An Unexpected Day in Passy

The rue de Passy

Rain in the Middle, Sun at Beginning and End

Paris:- Friday, 9. May 1997:- When I emerge from the métro at Muette I see the sign pointing to the museum right away. The sign seems to be pointing towards the Bois de Boulogne. It is actually pointing at the Parc de Ranelagh, which is in the same direction, but closer.

But I do not know this and I cannot find one of the arrondissement maps that are usually so convenient. Instead I find a 'hotel' map beside a taxi rank, but it is useless.

This is in about the middle of the huge 16th arrondissement. Except for the Trocadero area, the rest of it is a relative mystery to me. In the north, it borders on the 17th with the rue de la Grand Armée as a divider, and the avenue Marceau separates it from the eighth. It sits on the right, or west bank of the Seine on the east side, and the Bois flanks its west side; with the border of Boulogne-Billancourt down south.

I wander around the intersection of the avenue Paul Doumer and the rue de Passy, around the area of the métro Muette, and this is a bit strange.

Beside the café for the chauffeurs - of the taxis - there are upscale restaurants with whiter-than-white tablecloths, with Cafe The Paris Passy sparkling glasses and heavy cutlery and hovering waiters; and on an angle, pointing into the intersection, there is the very normal café, Le Grand Comptoir, which is fairly scruffy inside - sort of my style. I get a café fast, and that's what counts.

Part of the 'square,' of Passy, about a third of the way from métro Muette.

I take a tour to see if I can find a better clue to the location of the museum, and around the intersection itself there are a lot of fellows selling the unemployed paper, and there seems to be more beggars than usual - a lot more. It doesn't seem like an area congenial to either activity. 'Rent-a-dog-walker' seems more like it, and there are a few of these too.

At the museum, when I find it, I learn that I'll have to make a formal appointment - so it falls out as a feature for this week.

This leaves me with this Muette and the rue de Passy. I think I must have had a dentist at one time in the rue de Passy because I remember coming here about the time it was being fixed up for its recycling into being a mall without a roof. Métro Passy at the north end is on a different line, so I always got out at Muette and walked the rest of the way.

The sun is bright at Muette. For about a week, without the current 'drought' being over, there has been a weird low over the British Isles, and it sends sun and rain at half-hour intervals. It makes the sky interesting to watch because there is a lot happening in it; but it means you have to be dressed for downpours too.

Away from the métro at Muette, the rue de Passy settles down to being itself. The boutiques are not the high-end ones, but they are still 'names' seen around the world, these branch offices of the textile trades.

Between them, there are the hairdressers and the jewelry shops. The sidewalks are proper and the street is mostly cobbles; the shopfronts are the usual glass and steel, or new and painted wood.

But not all, and especially not above the shops. A great many older buildings are above the new shops and the surviving older ones. There are many windows with many louvered shutters, and the effect is Mediterranean, especially when it is sunny.

Somehow, I always expect the rue de Passy to be a sunny street. It was the principal street of the village of Passy. In 1488 it was called the 'Chemin de la Folie,' which seems to have nothing to do with the 'Hôtel de la Folie' at number 18, because it was built in the 18th century. This hôtel was built Les Halles de Passy on an ancient property, also called 'Folie' - around 1680 - which belonged to the lords of Passy.

Between the semi-flash boutiques, Les Halles de Passy, with fruit and vegtables.

There is a long story about Louis XV and one of his girlfriends, who he put up in this hôtel sometime around 1760, this Folie, because she was too good to be associated with the girls at the Parc-aux-Cerfs - which is probably another interesting story.

The girlfriend, who quickly became the Baroness of Meilly-Coulonge, after being simply Anne Couppier, was also known as Anne of Romans. She persuaded the king that the curé of Passy should baptize her son as 'son of Louis Bourbon,' which was a unique instance for this sort of thing. But she overdid it and Louis - and maybe at the suggestion of Madame de Pompadour - had her locked up with the Ursalines at Saint-Denis; while the son was sent off a college, incognito.

Four years after Louis' death, Louis XVI rehabilitated the son and he began a church career which ended with his death in Rome on 27. February 1787, just as he was about to become a cardinal. His resemblance to Louis XV was supposed to have been uncanny.

Meanwhile, his mother got out of the convent in 1770, became the wife of the Marquis of Séron-Cavanac and had many children before becoming a widow; having had the misfortune to marry an officer of the dragoons. She emigrated to Spain, came back during the 'Consulat,' had her goods confiscated, lived humbly in Versailles, where she died 'forgotten and in misery' on 27. December 1808.

The name of Anne's 'adventurous' sister, who instigated this whole sorry destiny, is unknown to me, but the king's guy, who helped set this in motion was none other than Lebel.

Jacques Slyvestre, the owner of the Hôtel de la Folie - who had only rented it to Louis XV - died young in 1765. It passed to his youngest son, Isaac, who became the Baron of the Empire of Silvestre of Sacy; which means just about nothing.

Much buying and selling of the hôtel went on until Prince Paul Demidoff got in 1868 and restored it, while placing an outdoor street-heater by the entrance for the poor, and especially the cold, of Passy. Afterwards, the hôtel became a sanitorium, a religious pension and was finally knocked down in 1890, to make way for the rue Claude-Chahu, which was the name of the 'founder' of Passy.

About 600 metres away, at the other end of the rue de Passy, Madame de Pompadour bought a hôtel in 1751 and sold it ten years later to Louis XV, who installed an optical cabinet - part of a collection assembled by the Abbé Nollet. The king's cabinet contained a curious painting, done in 1763 by Amadée Van Loo. Seen straight-on, it represented an allegory of Justice, Boldness and Kindness. But when seen through facetted- glass, it formed a single image of the king.

After Louis XV was finished with the hôtel, fellows from the Academy of Sciences took it over and added to the collection, and the whole set of 'curiosities' were transferred to the Observatory of Paris in 1790 for reasons on economy and the hôtel was sold to the Muette domain. The hôtel passed through the hands of several other owners and was finally demolished in 1911.

About a third of the way along, from métro Muette, the sky turns dramatic. At the minuscule place de Passy, near the equally modest marché, and the really miniature police station, the heavens open and rain pelts down - for a whole twenty minutes. This fills the McDo with baseball caps and it gets steamy.

Outside, the cobbles glisten for a couple of minutes until a lot of blue fills the sky again and the dampness quickly dries. Further along I see there is a real mall on one side, and urban jeeps take up all the parking on the other side.

But looking above the glass and steel, the new paint, there are the shutters, there is the peeling bone-colored paint, there are the curious sloping roofs. Between boutiques there are little courtyards, containing slightly more rustic shops - each one to be explored for who knows what may be hidden in them - objects or services that cannot support the street-rents.

At lot of the 16th is like that. There are luxury suburban villages hidden behind imposing walls, behind steel or iron fences - guarded by real guards and a lot of TV cameras. The Italian consulate is approachable, but others Passy, after the rain look more forbidding - think twice before leaving your calling card in these places. Think twice before even loitering around here.

A lot of jeeps on a Paris street tell you something about it you might not want to know.

The are diplo, CC and CD signs everywhere, and barricades to prevent parking and signs saying reserved for the Poobahs of, say, the OECD. In the rue de Passy itself, parking wardens are pasting parking tickets on the windshields of jeeps and Minis; whose owners couldn't be bothered to look 50 metres further on for a legal place.

I don't understand the beggars though. The local residents who pay 700 francs for running shoes do not drop small change into tin cups - another district where people actually have small change would probably be more rewarding.

I like the rue de Passy on a sunny day. If I go through it then, not looking for anything in particular, I keep my eyes on the first floor or above - then is it like a village. In fact there is a lot of 'village' left - there is the little square by the marché, and other spots for ordinary affairs, for ordinary people.

The glitzy boutiques, make it truly democratic; the twin-set ladies rubbing elbows with the dog-walkers; the four-wheel-drive jeepsters and the R5 drivers and delivery vans. If you are in the middle, 350 metres is a fair walk to a métro station - but the bus number 32 heads towards Trocadero, so you can ride one-way through it.

I think I'll go back to Muette, and try and figure out what it is that makes me feel strange there. It was sort of unreal.

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