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Friday, March 26, 2021


Susie and I very much consider ourselves left bank Parisians but the fourth arrondissement is in an odd way a kind of extension of the left bank even though it lies north of the Seine so one morning I decided to walk around its borders. This turned out to be a very interesting adventure even though the route is the shortest of my various walks. Leaving my building, I turned right and walked to the quays. I crossed over and turned right, walking along the river all away to the point at which Blvd. St. Germain begins. Turning left, I walked across a little bridge to the tip of ïle St. Louis and then further across another little bridge to the right bank. Walking up Boulevard Henri Quatre, I came to the west side of Place de la Bastille.  Across on the other side I could see the big opera house that competes with the main opera house downtown. At this point in the morning traffic is getting heavy so carefully crossing streets I continued north. Looking to my left, I could see a famous restaurant – Bofinger - the site of one of my most embarrassing gustatory goofs.  Bofinger is a fin de siècle restaurant with a famously elaborate ladies’ room (which of course I have never seen). The pièce de résistance is a huge platter of assorted raw shellfish set in a bed of ice. Naturally I ordered it. When it came I looked for the cocktail sauce and when I could not see any I asked for some. The waiter looked at me very oddly and finally brought me a bottle of ketchup, making it quite clear that I was a tasteless, clueless gauche American tourist. It was not a successful outing.


Two short blocks north of Place to la Bastille is a little street going off to the left with the odd name “rue du pas de la mule.”  Fairly quickly the street becomes the northern flank of the most famous part of the fourth, Place des Vosges, a fabulously expensive residential site much sought after by the in crowd in Paris. My loveliest memory of Place des Vosges is a visit there during what is called in Paris Fȇte de la Musique.  Held on June 21, the first day of summer, this is a time when all of Paris comes out into the streets to play music and listen to it. Everything is free, even concerts in expensive venues by world-famous groups. In one place you will find competing amateur rock ensembles, around the corner a solitary violinist playing away. On the evening that Susie and I went to the Place des Vosges, there was a string quartet playing Beethoven, a gay men’s chorus singing, and a small rock trio in another corner of the Place. One of the two or three greatest concerts I have ever heard was a free concert by the world-famous Tallis Singers in the Musée d’Orsay.  They performed the Miserere of Alleghri, and I can still hear a solo soprano voice ascending seemingly effortlessly to the heavens as we sat on the stone banquettes far from the chorus. It was a magical moment.


When rue du pas de la mule passes Place des Vosges, it becomes rue des Francs Bourgeois, the traditional Jewish section of old Paris where my relatives lived a hundred fifty years ago. After a long walk it turns again into a new street – rue Rambuteau.  All this while I had been walking along the northern boundary of the fourth, and very soon I passed the north flank of the famous Pompideau Museum, which, thanks to the odd imagination of some architect, has the pipes and ducts on the outside rather than on the inside of the museum. Another block and I came to the northwest corner of the fourth and turned left to walk down Boulevard de Sebastopol.  This took me all the way to the river on the right bank. Now I walked for a bit east until it was time to cross the river to the flower market, strangely named for Queen Elizabeth of England. Past the old headquarters of the Paris police (who have apparently since moved to new quarters) and then catty corner across the large open space in front of Notre Dame called the Parvis Notre Dame, from which it was a short walk home.


For a long time I thought I had successfully circumnavigated the fourth, but looking at a map one day I discovered that there is a piece of the fourth on the eastern edge that I had missed – a sort of wedge shaped space, the point of which is in Place de la Bastille and the base of which is along the river. Just to keep myself honest, I adjusted my walk to encompass that little piece once but it did not add any charm to the experience so I went back to my original route on subsequent walks around the fourth.


Tomorrow I will describe my longest and most adventuresome effort – a circumnavigation of the sixth. There are several more walks that I have done in Paris but I think that will be enough. The truth is that I am no longer capable of taking these walks as I once did but I will miss having them available nonetheless.


DDA said...

Some decades ago I lived in Paris a semester here and there. One of the theres was the 11th arrondissement which I grew to love. Well off the tourist path with wonderful markets (just over in the 12th was one of few remaining covered markets), a baker with a wood-fired oven who let me hang out during the all night bakes, and a great collection of pre-Hausmann buildings. If I remember correctly, the northern part of the 11th meets the northern part of the 4th and somewhere in there was the schmates district. And, unlike the usual stereotypes, all the French were very kind to the American with awful French.
It (and the 12th) have become a bit gentrified since my days.

David Palmeter said...

s. wallerstein

Apropos the question of Americans in Paris, a course on it is being offered at Politics and Prose bookstore in Washington:

s. wallerstein said...

David Palmeter,


jeffrey g kessen said...

"On the evening when Susie and I went to the Place des Vosges, there was a string quartet playing Beethoven, a gay men's chorus singing, and a small rock trio playing in another corner of the Place." This is just a nit-picking question: why should the men's chorus, these days, be distinguished as "gay"? Anyway, sounds like a great walk.

s. wallerstein said...

Jeffrey Kessen,

I don't live in the U.S. and so I don't follow what is acceptable contemporary English language usage as closely as you probably do. Thus, I ask why shouldn't the chorus be distinguished as "gay". I'm genuinely puzzled, not trying to pick a fight.

David Palmeter said...

There are vocal groups that call themselves "Gay Men's Chorus" in many cities in the US and Europe.

Eric said...

I've probably been to Paris more often than anywhere else while traveling abroad, but most of my meanderings there have been on the right bank. Prof Wolff's experience at Bofinger reminds me of a meal I had late one chilly night some years ago when I stumbled into an almost empty bistro called La Poule au Pot near Les Halles, not too far from the Pompidou. I've always loved French onion soup, so I ordered that to start because I wanted to see what an "authentic" rendition of it would be like; and I decided to follow that up with a poule au pot, assuming that their version ought to be very good, given the name of the place. The server seemed a bit surprised that I wanted both an onion soup and a poule au pot, and he asked if I was sure that that was what I wanted. I thought he was trying to warn me that it might be too much to eat; but since I had had very little to eat over the preceding couple of days and was quite famished, I assured him that, yes, that was indeed what I wanted to order. My French isn't that great (a bit more than two years of highschool French), but I thought the poule au pot would be some sort of chicken and vegetables dish, since it was listed under the Viandes section on the menu.

It turned out that the poule au pot was a huge bowl of chicken soup (with plenty of vegetables, yes, but soup nontheless)! So I had ordered a soup, followed by a soup! LOL
(OK, I'm sure there are nitpickers reading this who will insist that, technically, poule au pot isn't a "soup." But it felt like a soup to me at the time.)

If someone happens to like cocktail sauce (or ketchup) with their fruits de mer, hey, à chacun son goût. We all have slightly different tastes in food, both learned and innate (just think of all the genetic variability in reactions to hot peppers, cilantro, or asparagus). But there's simply no accounting for ordering two soups.

(And just to make the story perfect - afraid to appear the silly tourist I clearly was, I proceeded to try to finish the huge pot of chicken soup, right down to the last drop, as if it was exactly what I had wanted all along.) said...

S. Wallerstein. "Gay Men's chorus" is redundant--- just as, say, "Gay rock trio" isn't. Feeble as that gloss is on my initial stupid Comment, I had to work hard to find it.