Friday, November 15, 2002

Paris: Day 2 [Exploring The Marais]

stencil art by Miss Ticf rue Jean d'Arc Marais, 4th arr.

We are staying in the Marais district in the 4th arrondissement (district.)

Until the early 1600s, the Marais was no more than a marsh outside the city walls. But then the apartments that would come to be known as the Place des la Vosges were built -- quite the fashionable address for aristocrats until the court moved to Versailles. This large open square of apartments on the Right Bank has survived scandal, abandonment, revolution and neglect. It is one of the most beautiful and historic squares in all of Paris and is surrounded by 36 symmetrical houses with large dormer windows around its square perimeter. There are arcades on the ground floor occupied by expensive galleries and shops, and caf├ęs filled with people drinking cups of coffee. "Impoverished” street musicians* gather under its arcades. It blocks out the noise of the city while guarding an elegant grassy park of trees, fountains and a children’s playground.

We visited the house at No 6 that Victor Hugo lived at from 1832 to 1848 and now is a municipal museum.

*Like the gypsies and “Original Paris Swing,” a D’jango group Susan & I heard and from whom I purchased our CD from.

The Marais of the 17th-century was a very spacious suburb. The Marais (arr 3 & 4) is a quarter of narrow streets untouched by Baron Haussman's reconstruction of Paris under Napoleon 3rd in 1869, which is the Paris we know today. It seems like a village with its little paved streets and secret passages filled with architectural treasures.

Our hotel, the Hotel de Jean d’Arc, on the one way, one block long rue de Jarente, and our apartment, on the one way, one block long cobble stone rue Aubriot, were a mere two blocks off the hubbub of fashionable Rues de Rivoli with its chic boutiques where Susan purchased a fabulous pair of shoes from a exuberant Italian. The Marais is rue St-Antoine, the boutique shops of Rue Des Francs Bourgeois, the bagel and deli vendors of Rue des Rosiers, the antique dealers of Rue St-Paul, the Musee National Picasso, Place de la Bastille, Brasserie Bofinger and a shop for gift-food, Flo Prestige. It is more like a maze than a real quarter. It was fun to wander about stumbling upon small shops, art galleries, craftsmen, fashion boutiques, chic beauty shops, etc... The photo of walking in the rain was made only a few doors west of our hotel.

Some have been critical of the area since it was gentrified-in-the-1960s when young Parisians rediscovered and moved into the houses with old fashioned fireplaces and timber beamed ceilings, causing prices to rise. The residents of le Marais are referred to as Bobo's, (bohemian bourgeois) multicultural with savoir-vivre. It has a large historic Jewish community around rue des Rosiers and has one of the biggest Gay communities in Europe around rue Sainte Croix de Bretonnerie, and more artists and creative people than in any other district of Paris.

As we stepped out the door of the Jean d’Arc, to the left (west) was the market Sainte-Catherine Certes. The buildings date from the 18th century, but the organization of this charming little square is typical of the Middle Ages. There are only two entrances. It used to be an old market, now there are relaxing chic restaurants with couples sitting outside even in the chill. We sat on a bench and I snapped a mini drama of a couple, enraptured with themselves, as she sat astride his lap caressing with his hair, oblivious to the rest of the world. Not a day went by that we didn’t see lovers openly affectionate with one another...of all ages, of all persuasions. Observing the other diners was fun also as they were absorbed in their conversations. The “market” would be difficult to locate unless we were staying at this hotel.

We found a great stencil graffiti by Miss Tic of a street walker in sexy pose, hip askew, wearing twenties style hose with the seam up the back and a very short skirt graced a wall. The image at the top of the posting is one of her's. I'll try to get around to finding the picture of the street walker and post it sometime.

S and I walked two blocks to the Place Vosages and had lunch. We sat next to an American mother and her early 20’s daughter who were spending a week in Paris. The dynamics of the relationship and how they functioned on this vacation were of great interest, to us.

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