If you could walk the twenty-one miles around Paris on the Outer Boulevards, you would see the town from a new angle besides accomplishing a feat which as far as I know has never been consciously undertaken except by myself and my companion upon the jaunt. We found it worth while, although not particularly exciting.
What it signifies, however, at the outset, is the fact that Paris is entirely unlike any other world capital in the compactness with which it lies inside a very nearly perfect circle. To be sure this is due to the habit the city has had from the beginning of walling itself in, until in 1844 the last of the walls formed the outline which the Outer Boulevards now take.
Those walls have fallen, except for a portion which has been preserved on purpose. The moat which lay below them has been pretty generally filled in, to the loss of the picturesque. And the City of Paris has put up at many of the former gates a batch of cheap-renting tenements which will do no credit either to the artistic or the common sense of the builders of this generation. The excuse was the apparent need to house some fifty thousand families, who might much better have been urged to return to the suburb, if not to the farm.
In circumnavigating Paris you would never have to leave the Boulevards, unless you call crossing the bridge over the Seine such a deflection. But you would find that the Boulevards have nineteen different names. And the names are those of Napoleon’s marshals. Napoleon still holds Paris!
You would have at your right hand (or your left depending upon where you started), twenty different sub-urban towns at varying distances in the periphery. Most of them were young when Paris was; they were not suburbs in the Middle Ages but places of some importance in the life of the Ile-de-France, as this province, dear to French kings, was called.
Within the circle which you are considering as a promenade lie the twenty thousand acres of a city whose bare outlines cannot be gotten into any book, whether it be history or geography or a study of municipal problems. But here, on the edge, you can see the town still in the making. If you have been borne down a little by the sense of the antique which the names alone of the rue St Martin, of the Louvre, of the Arena, ought to express, here is where you may sense the future.
I do not say that you will be uplifted, but it will make you realize as no other promenade could do that Paris is modern, hopelessly so in places. For that reason I believe it well to start where the urban development has been conscious and successful : at the Porte Dauphine. Take the direction of the Porte d’Auteuil. Here you are in a stretch of prosperity. The famous 16th Arr. is at your left, the Bois de Boulogne at your right.
Passy and Auteuil, two suburban towns long ago taken into Paris, were favorites with Benjamin Franklin. Passy was a fashionable cure; artesian wells and mineral springs still abound there. Auteuil, though you may not see how, comes from “Altus Locus,” and claimed for a long time that Passy was a mere suburb of hers !
The Longchamps race-course, the Municipal tree-nursery, the gardens of the Horticultural Society are all marked upon the map. These horticultural gardens were established in 1855, and they supply all the parks and gardens except those belonging to the State, the Luxembourg, and the Tuileries. More than a million plants of some three hundred varieties are grown here; and the hothouses cover nearly eighteen acres. They have expositions here.
And this is the place to tell you that there are between ninety and one hundred thousand trees in Paris, and that nearly a thousand a year are taken from the nurseries to replace those which die from the effects of automobile gas. The greatest number of trees is in this very region near the Porte d’Auteuil, some ten thousand in the 16th Arr. Then comes the 13th Arr. with seven thousand; the 2nd Arr. has but seven hundred.
At the Porte de St Cloud you will see the factory chimneys of Billancourt and Boulogne on this side of the Seine, and upon the other Issy, where aviation has its factories.
The Boulevard, now called Murat, takes a sharp turn to the river, where the Viaduct of Auteuil marks your path across the city limits on the Seine. It is here that you will see the vegetable gardens in what was once the moat; and see perhaps an artist or two on the bit of rampart which has been left as a souvenir of 1844.
This Viaduct has two hundred and thirty-four arches and runs overland to the Point-du-Jour, now the terminal for several motor buses but more than once a field of battle. Crossing the Viaduct you are on the Left Bank Outer Boulevard, and, although the rows of trees continue, you will feel the change, as from one town to another.
The National School of Aviation is here, and the grounds run out towards the Plaine d’Issy. Further along you will see the buildings which belong to the permanent establishment of the Paris Annual Fair, and which are in use for different expositions a good part of the year. This, the Porte de Versailles, has its settlement of fairly handsome apartment buildings, but from here-on you will see them diminish in size and quality. Beyond the Fairgrounds you will see a glimpse of Vanves where the National Manufacture of Tobacco employs three thousand persons, but where from the 12th to the 16th century, the best butter in the region was made for the Paris Halles.
You will pass, on your left, but not quite in sight, the second slaughter-house of Paris, the Abattoir de Vaugirard. And Vaugirard was a very old village before it was incorporated into Paris.
In the distance, touching Vanves, will be Malakoff, and next to that suburb, Montrouge. But by the time you reach the point parallel with that old town, you will have on your right the Cité Universitaire which is worth all this walk to see as something of moment which has sprung up since the war! In the Middle Ages the students were called “the four nations” because they came from that many; today practically all the big countries have buildings here for their students at Paris; one of the most interesting is that of Cuba.
At your left here is the Parc de Montsouris, where you may want to rest, for it is one of the most picturesque parks in Paris, always easy to reach on any bus that goes to the Cité Universitaire or to the Porte d’Orléans, upon which you should have gazed in passing, with the thought of the ancient Phenician and his load of tin.
From here on the boulevard dips and rises and allows you a view of the country which still shows something of its original beauty. The Porte de Gentilly opens out upon the route which would take you to the Roman aqueduct of Arceuil, to the famous and ancient insane asylum, the Hospice de Bicêtre, and to the tanneries along the river Bièvre. That little stream goes underground or is covered over at the Potern des Peupliers (Posterngate of the Poplars). If you were to follow the Bièvre south, you would eventually come to the tiny settlement of Jouy where the “toiles de Jouy” were made in the late 18th century by Oberkampf.
In fact, if you were seduced by curiosity at any one of these gates of Paris and should decide to break the circle and follow the route before you into the country, you would sooner or later find yourself in the midst of picturesque history, bits of which are familiar to us before ever we set foot in France.
But there is one historical fact that I want to set down here as you look at the outline of the Bicêtre institution upon the hill, a silhouette. It was here that Salomon Caüs was locked up by the Cardinal de Richelieu because he insisted that steam was a motor power; and that France could go far ahead of all other people if she would make machines to use it.
In other words, the discovery which we attribute to Watt (17361819) ought to go to this man, who in 1613 wrote a book to describe the uses to which steam could be put. He went mad in confinement after trying for years to get someone to give attention to his ideas, calling through the bars to every visitor who passed by. I find this one of the grim stories in history: to want to serve your country with a discovery and to be dishonored and imprisoned for your efforts.
Following the boulevard up and down hill, you will reach Ivry, a manufacturing town on the Seine, a coal depot, a place of warehouses and electric plants, where in the 12th century the stone was quarried for Notre-Dame. You will recross the Seine on the Pont National. Look to your right towards Conflans and Charenton, and, transporting yourself in thought into the 15th century, you will see the soldiers of Louis XI over on the Left Bank bombarding the Château of Conflans where Charles the Bold is staying (1465). That château is still standing, though not visible from the bridge. Henry IV stayed there for a while; the Cardinal Richelieu once brought Molière and his company out here to put on a play; the Arch-bishops of Paris had it for a summer home until the Revolution; and today it belongs to one of the most open-hearted and cordial Frenchmen of the old school, Georges Hartmann, whose collections of engravings of Paris he has one hundred and twenty thousand of all sorts go all over the world wherever exhibitions of such things are held.
Further on you will come to the Bois de Vincennes, counterpart of the other Bois. You are halfway and more around Paris. From here on, the walk will still give you insight into a side of Paris life which no seat on a boulevard café in town could show you : old houses at your left; old towns, terribly grimy most of them, at your right. The north is the industrial side of Paris.
At the Porte de la Villette you could take the route for Flanders and arrive there without losing your way. You will see the Plain of St Denis and the smoke of that town in the distance. Now, on your left there will be railroad yards and engine houses, and metallurgical workshops. The Porte des Poissonniers marks where the fish dealers used to come into Paris from the sea; a long hard road in those days. Along here the “flea markets” still spasmodically express themselves but are not what they once were, say the “old-timers.”
The suburbs crowd up to the city limits here; the institutions established when this was country still loom like prisons; barracks and hospitals and so-called open-air camps for school-children. Cemeteries lying under the smoke of chemical factories are visible reminders of the change always going on. After all perhaps it was as well that Catis did not get his machines started a hundred years before the English!
The Portes here are all named for the outlying district. Only at the Porte des Ternes do you begin to feel yourself in any Paris that you have ever known. At the next Porte de Neuilly you can look down the Avenue de la Grande Armée (Napoleon’s, of course), to the Etoile. And at the Porte Dauphine you can, with a clear con-science, turn into the Avenue Foch, which used to be called the Avenue du Bois de Boulogne, which I much prefer.
This is not an idle promenade. I am certain that once you take it, afoot or horseback or even in a taxi, you will have a feeling of competence about Paris that will never leave you. You have taken Paris in. You have encompassed it! You have seen it expanding towards the future doubtful progress as that may be even while it touches with its sensitive tentacles all those old towns lying about it.
And the glimpses of open country, the sight of the river as it enters and leaves Paris all this makes a panorama worth hours of study and reading or of poring over a home newspaper along the Grand Boulevard, which at one time, to be sure, did mark the city limits.