I turn left in front of the Petit Zinc and its large brother, the brasserie Le Muniche, next door.

Marche Buci

The Buci market begins, just beyond, at the rue de Seine corner. This market is open when others are closed, so its cliental are the late-risers or the late workers. There are many cafés with empty terraces today, but the fashionable boulangeries and the charcuterie are open, although the Nicolas bottleshop is closed. The shops at the rue Grégorie de Tours corner are open too and there are the usual dozens of motorcycles at the Carrefour de Buci corner, ringed by the cafés there.

Even in the rain, this is popular - the equivalent of the province, as Parisians imagine it; mixed with the cosmopolitanism of the city - with long hours for a steady and varied cliental. The street name comes from Simon de Buci who bought the porte Saint-Germain in 1351, and the extension of rue St. Andre-des-Arts. It was called a lot of names before it became Buci in 1523. After that, the names that lived here, the shops, clubs, theatres, restaurants, cafés - some of Paris' first - the list and history of all these would easily fill a book or two and probably have.

This is like Paris concentrate. Five hundred years of life and history crammed into a couple of blocks; where more names and history are being added every day. There is no entry price - you can sit in a café for the cost of one, or you can loiter in the market or stand in line to buy fancy bread or a good cut of meat. I don't think doing it for fifteen minutes will be enough.

rue de Buci

As the rain gets more serious I go up the rue de l'Ancienne Comédie, past the Café Procope, assembled from three small houses in 1684, by Francesco Procopio dei Coltelli, known as François Procope, who had arrived in Paris from Palmero in 1670. He first opened a café in the rue Tournon in 1675 and it was a success because, except for the open-air café-sellers, Pascal and Maliban, there were only cabarets in which one could while away the time. When the Comédie-Française opened nearby in 1689, the Procope's success was assured.

It is raining harder at the Odéon intersection - which is not its name - on the boulevard St. Germain and I return to the métro. It wasn't cold on the street, but underground seems too warm as the train races through the St. Michel and Cité stations to Châtelet, and I have the Halloween poster photo I came for.

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