Around 'Fearless' Jean's Place

photo: cafe noir, r montmartre

At the western side of Montorgueil, this
café on Rue Montmartre.

The Montorgueil Pedestrian Area

by Ric Erickson

Paris:- Monday, 7. February 2000:- For early February, the weather is pretty good. Yesterday was grey with a chill breeze from the west. On Saturday, the sun was out at times and it was a bit like fall, except now the trees are bare. The daily temperatures are nudging 10 C.

Last Wednesday it was a bit of both; with greyness until the sun came out in mid-afternoon. Taking the grey part, I decided to officially visit the 'Jean Sans Peur' tower.

This mediaeval fortress is the only one remaining in Paris and visiting it on a grey day makes it easier to contemplate grey times 600 years ago.

Mediaeval times. These were not too cheerful for the people who lived in them. There was famine for peasants and plague for everybody. On top of these, French nobles were being nasty to each other - and for fun they were chopping off the heads of peasants with wild abandon.

The king, Charles VI, was crazy. The nobles collected taxes at sword-point and spent the money on parties. Whenphoto: pass grand cerf the nobles sobered up enough, they had three great battles with the British and they lost all three. There was no governor anywhere.

Parisians, who were civilians and mainly unarmed, just wanted to get along - and had sufficient numbers to call the shots sometimes. They chose to 'forgive' Jean Sans Peur's contracted assassination of Louis d'Orléans, and let him run Paris for a short time.

The gleaming interior of the Passage du Grand-Cerf.

Starting with the tower in the Rue Etienne-Marcel, you can take a walk around nearby streets, and imagine those times. Motor traffic has restricted access to the area, so it is safe enough in the middle of the narrow roads.

There isn't much to actually see that is as old as Jean Sans Peur's tower. The streets north of Etienne-Marcel were outside the Philippe-Auguste wall when many were laid out in the 13th century. The Rue Saint-Sauveur dates to 1285 and the Rue Dussoubs was called 'Gratte-Cul' in 1241.

The street parallel to Etienne-Marcel is the Rue Tiquetonne and it was named after a rich baker who lived in it in 1272. In the 14th and 15th centuries it had several names with 'Lion' in them, and for a while around 1372 it was called Denis-Le-Coffrier. It became Tiquetonne for good in 1647.

It was a trail outside the wall, and the Arbalétriers used it as a practice crossbow shooting range. Inphoto: pedicure shop the Rue Dussoubs which starts from it, Goldini, the 'Italian Molière,' died in 1793. The street was named after Denis Dussoubs who was killed on the barricade in the Rue Montorgueil on Thursday, 4. December 1851.

The Rues Montorgueil and the Petit-Carreaux were sort of an extension of Les Halles. Lower Montorgueil was Nicolas-Arrode in 1271 and then it had its usual half-dozen name changes up to 1830.

Personal services: pedicure, barbers, tatoos and body-piercing.

This street received the fresh fish brought into Paris from the Channel ports. It continues this tradition of being a market street and fish and oysters are still sold in it.

At the sign of the Cheval-Blanc, the weekly 'Journal des Savants' was first published on Monday, 5. January 1665, by Denis de Sallo. After 123 years of publication it ceased, but restarted again in 1816.

In 1763, Marguerite Stock opened her second 'maison de rendez-vous' near the corner of the Rue Mauconseil. One of her employees, 'Mlle Lange' - also known as 'Jeanne Bécu' - 'l'Ange du Harem' - later became the Countess du Berry.

After a fire, Madame Stock moved her establishment in 1774 to the Hôtel de Famini, located at the corner of Rue Dussoubs and Saint-Sauveur. She was known as Paris' unofficial 'superintendent of fun' and her third place was very fancy, well-known and appreciated by a certain class of people.

The café Au Rocher de Canale was at the corner of the Rue Mandar from 1794 to 1845. A group of customers formed a literaryphoto: charcuterie and hard drinking society, that was 'inaccessible à tout buveur d'eau claire...' The café Au Rocher de Canale moved up to the corner of the Rue Greneta, where it is today.

The Rue Montorgueil has never become foodless like Les Halles.

The Théâtre de l'Hôtel de Bourgogne was on the south side of the Rue Etienne-Marcel, towards Montorgueil. Built in 1548 it didn't have great success with its court-approved shows until it was rented in 1588 to professionals.

These included Corneille and Racine. This theatre was also the first to have posters printed for performances, starting in 1617. Shows were held between 14:00 and 16:30 because of dangerous Paris nights - and the word 'matinée' comes from this.

This theatre also became the birthplace of the Comedie Française via a decree by Louis XIV. After the troupe moved to the Théâtre Guénégard, Italians took over the old theatre until they moved in their turn to the Opéra-Comique.

The Rue Montorgueil is very lively with its marché and many cafés. The streets branching off it are a lot quieter and in these there are a number of small, attractive-looking restaurants.

This area also includes the well-preserved Passage du Grand Cerf, which has some interesting shops. In general, the whole area has few souvenirs or postcards, although there are a number of tatoo salons and body-piercing shops.

Unlike the pedestrian zones around Les Halles, Beaubourg and small zones on the Left Bank, practically the whole area - west of the Rue Saint-Denis, to the Rue Montmartre; and from the Rue Etienne-Marcel upphoto: tables, r montorgueil to the Rue Réaumur - is free of through traffic.

There is a Montorgueil pedestrian-area association that looks a bit glum. This is probably because all sorts of trendy name-brand thread shops have not opened edge-to-edge boutiques. The Paris garment district lies just to the north of this area and even spills into it a bit.

Almost every café has its bit of terrace.

While it lasts, this Montorgueil area is pleasant to explore. The streets are quiet. Figures move along the centres of the roads - free from horses, stagecoaches, cars and trucks. There is not too much to see, so it is easier to see what there is.

And if you get lonely, the hustle-bustle of Montorgueil is never more than two blocks away. I liked it so much, that after visiting Jean Sans Peur's tower on Wednesday, I went back again on Friday.

Café Metropole Club's 16th Session

The 16th weekly meeting of the 'Café Metropole Club' came off as a surprise party last Thursday. Two new members signed up, one of them a long-time Metropole reader who may be intending to come to the next three meetings. Read all about it on last week's 'Club 'Report'' page.

This Was Metropole One Year Ago:

Issue 4.06 - 8. February 1999 - The Café Metropole column was headlined: - 'Where the Money Is.' 'Au Bistro' had 'Firemen Take Silent Action.' This issue had two features, entitled 'The Seine's Lonesome Quays' and 'The Secret 'Euro' Bug.' This issue also had 'Paris' Scene' - '1999's Big Expos Have Begun' which was nearly identical to the previous week's headline. photo: sign, etienne marcel There were four 'Posters of the Week' and Ric's Cartoon of the Week was captioned 'Geodynamics of Picnics'

This Was Metropole Two Years Ago:

Issue 3.06 - 9. February 1998 - The Café Metropole column invited 'Welcome to Dreamland Paris.' The 'Au Bistro' column was headlined 'There Are a Large Number of French in France.' This issue had two features, entitled 'Retromobile: Dreams on Wheels' and 'True Dreams In Montmartre.' There were four'Posters of the Week' and Ric's Cartoon of the Week was captioned 'The 2CV - for Some a Collector's Item.'

The Metropole Paris Countdown to 31. December 2000:

This silly countdown continues with the sixth issue of 2000, even though no readers have asked for any countdown to the probable beginning of the next century and even more importantly, to the next millennium. This new countdown will last only 366 days, minus the days already gone. The reason for doing this is to give the Tour Eiffel a new chance to 'get it right' - because so many count-down fans missed shouting 'Zéro' on Friday, 31. December 1999.

There are about 329 days left to go until the 3rd Millennium.
signature, regards, ric

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