Well, here we are again and at the same spot I left you yesterday. If you happened to have missed the section of Philippe Auguste’s wall when we were at the Pantheon yesterday afternoon, we can take a walk down there now because we will be starting our walking tour this afternoon only a short distance from it. This wall, which is only a very short distance down the Rue Clovis, is well worth seeing, for these old city walls were not just concrete block walls, but had to be strong enough to withstand the assaults of all sorts of siege engines, as well as wide enough to permit the movement of troops on top of them.
Although, as I mentioned to you before, everyone ought to walk down at least a few of the old streets in Paris, our trip this afternoon is not so much to do that as it is to visit an open air market. Since we are now again in a very old part of Paris, this market will give us a very good idea what life was like in Paris some two or three hundred years ago. In order to get to this market, all we will have to do is to follow the Rue Descartes to our right. This is the street that runs right behind the Church of Saint Etienne-du-Mont and then along the rear of the Lycee Henry IV. It will be from this street that you will have the best view of the Tower of Clovis with its funny external stairway. After a very short distance, the Rue Descartes continues as the Rue Mouffetard. So, all you will have to do is to walk straight ahead, or at least as straight as these two very crooked streets will allow you. However, the market area on the Rue Mouffetard does not start for some distance, and will be densest where the street is steepest.
But this market will not be the only thing that is interesting in this section, for before we will reach it, we will pass many interesting side streets turning off on each side of us. Just before the Rue Descartes turns into the Rue Mouffetard, you will come to the Place de la Contrescarpe, where the ancient Cafe Pomme-de-Pin used to be. This cafe, we are told, was one of the haunts of Francois Villon (1431-1462?) and Rabelais (1492?-1553). Of the one, we do not know when or how he died, for history loses track of him after 1462, and of the other we do not know for certain when he was born. Some ways down from this square, but on the adjacent street (actually at number 24 Rue Tournefort) is the house which used to be the “Pension Vauquer,” the middle-class pension where Balzac had put up his Rastignac and Pere Goriot in his story by that name. If you must see it, the best way for you to do so will be to turn to your right when you get to the Rue du-Pot-de-Fer and walk one very short block to the Rue Tournefort. The only thing you will have to make sure of is to go back to the Rue Mouffetard the way you came or you might find yourself back at the Pantheon instead of at the destination we are headed for. Also, a little ways off the Place de la Contrescarpe, on the Rue Rollin, stood the house in which Pascal died in 1662, and that was probably the reason he was buried in the nearby Church of Saint Etienne. I am generally not in favor of looking up these old addresses when they go too far back into history, for who knows how many different houses have stood there since. However, whether you plan to look them up or not, these few references will at least give you a fair idea how old this quarter is. At the foot of the Rue Mouffetard, on your left, there is another landmark that got connected with literature, and that is the ancient Church of Saint Medard. This is the church which Victor Hugo mentions in I es Miseraloles where Jean Valjean one day met the dreaded police Inspector Javert, disguised as a beggar, who located his hiding place soon afterwards. During the early part of the eighteenth century there were such queer things going on in this church and in its associated cemetery, which had, in the meantime, been taken over by the Jansenists, that Louis XV found it necessary to close the cemetery and to threaten all future offenders with the Bastille. But now, we are digressing and we are also getting ahead of our story.
So far on our walking tour we have not encountered very much activity, though we have seen plenty of interesting old houses. But shortly after we pass the Rue du-Pot de-Fer the street begins to go down hill sharply and we come into a veritable beehive of activity. What you will see here now is no central market, no les Halles, for everything in this street is sold retail and mostly out of pushcarts. You purchase one carrot, one onion, a little precious horsemeat, and maybe a turnip and a small head of lettuce. And even for this little, you bargain vociferously. You can, of course, also purchase shoes and drygoods, but after your shopping is once done for the day, you go through exactly the same process again tomorrow. There was one vendor there this afternoon who did not even have a stand. He was holding out a lemon with one hand whereas in the other he held his reserve stock of three more. But the most interesting part of all this is the tumult, the bargaining and the lusty cries of the market women, for a French market woman is never quiet for a single moment. I confidently believe that a French market woman would cry out her wares in the same confident voice if there were not a single person to be seen on the street, absolutely certain that the customers would come streaming out of the doorways at the first shrill sound of her voice. There may be people who would not care for all this, but I think it is lots of fun, and I never visit a city without also visiting its markets, and the market on the Rue Mouffetard is one of them.
And now, we have come to the end of the first part of our walking tour. When we get to the Church of Saint Medard we will be at the beginning of, or close to the beginning of, the broad Avenue des Gobelins, and not too far from the Gobelin Manufactures. At the beginning of this avenue you will find a number of cafes. There were none, not even a bistro, on the Rue Mouffetard, in fact, not since we left the Rue Soufflot, and since there are none at the Botanical Gardens either, this might be a good time to take a little rest and refresh ourselves with a little liquid refreshments. After that-and for that you’d better consult your map-we can turn down the Rue Censierwe crossed it just now when we made for our cafe-and make for the Jardin des Plantes, in other words, the Botanical Gardens of Paris. If you will look left as you walk up this street, you will see the Mosque of Paris up on a slight elevation. This mosque has its own Mufti, Iman and Muezzin, who announces the time of prayer from a minaret. It is open to the public every day from two to five except Friday. The Botanical Garden is only a short distance up the street and adjoins the rear of the Mosque. Only, you will have to be careful not to walk past it because the Museum of Natural History forms the southern edge of the Rue Censier so that you will have to walk through the first entrance you come to to get into the gardens. Otherwise, you will be walking around the outside of it before you are aware of it.
The entire area of the Botanical Gardens, including the Mosque and what is left of the former Roman Arena, known as the Arenes de Lutece (only don’t expect much of an arena) is very fully covered by maps in your Michelin guide, and to do this area thoroughly, detailed maps, such as the ones mentioned, are almost a necessity. But since it would take us at least an hour to do all this, all we are going to do is to enter the gardens at the corner of the Rue Censier and the Rue Geoffroy-St.Hillaire, and come out of it at its main entrance at the Pont d’Austerlitz.
The Botanical Gardens of Paris are, perhaps, the oldest botanical gardens in the world and were started in 1626 by the physicians of Louis XIII as a medical herb garden. They thus antedate the Royal Botanical Gardens near London by about thirty years. These gardens have, of course, been enlarged a number of times, but owe their present arrangement mostly to the great French Naturalist Buffon, who was in charge of them from 1739 to 1788, and lived on the premises. It now also contains a small zoo, though the big zoo in Paris is, of course, at the Bois Vincenrres. Like most other parks in Paris, the formal part of this park is laid out with mathematical precision and on a grand scale. It consists of three lanes of clipped plane trees, about one third of a mile long, with the various planted areas between them. The allee on our right is known as the Allee Buffon; the one on the left is known as the Allee Cuvier, after another famous French naturalist. One half of the center allee is known as the Allee A. Lacroix and is named after the French geologist Lacroix, and the other half is, evidently, still waiting to be named after someone, because it is only known as the Allee Central. The zoo, and the less formal gardens, in which you will also find the house in which Buffon lived, are located behind these formal gardens. Near the main entrance, on the Seine end, there is a large monument to Buffan, which was erected to him while he was still alive.
When we leave these gardens we will be directly opposite the Pont d’Austerlitz and on the banks of the Seine again. And now, we have the problem of how to get back to our hotel. The quai along the river here is known as the Quai St. Bernard and the river side is known as the Port-aux-Vins from the fact that the Halle-aux-Vins, which is to wine what les Halles are to produce, is located here. This market is more than twice the size of les Halles and extends for several city blocks in each direction. However, in case you are tempted to make some witty remark about the wine rnarket in Paris being twice the size of the produce market, I would just like to remind you of the fact that there are several other produce markets in Paris besides les Halles, whereas there is only one wine market and this is it. Unfortunately, this market is not only surrounded by a high iron fence, but there isn’t a cafe of any kind in the area. And as there are no cafes alongside the Botanical Gardens either, the walk from the Pont d’Austerlitz back to the Place St. Michel is probably the longest walk I ever took in Paris without being able to sit down some place. The first time I walked this distance, I swore that I would never do so again. But, perhaps, with all these oceans and oceans of delightful thirst quenchers behind that iron fence, that might just have been an illusion. In any case, if you don’t want to walk it, you can always pick up a taxi at the Gare d’Austerlitz which is just next door to the main entrance of the garden.
For those who are interested in gardens, I may also add that the American Express Company has a three-hour conducted afternoon tour through the gardens of Paris, which includes a walking tour through the Botanical Gardens, the Bagatelle, which was the former home of the Comte d’Artois, the brother of Louis XVI, who later became our Charles X, and a number of others. Unfortunately, this tour is run during the summer months only.