Paris - In The Passé Recent


Highs and Lows of the Last Grand Tour of 1996

Paris:- Tuesday, 31. December 1996:- Today is not a holiday so I am working as usual. On the train to Paris I am trying to figure out what would be appropriate for a last feature of 1996. The newspapers have had their annual round-ups and Time Magazine has had its 'Man of the Year' - but I have a very cold and grey day here, hardly what any sensible person would choose to do a little 'sightseeing.'

Recent correspondence from readers has indicated that some of you are in Paris today, and there is even at least one honeymoon couple. You can't choose your weather if you've chosen New Year's to be in Paris, so I can't either.

As the train races from Saint Cloud to La Défense, the Tour Montparnasse is only barely visible and Montmartre is hidden in a dark-grey wall of frozen mess from the east. This means it is miserable.

I take out my garbage-paper notebook and make a list of sites. I figure out the métro stations; should I go around the south way or over the north? It turns my list upsidedown, but I change my mind and decide on north first. If getting to the heights of Montmartre knocks me out, everything else is downhill from there.

Change from SNCF to métro at Défense: many people are buying métro tickets. Ride the cross-town slammer to Etoile, and switch to métro destination Nation, via Barbés. There are a fair number of passengers heading this way. Change at Pigalle and ride one stop to métro Abbesses.

Above ground, on the place, it is diabolically arctic. I go along the wrong street until I see stairs going up and I take them, almost vertically - it is the 'rue' Drevet. At the second cross street I am asked the direction to the Montmartre Cemetery, by, I think, an Italian man. There are many groups of people coming down from somewhere, and many more coming up rue Drevet after me.

I go east and I see the Funiculaire's roof slide downwards - so I know I am west of where I intended to be - at the bottom of the park below Sacré Coeur. As I am already part of the way up, I turn up the next street, the rue Chappe, which is stairs for two blocks - but on top I find myself at the Square Nadar, and not nearly as out of breath as what seem to be all these Italians wearing really nice threads.

Here is a mob scene. There are more people here today than on good days in the summer. They must all be on honeymoon; they are all goofy with love - full of inner warmth. Makes me feel great. My job forces me to be here; these people are here for - fun! The ugly grey sky is sitting right on top of us; the wind in our faces is from the eastern Baltic.

In front of Sacré Coeur, looking down at the park with all the stairways, I see I was lucky not to come that way because it is closed. It must be too slippery, but it also explains why so many people are hiking up all the adjacent stairways - er - 'rues' as they are called around the 'Butte Montmartre' in the 18th arrondissement.

With the wind I do not hang around long and take the Utrillo stairs down, turn right at the Paul Albert stairs and descend them and then walk almost like a normal person instead of a goat past the textile places around the Halle Saint Pierre and into the rue Livingstone, then d'Orsel, to the boulevard and past huge crowds on the sidewalks at Tati, to the métro at Barbés-Rochechouart.

Here is where I 'jump' my plan - making a run to Bastille is too complicated compared to the straightforward ride to the métro station Cité - so I take the easy way.

Notre Dame

Coming out at the flower market, I see plainclothes cops heading for the police prefecture and I steer myself past the Hôtel Dieu to the place in front of Notre Dame. I fumble the camera and take a shot of my feet, with flash, no less.

The crowd I wanted to shoot, got tried of waiting for me to recycle and moved off, and you can see them in the distance. You can also see, from the photo, the front of Notre Dame shrouded in renovation scaffolding. If you want to see it 'In clear,' you will have to buy a ticket to Disney's 'Hunchback of Notre Dame.'

I really want a café right now, but I think the cafés beside the cathedral in the rue d'Arcole will be really full, and I don't want to take the time to go back to the métro station Cité and ride to Odéon. I survey the Petit-Pont, over to the Quartier Latin and see a brasserie where I've had café before, and sweep the river sides for 'views' while going there.

By doing this, it is a commitment to walk to the next 'shot' on this last tour and I take the rue Saint Jacques, going up towards the Panthéon because it is quicker than going against the crowds on the boul'Mich.

rue de la Huchette

Going by the Sorbonne, I see a lump on the sidewalk ahead. Is it an abandoned package? This is no place to put a bomb - out on the sidewalk, and here - but I approach, and I see it is not a 'package.' It is a man, in a camel-colored coat, lying on a grate, asleep. His whiskered face is red, so he is not dead. I can 'spare' a photo for this, there are no other pedestrians nearby, but... I don't take any photo. Further up the street I turn back twice, to look, but strollers heading down the block mask the view of the sleeping man. Will they wake him up and tell him where the mayor's shelters are? Are they even open in the afternoon? Where are they anyhow?

Despite the cold, there are a lot of people on the streets and there is weak sunlight fighting through the grey sky from the low south-west as I face the place Edmond Rostand from the rue Soufflot. I cross the boul'Mich there, and wonder if I should pop into the bookshop where I got the 3.8 kilo 'Paris à Travers les Ages' by M.F. Hoffbauer, and shout 'Bonne Année.'

I skip the idea because the so-called daylight is going fast now, and I cross into the Luxembourg Gardens and it has its strollers in the snow. A number of them are single and I wonder if they will be single tonight, or if they are merely getting in shape by taking in a bit of cold 'O.'

Without the leaves I miss finding my way out to the rue de Fleurus but leave by the rue d'Assas and go straight into Vavin, which is a shorter way to the boulevard Montparnasse anyway. The tabac where rue Bréa joins, does not have my cigarettes, and no Gauloises either. I drop another 'Bonne Année' even though I've never been in this one before.

At Vavin, the intersection of the boulevards Raspail and Montparnasse, and the rues Delambre and the Grands Chaumière, I cross to the Rotonde, over to the Dôme, cross Delambre, to the newspaper kiosk and buy Le Parisien. The man reminds me that he'll be open the next day and I ask if there will be any papers, and he thinks, maybe 'Le Monde.' After another 'Bonne Année' I drop ten francs into the paper cup of a lady sitting on the sidewalk in front of a bank, with a 'Bonne Année' as well - heartfelt but doubtful.

The big tabac beside the Dôme has lot of cigarettes and cigars too and I get what I want and I also get to unload the wrappers and the empty pack and all the paper sneezewads I've collected. All the street waste containers are sealed or have been removed, but people are putting trash on them anyhow.

The Vavin métro station is right there and I dive into it for the ride to Trocadéro. There are a lot of well-bundled people on the train and a lot get out a stop later at Montparnasse. The elevated trip from Pasteur to Bir Hakeim over the boulevard de Grenelle has its usual sights of the windows of buildings and roofs with snow on them, but there is a cool breeze sweeping through the car even though all the windows are closed. There are many diffferent European voices in the car.

At Trocadéro, there are hordes of people underground, trying to either find the right métro line, or the right exit. They must be failing because the correct corridor is nearly empty - and the up-escalator is not working so I trot up yet more stairs.


On top, on the place, in front of the cinema and French Monument museum, the light is going fast. Buses are letting off loads of New Year's visitors, the stands are hawking their wares, there is a little merry-go-round twirling with all its garish lights making it look deceptively warm.

The parvis between the two museums is not iced, as was shown on TV, but it is very slippery with some sort of mush of slush and anti-freeze.

Visitors are taking photos of each other and I do my last good deed for a couple posed in front of the Tour Eiffel across the Seine. As usual they have not advanced the film, and there is a little back and forth until their camera is ready to function. The viewfinder has no guides, it is just a round-cornered rectangle and I hope it in inaccurate and the couples' feet are not cut off, nor the top of the tower - although it is not all that distinct in the darkening sky. I pass the camera back and pass on my 'Bonne Année' and walk carefully back across the parvis, back to the métro.

At La Défense I manage to get some tickets out of a SNCF ticket automat and the following client calls me back to get my receipt, and I get the chance to pass a last 'Bonne Année' to a yet another helpful Parisian. It is pitchblack when I get off the train at my stop at the end of my last tour of Paris in 1996.

All contents copyright © 1996 Metropole Paris unless otherwise stated.
In Metropole Paris
Latest Issue
2008 Issues
2007 | 2006 | 2005
2004 | 2003 | 2002
2001 | 2000 | 1999
1998 | 1997 | 1996
In Metropole Paris
About Metropole
About the Café Club
Links | Search Site
The Lodging Page
Paris Museums List
Metropole's 1996 Tours
Metropole's 2003 Tours
Support Metropole
Metropole's Books
Shop with Metropole
Metropole's Wine
metropole paris goodblogweek button
Send email concerning the
contents to: Ric Erickson, Editor.
Metropole Midi © 2014
– unless stated otherwise.
logo, metropole sml midi logo No matter how good it tastes,
there is no such thing
as a free lunch.
Waldo Bini