This October, Hôtel de Ville was the site of an exhibition called “Paris vu par Hollywood” (Paris Seen By Hollywood) in which stills, costumes, and clips traced the romanticized image of Paris created by nearly 800 American films. The exhibition exposed the exaggerated stereotypes and generalizations used to create a Paris fit for stars like Gene Kelley, Audrey Hepburn, and more recently Owen Wilson. This Paris is one where cobblestone streets abound, no two corners look alike, and even Belle herself might come strolling past singing some harmonious tune. While the actual post-Haussmann Paris is much different with wide, paved streets and uniform buildings, the iconic Paris of the film world does still exist in the 4th arrondissement. Most of this district remained untouched by Haussmann, with plans for demolition put on hold in favor of other priorities. Thanks to this delay and the eventual end of Louis-Napoléon’s rule, we were left with a piece of Paris which to this day remains tangibly drenched in history. Two of the major neighborhoods in this arrondissement are the Île de la Cité and le Marais.
At the center of the Île de la Cité is a quirky market that dates back to 1808. One day a week, it becomes the “marché des oiseaux,” filled with every type of bird from the canary to the chicken. When Emilie and I strolled through there were no birds but the market was still full of unique cadges and other trinkets.
We spent a wonderfully overcast morning wandering the Île de la Cité with Leonard Pitt as our guide. I will never forget his story of the 14th-century barber of the Rue des Marmousets who would slit his customer’s throats to provide fresh…pâté…for his neighboring pastry chef. We also learned the love story of Héloise and Abélard, situated on the north side of the island at 9 Quai aux Fleurs. In 1118, Canon Fulbert hired a thirty-nine year-old Abélard to tutor his young niece, Héloise. The classic tale of forbidden love ensued, Héloise bore a child, and Flubert punished Abélard with castration. Héloise was sent to a convent and Abélard to a monastery. Regardless, their love endured, and when Abélard died at sixty-three in 1142, Héloise had his body transported in secrecy to her convent. Twenty years later, she also died at the age of sixty-three, and their bodies were placed in the same coffin which would go on to travel throughout France for the next seven-hundred years. Today, they rest at the Père-Lachaise cemetery, which Emilie and I visited towards the end of our stay.
Directly to the left of where I stood to take this picture is a place I would never…ever…have thought to visit if it weren’t for Walks Through Lost Paris. This is Hôtel Dieu. Although this is the oldest hospital in the city, dating back to the middle ages, it bears the same mark of Haussmann and Napoléon visible throughout the city and was torn down and re-built in the 19th century. In response to Louis-Napoléon’s demand for a hospital with eight hundred beds, Haussmann began work on this structure in 1867 despite resistance from the Paris medical corps’s argument that a large hospital would be better suited for the outskirts of the city. Such a large hospital also contradicted Napoléon’s desire to create more light and air in the city, but construction began nonetheless. A pretty comical race ensued between Hôtel Dieu and the Opéra Garnier, whose construction began simultaneously. It seemed the Opéra would be finished first, and Napoléon was not so keen on a building for pleasure and merriment taking precedence over a building for medical purposes. Napoléon urged Haussmann to accelerate work on the hospital and asked that the opera builders would do whatever they could to delay their progress. Even so, the Opéra Garnier was completed a full two years before Hôtel Dieu.
Across the Seine from the Île de la Cité, the Marais is one of Paris’s most charming neighborhoods, offering some of the best falafel and vintage clothing stores in the city (and maybe all of France…but I’m biased). But since this post has swelled to a hefty size I’m going to delay the Marais until next time…