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photo: rues poissonniere, clery

Fresh fish was raced down these streets daily 150 years ago.

In the Rue du Faubourg Poissonnière

Paris:- Wednesday, 14. February 2001:- When people chance to ask me what I do, sometimes I tell them I am the 'Internet Reporter for Paris.' Some people laugh out loud when I say this.

Some other people do not know what 'Internet' means, others do not know how I can be the singlehanded 'Reporter for Paris,' and others nod wisely and say, 'I see' and look for an exit.

However, having this cushy - in the 'City of Light!' - job might not be the snap it seems. Even though I have not even 'covered' all of Paris after five or six years on this job, sometimes I turn up a real 'zero' when I think I am going out to capture some true novelty.

Some years ago the Rue du Faubourg Poissonnière attracted my attention, mainly because it is a long street - 1405 metres long - in a city full of short streets.

I asked somebody who I thought would knowphoto: rue fayette, cor poissonniere something about it, and they said there was nothing to it - even though they had no idea of what street I was asking about. A lot of Parisians know the city really well except when you try to nail them down.

Part of the 'zero' aspect of this report, are the photos of side streets, like the Rue La Fayette.

And then, added to it are another 226 metres of the Rue Poissonnière, and I've found a Rue des Poissonniers with another 1420 metres of length.

Roughly, this almost-continuous set of streets with similar names, begin near Les Halles and heads north out through the - now you-see-it-now you-don't Porte des Poissonniers - to continue right out of town for a while into Saint-Ouen.

But I didn't know this when I started out on today's trip of discovery because I only glanced at the map, saw the Rue du Faubourg Poissonnière starting near Barbés, and got myself to there.

Now, another part of my duties as the 'Internet Reporter for Paris' involve covering other bits of news, such as the municipal elections. The 'Battle for Paris,' as it is called locally, is actually pinpointed in the 18th arrondissement.

Little do I know when I get out of the métro at Jules-Joffrin in front of the 18th's mairie, that one of the streets that is the subject of this 'report' - namely the Rue des Poissonniers - runs its entire 1420 metres of length beside the SNCF tracks, within this very arrondissement.

So, in ignorance, I climb up Montmartre's north side, cross the top in sunshine and slip off to the southeast, down to all the textile shops around Barbés and pick up the Rue du Faubourg Poissonnière just after the boulevard.

Hindsight, which I have while writing this, says I should fire myself. First off, why did I climb up Montmartre's north side - when I'm supposed to know perfectly well that low numbers like 'one' start at the Seine and get higher as you go further from the river.

My 'faute grave' - grounds for instant dismissal! - is in starting at the wrong end of the street. It also means I have to read the street's history backwards, from high numbers to low - and this is also opposite to the way Paris developed.

Here is what the Rue du Faubourg Poissonnière ends with, if you start at its wrong end like I do. There are a bunch of shops with signs in the windows saying how much it costs tophoto: resto la grille ship more or less than a 100 kilos of anything to Dakar or Gao in Mali, or to Brazzaville in one of the Congos, or to Madagascar or Mauritius, or to Bombay or Hanoi.

The nicest - looking! - restaurant in the Rue du Faubourg Poissonnière.

For example, there is a promotional price for shipping curtain material or any kind of textile - or anything, really - to Brazzaville. For 100 kilos and up, it's only 28 francs per kilo. For Tunis, only 7.50 a kilo, or 13 francs for Alger - and there are dozens of these places.

I don't suppose anybody around these shops realizes that this area was once the location of the Promanenades-Egyptiennes, which opened on Monday, 4. May 1818. Local papers praised it for its great variety of amusements, its dancing, its float-races, the beauty of its gardens, and its large decorated salon with Egyptian decor, good for indoor dancing on rainy days.

After the initial burst of hype, the Promanenades-Egyptiennes made way - until 1824 - for the Jardins du Delta, which in turn was pierced by the Rue du Delta in 1825. Alas, all these marvels are gone today.

I get to walk a fair way without seeing much in the nature of fantastic sights, until I pass the former location of Paris' first gas works, which went into operation in 1819. The inhabitants of the quartier didn't like this one bit, but were apparently mollified by a stamp of approval issued by the Académie des Sciences in February of 1824 - issued after everybody lived for five years in mortal danger.

The long history of the Lycée Lamaritine - for young girls - next door, will not interest anybody unless they want to know how much Jean-Baptiste- Pierre-Maximillienphoto: les petits carreaux Titon de Villotra sold it for in 1770 after he got married - so I will make a long boring story short by noting that it ended up in the hands of a notary - although it is still called the Lycée Lamaritine.

The Petits Carreaux section is also part of the 'Poissonnière' fish-route.

And I don't suppose anybody is interested in the Caserne de la Nouvelle-France, built in the 1770's for the purpose of sending brave young men to Canada, who were enlisted in local cabarets - which were the only establishments in the area at the time, besides swamps and vineyards.

These cabarets, outside of Paris, were popular until August 1646, because before then they were not subject to Paris' taxes on drinks. In any case, France let Canada slip from its control and the Caserne de la Nouvelle-France was knocked down in the 1920's to make room for the Garde Républicaine, which may still occupy it.

The history of the house at number 106 is more usual. Built in the 17th century, it belonged to the musician - and 'minérologiste!' - Baron Diétrich, who became the first constitutional mayor in France's history - of Strasbourg.

He also had the misfortune to be beheaded in 1793. Ironically, it was at Baron Diétrich's residence in Strasbourg where Rouget de l'Isle first sang the 'Marseillaise.'

These little histories are not matched by much to see unless you know where to look very closely. Number five's history related that it was where General Charles Huchet de la Bédoyère was arrested in August, 1815. In fact, it was on Wednesday, the 2nd of August.

He was one of the last left on the field at Waterloo, took refuge at Riom, found out he wasn't eligible for amnesty as he had been led to believe - like Maréchal Ney - after 'assisting' with the famous '100 Days,' but wanted to see his wife before slipping off to Switzerland and exile.

Unluckily he was spotted by an informer on the stagecoach, and followed to this house where he had friends. Arrested on the 2nd, he was shot at Grenelle on the 19th, at the tender age of 29.

The Rex cinema on the boulevard begins the next part of the street, where the Rue Poissonnière ends, and I continue my backwards trip into the 2nd arrondissement - which changes character radically, because it is in the garment district.

I can't help stopping at the corner of the Rue de la Lune. Two men standing in the middle of the street having a conversation tell me it is '500 years old' as I try to convince the camera it shouldphoto: rue montorgueil resume working again. Won't shot the moon, will you?

Actually, the street is only about 471 years old. It used to have a good view out over Louis XIII's city wall - towards the cabarets? - but it is good to know it has its local boosters.

This last stretch before Les Halles, is Montorgueil.

The name of the Rue Poissonnière itself dates to 1635, but the street itself goes back to the 13th century and was once called the 'Path of the Thieves' and the Champ-aux-Femmes. Lots of Paris streets used to have colorful names like these.

Louis XIII's wall - on the north side of the Rue de la Lune - had a doorway added to it in 1645, and I think the wall itself may have been eliminated in 1715.

This garment district part does not have much history but it does have a lot to look at. The streets are narrow - they are full of cars and taxis and trucks and people pushing clothes around on wheeled hangers, and there are buyers, sellers and wholesale shoppers from everywhere, all mixed together into a general clog of activity.

Somewhere, where it is diagonal just to confuse the situation impossibly, the name changes to the Rue des Petits Carreaux and it crosses the wide Rue Réaumur and after about 130 metres it becomes the Rue Montorgeuil.

This still very active marché and 21st century street for today's 'bourgeois-bohème' - Les Bobos - is a fusion of two 13th century streets, and is the final stage of the series of Poissonnière variants - which formed the fresh-fish route into central Paris.

Before the 18th century the catch was hauled on horseback from the Pas de Calais area on the Channel, and it came into Paris this way - on the Chemin de la Marée or the Ancien Chemin des Poissonniers.

Then, from 1720 to 1730, the Route Royale number 14 was built from Dieppe to Paris, and this allowedphoto: metro etienne marcel wagons to be used. Each morning, they began their pre-dawn races straight from the fishing boats on the coasts to the fish stalls in the central marché.

The métro area at Etienne Marcel is not part of the fish-route, but is close to Les Halles too.

For this a special breed of speedy draft horses were bred - and for Paris' '2000' celebration last year, descendants of these horses made a re-enactment run of the morning race.

So, for more than 100 years, traffic in the string of 'Poissonnière' streets must have been a bit exciting for a while every morning. This ceased after steel rails were laid out to the coasts in the 1850's, and ugly and soot-covered trains took over the job.

I have mixed feelings about today's job. Even if I did it backwards - and slightly downhill! - it is not my fault that the Rue du Faubourg Poissonnière is not full of tremendous sights and oodles of history.

Yet, taking a look at it has been nagging me for years and finally doing it has got this particular monkey off my back.

I can sleep in peace again; knowing that the Rue du Faubourg Poissonnière is not a place to find wonderful photos. On the other hand, if I have to ship curtain material to anybody in Asia or Africa, I know right where to go.

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