Looking for Elusive Facts in the Marais

Cafe des Musees
The whole Marais is a district of museums and
some of them are close to this café.

Grey Day Score: Facts, Zero; Marais, 9.7

Paris:- Thursday, 19. February 1998:- The forecast is right for once. Driving the kids over the ridge, there is a fair bit of fog on our side and I put the fog lights on because they are logging in the forest; moving in and out of there with some medium-big machinery.

It seems odd, the bits of fair-sized wood they are getting out of this forest, but it is a really an old forest and it was already old when any of the Louis' were hunting around in it. The loggers are currently all over it, cleaning it up before spring; hauling it away.

With the kids 'parked' all day and the grey weather on the button, I can resume what I started last week - getting into the historical archives.

Every once in a while I do some 'historical' writing for this journal. For references, I usually lay my hands on whatever is within reach - but it is not much. Thirza Vallois might make a surprise visit anytime to take me on a tour, and I feel that I should cram about four year's worth of formal Sorbonne studies in quick - just to hold a half-way intelligent conversation with her.

The idea for today then, is to sign up at Paris' Bibliothèque Historique and see how it works. This is located in the Hôtel de Lamoignon in the Marais, just a few blocks from the métro's Saint-Paul station.

From the 'rules and regulations' sheet for the library I got last week it seems wise to tank up with a café first and I do this in a handy bar after leaving the métro. I have already got my ID photos as I was passing through Le Défense, so I think I'm ready. I even remember to buy a city edition of the newspaper.

At the Bibliothèque Historique it takes about two minutes to have a card made out.

I even have a questionnaire, which lists the items I'm supposed to find. I bet this seems really professional. The story behind it is, some Metropole readers - two sets of them - are doing some research pharmacie Sevigne and some of the numbers they need will be useful to me as well, so it is sort of doing one job and getting two or three things done.

In the rue des Francs Bourgeois, heading towards the place des Vosges.

All the stuff I read last week had led me to believe this particular library has everything I need - it has tons of historical stuff about Paris and the region; some of it from founding donations and subsequent ones, and some from acquisitions it makes itself.

The lady and I do not get far with my questionnaire. For every item on it, she thinks some other library around Paris has the material. She loans me a book that lists all the libraries and I write done some likely names and addresses.

One of this library's regulations I have overlooked, goes like this: to get a book, you write the reference for it on a card and hand the card in at the 'book window.' Then, they only give out the books they've found every half hour; but not between noon and 14:00 in any case. And if all the reading spots are taken, you are out of luck anyway.

Another thing is that you have to go through the card files yourself. I thought a library-person did this while you sat at your reading place, looking studious while trying not to fall asleep. Looking through millions of cards by hand is a bit like trying to read German in gothic-type by candle-light, and dates to about the same time.

The result is that my stay is not long. The main items I am searching for may not be in one place, but I'm pretty sure they are not in 20 different places - and this visit has gotten me to think about it a bit harder.

The other item - the present whereabouts of the gartenzwerg that may have been in the Château of Suresnes in 1714 - is another matter for another day. It may be at the villa called 'Suresne' in Schwabing in Munich, for example.

As I keep from falling into the cracks between the rough cobbles of the library's courtyard, I mull this over until I am on the rue Pavée and turn into the rue des Francs-Bourgeois. At the next corner Le Nectar des Bourbons I catch sight of the Musée Carnavalet in the rue de Sévigné. Here are another two big blank spots in my inventory of history.

The years come and go, but this shop stays right where I left it last in the rue de Turenne.

I have the address of Paris' oldest public lending library, which is in the rue de Turenne. While walking up it, I pass the rue des Minimes. This rings a bell and sure enough, I have it noted as the location of the library of the 'Assistance Publique' - which is the name for the ensemble of Paris' hospitals.

Some of what I'm looking for must be here so I go in, and get another library card. This is not a fancy 'hôtel' like the one of the Bibliothèque Historique, and inside it is a lot more modest as well. It only has one large block of wooden card-file boxes; and it does have a fellow who shows me how to stick my fingers in them.

This is fine, and the size of it all is not overwhelming, and I can probably find stuff here they don't even know they have. Also, it is more informal and probably easier to work in.

After the 'à bientôts' I go back to the rue de Turenne and find the oldest lending-library and it is closed. In fact, it is not open often; and its hours seem to be suited to a strictly working-class cliental, one that probably lived around here in 1880.

Then, since it is only a couple of blocks away, I cut over to the boulevard Beaumarchais. As a second bit of luck today, I hit this boulevard right across the street from the 'moyen-format' camera market garbage store. Here I find out the details about the panoramic camera I saw with the Bortolami brothers yesterday at Trocadéro.

Five minutes after this, a garbage truck had scooped all this up.

At Bastille, city workers are cleaning up the remains of the morning's marché in the boulevard Richard Lenoir, and right where this boulevard touches the place de la Bastille, I find the countdown display that used to be at Beaubourg.

Why anybody at Bastille would want to know how many gazillion seconds are left until... when? I don't know. As watch, about 120 of them are subtracted from the total.

The Tour Eiffel's countdown of days is kind of serene compared to this jitterbug - this one feels a bit like the ticking of a bomb. Maybe it is a 'surprise bomb' that explodes confetti all over everything during the changeover from 23:59:59 to 00:00:00 on Friday, 31. December 1999.

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