The novel L’Hôtel du Nord by Eugène Dabit (1898-1936) tells the story of a working-class couple – the author’s parents, in fact – who ran a small working-class hotel in the 1920s on the left bank of the Canal Saint-Martin in Paris.
The author kept the real first names of his parents, Èmile and Louise, but gave them a fictitious last name, Lecouvreur. (I like the name Lecouvreur because of the opera Adriana Lecouvreur by Francesco Cilea, which I have seen several times lately in a fine new production at the Frankfurt Opera.)
Émile and Louise Lecouvreur rented out rooms by the day or week, mainly to people from the country who had come to Paris looking for work in the factories or building trades. Some of the tenants only stayed for a day or week, others for months or years. Some of the older people lived out the rest of their lives at the hotel.
The novel is a loosely organized collection of stories and anecdotes about people who stayed at the hotel. Most of them were people who worked long hours at hard jobs for little money, and the author describes them with sympathy but without any sort of romantic idealizing. The book was a great success when it was published in 1929. It was awarded a prize called the Prix du roman populiste in 1931.
In 1938 the French film director Marcel Carné made a film version of L’Hôtel du Nord. The stars of the film were meant to be Annabella (1907-1996) and Jean-Pierre Aumont (1911-2001), but the film is remembered mainly for two of its supporting actors, Arletty (1898-1992) and Louis Jouvet (1887-1951). In my tip entitled Atmosphère, atmosphère I have attempted to describe their most famous scene, on a bridge over the Canal Saint-Martin.
Louis Jouvet in this film looks and sounds like a French version of Humphrey Bogart, with a cigarette constantly dangling from his lips or his fingers. Besides being a popular stage and film actor he was also the director, from 1934 until his death in 1951, of the beautiful Athénée theater in the center of Paris. I once went to an opera performance at this theater, which is now called the Athénée Théâtre Louis-Jouvet in his honor.
Second photo: My copy of the novel L’Hôtel du Nord is an old paperback edition that I bought from a bouquiniste on the left bank of the Seine for all of two Euros.
In the last chapter of the novel, Èmile and Louise Lecouvreur watch wistfully as their hotel is demolished to make room for a new factory. But this was only a fictional ending, because the hotel wasn’t really torn down until the 1980s. Even then, the façade and front end of the building were preserved thanks to the efforts of a preservation committee led by none other than Arletty, who was then blind and in her eighties and had long since stopped performing in public.
The Hôtel du Nord is on a street called Quai de Jemmapes which runs along the side of the canal. Since streets in Paris tend to be named after saints or battles, and since there has never been a saint named Jemmapes, it should come as no surprise that Jemmapes (a town in Belgium) was the site of a battle in 1792 which resulted in a French victory.
Third photo: Today the Hôtel du Nord is no longer a hotel, but there is a popular café/restaurant on the ground floor – and a Vélib’ station, number 10111, right in front.
Fourth photo: Hôtel du Nord in the evening.
Fifth photo: Since 1989 the façade of the Hôtel du Nord has been classed as a historical monument with a “History of Paris” plaque at the front.
Just to confuse matters, there is another Hôtel du Nord (which really is a hotel) just three or four blocks away (depending on what you count as a block) at 47 Rue Albert Thomas. I have never stayed at this other Hôtel du Nord, but I once stopped by and met the owner. From their website it appears that they have reasonable prices and also ten bicycles which they lend out free of charge to people who are staying there.
Next review from July 2012: Atmosphère, atmosphère . . .
All you loyal readers of my Bacharach page (thanks again to both of you) will recall that in 1840 the great French novelist Victor Hugo, author of Les Misérables and The Hunchback of Notre-Dame, spent three days in Bacharach and wrote an enthusiastic description in his book Le Rhin, first published in 1842.
In one of my Bacharach General Tips, called Victor Hugo on the Rhine, I translated some passages from his book in which he described the town of Bacharach as "the oldest heap of human habitations" that he had ever seen in his life.
And in one of my Bacharach Things to Do tips, called Fürstenberg and Falkenburg, I translated his account of his meeting with three lovely girls at Falkenburg Castle, now better known as Reichenstein, which is one and three-quarter lieues (leagues) upstream from Bacharach. Today we would give the distance as 7 km, but Hugo would turn over in his grave (in the Panthéon) if he heard me saying that, because he was a fierce opponent of the metric system of measurement.
Victor Hugo was born in Besançon in 1802. In 1832, when he was thirty years old and already a successful novelist and playwright, he rented a large apartment (280 square meters, we would say today) on the second floor of a building at the southeast corner of Place des Vosges. Hugo and his family lived in this apartment for sixteen years, from 1832 to 1848.
This apartment is now a museum about Hugo's life and work, and the floor below is devoted to special exhibitions.
Second photo: An old poster in the museum advertising Victor Hugo's complete works at 25 centimes per volume. Note the silhouette of Notre Dame in the background, a reminder of his novel The Hunchback of Notre-Dame.
Third photo: Another old poster in the museum announcing a meeting at the Théatre de la Gaité in Paris on May 30, 1878, to commemorate the one hundredth anniversary of the death of the French writer Voltaire (1694-1778). Victor Hugo presided at the meeting and also gave a speech about Voltaire.
Fourth photo: In the museum.
Fifth photo: A room in the museum, with a portrait of Victor Hugo.
Location and photo of Place des Vosges on monumentum.fr.
Honoré de Balzac (1799–1850), author of La Comédie Humaine, lived in this house in Passy for seven years in the 1840s.
He did not own the house, but was the tenant of a five-room apartment at the level of the garden. He once wrote that he enjoyed going out into the garden, "emerging into the Paris sunlight in this carbon dioxide-filled atmosphere, where flowers and books thrive like mushrooms."
But he seems to have spent most of his time in the house, working. He wrote: "Working means getting up at midnight every evening, writing until eight o'clock, having lunch in a quarter of an hour, working till five o'clock, having dinner, going to bed, and starting over again the next day."
Balzac was heavily in debt during this period, so to hide from his creditors he rented under the pseudonym of "Monsieur de Breugnol". But they sometimes found him anyway. Tradition has it that Balzac made use of the back door on Rue Berton to escape from his creditors when they were knocking at the front door on Rue Raynouard.
Of course he did not have a view of the Eiffel Tower, which wasn't built until half a century later.
The house is now a museum which belongs to the City of Paris. Admission is free except when there is a special temporary exhibition.
On a rainy Friday evening in November 1966 -- it was November 28, to be exact, and the Métro was on strike -- I went to a small theater in the Latin Quarter and saw two absurdist plays by Eugene Ionesco called La Cantatrice chauve (usually given in English as The Bald Soprano) and La Leçon (The Lesson).
The amazing thing at the time was that these two plays had been performed every night at the Théâtre de la Huchette since February 16, 1957, so they were in their tenth year of continuous performance when I saw them in 1966.
Fast forward to 2011: the same two plays are still playing every night (well, six nights a week, since they're closed on Sundays) in the same theater. I wanted to see them again, but they were sold out on the one evening I could have gone. I think they are usually sold out in advance, since the theater only has eighty-five seats.
In my photo of the theater it says "53 ans" (53 years), but I think by now they must have changed that to 57. That works out to nearly seventeen thousand five hundred performances and over one and a half million spectators since 1957.
This is a small new musical theater that you'll never find if you don't go looking for it with the exact address and a good street map (like the map called Paris Voies Cyclables by Media Cartes, which I can still highly recommend).
The theater is located on the Rue Marsoulan (which I bet you've never heard of) which is so far to the east that it's even beyond Place de la Nation, not far from the suburbs Vincennes and St-Mandé.
Even if you find the address you might walk right past the theater because it's in a faceless modern building and the entrance (second photo) looks more like a dentist's practice than a theater.
But when you get inside it's very pleasant, with 180 comfortable red plush seats for the spectators. The theater opened on November 1, 2008, and at the time it was said to be the 131st theater in Paris. (I haven't counted, so I'll just take their word for it.)
The Théâtre Musical Marsoulan presents musical spectacles of all types, traditional and contemporary, for children and for adults. One of their first productions was the operetta La Péricole by Jacques Offenbach (1819-1880), which I saw in the summer of 2008 at another small theater on the east side of Paris, the Espace La Comedia. (And yes, I am listening to a recording of La Péricole as I write this.)
The show I saw at the Théâtre Musical Marsoulan in February 2011 also had to do with Jacques Offenbach, but also with the great French writer Victor Hugo (1802-1885), whose house and museum I had just visited that same afternoon. As you can see from their dates, Offenbach and Hugo were contemporaries, and both were alive during the "Second Empire", the eighteen-year period from 1852 to 1870 when Louis-Napoléon Bonaparte ruled France as Emperor Napoléon III.
The musical spectacle "Hugoffenbach" combined texts by Victor Hugo, mainly expressing his outrage at Louis-Napoléon Bonaparte's seizure of power, with satirical songs from Offenbach's operettas which were exceedingly popular in Paris during the Second Empire.
The show "Hugoffenbach" was complied, written and directed by Patrick Mons, who also played the role of Victor Hugo and spoke his texts with great clarity and dramatic feeling. He was joined on the stage by Marie Blanc, mezzo-soprano, Philippe Scagni, baritone, and Thierry Garcia, guitar -- all of whom are also excellent actors.
Though I was aware of Offenbach's reputation as a satirist of the Second Empire, I had never thought very much about what that meant. The juxtaposition with Hugo's angry texts put Offenbach's songs (some of which were quite familiar to me) into their historical perspective.
As it happened there was a panel discussion on the stage after the performance. I found the discussion quite interesting, but it did get a bit academic after a while, which was not surprising because the panel members were mainly professors. They argued, for instance, about whether Hugo and Offenbach had ever actually met in person, which seems unlikely because Hugo was in exile during the Second Empire and Offenbach was living in Paris. They agreed, however, that Hugo saw one of Offenbach's operettas several times in Brussels, since he was not allowed to set foot in France.
One of the professors also pointed out that the outraged texts used in "Hugoffenbach" were ones that Hugo wrote immediately after Louis-Napoléon Bonaparte's seizure of power in 1851, and that Hugo became less angry as the years went on. This did not sit well with some of the non-academic people in the audience, who were not interested in minor quibbles but mainly wanted to praise the actors and singers and say how impressed they were with the production.
Actually the panel member I found most interesting was the one who said the least. She was a young graduate student who was writing her dissertation on the dramatist Victorien Sardou (1831-1908), author of many plays including La Tosca, which later became the basis for Puccini's opera Tosca.
(Update: Victor Hugo seems to have known this neighborhood, because the Théâtre Musical Marsoulan is just a few blocks from 62 rue Picpus, the location of a convent in Hugo's novel Les Misérables.)
Update: After five years of musical productions, the Théâtre Musical Marsoulan has ceased operations as of June 1, 2013. But they say they will be opening a new theater in Paris sometime in the near future.
At the corner of Rue Saint-Antoine and the Rue des Tournelles, in the 4th arrondissement near Place de la Bastille, there is a bronze statue of the playwright Pierre Augustin Caron de Beaumarchais (1732-1799), the author of The Barber of Seville and The Marriage of Figaro, among other plays. In my first three photos I have tried to show the statue from three different angles.
The statue was commissioned by the city of Paris and was created in 1895 by the French sculptor Louis Clausade (1865–1899).
Usually when a new statue was set up there would be a big inauguration ceremony with lots of speeches, but in this case someone remembered that Beaumarchais was not only a famous author, but also an adventurer and speculator who had become very wealthy through obscure business dealings. Since corruption was a sensitive issue in the 1890s, it was eventually decided to avoid possible controversy and set up the statue as inconspicuously as possible, without any ceremony, so as to honor the author but not the speculator.
Somehow the statue survived the Nazi occupation of Paris during the Second World War (1940-1944), when many bronze statues were melted down for use in weapons production. Nobody knows why the Nazis left him standing, since Beaumarchais (despite his somewhat dubious financial dealings) was well known as a progressive thinker in his day. Nothing in his writings bears any resemblance to Nazi ideology.
The statue was removed much later, in 2009, but only because of construction works which lasted for over a year. The statue was returned to its place in the autumn of 2010.
I have mentioned Beaumarchais in various other places, particularly in my tip on the Théâtre Espace Marais. This is a small theater on rue Beautreillis, just a couple blocks from the Beaumarchais statue. Once I went there and saw a lively production of his play The Marriage of Figaro, on which Mozart’s opera Le nozze di Figaro was based.
Also I have mentioned Beaumarchais in my Père Lachaise Cemetery tip, because I think I might have found his grave there, but only maybe.
In 1996 the French director Édouard Molinaro made a biographical film called Beaumarchais l'insolent (Beaumarchais the Scoundrel). I have never seen the film, except for the trailer on YouTube, but I later read the screenplay when it was issued as a book (fifth photo).
Back to my first review from July 2012: Hôtel du Nord: the place, the book and the film
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When visiting Paris you absolutely must ride the Metro in search of your image of this most romantic city!
I did and found many surprises along the way; learning to use the Metro, learning to get lost, and encountering beautiful streets that I would not normally have seen.
Fondest Memory of Paris:
On my first visit to Paris I wanted to find the bars in which great "expat" American writers hung-out together during the early part of the twentieth century.
I spent a day on the Metro searching and covered at least a quarter of Paris.
I found Le Select, and Le Dome. two of Hemmingway’s celebrated haunts, but felt too nervous to enter either establishment. I was alone you see, and wasn’t sure if it would be appropriate for a woman to enter without an escort--something about the outside of each place unsettled my nerves. (Later, I read in a guide book that both were quite respectable places! So much for my instincts.)
When I reported to my friends that my search was a flop, they took pity on me and introduced me to Cloisier des Lilas. They showed me the very place Hemmingway sat, creating some of his famous works. His own flat was too cold in the winter to work so, he borrowed the warmth of Cloisier des Lilas.
This French brasserie opened in 1847 and from the beginning attracted literati and artists. Of course, now, as it seems so upscale and I wouldn't expect it to be a place to attract the impoverished writer to sit just near the pillar all day writing the great "American novel" on scraps of paper.
However, it seems that I was wrong. The hopeful writer is still drawn to this place. Walking in the steps, or in this case, drinking at the table of the great writers of our world might help to pop out another classical novel.
This museum is about The Romantic Life, but not "romantic" in the sense of people falling in love and giving each other flowers. Rather it is about a group of artists and writers who lived in Paris during the period of Romanticism in the nineteenth century.
The house originally belonged to the painter Ary Scheffer (1795-1858) and it remained the property of the Scheffer-Renan family until 1983, when it was given to the City of Paris to be turned into a museum. (Actually the city could have had it as early as 1898, but the City Council turned it down at the time so it stayed in the family for another eighty-five years.)
Besides paintings by Ary Scheffer and his brother Henri, the museum also has exhibits about the writer George Sand (1804-1876) and other writers, painters and composers of the period.
Second photo: In the Memorabilia Room on the ground floor.
Third photo: Bust of the scholar and philosopher Ernest Renan (1823-1892). Renan married Ary Scheffer's niece Cornélie Scheffer in 1856.
Fourth photo: A room in the museum with a portrait of the Princess of Joinville, painted by Ary Scheffer in 1844.
Fifth photo: Ary Scheffer's house, now the Musée de la Vie romantique.
Ernest Hemingway and first wife Hadley moved into a flat on the 3rd floor of this building in January 1921, about a month after first arriving in Paris, and stayed for 20 months. Hemingway also rented a room round the corner at 39 rue Descartes for doing his writing. In this same building Paul Verlaine the French poet died in 1896.
At this same address, around the 1930's was a "bal-musette", forerunner of the dance-hall. This one was run by Martin Cayla who brought the "cabrette", a sort of Auvergnate bagpipe, to the forefront of popular music in Paris just after WWI, although the instrument had been used well before, no-one apparently before Cayla had any real dexterity with the instrument.
Place Monge is the closest metro.
Tucked away, below street level is the "Maison de Balzac". Quite easy to pass by without even seeing it. Balzav lived here for about 7 years having a 5 room flat and the use of the garden. Using the pseudo of "M de Breugnol", supposedly to escape from his creditors, it was here that he put the finishing touches to "La Comedie Humaine", linking most of his works through the years. The house has now been turned into the museum or Maison de Balzac, where a large part of his works and personal effects are kept. Originally the museum was to have been in his last house near the Champs Elysées, la Chartreuse Beaujon, on rue Fortunée, now rue Balzac. If you follow the rue Reynouard along, descend the first flight of stairs and turn left. This is rue Berton and you soon come to the door where legend has that Balzac used to make his escape through here when the National Guard or creditors came banging on the front door. Turned into a museum in 1910, it was only 40 years later that the town hall of Paris acquired it, but could not open it as a museum completely until 1960 until the last of the lodgers had left.
Open every day from 10h00 to 17h40, except Monday.
Passy or La Muette are the closest metro stations although Boulainvilliers or Avenue du Pres. Kennedy on the RER are closer.
Honore de Balzac is one of the most popular French writers of all time. He wrote nearly 100 novels, most of which come together to form "La Comedie Humaine", a satirical picture of mid-nineteenth century French society. From 1840 to 1847, Balzac lived in a little house in what used to be the little village of Passy. This neighborhood has changed quite a lot over the years, becoming somewhat more bourgeois than when Balzac lived there under the name of "Mr de Breugnol", to escape from his creditors. However, Balzac's house has been well preserved and it is possible to see, among other things, the writing desk he used to write several of his novels, including "Cousin Bette" (1846). There are also several first editions of his novels, and one of the rooms is dedicated to Mrs. Hanska, with whom Balzac corresponded for 18 years before she finally accepted to become his wife. Balzac died six months after their wedding, in 1850.
La Maison de Balzac is closed on Mondays. It's a small museum, but there were no admission fees when we were there so it was worth it!
We traveled to the french version of Stone Henge over easter to find amazing arrangements of giant rocks, clearly designating something, in sleepy little coastal towns along the coast of Brittany. In Carnac for instance, someone lined up 11 rows of granite stones in the shape of rectangles and cones six or eight rows wide for miles. The stone formations were beautiful, and the juxtaposition of stones, fields of grass and sheep grazing in the sunshine was really very peaceful.
We arrived at a charming B&B called Villa Catherine in Vannes, and explored the old town and a fishing village nearby where we had hot chocolate and watched the sailboats come in for the evening. FABULOUS.
Our next day of exploring led us to the Megaliths, in Carnac, and the drive was full of surprises. We saw an old sign pointing down a lane, "Tumulus de Kercado." When we arrived there were some impressive walls, and a private property sign, but also just out of view was creperie and a path to an old Dolman (think of the tombs built into a dirt mound and then sealed with a large stone...). We explored the tomb, but then had a great lunch in the sunshine on the patio with a Briez Cola and great crepes.
Another great find was the town of Sainte Goustan, a small port town that was favored by the motorcyclists, and families sipping cokes at the cafés. I bought some Bretagne made serving bowls. St. Goustan himself guides you back into town.
We took a water taxi one evening to the Isle de Moins, and found ourselves in the french version of Put-In-Bay! We found an historic photo exhibit in the gardens in Vannes, some really cool views of the sea, and toured an old chateau in Chateaudon where they had a special display about medeival cooking and dining customs.
Who that has read Patrick Suskind's best-selling novel "Perfume: The Story of a Murderer" could ever forget the first chapter in which we learn that Jean-Baptiste Grenouille was born among fish heads and rotting vegetables in a pestilent market square, located on top of an old cemetery. This old cemetery was the "Cimetiere des Innocents" - it is estimated that over 2,000,000 Parisians were buried in this cemetery, most of them in mass graves that were left open until they were full, which unfortunately or fortunately didn't take that long in periods of epidemics. After decades of protests the cemetery was finally closed in 1780 for insalubrity.
The cemetery and market have long been gone, but there remains on this site the "Fontaine des Innocents", a beautiful Renaissance fountain originally sculpted by Jean Goujon for King Henri II. If you walk around the Place des Innocents, you'll soon recognize some of the streets and locations mentioned in Suskind's novel, such as the Saint-Merri church, where Grenouille was brought after his mother was executed, rue de la Ferronnerie and rue Saint-Denis.
For 16 years, French writer Victor Hugo lived at No. 6 Place des Vosges. He moved there in 1832 with his wife Adele and their four children, and it is said that this is where he began working on Les Miserables, a novel which he was to complete while in political exile for having openly declared Napoleon III a traitor. His second-floor appartment was turned into a museum back in 1902 to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the author's birth. It is surprisingly large, and the rooms have been restored to represent the period during which Hugo lived there. The luxurious wall treatments, furniture and chandeliers serve as a beautiful background to the numerous mementos that have been gathered there, including some manuscripts and first editions of his novels, family portraits and pictures, and some works of art dedicated to Hugo (including a bust sculpted by Auguste Rodin).
The museum is closed on Mondays. It doesn't take too long to complete the tour, but there were not admission fees when we were there so it was definitely worth stopping by.
If you have read Patrick Suskind's novel "Perfume: The Story of a Murderer", you might want to see the Pont-au-Change, the bridge where Giuseppe Baldini's perfume shop was located. The Pont-au-Change still exists, although the one that was described in the story, with houses and shops on both sides, has been replaced by a new bridge. It is the second bridge on the island, if you start counting at Le Pont-Neuf, and it leads into the area that is now known as Beaubourg - Les Halles, but which used to be where the pestilent and evil-smelling "Cimetiere des Innocents" was located (where the novel's hero, Jean-Baptiste Grenouille, begins and ends his life).