On the Right Bank, from one extremity to the other of the Seine’s meander, from the Point du Jour to Bercy, the arc of former villages is the most contrasting part of Old Paris. To pass from the hameaux of Auteuil to the cités at the top of Belleville, from Ranelagh to the Goutte d’Or, is to change planets. In the 1980s, Christof Pruskovski, a Polish photographer living in Paris, took several series of shots of different faces, each with all the negatives superimposed. These vague images often gave a disconcerting impression. In the Métro, for example, Pruskovski took a cumulative portrait of ‘a hundred first-class travellers’, and another of ‘a hundred second-class travellers’, two ‘portraits’ that could well have served to illustrate the morphological difference between the upper and lower classes in Lavater’s Physiognomie. By combining in this way a hundred faces from Avenue Mozart with a hundred from Rue de Bagnolet, you certainly get two identikit portraits that are quite disturbing.
This contrast between the eastern and western villages, however, is not that old. In the early nineteenth century, both of them were characterized by vineyards, meadows, windmills, convents and lordly residences. But since the industrial revolution, the Commune, the arrival of foreign workers, the Resistance, and the massive demolitions of the 1960s, each step has deepened the gap between the favoured quarters and the rest. With the demolitions in particular, those who theorized them, decided on them and financed them kept them well away from their own districts.27 The architectural treasures of Passy and Auteuil are intact, including, very fortunately, the building on Rue Nungesser-et-Coli where Le Corbusier lived and worked. The sectarian followers of the Athens Charter built their slabs and blocks as far away as possible, around the Place des Fêtes, Avenue de Flandre and Boulevard Mortier.
Passy and Auteuil
Like Vaugirard and Grenelle, or Belleville and Ménilmontant, Passy and Auteuil today seem like an old-established pair. What is specific to each of them has been rather submerged in the generic seizième, the arrondissement most charged with meaning of all the twenty in Paris, conjuring up a world of subscribers to Le Figaro, religious colleges, idyllic hamlets and masterpieces of Art Nouveau and Art Déco. But this has not always been the case; in the early twentieth century, you could still distinguish an elegant Passy from a rustic Auteuil: ‘Auteuil is like the countryside of Passy, with its Boulevard de Montmorency, its quays, its viaduct, its Mouton-Blanc restaurant that is a historical curiosity, the former meeting-place of La Fontaine, Molière and Racine. People from Passy go to Auteuil on Sunday as people from Rue Étienne-Marcel go to Brunoy.’28 The border between the two was – and still is – marked by the parallel streets of Rue de l’Assomption and Rue du Ranelagh, where the Passy hill meets the plain of Auteuil. According to Jacques-Émile Blanche, ‘the boundary post between the two communes was below the intersection of Rue Raynouard and Rue du Ranelagh, close to Rue de Boulainvilliers, below which was – as far as we can deduce – the park of Passy.’29 This post has clearly been replaced by the Maison de la Radio.
The charm of Passy lies especially in the long descent from the Place du Trocadéro to the Seine through Rue Benjamin Franklin and Rue Raynouard, across what was once the park of the Château de Passy. There is here a kind of tradition of splendid luxury. When the domain belonged to Samuel Bernard, banker to Louis XIV, you could see orangeries, glasshouses, aviaries with gold filigree, grottos carpeted in greenery and terraces embellished with statues. In the eighteenth century, this is where the Farmer-General La Pouplinière received Rousseau, Rameau whose Hippolyte et Aricie was performed there, and Marmontel, as well as Chardin and Pigalle, Mlle Clairon and the Maréchal de Richelieu. Balzac, seeking wherever he could in Paris a residence worthy of his Polish lady, wrote to her on 7 September 1845: ‘There is in Rue Benjamin Franklin, which is the road above the steep hill we so often climbed . . . a house that is admirable and solidly built, situated on the crest of this rock that overlooks Paris and even all of Passy . . . There is the most admirable view on all sides; first the whole of Paris, then the whole of the Seine basin.’30 You still get this view over the river from the terraces of the apartments on Rue Raynouard, where pergolas, statues, fountains and floral parterres adorn sumptuous gardens in the 1930s style, suspended in the air. Rue de l’Alboni overlooks the Passy station, hidden behind chestnut trees and roses, and the tracks leading towards the Pont de Bir-Hakeim between the domes of the apartment buildings on the corner, famous fromLast Tango in Paris. Lower down are the great blind walls bordering the steps of the Passage des Eaux, then Balzac’s house, whose main entrance is on Rue Raynouard, but with an exit further down on Rue Berton, which has scarcely changed since the time of Atget or Apollinaire: ‘If you pass Rue Berton at the time when it is at its finest, shortly before dawn, you can hear a harmonious thrush give a marvellous concert here, which thousands of other birds accompany with their own music; and, before the war, the pale and trembling flames of a few kerosene lamps lit up the lampposts here and have not been replaced.’31 Close by, the Turkish embassy occupies the site of the park of Lauzun and the Princesse de Lamballe, where Émile Blanche – son of Esprit-Sylvestre Blanche who treated Nerval, and father of Jacques-Émile – received in his clinic Berlioz, Liszt, Gounod, Rossini, Delacroix ‘and many others’.
Passy is more than just this enchanted hillside: in 1825 a new quarter baptised Élysée-Charles X was parcelled out and developed in the northern part, on the plain around the intersection that would become the Place Victor-Hugo. This was an immense quadrilateral whose limits today would be Avenue de la Grande-Armée, Avenue Kléber, Rue de Longchamp and Rues Spontini and Pergolèse.32 The north of the 16th arrondissement, overlapping Chaillot, Passy and La Muette, has been given by extension the name of Passy, but its true inhabitants are not deceived:
Those who live beyond Rue Scheffer and the Trocadéro cemetery, or indeed on the even-numbered side of Avenue Henri-Martin – let us say, as far as the Square Lamartine – still boast of belonging to Passy, but we laugh at them: they are joking! The Passy of timid and sedentary bourgeois, the true, the unique, the incomparable, abdicated on this northern side its prerogative of an old village, and tried to ignore the zone in which such undesirables camped, i.e., beyond the Porte Dauphine, beyond the romantic shadows where the poet of Jocelyn meditated in his chalet, and where Jules Janin ended his career.33
Passy was already completely built up at the end of the nineteenth century, and there was scarcely any room for new architecture.34 In Auteuil, on the other hand, this ‘charming village of 1,040 souls, half an hour from the barrière, between the Bois de Boulogne and the road to Versailles’35 – though summer residences certainly proliferated in the 1830s, when the Boileau and Boulainvilliers hamlets were developed – was not yet the city in 1868, when the Goncourts settled on Boulevard de Montmorency: ‘We are not even sure that we are not dreaming. This great tasteful toy for ourselves, the two drawing-rooms, the sun in the leaves, this bouquet of trees above, this corner of earth below, with birds flying overhead!’ (Journal, 16 September 1868).36
In this Auteuil, which had only three streets at the time of its annexation – the Grand-Rue which became Rue d’Auteuil, Rue Molière (now Rémusat), and Rue La Fontaine which linked it to Passy – there was both free space and money, so that between the 1890s and the 1930s this was where masterpieces of Parisian Art Nouveau and Art Déco were constructed, as if arranged for today’s visitor. From the Métro Jasmin, for example, Rue Henri-Heine is close at hand, with a late 1930 work by Guimard at no. 18, which I prefer to his more famous buildings, as the hesitation between the curves and countercurves of the two lower floors and the ‘modernism’ of the upper storeys creates a tension that is unusual in his work, and there is something rather moving in this doubt appearing in an old architect basking in his former glory. Two steps away, on Rue du Docteur-Blanche, there are two villas by Le Corbusier, and on Rue Mallet-Stevens – no. 5 here was published in the magazine De Stijl, along with projects from Van Doesburg and Van Eesteren, even a design by Malevitch – there is Patout’s building of artists’ studios, whose façade is covered with a material imitating sharkskin, not to mention the ten concrete storeys of the Ginsberg building, which together form an ensemble unique in Paris. Not far away, at 65 Rue La Fontaine, is the Studiobuilding by Henri Sauvage, an ensemble of studio residences for artists that is covered in grey and gold ceramic. And lower down again, at 42 Avenue de Versailles is another building by Ginsberg, ‘brutalist’ before the label (1933), the corner of which is topped by a glazed half-dome that serves as a foil to the play of curves of the entrance. But towards the later 1930s, creative architecture abandoned Auteuil. The promoters of apartment blocks of ‘grand standing’ would from now on resort to mediocre architects, docile and interchangeable.
In the days when there were not just two French marques, but still ten or more, Avenue de la Grande-Armée was devoted to the automobile.37 Today it is rather motorbike showrooms that you find here, but it still divides the 16th from the 17th arrondissement, an administrative border and also a sociological one: to the south, in the direction of Avenue Foch, Rue des Belles-Feuilles, and Avenue Bugeaud, the international bourgeoisie, corporate headquarters, and embassies; to the north, the more diverse population of Rue des Acacias, Rue du Colonel-Moll and the Place Saint-Ferdinand.38
Batignolles and Clichy
Beyond Rue de Courcelle begins the part of the 17th that continues along the Plaine Monceau towards the periphery, towards Place Wagram with its fine layouts, and the heavy apartment blocks on Boulevard Pereire that face each other above the tracks of the Ceinture railway, now converted into a flowery walk. Continuing east, you enter the sad and monotonous streets of the Batignolles, which acquire their real character around the tracks of Saint-Lazare, as is only to be expected for a quarter born along with the train. Les Ateliers des Batignolles on Avenue de Clichy, and Spies-Batignolles, the rival company to Eiffel, were the first factories – along with Cail at Grenelle – to manufacture railway locomotives in France. Léon-Paul Fargue, a student of Mallarmé’s at the Collège Rollin, and later invited to the poet’s Tuesdays, described ‘the house chosen or suffered by him, opposite the metal fences of the railway, at the exit of the horrible Batignolles tunnel, whose diseased mouth blew catastrophes’.39 On the other side of the tracks, on Rue Boursault, the room of Georges Duroy, Bel-Ami, ‘on the fifth floor, looked down, as if over a deep abyss, onto the immense cutting of the railway of the Ouest, just above the exit from the tunnel, close to the Batignolles station . . . At every moment, long or short blows of the whistle passed in the night, some of them close, others hardly perceptible, coming from down there on the Asnières side.’40 Tastes change, and today one would find more to admire in the landscape formed by the final curve of Boulevard Pereire, the immense spread of the tracks of the Ouest expanded by the Gare des Batignolles, the station of Pont Cardinet whose ogives and mosaics are evocative of Otto Wagner, and the chestnut trees of the Square des Batignolles.
The former commune of Les Batignolles continued along the east side of Avenue de Clichy, forming a little quarter extending to Rues Cavallotti and Forest, i.e., to the old Hippodrome so dear to Lautrec, which then became the Gaumont-Palace, a great cinematic temple, before ending up as an Ibis hotel and a Castorama. In this block, around an immense brick garage dating from the 1930s, there are a number of winding passages – the Impasses des Deux-Néthes and de la Défense, Rue Capon, Passage Lathuille, Passage de Clichy – badly paved, bordered with shacks, leading into courtyards cluttered with metal sheds and piles of pallets: a disorder that is unlikely in the heart of Paris, and indeed seriously threatened.
Passage Lathuille, Impasse de la Défense: these names evoke two glorious moments for these few metres of Avenue de Clichy. Manet, in order to paint Chez le père Lathuille – seduction under the barrels – got Louis, the son of the tavern landlord, to pose with the actress Ellen André. On the same pavement, almost adjacent, the Café Guerbois was the rendezvous of the friends who were still known as the Batignolles group.41 Many years previously, far more dramatic events had occurred at Père-Lathuille’s: on 20 March 1814 this was Moncey’s command post, directing the defence of the Clichy barrier against the Cossacks:
Paris hastened to take up arms, in an enthusiasm shared by bourgeois and people, children and old men – truly resolved, despite the defection of its natural protectors, to fight to the death. And this was a spectacle whose memory our fathers preserved, this frivolous city transformed into a camp in which women prepared bandages for the wounded, and invalids cast cannon balls to greet the invaders of their native soil. It was from hearing tales of that day – glorious despite the defeat – that I learned to hate oppression.42
This battle is an odd story, and singularly forgotten, apart from the monument to Moncey in the middle of the Place de Clichy, and the tiny Impasse de la Défense. It is one in a whole series that began in 1792 and ended in the years 1940–44 – its intermediate steps being precisely 1814, as well as 1871 – consisting of violent conflicts between a ‘ruling elite’ ready to capitulate and compromise with the enemy, and that section of the Paris people who are eternally rebellious.
Of all the villages annexed in 1860, Montmartre is the one that has retained most autonomy, despite being always very closely bound up with Parisian life. It is the only one to have a street bearing its name at the very heart of the city (indeed one of the oldest and most important), running right to the Halles and the apse of Saint-Eustache. The abbesses of Montmartre owned immense estates stretching down to the walls of Paris. Several of them gave their names to streets on the slopes of the 9th arrondissement: Louise-Émilie de la Tour d’Auvergne, Marie de Bellefond, Catherine de La Rochefoucault, Marguerite de Rochechouart – and one of the strangest couplings in the names of the Métro stations is that between this great name of French nobility and the professional revolutionary Armand Barbès.43
Montmartre is also the Paris quarter whose name has the largest number of different connotations. There is the Montmartre of village folklore – the ‘Commune libre’, Poulbot, the Fête des Vendanges – which is included in, though does completely coincide with, tourist Montmartre, whose main attractions are the Sacré-Coeur and the Place du Tertre. There is the Montmartre of its heyday, whose story, told a thousand times, has its backdrops (the Moulin de la Galette, the Lapin-Agile, the Bateau-Lavoir), its heroes (Bruant, Apollinaire, Picasso), its chroniclers (Carco, Dorgelès, Mac Orlan, Salmon) and its painters (from Degas, Van Gogh and Lautrec to poor Utrillo). There is also Red Montmartre, its emblematic figure being Louise Michel, the schoolteacher from Rue Houdon, the inspiration behind the vigilance committee at 41 Chaussée de Clignancourt – I shall speak of her later on. And there is again, to take up the title of Louis Chevalier’s book, the Montmartre of pleasure and crime. On 21 July 1938, a few weeks before Munich, Le Détective carried the headline: ‘From the Drama of the Rat-Mort to the Cannes Vendetta’, announcing a report on the inexpiable hatred between the Foata and Stéfani clans. A world that was still very much alive in the 1950s – the Corsicans of Pigalle, Pierrot le Fou (the real one), the ‘front-wheel drive gang’ – evoked by one of the finest films on the underside of Paris, Jean-Pierre Melville’s Bob le Flambeur.
In certain parts, these different meanings have built up in successive layers, but today they have melted into an indistinct general memory, though this has kept a certain sparkle despite the decline. On the semicircle of Place Pigalle, the fountain occupies the site of the square building constructed by Ledoux for the Montmartre barrière. The Café des Omnibus and the no. 67 bus stand recall the famous line from Pigalle to the Halle aux Vins. ‘You find here’, wrote Delvau in the 1860s, ‘two temples to beer, the Café de la Nouvelle-Athènes, a meeting place for daubers and writers from the Breda quarter, and the Café de la Place Pigalle, a neighbour and competitor on this square widened by the demolition of the wall.’ On Sunday mornings a fair for artists’ models was held by the fountain: ‘Italian girls musing around the basin waited, in sequined dresses and with tambourine in hand, for a painter keen on the past to invite them to pose.’44 The Impressionists at the Nouvelle-Athènes – after the Guerbois – that was a whole chapter in the history of art and the legend of the quarter. George Moore, a regular there, explained to the English public Degas’s painting L’Absinthe, which shows Deboutin seated in the Nouvelle-Athènes café:
Look at the head of the old bohemian – the engraver Deboutin – a man whom I have known all my life, and yet he never really existed for me until I saw this picture . . . The woman that sits beside the artist was at the Élysée Montmartre until two in the morning, then she went to the Rat-Mort and had a soupe aux choux . . . she did not get up till half-past eleven; then she tied a few soiled petticoats round her . . . and came down to the café to have an absinthe before breakfast.45
In this fin-de-siècle period, Pigalle was still peaceful at night. ‘The Rat-Mort saw anarchists and authoritarians live side by side, artists and stockbrokers, writers and businessmen. But once the coffee was drunk, and the last glass of beer swallowed, Good Night!, and everyone went their own way, making way for “ladies” who scorned the opinion of the few males still present.’46 It was between the wars that things took a turn for the worse, when the ‘milieu’ laid its hands on the place. Edith Piaf explained what life was like in Pigalle around 1930, when she was eighteen years old:
I was obliged to take note, while I was singing in the streets, of the dance halls where there were very well-dressed women, with expensive necklaces and rings. In the evenings I reported what I had seen to Albert. On Saturday nights and Sundays, in his best suit, he went to the dance halls I had indicated. As he was very good-looking and self-assured, he always managed to seduce one of the women dancing. He took them all into Impasse Lemercier, a dark and deserted alley, and seized their jewellery and their money. I waited in the Café de la Nouvelle-Athènes. He bought me champagne for the rest of the night.47
It is memories such as these that give Pigalle and its surroundings today – Avenue Frochot, Impasse Guelma – the sadness and worn-out charm of a place ‘aged and grown old in the glories and tribulations of life’, as Baudelaire wrote in ‘The Salon of 1859’.
Between Boulevard de Clichy and Boulevard de Rochechouart to the south, and Rues Caulaincourt and Custine to the north, the Montmartre hill inextricably mingles the best and worst – which, one has to say, are better and worse than elsewhere. ‘Inextricably’: the unusual contours, the cliffs, ravines, gorges and open quarries – one of which became the Montmartre cemetery – break up the hill into several separate geographical units, divided, joined and crossed by steps and hairpin bends. Fear of the worst, of the crowds and the tourist coaches, keeps many Parisians away from Montmartre. They do not know what they are missing, above all the joy of the hilltop. In the days of the Montmartre abbesses, there were only two ways of reaching the peak through the vineyards and windmills: from the Paris side was the Vieux-Chemin, now the route of Rue Ravignan, and from Saint-Denis the Chemin de la Procession, which has become Rue du Mont-Cenis. There is more choice today: the curves of Rue du Chevalier-de-la-Barre; Rue André-Antoine, which formerly bore the magnificent name Élysée-des-Beaux-Arts – after an adjacent dance hall – and leads from Place Pigalle to Rue des Abbesses past the hôtel of Maria Malibran; the steps of Rue Girardon, which, continuing through the workshops and gardens of Rue d’Orchampt, lead from the Place Constantin-Pecquer to the Bateau-Lavoir. Once at the top, when you find yourself on a fine winter morning in the square that holds the very essence of Montmartre, by Rue Cortot, Rue des Saules, Rue de l’Abreuvoir and the Maison Rose, the Allée des Brouillards dear to Nerval,48 the vineyards, the Saint-Vincent cemetery, the Lapin-Agile, the magic curve of Avenue Junot – how can you not be struck by such splendour? And to end this talk of Montmartre, why ignore its pleasure, why not admit that the whole of literature, cinema and photography will never restore the happiness of a walk starting at the foot of Rue du Chevalier-de-la-Barre and ending at Stendhal’s tomb in the Montmartre cemetery?
Below Rue Caulaincourt and Rue Custine, the Butte Montmartre falls away sharply down to Rue Marcadet, followed by a more gentle slope to the edge of Paris, on Boulevard Ney. Certain points on this descent are extreme outposts of Montmartre: the Lamarck-Caulaincourt station, which you leave as if hurled into space, and the Place Jules-Joffrin, the only square in Paris where the mairie and the church stand face to face.49 But the essential feature of this northern part of the 18th arrondissement is Clignancourt, an old quarter of artisans and small workshops, ‘inhabited in 1860 by distillers, typefounders, mechanical sawyers, cleaners of bedding . . . It is in Clignancourt that Ignace Pleyel store wood and do their sawing, a company whose pianos rival those of Érard.’50 Around the same time, on a fine spring afternoon, Germinie Lacerteux and her lover
went up the Chausée Clignancourt and, with the stream of Parisians from the suburbs all in a hurry to drink in some fresh air, they walked towards the open stretch of sky which awaited them at the top of the rise, at the end of the long row of houses . . . At Château Rouge they came upon the first tree, the first leaves . . . In the distance stretched the country, sparkling and vague, lost in the golden haze of seven o’clock. . . They walked downhill, followed the blackened pavement of the long walls and lines of houses broken by the gaps of gardens . . . The descent came to an end, the paved road broke off . . . And then Paris came to an end and there began one of those dry landscapes which big towns create around them, that first zone of suburbs intra muros, where Nature is parched, the soil used up, the countryside sown with oyster-shells . . . Soon there rose before them the last street-lamp, hanging from a green post . . . Behind Montmartre they arrived at those big trenches, squared excavations, with their criss-cross of small, worn, grey paths. At the end of that, you turned to cross the railway-bridge, past that evil encampment of vagrants, the rough-walkers’ quarter of lower Clignancourt. They would pass quickly along by those houses built out of materials stolen from demolitions, reeking of the horrors they concealed: these hovels, half-shack, half-burrow, vaguely alarmed Germinie; she could feel all the crimes of Night crouching there.51
The quarter grows increasingly noisy, and its population increasingly colourful, as you approach Boulevard Ney. The Porte de Clignancourt is animated by a more intense life than any of the other gates of Paris, the majority of these now being little more than vast dislocated roundabouts between the city and the suburbs, between the ‘boulevards of the marshals’ and the no-man’s-land beyond the Périphérique, unreachable on foot. At Clignancourt, on the other hand, thanks to the neighbouring flea market, this intermediate zone is chaotic and bustling, in the smoke of kebabs and grilled maize, and the hellish noise of the Périphérique drowning the chants of the three-card tricksters. Strange market stalls are ranged around dented cars, amid sellers of tiger balm, pralines, luminous yo-yos and secondhand jackets. Between Paris and Saint-Ouen is a piece of the Third World, an oasis of disorder at the edge of a city that tolerates this less and less.
For certain people, the Goutte d’Or – from the name of a white wine much appreciated by Henri IV – is a part of Montmartre. It is a fact that it continues along the hill eastward without interruption, exception made for the recent and artificial Boulevard Barbès. But the physical geography is not sufficient reason to combine two quarters whose differences are so apparent. The Montmartre streets run along the contours, and had to be linked by the famous steps, ‘hard on the poor’, as the song goes.52 In the Goutte d’Or, the streets make a St Andrew’s cross, giving them a gentler slope and making for a large variety of levels and cuts, sharp angles with buildings which have one entrance on an upper level and one on a lower, with long and narrow courtyards.
The two quarters also each have a quite different imaginary. Until the 1950s, the Goutte d’Or was dark and disturbing, a Paris equivalent of the Whitechapel of Jack the Ripper. As Carco puts it: ‘It was not the girls I particularly liked, but above all the dark streets, the bars, the cold, the fine rain on the roofs, the chance encounters, and, in the bedrooms, a sense of shattering abandon that gripped my heart . . . In the distance, beyond the Goutte d’Or, the gloomy land of the east like a storm cloud ready to burst and spill over us.’53 Since then, the scenery has changed from L’Assommoir toA Thousand and One Nights. The Goutte d’Or has become a gateway to the East, an Arab quarter with ‘piles of sequined fabrics, muslins, silks, lamés. And also the gleaming jewellery of countless gold objects, complicated necklaces and belts overloaded with pearls, hands of Fatima, etc. . . . And still more than the pastry shops and their smells, still more than the shops selling records with Eastern rhythms, these shops selling jewellery and travel goods strike me as expressing in new forms, with new desires and dreams, what I would call in an old word the spirit of the place.’54
The Goutte d’Or was ravaged by a clumsy renovation in the late 1980s; the sharp edges of the corner buildings were smoothed, the lavoir on Rue des Islettes, which Zola had used as a model for that of Gervaise (‘an immense shed with a flat roof, exposed beams, standing on cast-iron pillars and closed by large clear windows’), has been demolished, and the contours that were so specific to the place have been levelled to build playing fields that are always deserted. The atmosphere of the old quarter can still be found, however, around the Saint-Bernard church, Rue Léon and its Théâtre du Lavoir, and Rue Cavé, still bordered by little houses, between which there even remains some open ground.
As you descend towards Rue des Poissonniers, passing the mosque on the corner of Rue Polonceau, you suddenly leave the Maghreb for Black Africa: Rue Myrha with its shops selling clothes, hairpieces and cosmetics, the fabulous market in Rue Dejean that displays all the vegetables and fish of the Gulf of Guinea – Senegal captain, thiof, tilapia and shark. You are here on the uncertain border between the Goutte d’Or and something that is not really a quarter but keeps a prestigious name: Château-Rouge. This was a large domain, which would today be bordered by Rue Ramey, Rue Christiani, Rue des Poissoniers and Rue Doudeauville (on either side of Boulevard Barbès, just as today are Rue Myrha, Rue Poulet and Rue Doudeauville, built before the boulevard). It took its name from a fine dwelling of brick and stone built on the Chaussée de Clignancourt.55 In the 1840s, this was the site of what would become one of the largest public dance halls in the north of Paris – along with the Grand-Turc in La Chapelle – the Bal du Château-Rouge, also known as the Nouveau Tivoli. This is where, on 9 July 1847, over a thousand people gave the starting signal for the ‘banquets campaign’, the long prologue to the revolution of February 1848.
La Chapelle and La Villette
The gap between the last foothills of the Goutte d’Or and the first slopes of Buttes-Chaumont serves as a passage for the trains of the Nord and Est lines, the canals, and the roads to Saint-Denis, Flanders and Germany; this was the triumphal return route for victorious kings of France, as well as the route of successive invasions: Blücher, Moltke, the Panzers of 1940. From below, you do not get the feeling of being in a hollow between two hills, but from a promontory of Buttes-Chaumont that you reach via the hairpin bends of Rue Georges-Lardennois, the contours are as visible as on a map: in the foreground a hillside of gardens and vineyards, then the valley, and behind this Montmartre, seen in profile as it cannot be from anywhere else.
There are two quarters in this plain, two major centres of industrial Paris, which has steadily extended towards the north and is still doing so: La Chapelle and La Villette. In the early twentieth century, when young Eugène Dabit, leaving school with his friends, reached the Marcadet bridge:
In this part the houses were darker, and so too were the men who entered them, all railwaymen. The factory sirens sounded, and suddenly the street was full of workers. Some of them said ‘Hullo, kids’ in a listless voice. There was something sad behind their look, a dejection in their attitude, and black cuts in their open hands . . . We started to run, we crossed Rue de la Chapelle where you came across the carts of market gardeners, cattle, flocks of sheep, and almost reached La Villette. We would see warehouses, the smoky lines of the Est railway; the rumbling of trains sounded like a muffled song.56
These two neighbouring quarters had different vocations. La Chapelle, organized around the railway, was a district of factories, dark and poor. La Villette, on the other hand, built around the Canal d’Ourcq and the Canal Saint-Denis, was a district of fairly thriving warehouses. The commune here had been particularly hostile to its annexation by Paris, which is understandable: ‘Thanks to its basin, the proximity of the stations, and the platforms of the Ceinture railway, La Villette is a major entrepot for wine, spirits, timber for building and carts, coal and charcoal, grain and flour, oil, glassware, cast-iron, etc. The docks here receive ten thousand ships each year, with a total load of around 1,100,000 tons, which places La Villette above Bordeaux.’57
This difference is still visible. La Chapelle is the end of the world, lost between the overhead Métro, the tracks of the Nord and Est railways, and the big warehouses on Boulevard Ney, along which young women hailing from Black Africa and Eastern Europe are busy attracting the attention of lorry drivers parked in the side streets. This is the most deprived part of Paris. Its main artery, Rue de la Chapelle (Rue Marx-Dormoy in its southern half) is dusty and rutted like any of the main roads in the old villages would have been – known here before the annexation as Grand-Rue, and elsewhere as Rue de Paris. But the very old church of Saint-Denis-de-la-Chapelle, whose façade bears one of the five Paris statues of Joan of Arc, seems to have been buried in a cape of sick concrete.58One night on Rue Pajol, parallel to Rue de la Chapelle, André Breton was following a young woman: ‘I have since had the opportunity on several occasions to see again the dilapidated façade, blackened by smoke, of the house on Rue Pajol . . . I have never known a more saddening frontage.’ But like this woman who aroused Breton’s astonishment,59 La Chapelle retains a hidden charm, around the Place de Torcy in the little Chinese quarter which is one of the oldest in Paris, in the welcoming cafés on Rue l’Olive, and in its covered market, whose clientele is a reflection of every continent on earth. The landscape beyond Rue Riquet, where the bridge crosses the tracks of the Est railway, is for me one of the most beautiful in Paris, with an immense all-round vista towards the Rue d’Aubervilliers and the disused building of the Pompes Funèbres Municipales, designed by a belated imitator of Ledoux, towards the repair shops for rolling stock of the Nord railway, whose semiconical nesting roofs suggest the scales of a prehistoric reptile.
‘It is via the beautiful and tragic Rue d’Aubervilliers that Debord and Wolman continue their northward progress.’60 Beautiful and tragic it still is, and when the setting sun lights up its frontages, it has the sparkle of a southern port – Algiers, Palermo or Alexandria. Further on, you enter La Villette by the Place du Maroc:
when I happened on it one Sunday afternoon, not only a Moroccan desert but also, and at the same time, a monument of colonial imperialism; topographic vision was entwined with allegorical meaning in the square, yet not for an instant did it lose its place in the heart of Belleville. But to awaken such a view is something ordinarily reserved for intoxicants. And in such cases, in fact, street names are like intoxicating substances that make our perceptions more stratified and richer in spaces.61
This is indeed the secret of the excitement that affects anyone who stumbles on Rue de Pali-Kao, the Passage du Roi d’Alger, or the Villa de Cronstadt.
In La Villette, there is nothing good to expect from the major centrifugal arteries, Avenue de Flandre and Avenue Jean-Jaurès. It is in the cross streets that past beauty can still be glimpsed: at the end of Rue Curial, in the passages where garages, single-storey hotels, and metal-roofed workshops housing obscure activities press tightly together; in the almost African little shops of Rue de l’Ourcq, beneath the arches of the Ceinture railway. The heart of the quarter, the Bassin de La Villette, has indeed been improved by making use of what it was designed and built for in the port’s heyday: the wheels of the lifting bridge on Rue de Crimée so often photographed by Atget, Brassaï and Doisneau; the warehouses; the Saint-Jacques-Saint-Christophe church that would be ugly anywhere else but here strikes just the right note, between the square, the fire station, and the waterfront market. Further along, the basin widens, dividing into two branches with different qualities. The Canal de l’Ourcq, which until the 1970s separated the cattle market and the abattoirs, today waters the Parc de la Villette in which footballers, tourists, cineastes and young mothers (veiled or not) spend Sundays harmoniously by the waterside. The Canal Saint-Denis, for its part, runs modestly out to the industrial wastelands of the north, hidden beneath Avenue Corentin-Cariou, Boulevard Macdonald, and the Périphérique, proletarian and a bit dirty, like the ‘petits enfants d’Aubervilliers’ in the song by Prévert and Kosma.
The streets bordering the Parc des Buttes-Chaumont bear the names of heroes of national liberation struggles – Manin who was president of the short-lived republic of Venice in 1848, Botzaris who defended Missolonghi together with Byron, and Simon Bolivar. This has not prevented the quarter from today being a bourgeois island between La Villette and Belleville, with apartment blocks as substantial as those of Auteuil. But for many years this was a fearsome place for the working and dangerous classes. The Montfaucon gibbet was erected on the southwestern slope. In The Last Day of a Condemned, Victor Hugo – who, as we have seen, denounced the secret nighttime executions at the Barrière Saint-Jacques – exclaims: ‘Give us back Montfaucon, its caves of bones, its beams, its crooks, its chains, its rows of skeletons; give us back, in its permanence and power, that gigantic outhouse of the Paris executioner!’ The famous ‘sixteen pillars’ of Montfaucon were connected by three levels of transverse beams, so that on certain days you could see up to sixty individuals swinging there. The Montfaucon gibbet was in operation until the opening of the Saint-Louis hospital in the 1610s, after which the site was used for a voirie, i.e., a depository for the rubbish of the city, and a knacker’s yard where old and sick horses ended up:
The place was a horrible one, on account of the dead flesh always on display. The bones rotted on the spot, heaped four or five feet high, until the time came for ploughing, when peasants came to look for fertilizer . . . The skins were removed every two or three days by the tanners of the Bièvre. But all around there were gut-dressers and workshops for chemical products, whose waste ran through the marshes and in the open towards Rue de la Grange-aux-Belles . . . Around the knacker’s yard there were so many rats that, if the carcasses of the horses slaughtered during the day were left out in a corner of the premises, by the next morning they would be completely stripped.62
At the foot of Buttes-Chaumont, just above the refuse dump, there were two large holes in the hillside – the tunnel of the Ceinture railway, and the mouth of the chalk pit known as the Amérique quarry.63 From these vast excavations rose the smoke of gypsum kilns. The blocks were taken out of the kilns by chaufourniers (a street in the quarter bears their name, and there is also the Passage des Four-à-Chaux). The immense underground caverns, which remained relatively warm, sheltered a nighttime population of vagabonds. Rumour spread that a new court of miracles had arisen in the Amérique quarries. Regular expeditions by the police, and even the army, were organized to the ‘dark and gloomy caverns’,64 to hunt out these unfortunate victims of the industrial revolution. In November 1867, La Gazette des tribunaux condemned the ‘still growing audacity of the prowlers who infest this zone of Paris, and seem to have chosen the said quarries as their headquarters’.65
And so ‘this famous vale of rubble constantly about to fall, the streams black with mud’, as Balzac writes on the first page of Old Goriot, was built with its own subsoil, stones from the south and chalk from the north.66 It was the tunnels of these immense quarries that fuelled the imaginary underground of Paris, more developed than in any other capital, even bearing in mind the final chase in The Third Man and the battles of the Warsaw uprising. The first chapter was that of the Catacombes, which are the quarries of Montrouge and Montparnasse where remains from the Innocents cemetery were transferred. Nadar, who managed to photograph there in the 1860s using artificial light, described ‘those skeletons piled pell-mell and disintegrating . . . the ribs, vertebrae, sternums, wrist and ankle bones, metacarpals and metatarsals, etc. . . . the whole menu of bones . . . pressed together and heaped in more or less cubic masses below the crypts . . . and maintained in front by skulls chosen from the best preserved’.67
But the fantasy of an underground city was not just a matter of bones; there was always an element of threat attached to it. The metaphor of the social underground is developed in a marvellous chapter of Les Misérables (Volume V, book 2, ch. 2), ‘Ancient History of the Sewer’:
The sewer is the conscience of the city. Everything there converges and confronts everything else. In that livid spot there are shades, but there are no longer secrets . . . All the uncleannesses of civilization, once past their use, fall into this trench of truth, where the immense social sliding ends . . . The Saint-Barthelemys filters through there, drop by drop, between the paving stones. Great public assassinations, political and religious butcheries, traverse this underground passage of civilization, and thrust their corpses there . . . Beneath these vaults one hears the brooms of spectres. One there breathes the enormous fetidness of social catastrophes.
And, as an echo, during Bloody Week of 1871, the rumour spread that the Communards had taken refuge in the Catacombes and sewers and were preparing to blow up Paris.
The Métro never aroused such terror, and it was only in irony that Walter Benjamin took up the traditional image of an underground hell:
But another system of galleries runs underground through Paris: the Métro, where at dusk glowing red lights point the way into the underworld of names. Combat, Élysée, Georges V, Étienne Marcel, Solférino, Invalides, Vaugirard – they have thrown off the humiliating fetters of street or square, and here in the lightning-scored, whistle-resounding darkness are transformed into misshapen sewer gods, catacomb fairies. This labyrinth harbours in its interior not one but a dozen blind raging bulls, into whose jaws not one Theban virgin once a year but thousands of anaemic young dressmakers and drowsy clerks every morning must hurl themselves . . . Here each name dwells alone; hell is its demesne. Amer, Picon, Dubonnet are guardians of the threshold.68
There is a further consequence of the abundance of chalk in the hills north of Paris, and one not at all in the realm of the imaginary. Under Philippe le Bel, a decree was promulgated that obliged every new house built in Paris to be covered with plaster. As an excellent fire-resistant and insulator, plaster certainly saved Paris from burning as London did, and it was this measure, enforced for several hundred years, that gave the city its unity of material and colour. Descending from the Place des Fêtes to the Hôtel de Ville through Rue de Belleville, Rue du Faubourg-du-Temple and Rue du Temple, or leaving Barbès-Rochechouart and taking Rue du Faubourg-Poissonière, Rue Poissonière, Rue des Petits-Carreaux and Rue Montorgeuil to reach Les Halles, you pass monuments and large buildings made of cut stone, brick, concrete, glass, plastic and metal. But the connecting tissue, which does not strike the eye but whose great importance is recognized as soon as it is missing, is plaster-covered frontages, in which the close repetition of tall and narrow windows creates a continuous vertical rhythm. No ornaments, no balconies, no shutters, and windowsills scarcely visible in the frames, no relief apart from the thin string-courses on the lower edges of windows, often protected from the rain by a thin zinc strip – also a very Parisian material, both on bistro counters and on roofs to which it gives a grey tint and a very particular ribbing.
These modest façades are an essential part of older buildings in the working-class districts on the periphery. In the centre they accompany aristocratic dwellings in the same way as the left hand on the piano supports the melody. They were certainly applied to constructions that differed according to time and place: in Old Paris, these are houses on narrow plots – eight metres wide, allowing for just two rooms. As you go through the front door, you almost immediately reach the far end of the corridor, and a little courtyard with dustbins is shared with a building giving onto the next street. In the villages of the crown, on the other hand, frontages were wider, up to five or six spans, and behind the buildings facing the street could be a long succession of courtyards, reproducing the outside arrangement on a simpler scale.69 But the construction process was the same: a timber frame, rubble filler, and plaster rendering. This technique was used until much later in the plebeian quarters (‘Cut stone is too heavy and too dear! Plaster, if you please! Tell me about it! It looks good, it’s light, it’s suited for all kinds of decoration – and besides, it’s not expensive!’70) Just as the Gothic style was still used in Paris in the seventeenth century (Saint-Eustache), and neoclassicism marks many features in the most Haussmannian of constructions (Place Saint-Michel), so buildings in the outlying districts were made of timber framing covered with plaster until the end of the nineteenth century, when the beaux quartiers were already into Art Nouveau. It is amazing how the plaster tradition was handed down by the builders who constructed Paris and continue to do so – formerly from the Creuse or Italians, today Portuguese or Malians – preserving the shades of grey that are so particular to the city, varying sometimes towards a very light yellow-pink, and sometimes towards colder and almost bluish tones, but always very discreet and in keeping with the general harmony of the street.
In the late 1860s there still stretched between the Buttes-Chaumont and the boulevards separating Paris from Le Pré-Saint-Gervais a wide and unpopulated zone fissured with ravines. After the old quarry workings were filled in, a horse market was established around the Place du Danube (Rhin-et-Danube since Liberation), which very quickly collapsed. On this land, between Rue David-d’Angers, Rue de la Mouzaïa and Rue de Bellevue, little flowery streets were built, bordered with suburban villas, shacks, and workers’ allotments. These bear the names Égalité, Liberté, Solidarité and Prévoyance, resuscitated for the centenary of 1789 on the occasion of an Exposition Universelle famous for its inauguration, at the other end of Paris, of the Eiffel Tower. These streets fall sharply down towards Boulevard Sérurier and Boulevard d’Algérie, whose curves surround the Square de la Butte-du-Chapeau-Rouge, a magnificent promontory that overlooks the whole of the eastern suburbs, from Pantin to Les Lilas, with the hills of Romainville behind.
Belleville and Ménilmontant
Certain quarters of Paris have a character that owes most to history and architecture, others to their economic activity, and others again to geography. None of these criteria, however, is quite suitable for characterizing the hills stretching from Buttes-Chaumont to Père-Lachaise, and defining what makes Belleville and Ménilmontant unique. For my part, I am convinced that these are quarters whose identity is largely an emotional one. I don’t mean by this the debut of Maurice Chevalier at the Élysées-Montmartre, nor the plaque on 72 Rue de Belleville indicating that ‘it was on the steps of this building, on 19 December 1915, in the greatest destitution, that Édith Piaf was born, whose voice would later shake the world’. By ‘emotional’, I mean – misguidedly, perhaps – ‘arousing the emotions’. Here these are emotions of affection for many people, but there are others as well. If you climb Rue des Solitaires, and reach on foot the immense tower blocks constructed on what was once the Place des Fêtes, it is clear that the managers of domination had a score to settle with Belleville. Architectural aberration and the concern for profit are not enough to explain this brutality; they must have felt towards the quarter the same emotion as those who, a century earlier, wiped the Faubourg Saint-Marceau off the map.71 Fortunately, as Raymond Queneau predicted, ‘one day these lovely modern buildings will be demolished/their plexiglass windows broken/their boilers designed at the polytechnique dismantled/ their collective tv aerials severed/their lifts unscrewed/their water-heaters crunched/their fridges crushed/when these blocks grow old/with the infinite weight of the sadness of things.’72
Belleville and Ménilmontant have a western slope that looks towards Paris, and an eastern one, less steep and shorter, that looks to the outer suburbs. The north-south line of the ridge that divides them follows Rue Pelleport, which, like Rue Compans, Rue Rébeval, and Avenue Secrétan, bears the name of one of the officers who commanded the Paris National Guard, the students of the École Polytechnique and what remained of the regular forces against the Prussian royal guard in the battle of Paris, on 30 March 1814.73 Rue Pelleport begins from Rue de Belleville close to the Télégraphe Métro station, the culminating point of the eastern hills, where Chappe installed the optical telegraph that brought Parisians news of the victories of Fleurus and Jemmapes. Later on, the third – and present – cemetery of the village was located there, and the reservoirs accompanied by twin water towers whose silhouette is part of the Belleville landscape.
Between Rue Pelleport and the ‘boulevards of the marshals’ – here called after Mortier, another hero of the battle of Paris, who ended up as one of the victims in Fieschi’s attempted assassination of Louis-Phillipe on Boulevard du Temple74 – there is an undifferentiated band in which it is impossible to distinguish the part belonging to Belleville from that belonging to Ménilmontant. This was formerly an immense estate, from Rue Pelleport to the far side of Boulevard Mortier.75 The château and the park, which encroached substantially on both villages, belonged to a family of the noblesse de robe, Le Peletier, also known as de Saint-Fargeau as they owned a domain of that name close to Auxerre.76 This great aristocratic fiefdom corresponds today to the most deprived part of the hill, where the brick public housing of the 1920s alternates with the tower blocks of the 1960s, cités as they are termed, using this ancient word with its sense of common life to denote a world of disintegration of the public space. You can find a certain charm around the reservoirs of Ménilmontant, at the pretty Art Déco stations of the 3 bis Métro line – it actually has only two stations of its own, Pelleport and Saint-Fargeau – and Rue du Groupe-Manouchian, both in its name and its little houses, but there is nothing really worth visiting in the long rectangle that stretches from the proletarian shacks along Rue Mouzaïa to the little English-style quarter around Rue Étienne-Marey near the Porte de Bagnolet.
It is rather on the western slope of the hill, the Paris side, that Belleville and Ménilmontant display themselves. The boundary between them used to be marked by a place called the Haute-Borne, where the famous tavern of Le Galant-Jardinier was located. It is said that Cartouche was arrested at the Haute-Borne, and it was here on Thursday, 24 October 1776 that Jean-Jacques Rousseau was knocked over by a huge Great Dane, with the terrible results that are well known. (‘It was almost night when I regained consciousness . . . They asked me where I lived; it was impossible for me to say. I asked where I was; they told me: “at the Haute-Borne”. They might just as well have said: “on Mount Atlas”.’77) Even if Rue des Couronnes is still a plausible border, the division of the hill between Belleville and Ménilmontant is a shifting one, and old inhabitants have different opinions on this subject. Some give the Belleville limits as ‘Boulevard de Belleville, Rue de Belleville, Rue des Pyrénées, Rue de Ménilmontant . . . you see, it’s a quadrilateral. The heart was Rue de Tourtille, Rue Ramponeau, Rue de Pali-Kao, Rue des Couronnes’. An old lady says: ‘We were born in Ménilmontant, you know, it’s a part of Belleville.’ And another man: ‘Everyone has their own Belleville. Mine is bounded by Rue Rébeval, it climbs up in a bend to Rue de Belleville, and then on the other side of the street towards Rue Vilin, and down towards Rue des Couronnes.’78
The opposition between the two quarters is an old one:
There was a great difference between the clientele of the taverns of Courtille and the regulars of the taverns of Ménilmontant; in the latter, in fact, families would come to spend Sundays, and the artisan of the last century would get to know his intended at the dances of the Galant Jardinier or the Barreaux Verts. At Courtille, on the other hand, the dance halls of the Boeuf Rouge, the Sauvage and the Carotte Filandreuse were frequented mainly by drunkards and girls of easy virtue. At Ménilmontant, therefore, modest lovers and well-behaved diners under the arbour; at the Belleville dances, orgies and battles, with people using knives and biting each other like bulldogs.79
In L’Apprentie, a novel by Gustave Geffroy set in Belleville in the wake of the Commune, old Pommier takes his daughters, Céline and Cécile
as far as the lake of Saint-Fargeau, where splendid poplars shade the peaceful waters of a pond . . . and to the dance halls of their old quarter [i.e., Ménilmontant], the Barreaux Verts on the Chausée and the Élysée-Ménilmontant on Rue Julien-Lacroix. The latter place was quite special: a garden with fine chestnut trees, and an almost family welcome. Traditions were kept up there, the clientele and their behaviour were not at all like that in the dance halls of the outer boulevards. Young girls who went down to Paris were nostalgic for this greenery, this music, this décor of first confessions and first revelations.80
In the 1950s you could still hear almost the same words: ‘For me, Belleville and Ménilmontant were two different quarters. If you said at the time that you were from Belleville, you were seen as a bit rough . . . While if you were from Ménilmontant, that was better . . . That’s how it was.’81
Rue de Belleville begins at the former barrière, now the meeting point of four arrondissements. Haussmann had cut Belleville in two, so that the 10th, 11th, 19th and 20th arrondissements touch each other here – like New Mexico, Arizona, Colorado and Utah on the San Juan River. InL’Apprentie, it is
a busy quarter, noisy and working-class, commercial during the daytime. It was hard to move between the throng of cabs and buses, trolleys and carts . . . The pavement was just as cluttered. The crowd moved, stopped, chatted and made their purchases between the shops and the vegetable stalls . . . The high street of Belleville was not like Montrouge or Montmartre, the Faubourg Saint-Antoine or even nearby Ménilmontant. The first houses, with their wine-merchants’ saloons filled with enormous counters, their concerts and dances, their hotels with transparent screens brightly lit up by gas – these first houses did not suggest a neighbourhood of work, but conjured up the night-time underworld of prostitution and gangsters, and the memory of Milord l’Arsouille and the ‘descent from the Courtille’.
At the beginning of the century, Dabit saw there ‘a provincial shop, a bespoke tailor, the Cocorico cinema, cafés: the Point du Jour, the Vielleuse with its ten billiard tables, surrounded from six in the morning by players in their shirtsleeves. Hawkers unpacked their wares, street urchins cried the morning papers; sometimes a giant with a tattooed body juggled with 20-kilo weights. You got off at this crossroads as if at a port.’82
Everything has changed today except the spirit of the place, so that at bottom it is all still the same. Le Point du Jour has been removed along with the left side of Rue de Belleville. La Vielleuse is still in existence, but in a modern building that has taken the place of the house that Vallès/Vingtras depicts on the night of Saturday-Sunday 27–28 May 1871: ‘We responded with musket and cannon to the terrible fire directed against us. At the windows of the Vielleuse, and of all the houses on the corner, our people put up mattresses, whose stuffing smoked under the hail of projectiles.’83 These two cafés are nicely depicted on one of the itinerant stalls on the central reservation of the boulevard. Three days each week the market reaches up to the Métro station. Every day, the horns, the merry-go-rounds, the crowd around the Métro entrance, the chants of Arab beggars, the sellers of grilled maize, chestnuts, flowers, mechanical toys running around on the pavement, plastic covers for identity papers, and double lines of vans unloading boxes outside Chinese supermarkets: the great port of Belleville is still very active.
The steam funicular, ‘which made a stately descent from the Saint-Jean-Baptiste church to the Place de la République, climbed slowly up again, and, creaking and grating, took you along Rue du Faubourg-du-Temple and Rue de Belleville for ten centimes’, has been replaced by the no. 11 Métro line, a good deal less picturesque.84 But alongside Chinese restaurants and grocers, the bottom of Rue de Belleville keeps some vestiges of its old glory, like the Café des Folies-Belleville that evokes the music hall where Mayol, Dranem, Damia, Georgius, Fréhel and Maurice Chevalier performed. The Théâtre de Belleville was a few metres up. To quote Lucien Daudet:
I went several times to this theatre, together with Eugène Carrière, Geffroy and Rodin. We took four places in the circle, after a good dinner at a rotisserie in the same street, where you could see your chicken being grilled and buy bread on the side, and we enjoyed the physiognomies, heads and faces gathered there, leaning forward and drinking them in with our eyes, a spectacle very much in the style of Daumier.85
The theatre was later transformed into a cinema, one of the dozen you could count in the interwar years between the Boulevard and the Belleville church, specializing in horror films. The Floréal, for its part, showed gangster films with Edward G. Robinson and James Cagney, the Paradis was for musical comedies, westerns at the Alhambra and the Cocorico, and Soviet and Yiddish films at the Bellevue.86
The omnipresent Chinese are only the latest in a long series of immigrants who arrived in Belleville in successive waves, starting with the Russian and Polish Jews who fled from the pogroms of the early years of the century to establish at the foot of the hill their tradition of textile and clothing work learned in the factories of Lodz, Minsk or Bialystok. In the 1920s, Belleville had a CGT hatters’ branch whose banner carried its name in Yiddish. There were leather workers and furriers, also seen as Jewish trades. Yiddish was spoken in the synagogue on Rue Julien-Lacroix, and at the Lumière de Belleville restaurant the menu offered gefiltefish and pickelfleish just as in Warsaw. Later came the Armenians fleeing Turkey in 1918. Their community was grouped around Rue Jouye-Rouve and Rue Bisson, and their speciality was shoemaking. Then came Greeks expelled from Asia Minor, German Jews in 1933 and Spanish Republicans in 1939. The Jewish concentration remained so strong that the French police had no trouble in carrying out a nice raid here in July 1942: the number of those taken from Belleville via Drancy to Auschwitz is estimated at eight thousand.
After the war it was the turn of the Algerians, needed to rebuild the country. Along with La Chapelle, Belleville was one of the main strongholds of the FLN during the Algerian war, which did not prevent the pieds noirs, and Tunisian Jews in particular, from establishing themselves here on a massive scale in the 1960s. On the boulevard, between Rue de Belleville and Rue de Ménilmontant, there is something of a boundary line at Rue Bisson and Rue de la Fontaine-au-Roi. On the Belleville side, spilling into Rue Lemon, Rue Ramponeau and Rue de Pali-Kao are the kosher restaurants, patisseries and grocers run by Jews. On the Ménilmontant side you have travel agents specializing in the Maghreb, Islamic bookshops, Kabyl cafés – including the marvellous Soleil, close to the Métro. This frontier, visible from the shop signs, does not prevent the population of the quarter from mingling peacefully on the boulevard, old Jewish ladies drinking tea on the patisserie terraces, young Black mothers in African robes, a baby on their back, walking up from the boulevard to do their shopping in the market, orthodox Jewish men with black hats as worn in Vilnius, groups of retired workers basking in the sun, conversing in Arabic or Kabyl, whom you imagine to be full of tolerance and humanity.
The place where the boulevard stops being Belleville and becomes Ménilmontant does not have a name. The elegant semicircular line of the apartment blocks on the side facing the city, Ménilmontant station under the catalpas of its little square, the emptiness of the boulevard’s central island, form an ensemble that is much quieter than the Belleville barrière. Rising in a gigantic and absolutely straight line, Rue de Ménilmontant offers a view to the hilltop, and Rue Oberkampf plunges down to the centre of Paris:
Giacometti and I – and some Parisians too, I’m sure – know that there exists in Paris, where she has her dwelling, a person of great elegance, fine, haughty, vertical, singular and grey – a very tender grey – known as Rue Oberkampf, who cheekily changes her name and is called higher up Rue de Ménilmontant. Beautiful as a needle, she rises up to the sky. If you decide to explore her by car, starting from Boulevard Voltaire, she opens up as you climb, but in a singular manner: instead of retreating, the houses converge, offering very simple frontages and gables, quite commonplace but which, truly transfigured by the personality of this street, take on the quality of a kind of goodness, familiar and distant.87
If Belleville has certain aspects of a larger town – around the church, in particular, where drapers, cake shops, cheesemongers and bookshops are grouped like in the provinces – Ménilmontant has retained more of a country feel. Rue de la Chine, between the Tenon hospital and the mairie of the 20th arrondissement, certainly lacks the ‘joyous aspect of a country road’ that Huysmans found there. The times have certainly changed a lot since:
In this huge quartier where meagre wages doom women and children to eternal privations, Rue de la Chine and those streets which join and cross it, such as Rue des Partants and the amazing Rue Orfila, so fantastic with its windings and its sudden turns, with its badly squared-off enclosures of trees, its abandoned summerhouses, its deserted gardens returning to a state of nature and abounding in untamed shrubs and wild grasses, give off a unique note of peace and calm.88
But you still find in Ménilmontant waste ground where ‘wild bushes and crazy weeds’ sprout, cobbled passages bordered with little gardens, streets whose names evoke the northern streams that supplied Paris with water for hundreds of years – Rues des Cascades, des Rigoles, de la Mare, de la Duée, de la Cour-des-Noues, old French words that all mean spring or stream. You pass along stone walls covered with moss, and views of the old conduits – the finest of which, on Rue des Cascades at the top of Rue de Savies, dates from the reign of Henri IV. Near the Passage des Saint-Simoniens, Rue Taclet, the Villa Georgina and the Villa de l’Ermitage have not changed much since Père Enfantin attempted to practise in this quarter, away from the world, the thought of the dead master.
Père-Lachaise and Charonne
Between Ménilmontant and Charonne, Père-Lachaise is an unspoiled beauty, protected against commerce and fashion – in cemeteries the spirit of place always prevails over the spirit of time. The administrative boundary between the old villages of Belleville and Charonne used to pass further to the west (Rue des Partants, Rue Villiers-de-l’Isle-Adam), but today it is Père-Lachaise, belonging neither to the one nor to the other, that marks their separation. In the eighteenth century, Charonne, with its south-facing hillside, was entirely planted with vineyards and had all kinds ofguinguettes – a word that, according to Jaillot, ‘apparently derives from the fact that in these taverns the only wine sold is a little green one known as Guinguet, grown in the surroundings of Paris’.89 Several streets in the Charonne quarter recall its agricultural past: Rues des Haies, du Clos, des Grands-Champs, de la Plaine; Rues des Maraîchers, des Vignoles, des Orteaux – the latter mysteriously deriving from the Latin hortus. It is perhaps this rural background and the consequent absence of remarkable buildings or historic events that have left Charonne with a deficient identity – despite having given its name to a major street, a boulevard, and a Métro station. Few people say that they live in Charonne; these are to be found almost entirely at the centre, on the site of the former château and around the church, in the little hamlet that you could find ‘coming down from Belleville via the Ratrait, two kilometres further on, a village of houses interspersed with gardens, dominated in the foreground by a rustic bell tower’.90
It is rather better to reach Charonne from above, for example through Rue Stendhal (curiously described as a ‘littérateur’ on the blue and white plaque). This is a street that Queneau found sad: ‘Among the saddest streets of Paris/one could mention Rue Villiers-de-L’Is/le-Adam, Rue Baudelaire (Charles)/and Rue Henri-Beyle known as Stendhal/these really haven’t been spoiled/you even start thinking/they have rather been punished/by naming such sad streets after them.’91 And yet the acute angle made by Rue Stendhal when it forks off from Rue des Pyrénées is occupied by a dispensary from the 1910s devoted to ‘diseases of the chest’, and, on the gable wall that drops down to it you can still read, above an almost obliterated advertisement for Saint-Raphaël, a slogan for ‘Cadorcin, shampoing à l’huile’, these few metres being almost a condensation of the first half of the twentieth century in Paris, from the BCG vaccination and the anti-TB stamp through to André Kertész and the Poste Parisien (a private radio station belonging to the newspaper Le Petit Parisien). Further along, the tall chestnut trees of the cemetery appear on the hillside, together with the pointed bell tower of the church of Saint-Germain-de-Charonne. Crossing the grass that covers the Charonne reservoirs, you reach an immense garage bordering on Rue Lucien-Leuwen. Although this is a cul-de-sac, it is the only street in Paris to bear the name of the hero of a novel. (Likewise unfinished; there is also, not far from here, the Rue Monte-Cristo, but this was an island before becoming a character.) It is high time that all those shameful names of the Second Empire were replaced by characters from novels: Avenue Mac-Mahon – capitulationist general, well-known idiot, and seditious president – could become Avenue Manon-Lescaut (perhaps an exception could be made here, calling this Avenue Anna-Karina to honour the historic New Wave cinema); Avenue Bugeaud could become Avenue du Prince-Mishkin; Boulevard de Magenta, Boulevard Eugène-Rastignac; Avenue de Malakoff, Avenue Charles Swann; the Pont de l’Alma, Pont Jean-Valjean; and Rue de Turbigo, Rue Moll-Flanders. This would mean a lot of work, as I have counted thirty-one Paris streets named after the glorious campaigns of Napoleon III in Italy, the Crimea and Mexico. Not counting those that remind us of great deeds in the colonies, and their heroes both imperial and republican.
Opposite Rue Lucien-Leuwen, in Rue du Parc-de-Charonne, a small gate gives access to the cemetery. The standing statue of a man in a threecornered hat, holding his cane in one hand and a bunch of flowers in the other, has recently been taken away – for restoration, I hope. This could be a secretary of Robespierre’s, with a new interest in horticulture. The tomb of Robert Brasillach (6 February 1945) has not been removed, but joined in 1998 by his brother-in-law Maurice Bardèche. At the foot of the hill the very old Charonne church, on its raised platform, overlooks Rue de Bagnolet and the vista of Rue Saint-Blaise, the former village high street. (‘Saint Blaise, one of the great miracle workers of the East, bishop of Sebaste in Armenia according to some, of Caesarea in Cappadocia according to others, died 316, was particularly invoked to deal with vipers and sore throats.’92)
On the last foothills of Charonne, between Rue de Bagnolet – from where you glimpse the tops of the trees in Père-Lachaise, across the walls at the end of ravishing cul-de-sacs – and the very proletarian Rue d’Avron that marks your arrival on the plain, more recent streets cut across village streets that are, along with the periphery of La Chapelle, what is most ‘away from it all’ in Paris: Rue des Maraîchers that parallels the tracks of the Ceinture railway, with its wild wood, Rue Fernand-Gambon from where you look over the ruins of a Magritte-type station covered in ivy, the warehouses of Rue du Volga (sic) and Rue des Grands-Champs, and my favourite, Rue des Vignoles. There are little passages here between all the houses – the Impasses des Souhaits, de la Confiance, des Crins, de Bergame, even Impasse Satan opposite Passage Dieu, and a nameless blind alley with the black-and-red flag of the anarchist Confédération Nationale du Travail. These are not two metres wide, and end up at fences, workshops, broken doors. It is here – and here alone in Paris – that you can still see what Huysmans described so tenderly about Rue de la Chine:
Everything here is crooked: there are no walls, no bricks, no stones, but on each side, lining an unpaved road furrowed down the middle by a ditch, stretches a picket fence from old boat timbers, marbled with green moss and veneered with golden-brown tar, which leans, dragging down a whole cluster of ivy, and almost taking with it a gate, clearly bought in a lot from some demolition yard, embellished with mouldings whose delicate grey still shows through under a brown layer of tan deposited by the successive touch of dirty hands.93
Across the Cours de Vincennes, the world changes as you enter the section of the 12th arrondissement annexed at the expense of the commune of Saint-Mandé. In this district, the wall of the Farmers-General forms a salient – Boulevard de Picpus, Boulevard de Reuilly, Place Félix-Éboué (Métro Daumesnil) – curious on the map but whose reason is clear enough on the ground: the wall followed the edge of a plateau that overlooks the Seine and the Bois de Vincennes. (La Bédollière: ‘The Bel-Air is the name of an avenue that connects the Place du Trône with the Avenue de Saint-Mandé. The name is justified by the pureness of the air that you breathe on this plateau, on which boarding-schools, clinics and convents proliferate.’) Rue Claude-Decaen goes sharply uphill from Daumesnil towards the Bois, and Rue Taine down towards Bercy and the river.94 At the bottom, in the valley, Rue de Charenton, parallel to the tracks from the Gare de Lyon, ends its long trajectory from the Bastille. In its final stretch, on the corner of the ‘boulevard of the marshals’ which has here the name of Poniatowski, this bridges the rusty tracks of the Ceinture railway. From this spot, opposite the gate of the little Bercy cemetery that is the only old enclave in this remote corner, you have – over the landscape of the southeastern suburbs, an endless sea of concrete – the ‘terrible view of the plains that lie, harassed, at the feet of the city’, as Huysmans put it.
Between Rue de Charenton and the Seine, once the Lyon tracks are crossed (no easy business), is Bercy, which is completely different. The park of the Château de Bercy was bordered by the Seine and Rue de Charenton:95
The Château de Bercy is a building of very regular shape, raised according to the designs of François Mansart, and under his direction. Its vistas extend very far in each direction, and make a very agreeable effect. It is endowed with singular and valuable paintings . . . The gardens are spacious, and have been improved since 1706 by a number of avenues, statues, and a long terrace along the river. This magnificent château belonged to Monsieur de Bercy, the former royal intendant of finances.96
Along the Seine, downstream from the domain of Bercy, financiers and great lords built country houses under the Regency, the most famous of these being that of the Pâris brothers, whom the people called the Pâté-Paris. There were also taverns specializing in fried fish and matelote, as at the Point du Jour at the other end of the city.
Bercy had two river ports, one for gypsum and timber, the other for wine. After the Revolution, the warehouses of the wine merchants gradually encroached on the Bercy estate, until the château was finally demolished in 1861. By this time, Thiers’s fortifications had already cut the park in two (one part remaining outside Paris), and the tracks of the Lyon railway cut through in the other direction. That was the end of this place whose splendour was compared with that of Versailles – or perhaps more accurately with Christopher Wren’s Greenwich on the banks of the Thames. The new Bercy park, on the site of the wine warehouses, has a rather awkward shape, but presumably the terrain did not allow anything better, and the elements preserved – cobblestones, railings, pavilions, old plane trees – have been integrated with tact. The high terrace that separates the park from the expressway along the Seine has been laid out well, and, on the other side of the river, the new housing blocks make it possible to measure the progress of architecture in Paris since the years of the Front de Seine and upper Belleville.
On 19 April 1919, a victorious France voted the ‘declassification’ of the fortified walls of Paris, in other words their demolition. Like the wall of the Farmers-General, these had lasted for eighty years, but their military role had sterilized the land around them, making it into a zone, a non-place very different from the joyous bazaar along the wall of the Farmers-General. In Flaubert’s A Sentimental Education, Frédéric enters the city in 1848, just after the fortifications had been completed:
He was awakened by the dull sound of wheels passing over planks: they were crossing the Pont de Charenton; it was Paris . . . In the distance, tall factory chimneys were smoking. Then they turned into Ivry. They went up a street, and all of a sudden he caught sight of the dome of the Panthéon. The plain had changed beyond recognition and looked like a town in ruins. The fortifications crossed it in a horizontal ridge, and on the unpaved paths edging the road stood small branchless trees protected by battens bristling with nails. Chemical factories alternated with timbermerchants’ yards . . . Long-fronted, dull-red taverns displayed a pair of crossed billiard cues in a wreath of painted flowers between their first-floor windows . . . Workmen in smocks went by, and also brewers’ drays, laundry vans, and butchers’ carts . . . They stopped at the city gate for a long time, for it was blocked by poultry-farmers, carriers, and a flock of sheep. The sentry, his hood thrown back, walked up and down in front of his box in order to keep warm. The toll-clerk clambered on to the top of the coach, and a fanfare on a cornet rang out. They went down the boulevard at a brisk trot . . . and finally reached the iron gate of the Jardin des Plantes.97
Between this prehistory and the building of the ring of social housing in the 1920s and ’30s, the zone gave rise to a populist literature that was somewhat conventional, and it is rather in photography that one should seek the traces of its melancholic poetry. Atget, above all, showed families of zonedwellers on the steps of their caravans at the Porte d’Italie, shacks made out of metal and wood perched on the bushy escarpments of the Poterne des Peupliers, the snowy banks of the Bièvre at the entry to the city, ragpickers pushing their barrows along Boulevard Masséna, the ditches by the Porte de Sèvres, the vegetable tangle at Porte Dauphine, a silent world in which nature is weary and no longer able to afford a welcome to the poor. Long after the ‘fortifs’ had disappeared, this sadness persisted. ‘MUR de la MORT’: a clumsy inscription on a fairground caravan in the fog and mud of a waste ground near the Porte de Clignancourt – this is a photograph by Robert Frank dating from 1951, depicting the dangerous spectacle, since banned, in which motorcyclists climb and turn in a gigantic vertical cylinder, which they only adhere to by centrifugal force.
On the site of the demolished fortifications, the ‘boulevards of the marshals’ and the blocks of social housing that border them have little to remind us of the zone of Flaubert, Atget or Carco, but a tour of Paris by this route does not have the monotony and homogeneity of the Périphérique. These boulevards are as varied as the quarters that border them. The desert of Boulevard Macdonald, in a straight line along the wasteland that has replaced the Claude-Bernard hospital, the disjointed space of Boulevard Ney between the Porte d’Aubervilliers and the great intersection of La Chapelle, the barracks on Boulevard Bessières continued by the grey concrete mass of the Lycée Honoré-de-Balzac, have nothing in common with the little hôtels particuliers on Boulevard Berthier, the clever use of polychrome brick by the Porte Champerret, or the apartment blocks along Boulevard de la Somme that seem to have been built by a pupil of Loos. Towards the Bois de Boulogne there is no more social housing. The Boulevards Lannes and Suchet display the luxury of 1910 on the city side – monumental masses, sculpted corner rotundas, colossal pilasters, stone balustrades – while on the side of the Bois there are the marble, bronze, and statues of the ‘return to order’ of the 1930s. It would need a Hugo to make the comparison between the Porte de la Muette with its pink chestnut trees, a sumptuous embarkation for Cythera, and the Porte de Pantin, an uncrossable barrage of concrete and noise, where the Périphérique passes at eye level, with Boulevard Sérurier beneath it engulfed in a hideous cutting in which the scrawny grass of the central reservation is littered with greasy wrappers and beer cans, and where the only human beings on foot are natives of L’viv or Tiraspol trying to survive by begging at the traffic lights. A very Parisian antithesis, in the end.
1 Louis-Adolphe Thiers, cited by Karl Marx in ‘The Civil War in France’, The First International and After (Penguin: Harmondsworth, 1974), pp. 191–2.
2 Jean-Louis Cohen and André Lortie, Des fortifs au périf (Paris: Picard, 1991). ‘The fortifications . . . comprised, from the inside looking out, a rampart road with a carriageway of six metres (the ‘‘military boulevard’’), a continuous wall doubled by a ditch forty metres wide, a counterscarp and a glacis.’
3 The fortresses that would play a large role at the time of the Commune, as we shall see, were built on the southern heights.
4 The main communes totally absorbed were on the Right Bank, Auteuil, Passy, Les Batignolles, Montmartre, La Chapelle, La Villette, Belleville and Charonne; on the Left Bank, Grenelle and Vaugirard. The larger communes that remained partly outside the wall were Neuilly, Bercy, Saint-Mandé, Gentilly and Montrouge.
5 ‘For some days the vintage had been harvested; the walkers from the city had already gone home, the peasants also were quitting the fields for the labour of the winter. The country, still green and smiling, but unleafed in part, and already almost desert, offered everywhere the image of solitude and of the approach of winter’ (J.-J. Rousseau, The Reveries of a Solitary Walker, trans. Fletcher).
6 Privat d’Anglemont, Paris anecdote.
7 La Bédollière, Le Nouveau Paris. The Ratrait (not ‘Retrait’ as the street there is wrongly spelled) was the name of a vineyard.
8 Huysmans, Parisian Sketches, p. 94.
9 Paul Fargue, ‘Mon quartier’, in Le Piéton de Paris (Paris: Gallimard, 1932).
10 Paul Fargue, ‘Maurice Ravel’, in Refuges.
11 Eugène Dabit, Faubourgs de Paris (Paris: Gallimard, 1933).
12 La Bédollière, Le Nouveau Paris.
13 Potlach, inspired in particular by Michèle Bernstein and Guy Debord, was the ‘information bulletin of the French group of the Lettrist International’.
14 La Bédollière, Le Nouveau Paris.
15 Henri Calet, Le Tout sur le tout (Paris: Gallimard, 1948). Avenue d’Orléans had not yet been given the name of Maréchal Leclerc, nor his unlikely image erected at the Porte d’Orléans.
16 Pierre de L’Estoile, Journal pour le règne de Henri III. The Bièvre entered Paris through the postern of Les Peupliers, crossed Rue du Moulin-des-Près (there was a large water-mill there), and circled the southern slope of the Butte-aux-Cailles in a meander full of willows and poplars, before reaching the intersection of Rue Brillat-Savarin and Rue Vergniaud; it then bent again to the north, crossing the wall of the Farmers-General near Métro Corvisart, and enclosing the Square René-Le-Gall in two separate arms before reaching the Gobelins.
17 Cited in Lucien Lambeau, ‘Grenelle’, in Histoire des communes annexées à Paris en 1859 (Paris: Leroux, 1914).
18 Martin, Promenades dans les vingt arrondissements de Paris.
19 26 Rue Vaugirard, now between a Chinese butcher and a discount store, in a courtyard two sides of which have been demolished.
20 This was in fact the second Vel’ d’Hiv’. The first occupied the Galeries des Machines on the Champ-de-Mars, after the Exposition Universelle of 1900. Both were the work of Henri Desgranges, holder of the first recognized one-hour record and creator of the Tour de France.
21 Rue Vandamme – which was called Chemin de la Gaîté until it was given the name of a general – still exists, but no longer runs as far as Rue du Château. Its last section has been replaced by Rue du Commandant-Mouchotte, the Sheraton-Montparnasse hotel, etc.
22 The third side was Route de Transit (now Rue d’Alésia). Rue du Château, originally known as Rue du Chemin-de-Fer, took its name from the Château du Maine, an estate occupying a large site between Rue de Vanves (now Raymond-Losserand), Rue du Château and Rue Didot. The present Rue Asseline corresponds to its entrance drive. Avenue du Maine takes its name from the Duc du Maine, who had it opened as a route from the Faubourg Saint-Germain to his residence at Sceaux.
23 Catherine Bruant, ‘Plaisance et les Thermopyles’, in Montparnasse et le XIVe arrondissement (Paris: Action artistique de la Ville de Paris, 2000). Some of these individuals – Bénard, Boyet-Barret – gave their names to streets in the quarter. They were successful enough to extend their operation eastward and open up Rues Didot, des Plantes, Hippolyte-Maindron, etc.
24 No. 54 has disappeared, buried beneath the false columns and frontages of Ricardo Bofill on the Place de Catalogne.
25 Calet, Le Tout sur le tout.
27 There certainly were some horrific buildings constructed in the expensive quarters from the 1960s through to the ’80s, but they most often respected the line of the street and the general scale. Besides, the materials used were generally of good quality.
28 Fargue, Le Piéton de Paris. In his striking preface to Jacques-Émile Blanche’s Propos de peintres, Proust recalled: ‘As my parents spent spring and early summer at Auteuil, where Jacques-Émile Blanche spent the whole year, it was easy for me to go each morning to pose for my portrait.’
29 Jacques-Émile Blanche, ‘Passy’, in Visages de Paris (Paris: Éditions Pierre Lafitte, 1927).
30 This house, located near the top of Rue Paul-Doumer, should not be confused with that on Rue Raynouard where Balzac actually lived. Balzac has Corentin, the great policeman of La Comédie humaine, ‘who was known there as a retired merchant passionately devoted to gardening’, not very far from his own house, in ‘one of the quietest and prettiest nooks of the little town of Passy’ (Scenes from a Courtesan’s Life).
31 Guillaume Apollinaire, Le Flâneur des deux rives (Paris: Éditions de la Sirène, 1918).
32 Across this quadrilateral, Haussmann drove two parallel roads towards the Bois de Boulogne: Avenue de l’Impératrice (now Foch) and Avenue de l’Empereur, today partitioned into Avenue du Président-Wilson, Avenue Georges-Mandel and Avenue Henri-Martin.
33 Blanche, ‘Passy’.
34 Though there are two famous buildings, Perret’s apartment block at 25 bis Rue Benjamin Franklin, and the Malet-Stevens fire station on Rue Mesnil.
35 Henri Auguste Richard, Le Véritable Conducteur parisien (Paris, 1828).
36 The house still stands, at 67 Boulevard de Montmorency, now the premises of the Académie Goncourt.
37 For those who may have forgotten them: Hotchkiss, Panhard and Levassor (whose factories were in the 13th arrondissement), Talbot, Rosengart, Salmson, Bugatti, Delahaye, Simca and Delage, without going all the way back to Voisin, De Dion-Bouton or Hispano-Suiza. On the other side of the Porte d’Asnières, Levallois-Perret was a district of garages, repair shops, and secondhand car dealers.
38 ‘At the bottom of our street, on the square, we had the statue of Serpollet. This was a fine stone monument; the breeze blew through the windshield, giving an effect of speed: individuals of both sexes saluted the man who had conceived the flash boiler as he stirred his stew, and was the first to ride from Paris to Saint-Germain at the wheel of a steam tricycle: Serpollet. A gentleman with a beard and stiff collar nervously hastened in front of the vehicle, at the risk of being run over by the monster whose driver seemed no longer to be in control’ (Calet, Le Tout sur le tout).
39 Fargue, Refuges. The famous Batignolles tunnel was replaced in the 1920s by a cutting, after a train had caught fire in it.
40 Maupassant himself lived just a couple of steps away when he was writing this, on Rue Dulong.
41 Père-Lathuille was on the site that is now no. 7, and Guerbois at no. 9 (now the Cinéma des Cinéastes).
42 Delvau, Histoire anecdotique des barrières de Paris.
43 The Tour des Dames, incidentally, was the abbey’s dovecote.
44 Halévy, Pays parisiens.
45 George Moore, Modern Painting (London, 1893). The Rat-Mort was a tavern frequented among others by Courbet, Vallès and Manet (who painted George Moore at the Nouvelle-Athènes). It was located on the site that is now 7 Place Pigalle, and the Nouvelle-Athènes was at no. 9 – the building still stands, but is undoubtedly under serious threat.
46 Goudeau, a friend of Salis, the landlord of the Rat-Mort, in Le Courrier français, 24 October 1886. Cited by Chevalier in Montmartre du plaisir et du crime.
47 Cited by Chevalier in Montmartre du plaisir et du crime.
48 ‘What seduced me in this little space sheltered by the big trees of the Château des Brouillards was above all this remnant of vineyards . . . and the neighbouring watering-trough which is enlivened in the evenings by the spectacle of the horses and dogs that are washed there, and a fountain built in the antique style, in which women chat and sing while they do their washing, as in one of the early chapters of Werther’ (Gérard de Nerval, ‘Promenades et Souvenirs’, L’Illustration, December 1854 to February 1855).
49 I exclude here the mairies of the 5th and 6th arrondissements, as the Panthéon and Saint-Sulpice are scarcely equivalent.
50 La Bédollière, Le Nouveau Paris.
51 Edmond and Jules Goncourt, Germinie Lacerteux (New York; Grove, 1955), p. 52ff. To my mind this is one of the finest ‘descents’ in the nineteenth-century Parisian novel, along with that of Gavroche, from Ménilmontant to the barricade on Rue de la Chanverie, and that of Guillaume and Pierre, from the Sacré-Coeur to La Roquette for the execution of Salvat, at the end of Zola’s Paris.
52 Maurice Culot, in La Goutte d’Or, faubourg de Paris, with a preface by Louis Chevalier (Paris/Brussels: AAM and Hazan, 1988).
53 Carco, De Montparnasse au Quartier Latin.
54 L. Chevalier, preface to La Goutte d’Or, faubourg de Paris.
55 In Joanne, Paris illustré en 1870, this is described as ‘a charming construction that dates from the reign of Henri IV’. For Hillairet, it was a folly dating from 1780. La Chope du Château-Rouge, where Rue de Clignancourt goes over the hill, keeps its memory.
56 Dabit, Faubourgs de Paris. The Marcadet bridge is where Rues Marcadet and Ordener merge and cross the tracks of the Nord railway.
57 La Bédollière, Le Nouveau Paris.
58 The other statues are that by Frémiet on Rue des Pyramides, and those on Rue Jeanne d’Arc, the esplanade of the Sacré-Coeur, and the parvis of Saint-Augustin, not counting the head of the Maid of Orleans on Rue Saint-Honoré, where a plaque commemorates her being wounded by an English arrow in front of the Porte Saint-Honoré.
59 An amazement that ‘no longer knew any bounds, when she deigned to invite me to accompany her to a neighbouring charcuterie where she wanted to buy some gherkins’ (Breton, Communicating Vessels).
60 ‘Relevé d’ambiances urbaines au moyen de la dérive’, in Les Lèvres nues, 9, November 1956.
61 Benjamin, The Arcades Project, p. 518. Benjamin has the Place du Maroc in Belleville, which is not correct, but clearly doesn’t matter.
62 Chevalier, Classes laborieuses et classes dangereuses. The voirie and the knacker’s yard was removed in 1849 to the Bondy forest. On the rats: ‘In a book by Théophile Gautier, Caprices et zigzags, I find a curious page. “A great danger threatens us,” it says. “The modern Babylon will not be smashed like the tower of Lylak; it will not be lost in a sea of asphalt like Pentapolis, or buried under the sand like Thebes. It will simply be depopulated and ravaged by the rats of Montfaucon.” . . . The rats of Montfaucon . . . have not endangered Paris; Haussmann’s arts of embellishment have driven them off . . . But from the heights of Montfaucon the proletariat have descended, and with gunpowder and petroleum they have begun the destruction of Paris which Gautier foresaw’ (Max Nordau,Aus dem wahren Milliardenlande: Pariser Studien und Bilder [Leipzig, 1878], vol. 1, pp. 75–6; cited by Benjamin, The Arcades Project, p. 91).
63 La Bédollière, Le Nouveau Paris. He repeats the idea that this ‘Amérique’ took its name because ‘production from it was exported far away: a large part was embarked on the canal, then transshipped at Le Havre for the other side of the Atlantic’. But this seems to be simply a legend, ‘Amérique’ being no more than a place name.
64 Mémoires de M. Claude, commissioner of police for the quarter, cited in Simone Delattre, Les Douze Heures noires.
66 ‘Paris is growing, and faubourgs have been heedlessly built over old quarries; with the result that everything you see above the ground basically lacks the foundations of a town in the earth. . . . A matter for reflection, considering how this great city is formed and supported by absolutely contrary means! These church towers, these temples, are so many signs that say clearly: what we see in the air is lacking under our feet’ (Mercier, Tableau de Paris).
67 Félix Nadar, Quand j’étais photographe (Paris: Flammarion, 1900).
68 Benjamin, The Arcades Project, p. 84.
69 On all these questions, see Loyer’s incomparable Paris XIXe siècle, l’immeuble et la rue.
70 Delvau, Histoire anecdotique des barrières de Paris.
71 On this subject, a friend of mine recently pointed out to me a magnificent passage from Guy Debord’s Panégyrique: ‘I believe that this town was ravaged somewhat before others because its ever recurring revolutions disrupted and shocked the world all too greatly; and because they unfortunately always failed. So we were eventually punished by a destruction as complete as that which the Brunswick manifesto had formerly threatened, or the speech of the Girondin Isnard: with a view to burying so many fearsome memories, and the great name of Paris.’
72 Raymond Queneau, Courir les rues (Paris: Gallimard, 1967).
73 The only one who does not have a street here is Marshal Marmont, despite the fact that he fought valiantly on that day. But history has condemned him for signing the capitulation of Paris, and no doubt also for commanding the royal forces in July 1830.
74 Fieschi and his accomplices tried out their explosive device in a meadow in Ménilmontant, close to what is now Rue d’Annam.
75 And in the other direction, from Rue du Surmelin to Rue de Romainville, whose curious bend is due precisely to its circling this domain.
76 Rue Le Peletier, which comes out on Boulevard des Italiens, is named after Claude Le Peletier, provost of merchants under Louis XIV. The illustrious Louis Le Peletier de Saint-Fargeau, a deputy for the nobility to the Estates-General, then a member of the Convention who voted for the death of the king and was assassinated for this reason on 20 January 1793, had a daughter who was made a ward of the nation. It was she who started to divide up the estate for development, and sold the old château. By the 1850s there was nothing left of the domain except perhaps a few trees in the Belleville cemetery.
77 Rousseau, The Reveries of a Solitary Walker, ‘Second Walk’. The quadrilateral of the Haute-Borne, bounded by Boulevard de Belleville, Rue Julien-Lacroix, Rue des Couronnes and Rue de Ménilmontant, was totally ravaged in the 1960s.
78 Françoise Morier (ed.), Belleville, belle ville, visage d’une planète (Paris: Creaphis, 1994). The old lady is right to say that Ménilmontant is a ‘part’, as it belonged to the commune of Belleville when this was annexed to Paris, which explains the topographical uncertainties.
79 La Bédollière, Le Nouveau Paris.
80 Gustave Geffroy, L’Apprentie (Paris: Fasquelle, 1904). The outer boulevards here meant Boulevards de Belleville, Ménilmontant, etc.
81 Morier (ed.), Belleville, belle ville.
82 Dabit, Faubourgs de Paris.
83 Jules Vallès, L’Insurgé (1884).
84 Dabit, Faubourgs de Paris. In the late 1990s, the corner of Rue du Faubourgdu-Temple and Avenue Parmentier was occupied by a shoe shop, Au Funiculaire, since replaced by a mobile phone dealer.
85 Daudet, Paris vécu. The Folies-Belleville was at 8 Rue Belleville, and the theatre at no. 46. Geffroy described the theatre at length in L’Apprentie: ‘There were animosities, and insults sometimes exchanged between the different social classes of this little town. The noise of the upper galleries annoyed the peaceful occupants of the stalls and the boxes. Overly coquettish toilettes made everyone’s flesh creep and were sometimes the object of a word or a projectile.’
86 Clément Lépidis, ‘Belleville mon village’, in Belleville (Paris: Veyrier, 1975).
87 Jean Genet, L’Atelier de Giacometti (Paris: L’Arbelète, 1963).
88 Huysmans, Parisian Sketches, p. 102.
89 Jaillot, Recherches critiques, historiques et topographiques.
90 La Bédollière, Le Nouveau Paris. The Château de Charonne, built in the seventeenth century, had a large park that was bounded, according to Hillairet, by Rue de Bagnolet from Rue de la Réunion to Rue des Prairies, then along this street, and by Rue Lisfranc and two lines that would continue Rue Lisfranc and Rue de la Réunion to meet inside Père-Lachaise by the Mur de Fédérés.
91 Queneau, Courir les rues.
92 Amédée Boinet, Les Églises parisiennes, vol. 1 (Paris: Minuit, 1958).
93 Huysmans, Parisian Sketches, pp. 101–2.
94 The fountain of the Place Daumesnil was, we may recall, the second fountain on the Place du Château-d’Eau (now Place de la République). Rue Claude-Decaen was formerly the Chemin de Reuilly.
95 It extended into Charenton proper, which was then known as Conflans. The park’s boundaries were Rue de la Grange-aux-Mercier (now Nicoläi) and Rue de la Liberté at Charenton.
96 Hurtaut and Magny, Dictionnaire historique de la ville de Paris. But they are mistaken here: the château was by Louis Le Vau and not François Mansart. Bercy’s links with finance are thus not just recent. The greed of the lords of Bercy was well-known, as attested by this verse from 1715: ‘Let Bercy satisfy its greed/ in melted gold/ and despite the horror of its suffering/ die after rendering it.’
97 Gustave Flaubert, A Sentimental Education (Oxford: OUP, 2000), p. 112.