Wednesday, March 18, 2009

On the Paris Streets Where We Lived

A pied-à-terre in Paris is the dream of many -- just a small apartment where they can breakfast on the terrace and while they're at it,  write the great American (Italian, Spanish) novel. Several friends have done it - buy the apartment, that is. Why not us? We could have, maybe we should have, but we didn't even when the dollar was very high and the Paris real estate was very low.  

A mistake? Perhaps, but on the other hand, over the years, we've lived in more than 20 different apartments spread out all over Paris. Every year is a great adventure in a different neighborhood with new markets, restaurants and shops to explore and with unmet strangers waiting to become friends.  

An early apartment on the rue St. Jacques overlooked the church and charnal house of St. Séveran. It  was divided into two parts with a public hallway in between although the only person who ever came by was the very old woman who lived above. The playwright Berthold Brecht once lived there and piles of his letters were in a bottom dresser drawer, where they still may  be.   

On rue Scipion, we lived under the eaves in a 5th floor apartment that was laid out like a train with one room leading to the next. There were big thick oak beams so low in places that you had to duck your head when you walked by. The apartment overlooked a small square and in the spring, we watched magpies build their big stick nests in the treetops that were level with our attic windows. We shopped at the market on rue Moufftard, the beginning of the main road to Italy in Roman times.

Rue du Pont aux Choux is named for a bridge over a stream leading to a cabbage patch that have all long-since disappeared. We lived there in a lovely apartment with a terribly uncomfortable couch. During a big transport strike that year, someone stole our bicycle. Three weeks later, I saw a woman unlocking it in front of the nearby Marché des Enfants Rouges.  With a lot of talking and arguing, I managed to wrest it away from the thief to the general applause of the crowd that had gathered. 

Our apartment on rue Raspail belonged to an artist. It was minimally furnished and had huge, computer-generated paintings propped up against all the walls. On the other hand, its big floor to ceiling windows filled the apartment with light and at night provided us with a view of the illuminated Eiffel Tower - well, just the top half, but beautiful nonetheless.

This year we're on the rue des Francs Bourgeois (free bourgeois) which was named for an almshouse that opened on the street in about 1334. Its occupants were exempt from paying taxes and thus the name free bourgeois. Poverty is little in evidence now since the street is lined with 15th and 16th century mansions.  Around the corner is the traditional Jewish neighborhood of Paris. French law mandates that most stores close on Sunday, but an exemption was given to Jewish neighborhoods whose stores are closed on Saturday.  So on Sundays, when most of the commercial streets of Paris are silent, the rue des France Bourgeois is at its liveliest.

Our apartment has a view that encompasses both the past and the present - a 15th century hotel to the left and a modern business school to the right.  To visit this year's neighborhood in photos, click here.

Next year? Who knows what adventure awaits? I've heard that prices are low and it's a good time to buy an apartment in Paris...  For now, however, Italy calls. 



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