When we speak of the quais of Paris, we generally mean the quais which run along both banks of the Seine around the Ile de la Cite and the Ile St. Louis. There are, of course, many other famous quais in Paris, such as the oft-mentioned Quai d’Orsay, for all the avenues which run along both banks of the Seine are known as quais, with the one exception of the Avenue de New York, which still goes by the name avenue, though it is, of course, also a quai.
During our journeys through the heart of Paris, we will, of course, have been on and off these quais many times, so that I don’t intend to tell you too much more about them. By this time we will have ambled along most of the bookstalls, cast envious eyes on the old books, and especially the prints. When we were at the Place du Chatelet, we will also have wandered along the Quai de la Megisserie and looked at the seed stores, the garden implements, the rabbits, the chickens and the pets. And when we were at the Conciergerie, we most certainly also paid a visit to the flower market. But what you probably might not have seen is a view of the Seine at night. Probably because the river carries a lively traffic, all the arches underneath the bridges are lit up and reflect themselves in the water in a manner that will positively enchant you. Perhaps the best way to see the river at night would be to make a night trip on one of the famous Bateau-Mouches, the fast passenger boats which ply the Seine. These start out from a point near the Pont de 1’Alma and your guide book, or your hotel portier, will give you all the details. And now we are going to start out from one of these quais and make just two more expeditions into the quarters on the Left Bank of the Seine, beginning with the quarter known as the Quartier de la Monnaie.
As a convenient landmark by which to locate the beginning of this quarter we can do no better than to pick out the dome of the Institute of France, commonly known simply as the Institute, which is to France what the Royal Academy is to England. This Institute is located on the Qiiai Nlalaquais, just opposite the Pont des Arts. To reach it, we can either cross the Pont des Arts from the end of the Louvre, or we can cross the river at the Pont Royal and then walk down the Quai Voltaire until we get to it. Of course, we could also tell a taxi driver to take us directly to it, and if you were a man of the proper age, wore a distinguished-looking beard, and spoke flawless French; you might even make him believe that you were one of its forty members.
If you come from the direction of the Quai Voltaire, tlie first public building you will come to will be the Ecole des’ ]Beaux-Arts, the famous art school of Paris at the intersection of the Quai Melaquais and the Rue Bonaparte. Then comes the Institute, and right next to it the Hotel de la Monnaie, which, translated into English, means the Mint: It is from this building that the quarter which stretches out behind it obtains its name. However, as we are now concerned with streets and some of the people who have lived on them in the past, I am not going to go into details on these buildings. You can obtain all the necessary information on them from your guide books. The Quartier de la Monnaie is another quarter of old Paris where it is easy to walk around in circles, for the streets here, literally, run in all directions. Unfortunately, only the largest maps can show you all these short streets, alleys, and passages, and even on these they are at times very difficult to make out. However, if you will follow the few main streets shown on your maps, you can never go very far wrong. For our purpose, I would recommend the following few streets for a stroll through this quarter. You may have to double back now and then, but after you have walked these streets you should have a fairly good idea what this quarter is like. As the first of these streets I would mention the Rue Bonaparte, which starts to the left of the Art School, and will take you, after a short walk, to the famous Cafe des Deux Magots and the no less famous Cafe de Flore on the Boulevard St. Germain. Also to the Church of Saint Germain-des-Pr6s, the oldest church in Paris, which is directly across the street from them. At the moment the Deux Magots is said to be the favorite resort of the French Existentialists, though I will have to admit that it is just as difficult to tell a writer-Existentialist or otherwise-at the Deux Magots as i t is anywhere else. The next would be the Rue de Seine, which starts one block down the quai, to the right of the Institute, and, after crossing the Boulevard St. Germain, will take you close to another famous church, the Church of Saint Sulpice. The next would be the Rue Mazarine, which aIso starts at the Institute, though a few steps in from it, runs along the right-hand side of the Mint, and ends at the Boulevard St. Germain, except that the last very short block of it is there known as the Rue de l’Ancienne-Comedie because the Com6die-Francaise once had a theatre there. There is still another interesting street in this quarter-the Rue des Saints-P~res-which starts to the right of the Art School and is famous for its numerous small shops dealing in rare books and just as rare bric-a-brac, and if you have any Travelers Checks left that you don’t know what to do with, you might wish to walk the two blocks down it as far as the Boulevard St. Germain.
If you want to continue your trip after you get to this boulevard, and I think you should, there are a number of interesting old streets that one ought not to miss again. But here, again, you will have to make a choice, and the only way to see them all will be to take each one in turn. ~On the other side of the Boulevard St. Germain, the Rue Mazarine continues as the winding Rue de 1’Ecole de Medecine. This street will take you past the Medical School and, after numerous turns and twists, bring you out at the Cluny Museum. This is about the only section in Paris where you will still see beards, the medical students being particularly fond of the fringe beards, a beard which runs in a thin line all the way around the chin from one -ear to the other. This entire area used to be occupied by a sprawling Franciscan Convent, known as the Convent of the Cordeliers, and it was in the abandoned rooms of this convent that Danton, Marat, Desmoulins and others founded their first revolutionary club, which afterwards became known as the Cordeliers Club. The other two streets on the other side of this boulevard which I would :also not like to miss are the Rue Monsieur-le-Prince and the Rue de l’Odeon. Both of these streets start out from the Carrefour de l’Odeon, a little traffic circle just past the boulevard. The Rue Monsieur-le-Prince roughly parallels the Rue de l’Ecole de Medecine and will also bring us out on the Boulevard St. Michel. The Rue de l’Od6on, ,on the other hand, will lead us straight to the Odeon Theatre and the Luxembourg Gardens, which are right behind it; and if we had continued on the Rue Monsieurle-Prince, we would have walked straight into the Rue Soufflot. But since we have already covered these two sites, let us now return to the Institute and wander about a bit.
As you may have noticed, all the streets I have mentioned so far have been running, roughly, north and south, but now we are going to take in a few side streets. How ever, before we do so, let me first tell you something about the general vicinity in which we now are. Some eight centuries ago, the Tour de Nesle used to stand where the
To the English-speaking tourist at least, one of the best-known residents of this quarter was friend Laurence Sterne, who lived in this quarter in 1767 when he put up at the Mtel Modene to gather material for his Seratinaeyatcel Journey tltnough France and Italy. We are told that this hotel was located at what is now number 46 Rue ,Jacob, which is three short blocks down from the Seine and runs the short distance between the Rue de Seine and the Rue des Saints-Peres. However, other accounts have it that this hotel was located on the nearby Rue C;u6n6gaud, which runs off the Rue Mazarine behind the Mint. In any case, you need not look for it because it is no longer ill existence. However, it was in a little glove shop an the Rue Jacob that he had his first amatory adventure on the very first day he arrived in Paris. According to his account, this unexpected good fortune so confused him that he forgot where his hotel was located. When you walk down this street, you might just take a short walk down the Rue Fnrstenberg to the little Square known as the Place de Furstenberg. It was at number 6 of this little square that the painter Delacroix had his studio. It is now a small museum and is open to the public. This square is. named after one of the early abbots of the nearby church of Saint C`=ermaine-des-Pres when this church was still an abbey. It is the second street in on your left as you walk down the Rue Jacob from the Rue de Seine. One block closer to the cluais is the even shorter Rue Visconti, which also runs betweu the Rue de Seine and the Rite Bonaparte,. where Balzac: had a printing establishment, one of his numerous commercial enterprises which invariably ended in bankruptcy. The house is marked, but there is really nothing much to see, and neither is there in the house on the same street in which Racine died. The real Balzac Museum is on the Rue Raynouard, in the house in which he at one time lived. Incidentally, the Rue de Seine is noted for its numerous small stores dealing in fine color prints, and if you are interested in art, you may wish to walk down it for that alone.
As I already mentioned, the Rue Mazarine also starts at the Institute, but at a little park, just behind it, where it connects with the Rue de Seine. It is named after the great Cardinal-Statesman Mazarin, who became Minister of State to Louis XIV after the death of Richelieu. Mazarin was not really a Frenchman, for he was born and educated in Italy and did not come to Paris until he was thirty-two years of age. Here, he was entrusted with numerous foreign missions by Richelieu, and when the latter died, he succeeded him as Minister. It was he who founded the Academy des Beaux-Arts and he was also one of the founders of the Institute, which still contains his library. However, he had his official residence in the building which now houses the Bibliotheque Nationale on the Rue de Richelieu.
The Rue Mazarine, which is quite short, is not, perhaps, one of the most interesting streets in Paris, for it bends around the bare side of the Mint for some distance. But at the end of it, we come into a section that is alive with history again. Near the end of the street you will come to the Carrefour de Buci, with the short Rue de Buci on your right, and the Rue Saint-Andre-des-Arts on your left. Turning off into the latter you will find the Passage du Commerce, which is a crowded little passage that cuts off the next corner and comes out on the Boulevard St. Germain. However, since you can easily walk by the entrance to it-it took me two years to discover it-1 would suggest that you enter it from the Boulevard end. Here, the entrance is through an archway, right opposite the gigalitic statue of Danton on the other side of the street, and is plainly marked. There are a number of things associated with this crowded little passage, one of which is that it was in this court that Dr. Guillotin first started to experiment with a machine by which he had hoped to render the slaughter of sheep more humane. Little did he dream then to what purpose it was to be put later. It was also to a little printing shop in this court that Marat came daily to have his inflammatory revolutionary paper, l’Ami du Peuple printed. There is still another interesting passage which runs off the end of this court to your right, known as the Cour de Rohan, on which the Archbishops of Rouen had their residence. We are also told that it was in a nearby house in this vicinity that Henri II first put up his ladylove, Diane de Poitiers. But that was long before he built the Chateau d’Anet for her, and it will probably be just as well if you don’t look for it. Not too far from this spot too, but no longer existing, was thehouse in which Marat was stabbed to death by Charlotte Corday.
If you follow the Cour de Rohan to its end, you will come out near the Boulevard St. Germain again. All you will have to do then to get to the Rue Monsieur-le-Prince, is to walk back to the statue of Danton, cross the boulevard and walk a few steps until you come to the Carrefour de 1’Odeon. The Rue Monsieur-le-Prince meets the Rue de 1’Odeoo on the other side of this traffic circle and slants off from the latter to your left. This is another street which has had a number of important residents, including our own Longfellow who at one time lived at number 49, whereas Auguste Comte lived and died at number 10. But it was at number 19 of the nearby Rue de Tournon, which is a continuation of the Rue de Seine, that America’s Naval hero, John Paul Jones died on July 18, 1792. He was buried in Paris, but in 1905 a fleet of warships brought his remains back to the United States to be interred at Annapolis. Not far from this spot too, on what is now the Rue de l’Ecole de Medecine, but in a house which is now no longer in existence, Danton and Desmoulins lived in the same house. As you may remember, they also went to the guillotine in the same tumbril. If you follow the Rue Monsieur-le-Prince as far as the Rue Racine and turn left-you will have to go down a few stepsyou will come out on the Boulevard St. Michel, just about opposite the Cluny Museum. And if you turn a short distance to your right, you will walk directly into the Place de l’Odeon and the Odeon theatre. It was on this square that the first cafe in Paris was established by a Sicilian by the name of Procopio, who called his place the Cafe Procope, a name which was to be reckoned with for many years to come, for it was this same Procopio who first introduced coffee into Paris. This cafe was a favorite resort of Voltaire and of the Encyclopedists. It was from a sidewalk table of this cafe also that Rousseau anxiously watched the audience as it came out of the Odeon for its reaction to his first play. This cafe is now the Cafe Voltaire. If you have read Sylvia Beach’s interesting book Shakespeare and Company (Harcourt, Brace and Co., 1959), you may remember that it was on the Rue de l’Odeon that she first set up shop and so became the first publisher of James Joyce’s Ulysses.
But in spite of all these interesting historical associations, the fun of wandering through this quarter does not so much consist of looking up this or that house where some former resident lived, as it does in just wandering about. The ghosts of the former residents will follow you around whether you are aware of them or not. And since you are, no doubt, going to be tempted to walk up this street and that on your own, I am going to leave the problem of how to get back to your hotel entirely up to you. But if you do get lost, you can always hail a taxi on the Boulevards St. Germain or St. Michel. Only, after you are properly loaded down with prints and books, please don’t waste your time looking for one on the in-between streets.