The word faubourg means the section of a town that is outside its gates and its precinct. But this definition has for a long time ceased to be appropriate for the faubourgs of Paris, which, being forced to expand, has ended up enclosing them all within its walls. This name, however, given the weight of long usage, has been preserved for them, and helps a topographical understanding of the capital.
– A. Béraud and P. Dufay,
Dictionnaire historique de Paris (1832)
The Wall of the Farmers-General
This inconceivable wall, fifteen feet high and nearly seven leagues round, which will soon surround the whole of Paris, is supposed to cost 12 million; but as it should bring in 2 million each year, it is clearly good business. Make the people pay for something that will only make them pay more, what could be better? . . . Battalions of workers will circulate in the shelter of this rampart. The Farmers-General would have liked to enclose the whole Île de France. Just imagine good king Henri IV seeing this wall! But what is revolting from every aspect is to see the lairs of the tax office transformed into colonnaded palaces that are genuine fortresses. These monuments are supported by colossal statues. There is one on the Passy side that holds chains in its hands, presenting them to those who arrive: it is the spirit of taxation in person under these genuine attributes. Oh, Monsieur Ledoux, you are a dreadful architect!1
Sébastien Mercier was not alone in this opinion: the condemnation of the wall was so general that its contractors were forced to begin their work at the most deserted point, alongside the Salpêtrière hospital. Through an irony of fate, Lavoisier, a conspicuous Farmer-General, was held responsible for a project that the Parisians charged would prevent pure air from entering the city, and his discoveries – on the very subject of the composition of air – did not save his head from the Revolutionary tribunal.2
The octroi system, however, predated the wall. Many years before, the Ferme-Générale had already established offices around Paris to collect entry charges on certain goods and commodities, including foodstuffs, wine, and firewood.3 But the vagueness of the boundaries – certain streets were subject to octroi on one side only – permitted all kinds of fraud. Sébastien Mercier noted that ‘every day a countless number of lies are uttered by the most honest of people. It is a pleasure to deceive the tax office, and the conspiracy is general; people are proud of it and celebrate it.’ In the 1780s, as the public finances went increasingly into deficit, Breteuil and Calonne decided to improve receipts by means of a wall. But what aroused public anger at this time was not just the greater difficulty of fraud. A bookseller wrote in his diary that ‘the Parisians had all the more reason to murmur and show their discontent in this circumstance, since all the enjoyment of an outdoor walk was removed and they were deprived of the sweet pleasure of being able to contemplate the green countryside, of breathing purer air on Sundays and holidays after having worked the whole week in dwellings that were often both gloomy and unhealthy’.4
The wall was purely an instrument of taxation, without any military purpose. Its dimensions already demonstrate this: three metres high and less than one metre deep. Historians have given it the name of the ‘wall of the Farmers-General’, but during the eighty years of its existence, Parisians called it the ‘octroi wall’. Thus the Clos Saint-Lazare, where the last insurgents of June 1848 held out on the building site of the Lariboisière hospital, was described by Marouk as ‘waste ground that stretched from the Poissonière barrier [now the Barbès-Rouchechouart crossroads] to the Nord railway, from the church of Saint-Vincent-de-Paul to the octroi wall’.5 Gervaise, from the window of the Hôtel Boncoeur, on Boulevard de la Chapelle, looked
to the right, towards Boulevard de Rochechouart, where groups of butchers, in aprons smeared with blood, were hanging about in front of the slaughterhouses; and the fresh breeze wafted occasionally a stench of slaughtered beasts. Looking to the left, she scanned a long avenue that ended nearly in front of her, where the white mass of the Lariboisière hospital was then in course of construction. Slowly, from one end of the horizon to the other, she followed the octroi wall, behind which she sometimes heard, during nighttime, the shrieks of persons being murdered; and she searchingly looked into the remote angles, the dark corners, black with humidity and filth, fearing to discern there Lantier’s body, stabbed to death.6
With the notable exception of the Montagne Saint-Geneviève, Old Paris is low-lying and flat. The course of the new wall, on the other hand, followed a hillside route, taking its bearings from the heights above the valley hollowed out by the Seine. In today’s Paris, it corresponds to the two lines of the overhead Métro – Nation-Étoile via Barbès, and Nation-Étoile via Denfert-Rochereau.7 There was a raised covered walkway on the inside of the wall, and a wide boulevard on the outside. Ledoux, architect for the Ferme-Générale, conceived the fifty-five barriers. Whether modest or imposing, they seem to have been taken from a construction set based on models from antiquity or the Renaissance – the Roman Pantheon, Bramante’s Tempietto, Palladio’s Villa Rotonda – combined with a vivid imagination. In his Essai sur l’architecture (1753), Abbé Laugier regretted that the entry into Paris amounted to ‘a few wretched palisades erected on wooden foundations, rolling on two old jambs, and flanked by two or three dunghills’, to the point that foreigners found it hard to believe they were not still in some adjacent country town. Ledoux had promised something quite different: ‘I shall de-village a population of eight hundred thousand and give them the independence that a city draws from its insulation; I shall place trophies of victory at the closed exits of its tendential lines.’ He justified his propensity to architectural hyperbole in these terms: ‘The artist has chosen to give these offices a public character, and so that the architecture was not dissolved by immense spaces, he deemed it necessary to employ the most severe and decisive style.’8
To the west of Paris, the wall passed outside the built-up area, almost into the countryside. It enclosed the Champ-de-Mars and the École Militaire, the few houses of Chaillot village, and a broad zone, not yet constructed, which fifty years later would become the Europe quarter. To the north and east, however, where urbanization was already far more dense, the course of the wall had to take into account what was already there, both inside and out. Hence certain irregularities that may seem curious, salients to enclose the Faubourgs Saint-Martin and Saint-Antoine, and reentrants to exclude large estates such as Montlouis, the summer domain of the Jesuits, which would later become Père-Lachaise. There was even a case in which the resistance of the inhabitants forced the contractors to depart from the line that had been drawn for them, and make a reentrant between Boulevards de Clichy and de Rochechouart.9
Contrary to the walls that preceded and followed it, the wall of the Farmers-General gave concrete form to recent extensions of the city rather than triggering new ones.10 During the twenty years or so between the end of the military disasters of Louis XV’s reign and the beginning of the pre-revolutionary crisis in 1785, the economy boomed and with it speculation in property. Moreover, the city centre was increasingly difficult to live in, with its overly tall buildings, crowded plots, and courtyards crowded with hovels. There is a noticeable difference in tone between Boileau’s pleasant Embarras de Paris and Mercier’s Tableau. For the latter:
The lack of pavements makes almost all the streets dangerous: when a man with a bit of credit is sick, dung is spread outside his door to dull the noise of carts; that is particularly when you need to take care . . . Slaughterhouses are not outside the city or at its limits, they are right in the middle. Blood flows in the streets, congealing under your feet and reddening your shoes . . . The fumes given off by the tallow boilers are thick and diseased. Nothing spoils the air more than these crude vapours . . . Narrow and badly built streets, houses that are too tall and interrupt the circulation of air, slaughterhouses, fish markets, sewers, cemeteries, all corrupt the atmosphere, fill it with unclean particles, and this enclosed air becomes heavy and malign in its influence.
We have seen how the aristocracy deserted the Marais in the late seventeenth century for the Faubourgs Saint-Germain and Saint-Honoré. A century later, all those with the means to do so tried to leave the old centre. The pattern that was then sketched out was one of segregation between residential and plebeian quarters, and the formation of a Paris-West for the rich. Until this time, noble hôtels and hovels could be found side by side on the same streets. Even the royal palaces were surrounded by wretched dwellings:
Opposite the proud colonnade of the Louvre, which every foreigner admires, bundles of old rags can be seen, suspended from ropes to make a hideous display . . . Chinese umbrellas made from waxed cloth, ten feet tall, serve as shelter to a multitude of old-clothes dealers displaying their wares, or rather their rags. When these umbrellas are lowered at night, they give the appearance of two lines of immobile giants, looking as if they guard the Louvre.
And on the other side of the palace, in the Carrousel quarter, ‘a maze of houses is surrounded by a marsh on the side of Rue de Richelieu, an ocean of rolling cobbles on the side of the Tuileries, sinister booths on the side of the Galleries, and wastes of cut stone and demolitions on the side of the old Louvre’.11 Paris mingled rich and poor in close proximity, but also in a vertical order. The same building would house shops on the ground floor – the shopkeeper living on the mezzanine – apartments for the aristocracy on the second storey (the ‘noble’ floor before the invention of the lift), and workers in the attics. This mix had not yet completely disappeared even in the early 1960s, when for example on the Montagne Saint-Geneviève, or on Rues Laplace, Lanneau, and Valette, lodgings under the roofs were still occupied by workers – even if now with water on the landings. American-style zoning by income was never really established until the era of de Gaulle, Malraux and Pompidou, at the time when the old quarters, massively renovated, were reoccupied by the bourgeoisie.
At the start of the eighteenth century, the belt between the Grands Boulevards and the region where the wall of the Farmers-General would be built saw a new style of construction: instead of taking place in dense and close-packed nuclei, urbanization advanced in a centrifugal fashion through the faubourgs, which radiated out in an extension of the major arteries of the old city. The major barriers of the octroi wall were constructed at the edge of these faubourgs. (This was when the word barrière acquired its metaphorical sense: ‘Hardly has the last vibration of the last carriage coming from a ball ceased at its heart before its arms are moving at the barriers and Paris shakes itself slowly into motion.’ And as if an echo of this: ‘The dawn, shivering in her green and rose garment,/Was moving slowly along the deserted Seine,/And sombre Paris, the industrious old man,/Was rubbing his eyes and gathering up his tools.’)12
And yet this first stratum of New Paris should not be conceived along the lines of a wheel with spokes regularly spaced around its whole circumference. To the north and east of the city, the old faubourgs of working people had long formed a tight band. The land surrounding them, which was still agricultural, was rapidly built up, from the centre to the periphery. To the west, on the other hand, as we have noted, the wall passed at a certain distance from the city, the only road bearing the name of a faubourg being Rue du Faubourg-Saint-Honoré. In the whole of this immense sector urbanization advanced only slowly, in wide developments, and it was only in the late nineteenth century that these came together to create a continuous fabric. As for the Left Bank, New Paris developed there with scarcely any resort to the radial system of faubourgs.
The growth of the capital, in both surface and population, made a new division necessary. To replace the districts of Louis XIV, the Constituent Assembly established in 1790 twelve municipalities, each including four sections. This organization would last until the demolition of the octroi wall: simply that in 1805 the municipalities became arrondissements and the sections – a term charged with too many Revolutionary memories – became quartiers.13 But it became hard now to find one’s way in this greater Paris. Choderlos de Laclos, who invented the system of street numbering, presented this in June 1787 in Le Journal de Paris:
It seems to me that it would not be useless to provide all the inhabitants of this immense city with a means of crossing it and knowing where they are; with the result that each person could be sure of arriving where he intended to go. I also believe that there could be no more favourable moment for this operation than the one at which the limits of Paris seem to have been fixed for a long time by the new wall that has just been constructed.
In 1779 a German by the name of Marin Kreefelt undertook a systematic numbering at his own expense. ‘I placed the first number on Rue de Gramont,’ he wrote, ‘on the small door of the police station, now the wet-nurses’ office’ – the corner with Rue Saint-Augustin.14 The Parisians gave a cold welcome to this initiative. On 15 Frimaire of year IX (6 December 1800), the prefect of police reminded the minister of the interior: ‘The disquiet aroused by this operation, which was seen as the precursor to new taxation, placed such obstacles on it that it had to be carried out at night; these hindrances gave rise to a number of mistakes.’ The aristocrats and haute bourgeoisie had other reasons for their hostility. As Sébastien Mercier asked:
How can the hôtel of M. le Conseiller, M. le Fermier-Général, or Monseigneur the bishop be given a common number, and what is the object of this proud marble tablet? Everyone was like Caesar, not wanting to be second in Rome: but a noble carriage gate would be found after a mere shopkeeper’s premises. That would stamp an air of equality, which was to be carefully guarded against.
Kreefelt had envisaged numbering the entire left side of a street in one direction, then the right side in the opposite sense, so that the first and last numbers would be face to face – as can still be seen in certain London streets. The Constituent Assembly abolished this marking and set up a system designed purely for taxation, with continuous numbering of all streets in a section, one after the other. The beginning of each street thus received its number by chance, which no doubt made the search for any particular address as difficult as it is today in Tokyo. The present system was then inaugurated in 1805, with numbers painted in black (odd) or red (even) on an ochre ground. The porcelain plaques with figures that stood out ‘in white on a dark blue base’ date from 1847, and are still to be seen on many Parisian buildings.
It is clearly not by chance that the two faubourgs whose names are most weighed down with opposite connotations, the Faubourg Saint-Antoine and the Faubourg Saint-Honoré, are situated at opposite extremes of this New Paris. And yet the major east-west axis today, leading from the Château de Vincennes to the towers of La Défense by way of the Bastille, the Louvre, and the Étoile, and served by Métro line no. 1, the axis on which one can see the sun set beneath the Arc de Triomphe, does not pass through the Faubourg Saint-Honoré but along the Champs-Élysées, and this is such a well-established Paris topos that it is quite hard to remember how recent it is. Until the 1860s, when Haussmann improved Avenue de l’Impératrice (Avenue du Bois in Proust’s time, then Avenue Foch), the road out to Neuilly and Normandy passed through the Faubourg Saint-Honoré.15 This was the itinerary on which Des Grieux set out to attack the escort leading Manon Lescaut into exile (‘I learned, by the soldier’s report, that they would go out towards Rouen, and that it was from Le Havredu-Grâce that they were to sail for America. We at once went to the gate of Saint-Honoré . . . We assembled at the end of the faubourg. Our horses were fresh.’).
The wide hilly stretch between the Faubourg Saint-Honoré and the Seine has undergone extraordinary transformations from the time when the young Louis XIII hunted fox there. At that time, he would have already left Paris on crossing the stone bridge built across the moat of the Tuileries. What would later become the Cours-la-Reine, the elegant promenade of the age of Le Cid, was thus outside the city when it was improved in the 1620s:
A new word and a new thing, the invention of Marie de Médicis. Until her regency, no other way of promenading was known in France except on foot and in gardens, but she brought from Florence to Paris the fashion of promenading by carriage at the coolest hours after dinner . . . With this object, she had avenues of trees planted along the Seine, to the west of the Tuileries gardens. The queen then gave her name to this way, which she modelled after the corsi of Florence and Rome.16
Following the old Chaillot road, the Cours-la-Reine was divided from the river by the Versailles road that followed the Seine. It was planted with four ranks of elms, with ditches on either side and closed off with fences at each end. At the midpoint, a roundabout (now the Place du Canada) enabled carriages to turn. In Le Grand Cyrus, where Paris is called Suze and Princesse Mandane has the golden hair of the Duchesse de Longueville, one of the beauties of the Fronde, it is said that
Along this fine river [the Choaspe, as the Seine is called here], four avenues are to be found, that are so wide, so straight, and so shaded by the height of their trees that it is impossible to imagine a more pleasant promenade. This is also the place where the ladies all come in the evening, in little open-top cars, the men following behind on horseback; with the result that, free to go either in one direction or the other, the promenade serves for both promenade and conversation, and is without a doubt most entertaining.
At this time, the Champs-Élysées was still a marshy field, which had yet to be given a name:
This was formerly a plain to be seen on the right-hand side of the Cours-la-Reine, to which one crossed by a small stone bridge. In 1670 it was planted with elms, which formed fine avenues up to the Roule, ending in the form of a star, at a height from which a part of the city and the countryside around could be seen; this was then named the ChampsÉlysées. The central avenue was more spacious than the others, and led at one end to the large esplanade facing the swing-bridge of the Tuileries, which has since been made into the Place de Louis XV [now Place de la Concorde], and at the other end to the Étoile.17
Under Louis XV, the Marquis de Marigny, brother of La Pompadour and superintendent of the king’s buildings (he and his sister made a fine minister of culture), ‘had all the trees planted in 1670 uprooted, and, in order to make the viewpoint more spacious . . . had the high ground that was close to the part known as the Étoile levelled, and the lower ground raised, so that the road was made gentler and more uniform, and in 1765 began to replant with trees this whole section of the Champs-Élysées, so that these trees today have the finest effect possible.’18
It was said at the time that Marigny had undertaken this work to give his sister, who had just bought the Hôtel d’Évreux (now the Élysée palace), a clearer view of the promenade and the Invalides. That is possible, but at all events the beginning of the Champs-Élysées’ fashionability dates from these improvements. As Mercier wrote:
The magnificent garden of the Tuileries is abandoned today for the avenues of the Champs-Élysées. One admires the fine proportions and design of the Tuileries; but the Champs-Élysées is where all ages and classes of people gather: the pastoral character of the place, the buildings decked out with terraces, the cafés, a wider and less symmetrical ground, all this acts as an invitation.
In the 1770s, when dance halls – known as vaux-halls – proliferated in Paris, Le Camus de Mézières, whom we saw at work on the Halle aux Blés, built the Colisée – likewise a rotunda – between the Allée des Veuves (Avenue Matignon19), Rue du Colisée and the Champs-Élysées. This establishment, which included five rooms for dancing, fashionable shops for clothing and jewellery, a naumachia, cafés, and entertainments, was famed for its fireworks and masked balls, attended by no less than Marie-Antoinette herself. The best society frequented the Ledoyen restaurant, where in summer you could dine outdoors; the Café des Ambassadeurs; and the Restaurant de la Bonne-Morue in the street of the same name (now Rue Boissy-d’Anglas), where Grimod de La Reynière, Farmer-General and celebrated gastronomist, had a hotel built that was decorated by Clérisseau in the Pompeian style.20 On the wide expanse of waste ground in front of the Tuileries, which had long served as a storage site for marble, Gabriel finished the Place Louis XV, which must have been very pretty with its oval of floral ditches, sentry boxes, balustrades, and in the centre the equestrian statue of the king by Bouchardon, which would soon be replaced by the guillotine.
The gardens of the Champs-Élysées, before the ageing Blanqui came, unknown to anyone, to review his secret army,21 or the young narrator of À la Recherche du temps perdu felt the first torments of love, were for the whole of the nineteenth century one of the great sites of Parisian pleasure. In 1800 already, Chateaubriand, arriving through the Étoile barrier and rediscovering the city he had left nine years previously, recalled in his Memoirs: ‘On entering the Champs-Élysées I was amazed to hear the sound of violins, horns, clarinets and drums. I saw halls where men and women were dancing; further on, the Tuileries palace appeared at the far end of its two great stands of chestnut trees.’
Later on in the century, the Champs-Élysées was, for Victor Fournel, ‘the centre of that flood of harmony which descends on Paris in the summer months. It is impossible to take a step, from the Rond-Point and as far as the Place de la Concorde, without receiving the full impact, like artillery fire, of a romance, a little song, and further on a great aria or an opera overture.’22 In 1844, at the height of the polka mania, the Mabille brothers opened a ballroom in the Allée des Veuves, ‘which presented a charming aspect in the evenings, when its trees, flower baskets and ponds were lit up by gas lamps. The orchestra enjoyed a deserved reputation. It was here that successive choreographic celebrities shone who were more or less suspect, known to the public by such names as Reine Pomaré, Céleste Mogador, Rigolboche, etc.’23 Then, during the great vogue of cafés-concerts, it was in the Champs-Élysées gardens that the most luxurious of these were to be found, such as the Alcazar in summer, whose star was the famous Thérésa, and the Café des Ambassadeurs, immortalized by Degas and Lautrec.
The Faubourg Saint-Honoré was ‘formerly relatively uninhabited and insignificant’, wrote Piganiol de La Force in 1765, ‘but fifty or sixty years ago people began to build the most magnificent hôtels there, so that it is now one of the finest faubourgs of Paris’. The elegant hotels were on the odd-numbered side of the street, with gardens opening onto the ChampsÉlysées: the Hôtel d’Évreux or Élysée, the Hôtel de Charost that belonged to Pauline Bonaparte before becoming the British embassy, the Hôtel d’Aguesseau which Visconti transformed into a neo-Renaissance palazzo and would be one of Rothschild’s hôtels. But at the same time, higher up, between the Rond-Point and the present Place de l’Étoile, both sides of what was still called Avenue de Neuilly remained almost deserted. In 1800, there were no more than six buildings on this stretch.24 Further up again, the land along Rue de Chaillot (now de Berri) belonged to the Oratory fathers, and the land on the left to the Sainte-Geneviève abbey, which ran the Sainte-Périne retirement home. Still further, the left side was occupied by the Marbeuf gardens, an ancient folly that the Convention had turned into a public garden. On the right, an immense estate was named after Beaujon, receiver-general of finances under Louis XVI, who had built there a kind of ‘charterhouse’ for his intimate gatherings, along with a dairy and a home for eighty orphans, including six for children ‘who showed an early talent for drawing’.25 Under Louis-Philippe, new streets were built across these well-endowed lands, including Rue Fortunée, where Balzac moved, after great labours, to receive Mme Hanska in a setting worthy of her.26
The Champs-Élysées in the present sense is thus a ‘recent’ quarter, which has only really existed since the 1830s or ’40s. Its development accelerated when Haussmann improved the Place de l’Étoile and Avenue de l’Impératrice (now Foch), thus opening the road to the Bois de Boulogne and the west. ‘It is frightening,’ Delvau wrote in 1865, ‘the number of promenaders and carriages of all kinds – broughams and britzskas, flies and tandems, barouches and four-wheelers, cabs and wagonettes – that cross this square each day on their way either to the Bois de Boulogne or to Neuilly, which are both in this direction.’27 But despite this animation, Avenue des Champs-Élysées essentially dates only from the twentieth century. That is exceptional for a major Paris artery, and we should perhaps see it as one of the reasons that make it seem like a stranger in the city, even if in certain faraway countries it is seen as one of the main symbols of Paris.
In the 1950s there were still good reasons for visiting the ChampsÉlysées: a certain flashiness, an entertaining kitsch, Claridge’s, Fouquet’s, the chrome displays of De Soto and Packard – and above all the cinemas. To see the latest Hitchcock in its original version, there was no other choice than the magnificent theatres of the Marignan, the Normandie, or the Colisée (in the boulevard cinemas these films were only shown dubbed in French, and on the Left Bank the art and specialist cinemas only projected classics or avant-garde films). But today, especially after the recent ‘improvements’, the Champs-Élysées is more like the duty-free mall of an international airport, decorated in a style that is a mixture of pseudo-Haussmann and pseudo-Bauhaus, as revisited by Jean-Claude Decaux.
At the time when the surroundings of the Champs-Élysées were still unpopulated and sometimes dangerous – in Les Mystères de Paris, the Coeur Sanglant, an underground dive where the Schoolmaster tries to drown Rodolphe, is at the end of the Allée des Veuves, i.e., on the Place d’Alma – the Faubourg Saint-Antoine was in its heyday. Its turbulence was proverbial. When Madame Madou, a dealer in dried fruit in the Halles, broke in on poor César Birotteau to demand her money, Balzac wrote that she ‘bore down like an insurrectionary wave from the Faubourg Saint-Antoine’. The faubourg had gained this reputation during the Revolution, right from the fall of the Bastille. The sections of Quinze-Vingts and Montreuil had then played leading roles on 10 August – led by Santerre, the brewer from Rue de Reuilly, whom the insurrectionary Commune appointed commander of the National Guard – and on the journées of 31 May and 2 June 1793, which saw the fall of the Girondins. After Thermidor, it was still this faubourg that launched the hunger riots of Prairial in year III and suffered their terrible repression. As Delvau wrote, ‘the history of this faubourg is the history of Paris – written in musket fire’.28
The lines of the Faubourg Saint-Antoine and its neighbouring streets have not changed since the Middle Ages, when the Porte Saint-Antoine was the starting point for a number of different roads.29 The Faubourg in the strict sense led in the direction of the abbey of Saint-Antoine-des-Champs, devoted to ‘mad women desirous of getting well again’, and then on to the Château de Vincennes. The roads to Charenton, Charonne, Reuilly and Montreuil led to ancient villages that supplied a good part of the capital’s wine, fruit and vegetables. ‘Montreuil is the finest garden that Pomona could glorify’, wrote Mercier. ‘Nowhere has industry taken the cultivation of fruit trees further, and especially that of peaches. A Montreuil gardener is highly sought after throughout the Île de France.’
The rise of the faubourg began in the seventeenth century. ‘The Faubourg Saint-Antoine increased prodigiously’, wrote Piganiol de La Force, ‘from the large number of houses that were built there, both because of the good air and because of the king’s letters patent of 1657, which exempted from the qualification of mastership all artisans and tradespeople who lived there.’ This favour of Louis XIV was not the only reason for the development of handicrafts in the faubourg. Wood that was brought downstream by barge was unloaded close by, at the Quai de la Rapée on the Louviers island, so that both firewood and timber for construction were stored in the faubourg. It was only a small step from this to carpentry, also spurred on by the construction of the wall, as there was no longer any advantage in building up supplies of raw materials within the zone subject to octroi. Storehouses and barns were therefore turned into workshops, all the more so as a new and highly skilled labour force was available in the form of Flemish and German artisans who had arrived to profit from the Parisian economic boom (many of them were Protestants, hence the rise of the Charenton chapel in the eighteenth century). But perhaps ‘profit’ is too strong a word. ‘I do not know how this faubourg survives’, wrote Mercier. ‘Furniture is sold from one end to the other; and the poor population that live here have no furniture at all.’
The wood industry, which had begun with timber for housing, steadily developed into more delicate activities. The faubourg had cabinetmakers, carvers, gilders, polishers and turners. And wood was not the only material now worked: in Rue de Reuilly (not far from Santerre’s brewery), where the barracks now stands, was the royal manufactory of mirrors, which Colbert had set up to compete with Venetian imports. In Rue de Montreuil, on a section of the demolished Folie-Titon, the Réveillon factory became under Louis XVI the royal manufactory of wallpaper – when this contractor decided to reduce the wages of his workers, the faubourg devastated the plant in April 1789, troops intervened, and this episode, in which several dozen people died, is often seen as a prelude to the Revolution. In 1808, the spinning works of François Richard and Lenoir-Dufresne employed 750 workers in a former convent on Rue de Charonne. The power for its machines was supplied by horses, and most of the workers employed were children.30
Like Belleville, another indomitable bastion that Haussman divided between two arrondissements in the interest of controlling it, the Faubourg Saint-Antoine was partitioned between the 11th and 12th arrondissements. But to better mark its difference, it kept the old names for its cul-de-sacs, courtyards and passages: le Cheval-Blanc, la Main-d’Or, la Bonne-Graine, la Boule-Blanche, la Forge-Royale, la Maison-Brûlée. ‘The municipality has numbered the streets here, as in all other parts of Paris; but if you ask one of the inhabitants of this suburb for his address, he will always give you the name his house bears and not the cold, official number.’31
After the night of the Second Empire, and after the Commune – whose final act, as we shall see, took place around the mairie of the 11th arrondissement – the Faubourg Saint-Antoine remained a red focus. ‘As long as the Dreyfus crisis lasted’, Daniel Halévy related,
the Faubourg Saint-Antoine was our fortress . . . in this little room on Rue Paul-Bert, where we huddled together, workers and bourgeois, where we squeezed our chairs one against the other . . . One day in autumn 1899, we watched for hours the return of the crowd of workers who had been parading on the Place du Trône, before the Triomphe de la République, Dalou’s bronze statue that had been unveiled that day. I doubt that 1848, with its famous festivals, or 1790, on the day of the Federations, saw a greater movement of the masses, or one so powerfully possessed by the spirit of the Revolution.32
This was the first time in the history of Paris that a crowd paraded with red flags at its head without being gunned down.
The present Faubourg retains few material traces of this glorious past, and only the friends of Red Paris mentally raise their hats when they cross Rue Charles-Delescluze and remember that at the crossroads of Rue du Faubourg Saint-Antoine and Rue de Cotte they are on the site of the barricade where the representative of the people Alphonse Baudin was killed for twenty-five francs.33 But even if the proximity of the Bastille Opera now disagreeably contaminates the first few metres of the Faubourg, even if Rue de Lappe, long since deserted by the Auvergnats, is no longer the haven that it once was for modern art,34 still the Aligre market, the fountains on the corner of Rue de Charonne and in the square in front of the Saint-Antoine hospital, the courtyards where illustrators and computer buffs, Chinese artisans and photographers, work cheek by jowl – this unique mixture maintains the quarter’s identity as plebeian and industrious. If, taking up Marcel Duchamp’s idea, we should manufacture cans of Air de Paris, it is certainly that of the Faubourg Saint-Antoine with which I would fill mine.
Popincourt and Faubourg du Temple
To the south, Rue de Charenton separates the Faubourg Saint-Antoine from the quarter of the Gare de Lyon – one of ill repute since the late 1970s, specially the Chalon block famous for its squats, dope dealers, and Vietnamese restaurants where you could get a meal for 10 francs, now eradicated and replaced by an ensemble of underground streets, express-ways, and office towers with reflective curtain walls. The northern limit of the faubourg is rather more vague: we could choose either Rue de Charonne, which led to theoctroi wall at the Fontarabie barrier (now Métro Alexandre-Dumas), or Rue de la Roquette, another old street with Auvergnat connections (the present Bastille theatre was still in 1965 a dance hall that preserved the culture of the bourrée, ‘Le Massif-Central’), ending up on the boulevard at the Aunay barrier, opposite the main entrance to Père-Lachaise.
Between the Faubourg Saint-Antoine and its northern neighbour, the Faubourg du Temple, is the Popincourt quarter.35 This old centre of Protestantism was – and still is – organized around two major transversals. One of these, leading from Temple to the Saint-Antoine abbey, is now Rues de la Folie-Méricourt, Popincourt, and Basfroi (the two latter, devoted to the wholesale fashion trade – now run by Asians – are like a second Sentier). The other, the road from Saint-Denis to Saint-Maur, now corresponds to the sequence of Rue Saint-Maur, Rue Léon-Frot and Rue des Boulets, extended eastward by Rue de Picpus. The grid was completed by three radials, more or less parallel to Rue du Faubourg-du-Temple: Rue du Chemin-Vert, Rue de Ménilmontant (now Oberkampf), and Rue d’Angoulême (now Jean-Pierre-Timbaud), which continued through Rue des Trois-Bornes and Rue des Trois-Couronnes until the barrier of that name (now Métro Couronnes). This was the site of the Delta gardens, whose great attraction was the Montagnes Françaises, ‘where so many fragile bonneted virtues came a cropper, alongside bold sellers of novelties commonly known as “calicots” [counter-jumpers]’.36
Industry in the Popincourt quarter only dates from the nineteenth century. More recent than that of the Faubourg Saint-Antoine, it is also less specialized. On Rue Popincourt or Rue Saint-Maur alongside the Saint-Louis hospital, successive working-class courtyards, remarkably deep, are more reminiscent of the Berlin Mietskasernen of the late nineteenth century than the passages of Rue du Cheval-Blanc or Rue de la Main-d’Or: ‘These courtyards shelter an entire population . . . The proprietor, a large manufacturer, installed a steam engine there for his factory; but, wishing to attract small workshops, he had all of his ground floors, i.e., a length of over a hundred metres, transversed by the axle of his machine, so that he could rent out to each of his tenants, along with accommodation, a belt to which they could fit a machine.’37
Where Rue du Faubourg-du-Temple crosses the Canal Saint-Martin there are two facing statues, each going back to the years of Parisian Romanticism. On the right as you come down is the bust of the greatest actor of the day, Frédérick Lemaître, famous for the role of Robert Macaire inL’Auberge des Adrets, illustrious as Vautrin and Don César de Bazan, as much at home on the Boulevard du Crime as at the Ambigu or the Gymnase (‘Sublime gestures, in short’, wrote Baudelaire. ‘Delacroix is only rivalled outside of his own art. I scarcely know any others except Frédérick Lemaître and Macready.’38) On the other side of the street is the standing figure of a young woman with uncertain features, who offers the passerby the flowers that she holds in her turned-up apron. She is La Grisette de 1830, the term being defined by the Robert dictionary as ‘a girl of petty condition (generally a factory worker or employed in tailoring, fashion, lingerie . . .) with bold and easy manners’. In La Caricature for 6 January 1831, Balzac evoked ‘these little creatures nice enough to eat, with their mischievous air, turned-up nose, short dress and well-turned legs, who are known as grisettes’.
The date of 1830 is not a reference to the Trois Glorieuses, but rather to a regular event that took place on that site in these years: the descente de la Courtille.39 In the early morning of Ash Wednesday, from the 1820s until after June 1848, this parade marked the end of Carnival. It was a ritual whose apparent gaiety did not manage to conceal its latent violence. Privat d’Anglemont, a prince of the bohemian world, gave a nostalgic description of it:
Ah, the descent from the Courtille, that was a real bacchanalia of the French people! What a crowd, what confusion! What cries, what noise! Pyramids of men and women clinging to carriages, hurling abuse at each other across the street, a whole city in the street . . . we might say, with no exaggeration, that tout Paris was there. Everyone said: ‘It’s monstrous, depraved’, but the most refined society, duchesses in domino masks and short-skirted women of easy virtue in their dishevelled finery, courtesans dressed up as bold fishwives, bourgeois as peasants or Swiss milkmaids, hastened at four in the morning to leave the salons of the Opera, the subscription balls, the theatres, and even, we have to say, official balls, to make their way there . . . There was no good Carnival without a noisy descent from the Courtille; every window was rented a month in advance, with crazy prices paid . . . People spilled out of the cheap dance halls, and were everywhere, even on the rooftops; all you could see were heads, all shouting, crying out, splashing each other with wine. Carriages arrived filled with masked figures, and took three hours to get from the boulevard to thebarrière . . . People bawled at each other from carriage to carriage, from house windows to carriages, from the street to the windows; each group had its especially loudmouthed character, a kind of rasping corncrake with lungs of steel, whose job was to respond to everyone else.40
The voice of working-class consciousness was quite different. Benjamin Gastineau, a typographer and former colleague of Proudhon’s, hated the Carnival and had a particular horror of the descent from the Courtille, in which he saw the brutalization of his brothers and the degradation of his sisters:
People expelled from the taverns who make their way there drunk and staggering, trampling over those who fall, women wearing policemen’s caps over their ears and a broken pipe between their teeth, disguised as clowns, pierrettes, fishwives or urchins . . . women dishevelled, filthy, with disordered hair, the stupefied look of those exhausted by vice, green lips, crumpled breasts, stained clothes . . .41
In terms curiously close to this proletarian moralism, Alfred de Musset expresses his hatred of the people through the character Octave in The Confession of a Child of the Century:
The first time I saw the people – it was a frightful morning of Ash Wednesday, near La Courtille . . . Masked carriages filed hither and thither, crowding between hedges of hideous men and women standing on the sidewalks. That sinister wall of spectators had tiger eyes, red with wine, gleaming with hatred . . . from time to time a man in rags would step out from the wall, hurl a torrent of abuse at us, then cover us with a cloud of flour . . . I began to understand the time and comprehend the spirit of the age.42
The construction of the wall of the Farmers-General turned the geography of the Courtille taverns upside down. Previously, from the Regency to the beginning of Louis XVI’s reign, the quarter had been dominated by the Ramponeau phenomenon. This establishment, with the sign of the Tambour-Royal, occupied the corner of Rue Saint-Maur and Rue de l’Orillon.43 Its sign showed the landlord astride a barrel, and below this the lines: ‘See France run to the barrel [tonneau]/that serves as throne to Monsieur Ramponeau.’ ‘The name Ramponeau,’ wrote Mercier, ‘was a thousand times better known to the multitude than those of Voltaire or Buffon.’ Almost a century later, Delvau still offered an amazed image:
Ramponeau! What a character! He created almost as much noise as a battle in his journey through this world. The people had adopted him, and wanted no one else . . . He was spoken of everywhere, from alleys to high circles, from the breakfasts of duchesses to the suppers of actresses, to the point that the entire world of fashion, so frivolous and idle, forgot the disgrace of M. de Choiseul  and his exile, in their concern for the Courtille that made such a row, and the rabble that flaunted themselves there in such good spirits.
But when the Farmers-General’s wall increased the duties on wine in Paris, the taverns migrated to the other side of the barrière, at the foot of Belleville. On the night of Mardi Gras, before the descent from Courtille, revellers would get drunk at Favié’s or Desnoyers’, the fashionable establishment of those years:
The great guinguette of the immortal Desnoyers, and a number of others whose gigantic saloons filled up in winter with thousands of families, and their gardens in summer, with dancing men and women who had not received their lessons from conservatory professors. No one gave any heed to the Greeks, or the 3 per cent stocks, or the Jesuits, or the Holy Alliance, or the republic of Haiti. All they had in mind was having a good drink, a good feed, and a good dance.44
Even those most strapped for cash could try their luck at Guillotin’s. As Vidocq wrote:
The Guillotin I refer to here was simply a modest adulterator of wine, whose establishment, well known to thieves of the lowest level, was situated opposite Desnoyers’ filthy dive, which the tipplers of the barrière called the ‘Grand salon de La Courtille’. Even the scum of the earth thought twice about crossing the threshold of Guillotin’s tavern, with the result that the only people you saw in this receptacle were prostitutes and their pimps, hoodlums of all kinds, a few low-class swindlers, and a good number of disturbers of the night, intrepid denizens of the faubourgs, who divided their existence into two parts, one devoted to rioting, the other to theft.45
These famous establishments disappeared without leaving any other trace than some street names, but as if to prove that there is indeed some such thing as the spirit of a place, Rue Oberkampf, Rue Jean-Pierre-Timbaud and Rue Saint-Maur have seen in recent years the birth of a new generation of cafés, restaurants and bars that are often characterized as branchés[cool], a vague term that also says something of the character of the times. Fortunately, the working-class population of the quarter (‘working-class’ today meaning ‘immigrant’) contains and waters down this phenomenon. Rue du Faubourg-du-Temple remains one of the most ‘amalgamated’ in Paris, just as in Privat’s time. You can eat Turkish and Chinese food – ‘Planète Istanbul’ standing cheek-by-jowl with ‘Les Folies de Sin-Wang’ – as well as Pakistani, Malian, Tunisian, Greek or Cambodian. You can buy halal meat, all the spices of the East, every kind of rice, mysterious African vegetables and Chinese wedding cakes a metre and a half tall, topped by dancing couples in a tender embrace, their various tiers each bearing a gaggle of children. The garment factories are at work in every courtyard by eight in the morning. In the Pakistani shops you can find Korean toasters and paper flowers, plastic stools, bundles of mats, and imitation Italiancafetières. Above Rue Saint-Maur, ‘Mabel’ offers a choice of holy statuettes from all religions, along with bath oils, love potions, hairpieces, incense, and a liquid that protects against magic spells. The very narrow shop fronts have multicoloured signs that offer cut-price phone calls to the Comoros, Ethiopia, Paraguay or Togo. Not to mention the countless shops for mobile phones and trainers, suitcases with wheels and socks at ten francs for three pairs. Rue Faubourg-du-Temple, often dirty, always noisy and busy, boasts two theatres, the Palais des Glaces with its gigantic wooden elephant, and a tiny stage on the corner of the Passage Piver that has taken the name of Tambour-Royal in homage to Ramponeau, as well as a hammam, two dance halls, and five tobacconists. ‘It’s a whole little world in itself,’ as Privat d’Anglemont already said a hundred and fifty years ago, ‘this great rise that starts at one boulevard and ends on another. It is a kind of free zone, the Latin Quarter of the Right Bank. Everyone there lives just as they please, without being bothered by their neighbours.’
In the mid nineteenth century the Faubourg Saint-Antoine, the Popincourt quarter and the Faubourg du Temple formed a region where the working and ‘dangerous’ classes were concentrated to an alarming degree. This is why the region was the object of Haussmann’s full attention. On any map of Paris you can see how brutally the immense Place de la République was implanted on an old and delicate urban fabric. And this brutality is equally manifest in the square itself, which was flanked by two monumental buildings: the Magasins-Réunis (still today a consumerist temple, combining Habitat, Go Sport, Gymnase Club and Holiday Inn), and the Prince-Eugène barracks built on the site of Daguerre’s Diorama. The strategic importance of this barracks, with wide avenues converging on the square in a star, was clear enough at the time, even for a polemicist of the Catholic right such as Louis Veuillot:
There is also the Prince-Eugène barracks, which is a fine building, and the boulevard brings the barracks into communication with the Château de Vincennes, which is not a small castle. Vincennes is at one end, the barracks at the other, and alongside it the boulevard leading to the square of the former Bastille.46 This is a rectangular barracks able to house a few thousand men, who could fire in all four directions: a double crossfire. It would be a dangerous spot for any subversive ideas that might take their chance here.47
In the same way, the Reuilly barracks controlled the Faubourg Saint-Antoine, crosshatched by Avenue Daumesnil, Boulevards Mazas (now Diderot), du Prince-Eugène (Voltaire) and de la Reine-Hortense (Richard-Lenoir). Haussmann was quite explicit. When he explained to Napoleon III that it was possible to lower the water level of the Canal Saint-Martin, and cover it over so that Boulevard de la Reine-Hortense could cross it, he exulted: ‘I have rarely seen my august sovereign enthusiastic. This time he was so without reserve, so great an importance did he place . . . on the work by means of which I proposed to remove the permanent obstacle . . . to the line of control from which one could, in case of need, take the Faubourg Saint-Antoine from the rear.’
Whilst the Faubourg Saint-Antoine stretched broadly across the plateau of eastern Paris, the Faubourg du Temple abutted the hill of Belleville, making this quarter a narrower one. The road to Meaux and Germany avoided the high ground, taking Rue du Buisson-Saint-Louis and exiting Paris through the Barrière de la Chopinette (‘where Parisians would go to celebrate St Monday, and drink like canons’, says Delvau). You could also take Rue de la Grange-aux-Belles, which led to the Pantin barrière, later commonly known as the Barrière du Combat:48
Since 1781 a circus like the one in Madrid has been held outside the Barrière de Pantin, on the corner of the present Rue de Meaux and opposite Rue de la Grange-aux-Belles . . . Its bulls were most commonly wolves, bears, deer, donkeys and bulldogs, which you could watch tear each other’s guts out for the petty sum of 65 centimes for a third-class seat . . . At the beginning, people of fashion patronized this parody of the bloody games of the Madrid circus. Fine gentlemen and beautiful ladies were not afraid to brave the exhalations of this municipal Lake Stymphalos and would arrive to attend the authorized butchery.49
We may wonder which was the greater transgression, that of the elegant lady spectators at the Combat in the final years of the ancien régime, or that of the voters for Balladur who recently betook themselves just opposite, to the premises of the ‘Communist’ party, to attend the Prada fashion parade in the famous Oscar Niemeyer building.
Between the Faubourg du Temple and the Faubourg Saint-Martin there is a border zone on either side of the canal, ‘the Versailles and the Marseille of this proud and strong district’.50 On the further bank of the canal, most of this space is taken up by the Saint-Louis hospital, one of the oldest in the city – it was on his way to inaugurate the chapel there that Henri IV was assassinated – as well as the finest, along with the Salpêtrière. Between the hospital and the Boulevard de la Villette a few little old streets, such as Rue Saint-Marthe and Rue Jean-Moinon, have strongly resisted destruction in an overall context of poverty and dilapidation. On the near side, there was the idea under the Restoration of building along the canal a ‘Place du Marais’, the site of which is today marked by Rue de Marseille, Rue Léon-Jouhaux (formerly Rue Samson and later Rue de la Douane51) and Rue Yves-Toudic (formerly Rue des Marais-du-Temple). All that remains of this abortive project is the Douanes customs warehouse – rebuilt in the 1930s on the site of the old one, which stretched to the water’s edge – and some very regular streets where the wholesale carpet trade recalls the customs activity of the previous century.
If you turn your back on the canal and set out towards the Grands Boulevards, neoclassical elegance soon replaces business wealth. Rue de Lancry, Rue des Vinaigriers, Rue de Bondy (now René-Boulanger) and the Cité Riverin offer a thousand and one variations on decorative themes that were fashionable when David was working on The Oath of the Horatii. Between Boulevard Magenta and the Passage des Marais, the Cité du Wauxhall, reached through a neo-Palladian portico, reminds us that
on the corner of Rue de Bondy and Rue de Lancry an Italian firework-maker called Torré opened a large theatre in 1764, where he put on pantomimes in which fireworks played a great role. In 1769 this theatre was rebuilt and given the name of the Wauxhall d’Été. In 1782 this Wauxhall, known now as the Fêtes de Tempé, enjoyed a tremendous vogue. It was a kind of love exchange, in which deals of galanterie were made, and marketable assets of this kind were cashed. This was where the Prince de Soubise made the acquisition of a very pretty girl, the niece of Mlle Lamy, who remained his mistress for many years.52
Faubourg Saint-Martin and Faubourg Saint-Denis
The two faubourgs of Saint-Martin and Saint-Denis, false twins separated by Boulevard de Strasbourg, are each themselves divided in two – by the Gare de l’Est in the first case, and the Gare du Nord in the second. One might believe it was the enormous footprint of the stations that broke their continuity, but in actual fact this break long predates the railway. It was made by two religious establishments whose remaining vestiges do not give any idea of their great size – Saint-Laurent and Saint-Lazare. The faubourg that today bears the name of Saint-Martin was for many years known as Saint-Laurent in its upper part, as far as the Barrière de La Villette (now Place de la Bataille de Stalingrad). In the same way, the present Faubourg Saint-Denis was formerly known as Faubourg Saint-Lazare, between the convent-hospital-prison and the Barrière de La Chapelle. And there is no doubt that it was precisely this old discontinuity that guided the siting of the stations.
In their oldest sections, between the triumphal gates and glass roofs of the stations, there is the same difference between the two streets as between the well-mannered Rue Saint-Martin and the violent Rue Saint-Denis. The Faubourg Saint-Martin is broad, flat, and rectilinear, only enlivened by the silhouette of the mairie of the 10th arrondissement. It spills out in front of the station in a triangular place, where the ‘Armurerie Gare de l’Est’, the brasserie ‘Au Triomphe de l’Est’, shops selling work clothes, the apse of the Saint-Laurent church and the wall of the former monastery of the Récollets form a landscape that could be in Metz or Mulhouse – such mimetism often makes the surroundings of Parisian stations similar to those of the destinations of the trains that leave from them.
Rue du Faubourg Saint-Denis begins, in the shadow of the Porte Saint-Denis, with a noisy and busy large market, Turkish for the most part, as is the gloomy Passage du Prado, an ‘L’ shape between the Faubourg and Boulevard Saint-Denis, the domain of the sewing machine, including secondhand ones and repair shops. The Faubourg then climbs in a curve up to Boulevard Magenta. The square on the corner there marks the site of the Mission Saint-Lazare, a former leper colony transformed by Vincent de Paul, to become in the eighteenth century a prison for young offenders, then a Revolutionary prison, and eventually a hospital specializing in venereal diseases.53
The two faubourgs, nearly parallel before the stations, are linked by a series of arcades that are so lively and varied, so full of urban invention, that on some days you might prefer them to the historic arcades of Old Paris. There is first of all the Passage de l’Industrie, which on the other side of Boulevard de Strasbourg is known as Rue Gustave-Goublier, with the same neo-Palladian motif at each end as you find at the Wauxhall – a porch with three openings, the central one of which is vaulted in an arch with caissons and columns, higher and wider than the two lateral lights. The next one is the Passage Brady, devoted to Indian and especially Pakistani cuisine between Rue du Faubourg-Saint-Denis and the Boulevard, though on the other side, towards Rue du Faubourg-Saint-Martin, it maintains the old tradition of theatre costumiers. Further up still, opposite the Cour des Petites-Écuries, which was until the 1960s where leather traders gathered, is the magnificent Passage Reilhac, also the least frequented. As for the final one, the Passage du Désir, despite its name it is reminiscent of the calmness of a Flemish convent.
After Rue de Metz, Boulevard de Strasbourg itself, along with the adjacent section of Rue du Château-d’Eau, is the domain of African hair-dressing. All the equipment for this can be found here – hairpieces, dyes, tresses, and wigs in many colours. On weekend evenings, the salons are so lively, so full of pretty women, children, husbands and lovers, that hair-dressing is transformed into a festival largely open to the street – one of the most charming spectacles to be seen today in Paris.
Between the Mission Saint-Lazare and the Récollets monastery – today, in other words, between one station and the other – there was held in the eighteenth century the Saint-Laurent fair, which lasted from the end of June to the end of September. This was a site for games of all kinds, a dance hall, cafés and restaurants. Lécluse, a former actor with the Opéra-Comique, had a theatre built where the most lively plays of the time were performed. Lesage, Piron, Sedaine, Favart and many others worked for the Théâtre de la Foire. All the boulevard theatres, and even the OpéraComique before it was merged with the Comédie-Italienne, were obliged to give performances there. In the last years of Louis XVI’s reign, a ‘Chinese Bastion’ was constructed in competition with the Wauxhall d’Été. But the Revolution would soon bring an end to the Saint-Laurent fair. The land there remained unused until the building of the stations of the Strasbourg and Nord railways in the 1830s.
Beyond the stations the two faubourgs diverge, their roads respectively fanning out to the north and east. The Rue du Faubourg-Saint-Martin is relatively straight until it reaches the site of the former Barrière de La Villete, which has now taken – permanently, without a doubt – the name of Stalingrad. (Though Parisians adopt or reject the new names for old places: no one refers to the Étoile as the Place Charles-de-Gaulle, or says Place André-Malraux to mean Place du Théâtre-Français.) It was from this immense intersection of cobbles, water and steel that the Citroën coaches used to leave, their terminus being below the overhead Métro. Some lines served the factories to the east of Paris. Others, which left in the evenings, carried cargoes of immigrant workers back to Spain, Portugal, or North Africa. In the 1980s the space around Ledoux’s Rotonde was cleared, and the Métro line carefully shifted so that passengers can now see at the same time the Saint-Martin canal, the pool of La Villette, and the Sacré-Coeur.
Until the 1960s, Rue du Faubourg-Saint-Denis came into the Gare du Nord, and the Boulevard de la Chapelle was black with the coal of the trains. This was one of the toughest quarters in Paris. At the casualty ward of the Maison Dubois, each night brought its share of knife injuries, stomach shots and ‘criminal’ abortions. Beneath the elegant galleries with their Doric colonnades, and in the avenues planted with lime trees, there were not many who remembered how this Maison, ‘very useful for those who cannot have themselves treated at home, and yet fear the forced promiscuity of the big hospitals’,54 had in its day treated Nerval as well as Baudelaire’s mistress Jeanne, or that two figures of the Romantic bohème, Murget and Privat d’Anglemont, had ended their days here. Today, the top of Rue du Faubourg-Saint-Denis is the main South Asian colony in Paris, something of an overseas agency for India. Here you can buy saris, jewellery, spices, cloth, videocassettes, tin-plate cutlery and luminous sandals. You can sample the cuisines of Kashmir, Pakistan, Tamil Nadu, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and Singapore. The smell of incense and spices wafts out as far as the former Barrière de La Chapelle, where the magnificent overhead Métro station overlooks two little squares, the Théâtre des Bouffes du Nord, and Rue de Jessaint with its bridge over the railway to connect with Rue de la Goutte-d’Or.
Bordering the wall of the Farmers-General, between Rue du Faubourg-Saint-Denis and Rue du Faubourg-Poissonière, descending southward towards Rue de Paradis, the quadrilateral of the Saint-Lazare enclosure belonged to the priests of the Mission throughout the ancien régime. This was the largest enclosure in Paris, even more extensive than that of the Temple. After being nationalized by the Revolution, it was ceded in 1821 to a group of financiers led by the banker Lafitte, and its land used to construct the finest monumental ensemble of the 1830s and ’40s. This is where Hittorff built his two masterpieces: the façade of the Gare du Nord, with ‘its central pavilion with wide and luminous bays, its bold columns, its statues proudly displaying themselves nude, and the two surrounding pavilions’,55 and the church of Saint-Vincent-de-Paul, whose stairways and curved ramps form an ideal theatrical backdrop along with the fine buildings of the Place Franz-Liszt. This is also the site of the most harmonious of the Paris hospitals from the nineteenth century, the Lariboisière, adjacent to the Gare du Nord:
In 1846, when construction was begun under the direction of the architect Gauthier, the building was going to bear the name of King Louis-Philippe. The square where it was built was wasteland, bumpy and stony, known as the Clos Saint-Lazare. A few elderly Parisians still remember the lively aspect it had by day, thanks to the crowds of children who met there to play with kites, though in the deep solitude of the night.56
I will describe later on the terrible battles that took place on the hospital building site during the June days of 1848. The establishment was then called the Hôpital de la République, later Hôpital du Nord after the coup d’état of 1851, and took its present name when Countess Lariboisière, who died childless, gave her whole fortune to the city of Paris, which used it to complete the work in 1854.
Along the plebeian faubourgs to the north and east, the wall of the Farmers-General, over the eighty years of its existence, stimulated a very particular kind of urban development, which still leaves its traces in stones as well as minds. This was not the case on the inside of the wall; the raised walkway between the last houses and the wall was a gloomy one. That is where Nerval collapsed on the edge of madness at the end of Aurélia (‘I wander, prey to despair, over the abandoned ground that divides the faubourg from the barrier’), also where the Goncourts’ Germinie Lacerteux, another poor wanderer, ‘covered the whole space where the mob gets drunk and satisfies its lust on Mondays, between a hospital, a butchery, and a cemetery – Lariboisière, the Abattoir, and Montmartre’.
It was rather outside the wall, on the wide boulevard surrounding it, that a new kind of activity developed:
Once you crossed the wall erected by the Farmers-General, you reached a kind of relative paradise, where barriers and customs posts were unknown, where the unchallengeable advantages of an independent and unrestrained life were combined with the benefits of civilization. Many emigrants upped sticks and set out for this zone free from duties on meat, wine, cider, beer, vinegar, coal, firewood, gypsum, etc. This is how those villages were formed; their real founder was the Paris octroi.57
This zone, with aspect of both a court of miracles and an oriental bazaar,
was in former times still occupied exclusively by outlets for vin bleu with burlesque shop signs, with dealers in bric-a-brac, old shoes, old linen, rags and scrap metal; then there were shady hotels, a good number of anonymous business houses, shacks that exhibited sequined phenomena and savant dogs, impossible fish and sword-swallowers; and then again dealers in patched-up suits, who, mounted on trestles, would display their wares in the evenings by the light of smoky torches, thrashing about as if possessed.
The demolition of the wall led to the disappearance of this picturesque fauna, but the present flea markets along the ‘boulevards of the marshals’ (Saint-Ouen, Montreuil, Vanves . . .) can be seen as the direct heirs of the stalls of the Romantic era.
It was not just taverns and old-clothes dealers that nestled against the wall, but theatres as well. To reward the Seveste brothers, who had found for him the remains of his brother and Marie-Antoinette, Louis XVIII granted them a monopoly over theatres in this ‘zone’.58 They began with the construction of the Belleville theatre – now a Chinese supermarket, after having first been converted into a cinema in the 1950s. Other stages followed, at Montmartre, Grenelle, and Montparnasse. These theatres enjoyed an exceptionally advantageous position, in terms of repertory, cast, and public. Situated outside the wall, they were treated as provincial theatres, which gave them the freedom to perform plays from other theatres forty days after their premiere. The proximity of the capital brought them a guaranteed audience, delighted at being able on the same evening to see plays from the Odéon, the Gymnase and the Palais-Royal. Finally, they could choose from the best provincial actors, for whom the suburban theatre was the final step before reaching Paris itself.
This arrangement explains the geography of Paris theatres today, most of which are still located on two concentric circles. The inner circle is on the Grands Boulevards, as we have seen (the association of ‘theatre’ and ‘boulevard’ has not always had the connotation of bourgeois vulgarity). The outer one is the circle of theatres along the wall of the Farmers-General: the Bouffes du Nord, Dullin’s Atelier which is the former Montmartre theatre, the Européen behind the Place de Clichy, the Hébertot which was formerly the Batignolles, the Ranelagh, the Grenelle at the corner of Rue du Théâtre and Rue de la Croix-Nivert, the Gaîté-Montparnasse, the Saint-Marcel on Rue Pascal. You can make a circuit of Paris in this way, including all the old cinemas that were onetime theatres.
Because of this zone beyond the wall of the Farmers-General, the northeastern boulevards, from Clichy to Ménilmontant, have been forever marked with the sign of entertainment and pleasure. Sex shops, porno theatres, shops selling X-rated videos, down-at-heel nightclubs, the whole ‘diamantiferous mud’ of our time is the lineal descendant of the circuses, music halls, balls, taverns and maisons de passe of the Paris of Vidocq and Eugène Sue, and later of Maupassant, Lautrec and Atget.59
Faubourg Poissonière and Faubourg Montmartre
If the frontier between the plebeian and the patrician sections of Paris were to be traced through the ring of Right Bank faubourgs, one might hesitate between Rue du Faubourg-Saint-Denis and Rue du Faubourg-Poisssonière, and not without reason: south of the Saint-Lazare enclosure, the region between Rue du Faubourg-Saint-Denis and Rue de Clichy – i.e., the major part of the 9th arrondissement – cannot be read as clearly as the old parts of the eastern and northern faubourgs. This broad zone is indeed crossed by two streets that have the name of faubourgs – Poissonière and Montmartre – but these did not act as the structuring matrix that this status would imply, in the time when thousands of carts rolled over beaten earth and later on cobbles, when the market gardens on either side were slowly transformed into courtyards, barns for animal feed, stables and workshops, when the lands of religious houses and aristocratic parks were sold off or confiscated, divided up and built on. It is only over a timescale of centuries that a faubourg can stimulate and govern the growth of a quarter. Now, if Rue du Faubourg-Saint-Martin was already a major route in the time of Emperor Julian, and the road that was to become Rue du Faubourg-Saint-Antoine played a major role in Paris at the time of the Crusades, Rues du Faubourg-Montmartre and du Faubourg-Poissonière were not really developed until the late eighteenth century. Moreover, this whole region underwent transformations that were both radical and compact in time. Rue de la Chaussée-d’Antin for example:
In the past [seventeenth] century this was simply a road that began at the Porte de Gaillon and led to the Porcherons, with an open sewer running along it. It was known as the Chemin des Porcherons, the Rue de l’Égout de Gaillon, the Chaussée d’Antin, and finally the Chemin de la Grande Pinte, on account of the tavern that is now run by the famous Ramponeau.60
In the 1770s, when, according to Mercier, the three classes that made money were bankers, notaries and builders, Rue de la Chaussée-d’Antin and those adjacent to it were taken over by financiers. These were Swiss such as Necker, or Mme Thélusson who commissioned from Ledoux the most remarkable hotel of the day – on Rue de Provence, ‘composed of an immense hemispherical arcade, across which could be seen the colonnade of a rotunda, raised on bosses of jagged rock, mingled with bushes’61 – or indeed Farmers-General such as Grimod de La Reynière or Jean-Jacques de Laborde, banker to Louis XVI, who divided up his fief of La Grange-Batelière and had the great sewer covered up at his own expense in order to add value to this land.62 The best architects of the day, Ledoux, Brongniart, Boullée, Célérier and Vestier, all built houses there for the bankers’ lady friends. For Mlle Guimard, the prima ballerina of the Opéra, protégée of the bishop of Orléans, the Farmer-General Laborde, and the Maréchal de Soubise, Ledoux conceived an hôtel with a theatre for private performances and an oval surrounded by a colonnade, after the model of Palladio’s Olympic theatre. Decorated by Fragonard and David, this was ‘the happiest and most brilliant assemblage of all the arts . . . The apartments suggested the interior of the palace of Eros embellished by the Graces . . . A warm conservatory within the apartment took the place of a garden in winter. The landscape there is tender without damaging the effect, the trellises are subject to the rules of fine architecture, the arabesques are in no way fanciful . . . You will see a small and delightful bathroom, perhaps unique in the style of its ornaments.’63
The Guimard hotel was presented by Napoleon to the tsar as an embassy, which did not prevent it from being demolished in 1826 in order ‘to build plastered houses there, which made all Parisians of heart and soul tremble’. In this quarter of the Chaussée-d’Antin, whose splendour it is hard to recapture today, as soon as financial speculation was again at its peak in the mid 1820s (viz. the vexations of César Birotteau), a start was made on demolishing wonderful buildings that were not yet fifty years old. Very soon the big cuttings began: Rue La Fayette was started under Charles X, whose name it bore until 1830. The construction of the Opéra Garnier, the department stores, and eventually Boulevard Haussmann, brought the coup de grâce to this quarter of actresses and dancers, so that today only a few scholars are aware of its remnants, scattered among the traffic jams and perfumeries, shop-windows with Christmas toys and post-Christmas sales.
Between Rue de Trévise, which climbs towards Rue de Montholon, and Rue d’Hauteville, which climbs to Rue Saint-Vincent-de-Paul, this section of the faubourg that was at one time very elegant still keeps its noble aspect, even if it is now basically devoted to the wholesale fur trade. Where Rue du Conservatoire now runs, there was in the eighteenth century the Hôtel des Menus-Plaisirs, a kind of ministry of the arts – people said ‘les Menus’ as they say today ‘le Quai d’Orsay’ or ‘la Place Beauvau’ – where the organization of big public festivals was conceived, as well as the design of the royal furniture.64 The music Conservatoire was founded in these buildings by a decision of the Committee of Public Safety on 7 Floréal of year II (26 April 1794). Gossec, Méhul and Cherubini were among its first professors. For Sarrette, the director, ‘the gap left by the suppression of the rituals of fanaticism must be filled by the songs of Liberty, and the people must augment with its voice the solemnity of the festivals consecrated to the virtues that the Republic honours’. The stage sets for the festival of the Supreme Being were produced in the workshops of the Menus-Plaisirs from the drawings of David.
In the nineteenth century, other music could be heard in this quarter: at the Alcazar d’Hiver on Rue du Faubourg-Poissonière, the Concert-Parisien on Rue de l’Échiquier, whose star was Yvette Guilbert, and above all at the Folies-Bergère. Young Léautaud, who may have met Manet there, visited the Folies for the first time with his mother:
I had already been to the Boule-Noire, the Élysée-Montmartre and the Comédie-Française; the lighting and costumes were nothing new for me. But what I saw now seemed incomparably more brilliant and coloured, more elaborate and rhythmical, and the women also struck me as more beautiful, compared with those of the Boule-Noire and the Élysée-Montmartre, often rather familiar, and those of the Comédie, always so stiff.65
And Huysmans, before being touched by divine grace:
They are outrageous and they are magnificent as they march two by two round the semicircular floor of the auditorium, powdered and painted, eyes drowned in a smudge of pale blue, lips ringed in startling red, their breasts thrust out over laced corsets . . . You watched, entranced, as this gaggle of whores passes rhythmically by, against a dull red backdrop broken only by windows, like wooden merry-go-round horses that twirl in slow motion to the sound of an organ around a bit of scarlet curtain embellished with mirrors and lamps.66
Between the end of the ancien régime and the fall of the Second Empire, the continual great transformations in what is today the bottom of the 9th arrondissement have wiped three small quarters off the map: Porcherons, Nouvelle-France, and Breda. Very much present in accounts, novels, and songs of the period, they have disappeared without leaving a trace, not even a street name. ‘The Porcherons’, Hurtaut and Magny wrote in their dictionary of 1779, is ‘a particular quarter within that of Montmartre, filled only with taverns in which people consume large quantities of wine, the same as at the Grande Pinte, because it is cheaper here’.67 A rhyme from 1750 says that ‘To see Rome without seeing the Courtille/Where rejoicing crowds swarm/Without visiting the Porcherons/The gathering place of lively lads/Is like seeing Rome without the pope’. In the early nineteenth century, the Porcherons gave way to the housing development of La Tour-des-Dames, and the ‘gathering place of lively lads’ became one of the most fashionable quarters of Paris.
Nouvelle-France was close to the Poissonière barrière (now the Barbès-Rochechouart intersection). This part of the Faubourg Poissonière was for a long time called the Chemin de la Nouvelle-France, the name relating to the young offenders who were parked in a nearby barracks after their arrest, before being deported to Canada. In the eighteenth century, a number of great lords had follies built in the midst of the fields, country taverns and windmills of Nouvelle-France:
The Comte de Charolais, a peer of France, governor of Touraine and prince of the blood: to all appearances, he lived in the Hôtel de Condé, but for the girls of the Opéra and a few fellow debauchees he had his real home in a little house with courtyard and garden towards the top of the Chemin de la Nouvelle-France. It was only in the Hôtel de Condé that he was called the Comte de Charolais; in the faubourg he was familiarly called ‘prince Charles’, and addressed as ‘tu’.68
As for the Breda quarter, this was the upper end of the Faubourg-Montmartre around the then new church of Notre-Dame-de-Lorette, thus a more recent quarter, contemporary with the Boulevards coming into vogue:69
So many kept women, those of the demimonde and its still lower depths, lived in the Breda quarter around Notre-Dame-de-Lorette, that they acquired the popular name of lorettes; the term biche [literally ‘doe’] was hardly in use until 1852 . . . The property-owners of the Breda quarter, gallant despite themselves, gave hospitality to these outcast women, who, braving rheumatism, were keen to become the first tenants of the new houses. Once they were in possession of the new quarter, from which their turbulence repelled the peaceable and well-behaved bourgeois, they never abandoned it. A joyous, careless, disorderly colony perpetuated itself in this fashion, paying its rent with the most regular irregularity.70
Saint-Georges and Nouvelle-Athènes
Around 1825, between The Raft of the Medusa and Liberty Guiding the People, New Paris, which had previously remained in the river basin, crossed Rue Saint-Lazare, surrounded the Porcherons, and climbed the lower slopes of Montmartre, following ‘this steady movement by which the Paris population has abandoned the Left Bank and made its way up the heights of the Right Bank’.71 Historians make careful distinctions between the Saint-Georges development, that of the Tour-des-Dames, and Nouvelle-Athènes, and it is true that as you climb from Notre-Dame-de-Lorette to the former Barrière Montmartre (now Place Pigalle), the architecture changes from a polite neoclassicism to the beginnings of Art Nouveau. But the dominant style on these slopes, what created the dazzling city of Balzac, Chopin and Delacroix, was the architecture of the late Restoration and the July monarchy, tastefully picturesque, homogeneous but not to the point of boredom, ornate without being finicky, noble without ostentation, sometimes melancholy like the end of an era, sometimes joyous like a new adventure. And against this calm and regular backdrop, certain masterpieces stand out, whether monumental like the Hôtel de la Païva on Place Saint-Georges, or modest, like the building on Rue Henri-Monnier opposite the Villa Frochot where Lautrec had his studio.
In this new quarter – the taste for living in old buildings scarcely goes back a century – there formed a kind of colony of writers and artists. It all began with theatre folk, already celebrated under the Empire. On Rue de la Tour-des-Dames, Mlle Mars established herself at no. 1, Mlle Duchesnois at no. 3, and the great Talma at no. 9. Then Chopin and George Sand came to live on the Square d’Orléans,72 and, to be closer to them, Delacroix moved to Rue Notre-Dame-de-Lorette. It was at this time that he painted his double portrait of the pair. On Rue Saint-Georges, where Balzac’s Nucingen installed poor Esther in a ‘leetle balace’, the aging tenor Manuel Garcia gave singing lessons. His two daughters, Pauline Viardot and Malibran, would soon reach a fame that is perhaps only comparable with that of Maria Callas in recent times.73 The magic of this quarter attracted Victor Hugo (on Rue de La Rochefoucauld), as well as Henri Monnier, Gavarni (who would later have his monument on the Place Saint-Georges), Alexandre Dumas, Auber, Boieldieu, and Émile de Girardin – whose salon, hosted by Delphine Gay, had Hugo, Musset, Balzac and Lamartine among its regulars. Later on, Barrès, Wagner and Gounod settled there, as well as the Goncourt brothers before they moved to Auteuil; Murger, whose father was a concierge in Montmartre; Millet; Lautrec; Gustave Moreau; and Villiers de L’Isle-Adam, who died at 45 Rue Fontaine, almost opposite the building where André Breton lived.
In Le Petit Ami, a marvellous little book, Paul Léautaud recalled his childhood in this quarter at the turn of the century:
The region that was most familiar to me, where my eyes filled with images that I would always keep, was that between Rue Notre-Dame-de-Lorette and Rue Fontaine, Boulevard de Clichy and Boulevard de Rochechouart, and between Rue Rochechouart and Rue Lamartine . . . I spent whole afternoons playing with a flock of charming little girls at the top of Rue Milton, which was then bordered on either side by waste ground surrounded by wooden fences. Each morning, for several years, I accompanied my father to his barber on Rue Lamartine, at the corner with Rue Rochechouart . . . On Rue des Martyrs was the paint dealer with his multicoloured shop front; the lavoir with its metal flag; the little bazaar on the corner of Rue Hippolyte-Lebas (Rue Haute-Lebas, as women new to the quarter said, because of the abbreviation on the nameplate) . . . On Rue Clauzel was the girls’ school, as well as the house of an artist with its elaborate façade . . . and on Rue Rodier, opposite our own, a house where women with thick face powder sang the whole day long.
Quartier de l’Europe
When you cross the 9th arrondissement from east to west, you eventually come to Rue de Clichy, across which begins a region as different from La Nouvelle-Athènes as Nana was from Coralie, Manet from Géricault, or Gounod from Cherubini: this is the Quartier de l’Europe. The faded elegance of Rue de Clichy is unmistakable, and yet the Maréchal de Richelieu, before having the Pavillon de Hanovre built, owned a folly there which extended as far as Rue Blanche, and which Louis XV often visited with Mme de Pompadour. A little further up was the debtors’ prison, which replaced Sainte-Pélagie (Rue de la Clef, on the Left Bank) in 1826. Creditors who requested the incarceration of a debtor were required to pay thirty francs a month for the prisoner’s maintenance. Close to the Barrière (now Place) de Clichy, the Folie-Bouxière – from the name of a Farmer-General – became a celebrated pleasure-ground in the mid 1820s, the Tivoli gardens, where pigeon-shooting first took off in France. Later, it was across these gardens that Rue Ventimille and Rue de Bruxelles were built, as well as the peaceful Square Berlioz where Vuillard had his studio, and which he depicted in his series of Jardins publiques.
The plan of the Quartier de l’Europe is a simple one, like that of the Plaine Monceau that followed it. These were the last additions to the quarters in the old ring of faubourgs, and they have been very little altered since their construction – the former under the Restoration and the July monarchy, the latter under Napoleon III.
When the Gare Saint-Lazare and the Quartier de l’Europe arose between 1825 and 1840, this was still almost in the countryside. Up till then, the present site of Rue du Rocher and Rue de la Bienfaisance was known above all for its windmills. Where the Square Henri-Bergson is now, close to the Saint-Augustin church, the land was used for a voirie, in other words a refuse dump, and known as Les Grésillons, meaning ‘bad flour’. Between Rue du Rocher and Rue de Clichy there were still fields, some growing potatoes or cereals, others fallow.
Lower down Rue du Rocher was Petite-Pologne.74 ‘Porte Saint-Jacques, Porte Paris, the Barrière des Sergents, the Porcherons, the Galiote, the Célestins, the Capucins, the Mail, the Bourge, the Arbre-de-Cracovie, the Petite-Pologne, the Petit-Picpus, these are names of old Paris that float into the new. The memory of the people floats on these wrecks of the past’, wrote Hugo in the fifth book of Part Two of Les Misérables. At the end of Cousine Bette, when the Baroness Hulot joins Mme de la Chanterie in her pious works,
One of the Baroness’s first efforts in this cause was made in the ominous-looking district, formerly known as la Petite-Pologne – Little Poland – bounded by Rue du Rocher, Rue de la Pépinière, and Rue de Miromesnil. There exists there a sort of offshoot of the Faubourg Saint-Marceau. To give an idea of this part of the town, it is enough to say that the landlords of some of the houses tenanted by working men without work, by dangerous characters, and by the very poor employed in unhealthy toil, dare not demand their rents, and can find no bailiffs bold enough to evict insolvent lodgers. At the present time speculating builders, who are fast changing the aspect of this corner of Paris, and covering the waste ground lying between Rue d’Amsterdam and Rue Faubourg-du-Roule, will no doubt alter the character of the inhabitants; for the trowel is a more civilizing agent than is generally supposed.
As far as the change in the population goes, we can say that Balzac’s prediction was justified. The cutting of Boulevard Malesherbes led to the disappearance of Petite-Pologne in the 1860s (there was a scent in this region of the expiation of regicide: Malesherbes, Tronche and de Sèze, the three defenders of Louis XVI, each have their street here, and Louis XVIII had the Chapelle Expiatoire constructed by Percier and Fontaine). But the development of the quarter had already begun earlier: in 1826 a finance company had traced the plan of a quarter whose largest square would be known as the Place de l’Europe, with the streets having the names of various capitals. This development took off once Émile Pereire obtained the concession for the railway from Paris to Saint-Germain. Its station was built on Rue de Stockholm with an exit on Rue de Londres, thus right against the Place de l’Europe, under which a tunnel had to be dug.75
And yet in the 1840s success was not guaranteed. Balzac could still evoke in his Beatrix ‘those solitudes of carved free-stone, the like of which adorns the European streets of Amsterdam, Milan, Stockholm, London, and Moscow, architectural steppes where the wind rustles innumerable papers on which a void is divulged by the words, “Apartments to let”. . . When Monsieur de Rochefide first encountered Madame Schontz, she lived on the third floor of the only house that remained in Rue de Berlin.’ It was only under the Second Empire that the Lycée Bonaparte (now Condorcet) became the lycée of the Parisian ‘elite’, and the quarter that of the haute bourgeoisie. Many lamented the invasion of metal and coal. As La Bédollière wrote in 1860, ‘the proposal is to throw metal bridges across the Place de l’Europe, and so destroy the garden at its centre. What is constant nowadays?’ What distressed him then was precisely what enchants us today, the encounter between the railway and the city, so well seen by Proust: ‘. . . those vast, glass-roofed sheds, like that of Saint-Lazare into which I went to find the train for Balbec, and which extended over the eviscerated city one of those bleak and boundless skies, heavy with an accumulation of dramatic menace, like certain skies painted with an almost Parisian modernity by Mantegna or Veronese, beneath which only some terrible and solemn act could be in process, such as a departure by train or the erection of the Cross.’76
This quarter is still centred on the hexagonal Place de l’Europe, whose particular beauty derives from the contrast between the decreed heaviness of the buildings – colossal pilasters, triangular façades, raised lofts – and the aerial situation, suspended above the rails, open to the winds, bordered by lattices, posts, fences, trees of exotic species in little gardens that are always empty. The cast-iron balustrades and large riveted struts, essential motifs in masterpieces by Monet and Caillebotte, disappeared in 1930. In order to see them, you have to climb Rue de Rome and observe, opposite the Lycée Chaptal, the premises of the former Messageries depot now converted into a garage, whose metal and brick architecture, overlooking the railway, stretches from the Place de l’Europe through to the Boulevard des Batignolles.
If the heavy cast iron has disappeared from the square, the railings are still there, the same as can be seen in the background of two famous pictures – Manet’s Le Chemin de fer in which Victorine Meurent, wearing round her neck the same black ribbon that was her only garment in Olympia, casts her unfathomable gaze against the smoke, and Derrière la gare Saint-Lazare, a photograph by Cartier-Bresson that dates from 1932, in which a shadow, wearing a soft hat, crosses an immense puddle with an improbable leap, while a poster stuck to the railings announces a forthcoming concert by Brailowsky. The streets of the Quartier de l’Europe are full of such ghosts, but for me they rather conjure up the Princesse de Parme as evoked by Proust, ‘as little Stendhalian as is, for example, the Rue de Parme, which bears far less resemblance to the name of Parma than to any or all of the other neighbouring streets, and reminds one not nearly so much of the Charterhouse in which Fabrice ends his days as of the waiting room in the Gare Saint-Lazare’.77
The Plaine Monceau, if we remain strictly within the ‘ring of faubourgs’, is bordered by Rue du Faubourg-Saint-Honoré and Boulevard de Courcelles – the frontier with the Quartier de l’Europe being Boulevard Malesherbes. But here the wall of the Farmers-General was very far from the area then built up, and does not play its bordering role as clearly as it does elsewhere, all the less so as it was lowered in a ditch so as not to spoil the view of the rich property owners of the district, just as the Boulevard Périphérique is today where it crosses the Bois de Boulogne. So it is quite legitimate to see the Plaine Monceau as extending across Boulevard de Courcelles through to Boulevard Pereire.
Its geographical and historical centre is the Parc Monceau. In 1778, Grimod de La Reynière sold this land to the future Philippe-Égalité. Carmontelle, a writer and amateur architect, advised the duke to create an extraordinary English garden, which was known as the Folies de Chartres (Philippe being Duc de Chartres at that time):
You could see there every kind of wonder that the imagination might create: Greek and Gothic ruins, tombs, an old crenellated fortress, obelisks, pagodas, kiosks, warm greenhouses forming a pleasant winter garden, lit up in the evenings by crystal lamps hung from the branches of trees; grottos, rocks, a stream with an island, a mill with the miller’s rustic dwelling, waterfalls, a dairy, swings, a game of Chinese quoits, etc.78
Nationalized by the Revolution, and presented by Napoleon to Cambacérès, the park was restored to the Orléans family – i.e., to Louis-Philippe – by the Restoration:
The park is the property of His Majesty King Louis-Philippe I, who allows entrance every Thursday in the summer months on presentation of a ticket, which is rarely refused for societies that make such a request to the superintendent of the king’s domains at the Palais-Royal.79
Whether there was a charge for the ticket is not stated, but what is clear is that this land was a speculation for the ‘king of the French’. Balzac, always on the hunt for a ‘good deal’, thought of buying a plot in the park. On 6 March 1845 he wrote to Mme Hanska: ‘Finally, I’ve not said anything more about Monceaux because it is an excellent deal, and concluded I hope. Plon [who was acting for Balzac here] can only settle it by a payment to L-Philippe.’ Of course the deal did not come off.
Under the Second Empire, what remained of the park, now much reduced in size, was improved by Alphand, and the surrounding land developed by the Pereire brothers. Without intending to do so, they continued the operation that Philippe d’Orléans had already begun with the Palais-Royal, constructing houses that faced the park and were served by new peripheral roads.80 The quarter was now on the up, and the time was long past when Delacroix could lose his way there (Journal, 26 November 1852: ‘Long walk with Jenny along the outer boulevards, Monceau, the Barrière de Courcelles and the Place de l’Europe, where we almost lost ourselves’). Spectacular hotels arose on all sides, like the neo-Gothic extravaganza that Février built on the Place Malesherbes (now Place du Général-Catroux), or that of Saccard in Zola’s The Kill, who ‘had taken advantage of his good understanding with the Hôtel de Ville to have a key given him of a little gate in the gardens . . . It was a display, a profusion, a crush of riches. The mansion disappeared under sculptures. Around the windows, along the sills, were branches and flowers; there were balconies parallel to baskets of greenery, which supported large naked women with twisted hips, their breasts pointing forward.’
The population of the Plaine Monceau was not entirely made up of scum like Saccard. For many years Manet had his studio on Rue Guyot (now Médéric). Other serious and respected artists and writers also lived there – Gervex, Puvis de Chavannes, Gounod, Debussy, Reynaldo Hahn, Fauré, Messager, Chausson, Dumas fils, Edmond Rostand, Henry Bernstein – and it was clearly the focal quarter for Marcel Proust and Oriane de Guermantes.