Those who know me, appreciate that I am also a fan of history -- this doesn't mean that I read primary sources or indulge in deep erudition regarding history. It does, however, mean that I skim a wikipedia entry and then pontificate endlessly as if I had almost completed a doctoral thesis on the topic. So, I love historic and artistic Paris. For instance...
I love to walk past the place at which the American Revolution ended (Peace Treaty of Paris 1783)
The treaty document was signed at the Hotel d'York – which is now 56 Rue Jacob – by John Adams, Benjamin Franklin, and John Jay (representing the United States) and David Hartley (a member of the British Parliament representing the British Monarch, King George III).In fairness, it helps that this particular place is right down the block from Laduree (kick ass macarons and these have nothing to do with Passover macaroons -- don't even start me on that topic). http://www.laduree.fr/en/histoire/macaron This location is 21 rue Bonaparte in the 6th
The sign for the Peace Treaty (shown above) is a bit high, so you have to look for it and then your kids can stand under it. For them, it will be the perfect history visit -- you can't go inside so it is a 1 minute stop. The cafe next to it makes a decent chocolate chaud (hot chocolate, for those whose French is even worse than mine) and there's also Huilerie LeBlanc (6 rue Jacob, also in the 6th), which sells wonderful olive oils and truffle oils and soaps and is a great tiny store from which to bring back gifts. Very knowledgeable and they speak fluent English and you can taste all sorts of oils (pistachio is cool) -- http://www.huile-leblanc.com/
Right nearby, I always like to gaze into the windows of Librarie de l'Abbaye-Pinault -- 27 & 36 rue Bonaparte, Paris 75006 (if you don't already know, it is helpful to understand that the last two digits of Parisian postal codes are the arrondissement or neighborhood codes -- so 75006 is the 6th (which in French is written as 6eme) and 750016 is the 16th). The windows, right by Laduree (see above) are likely to have a letter from Voltaire or Churchill or notes from Beethoven. It is crazy interesting! Their phone is 33 (0)1 43 54 89 99 and their email is
Okay, so my French friends turned me on to Serge Gainsbourg and I love him. I even read his unauthorized biography (here's a link to it on Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/Serge-Gainsbourg-Fistful-Sylvie-Simmons/dp/0306811839/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1329746273&sr=8-1) It is a quick read and he is among the most major icons of 20th Century French Pop Cutlure. A shy, small Jewish kid, he hit the top of the pop charts with a recording of himself having sex with Brigitte Bardot His parents had escaped the Russian Revolution in 1917 and his early life was shaped by Nazi occupation (he and his family were forced to wear the Jewish Star armbands and fled Paris). He recorded a remake of that song with Jane Birkin (he married Jane). The Vatican made a public statement citing the song as offensive and even a toned-down version was banned in France! Jane, by the way, is beautiful actress/model/chanteuse who is the namesake of the Birkin Handbag by Hermes. Charlotte Gainsbourg (who I adore) is the child of Serge and Jane. Check out her films; she rocks. Here's Serge's wikipedia entry: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Serge_Gainsbourg
I mention all of this for several reasons: (1) I'm pretentious as hell, (2) Americans visiting Paris (or not visiting Paris) should know about Serge and (3) you should visit the outside of his house -- it is supercool! First, here's the youtube of Serge, drunk, on live TV telling a young Whitney Houston that he wanted to do something to her...the shocked TV host tries to explain away Serge's offensive come on only to have Serge (whose English never was great), emphasize that he was indeed propositioning the young Ms. Houston on live TV using vulgar and explicit language: "You are not Reagan, I am not Gorbachev [don't translate]...I said I want to XYVC her!" http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bMdXi6f5KRg This is 1986 -- Serge is about 58 years old and Whitney is about 23.
And here's a clip of him getting in trouble with the law by burning a banknote (to protest France's high tax rate) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pqqj0_ecFkM
His home today is a shrine, like a smaller and hipper Graceland. It is not far from where you are and is worth a visit -- again, this is a quick stop. There's always music playing in or outside and the endless and worshipful grafiti is pretty awesome, replete with his amazing song lyrics and gushing admiration. Even if you don't know Serge, you now know enough to appreciate the hommage to one of France's earliest rock stars. The address is 5bis rue de Verneuil, Paris 75007 (7th). By the way, "bis" means half so 5bis is 5.5. Also, rue de Verneuil is a beautiful street and worth walking down -- great antiques and cool stores in a lovely neighborhood (Serge knew how to live).
Here's a partial exterior view - you can't miss it, it is a quick stop and it is near my favorite chocolate chip cookies in Paris! http://www.360cities.net/image/france-paris-serge-gainsbourg-house#27.10,0.00,98.6 The chips are at Eric Kayser on 18 rue du Bac, Paris 75007 and he's open on Sundays! His breads are insanely great, especially is Tourade aux Olives. He also makes wonderful financiers -- these are a cross between madeleines and muffins. My family is split over whether his pistache is better than his chocolate, but decide for yourself unless you are allergic to butter. And across the street from Kayser, you will find one of Paris' best cheese shops...Androuet at 37 rue de Verneuil.
Most importantly, however, you and the kids will want to head down the rue du bac to the must-see store that all children (of all ages) will adore...Deyrolles. If I told you that Deyrolle was the preeminent taxidermist in Paris, I'd be correct and you wouldn't go. Go. Trust me. Especially with the kids. 46 rue du Bac Paris 75007 -- http://www.deyrolle.com/magazine/
On my family's recent visits, we've taken photos of the kids with albino crocodiles, baby elephants, ostriches, lions, and other wondrous creatures. Their butterfly collection (now down a winged beast or two as my daughter and I had to have one) is exquisite and their collection of pristinely presented arthropods is spine tinglingly delightful. Go upstairs -- the ground floor is small and all about gardening equipment and attire.
While at Deyrolle, you can gaze longingly into the windows of L'atelier de Joel Robuchon, a Michelin starred restaurant of one of Paris' (and the world's) greatest living chefs at 4 rue Montalembert Paris 75007 www.joel-robuchon.com (no reservations) or at Gaya Rive Gauche par Pierre Gagnaire 44 rue du bac www.pierre-gagnaire.com (ditto) or check out the posh and hip Hotel Montalembert -- one of the coolest and most chic hotels in Paris (which explains why I've never been able to stay there) http://www.hotel-montalembert.fr/
3 rue de Montalembert - 75007 Paris - France
Telephone: +33 (0)1 45 49 68 68
Fax: +33 (0)1 45 49 69 49
But I digress, so back to history...
I strongly urge you to take a bateaux mouches, especially at night. http://www.bateaux-mouches.fr/ These are the tour boats that gently glide around the Seine showing you the wonders of Paris. I had, for years, dismissed these as touristy and likely to induce seasickness (my family has a history) and not for kids. I was an idiot (still am in many respects). I can't believe I missed this opportunity and my kids enjoyed it. We find it wonderful to go right after an early-ish dinner. Take a camera for sure. I don't know if there's a difference between any particular providers or if they're all great, but I have to believe that most of them are terrific. Going at night is really the best way to do this because you will see more, including into some of the apartments that are just spectacular (should I not have said that??)
Wait, that's not history, but this is -- my family and I were walking to our favorite ice cream place (www.berthillon.fr) (seriously, do go there) and stumbled upon a little sign that read
something like "Abelard et Eloise lived here" We were thunderstruck. The love letters that Abelard and Heloise wrote one another 900 years ago are still read today (my wife and I read them in college). Their story of star crossed love and sacrifice will still read 900 years from now. The sense of history that permeates Paris is simply mind boggling. I love to read up on these things and then drag my kids past them (so I can sound like I just happen to stuff, because that's how I roll).
Peter Abelard (1079-1142) was a French philosopher, considered one of the greatest thinkers of the 12th century (not sure how much competition there was back then, because there's a reason they called it the dark ages). Here's a link that's useful http://classiclit.about.com/cs/articles/a/aa_abelard.htm
And this link tells us that "Josephine Bonaparte, so moved by their story, the she ordered that the remains of Abelard and Heloise be entombed together at Pére Lachaise cemetery in Paris. To this day, lovers from all over the world visit the tomb where the remains of Heloise and Abelard rest eternally together." http://www.abelardandheloise.com/Story.html
And here's a link to their tomb in Pere Lachaise (the famed cemetery, which I've been too lazy to visit, but you should...plus my son thinks cemeteries must smell because of all the decomposing bodies so...): http://historymedren.about.com/od/picturegalleries/ig/Abelard---Heloise-Gallery/AHtomb_composite.htm
I am going to have to keep searching for the address, but it is on the bank of the Seine as you walk toward the Isle Saint Louis for that fabulous ice cream.
Speaking of ice cream, every year brings news of a new contender to the throne of best ice cream in Paris. Some contenders are laughable and others are impressive but not close. Pozzetto, however, is closer than most. Here's a link to David Lebovitz's awesome blog and, in particular, his post about Paris' best ice cream joints. I love Lebovitz and his book Sweet Life in Paris is a must read for food-aholics
Note his entry on Berthillon which is great except for the following statement (which is just dumb and I have to believe that Lebovitz, demi-god that he is, had taken ill when writing this one line: "Their [Berthillon's] Caramel Ice Cream is excellent, but I think the Caramel-Buerre-Salé doesn’t measure up to it." Try it for yourself and see that he is dead wrong). Pozzetto is at 39, rue de Roi de Sicile (4th) and they have very few flavor options, so it is almost more for adults than kids. Our experience has been that the few flavors they do have are pretty terrific. Definitely Italian in style rather than French.
So why am I sending you here under the guise of history? Well, that's easy, to get there, you end up on a street that has a wonderful name. Here's a link to a restaurant on the street and this restaurant bears the name of the street: http://maps.google.com/maps?hl=en&tab=wl
Le Mauvais Garcons -- the Bad Boys. I haven't been so I can't vouch for the food, but I sure do love the name. This is a very hip neighborhood and at night is very lively -- think Chelsea/MeatMarket in NYC.
Speaking of streets with great names...check out the sidestreet off the Seine in the 5th called Rue du Chat qui Peche (and for the linguistically challenged, this means "Street of the Cats Who Fish" Here's the wikipedia entry that dubs it the narrowest street in Paris
The surrounding area is a student neighborhood with many touristy things, but it also has THE Shakespeare & Co., which George Whitman ran until recently (he died in 2011): http://www.shakespeareandcompany.com/ Here's the wonderful obituary (that's right, it is worth reading and then you will DEFINITELY visit) that appeared in the NY Times:
http://www.nytimes.com/2011/12/15/books/george-whitman-paris-bookseller-and-cultural-beacon-is-dead-at-98.html?pagewanted=all The store faces Notre Dame (and that is worth a visit, of course) and Whitman was a native of East Orange New Jersey (how cool is it that a Jersey boy was one of the leading figures in the 20th century Parisian literary scene?)
Shakespeare & Company
37 rue de la Bûcherie
Tel : 00 33 (0) 1 43 25 40 93
We are open every day 10am - 11pm except for Saturday and Sunday when we open at 11am.
It is also very much worth visiting the Musee Maillol and walking around the lovely neighborhood there. I always like to stop at 53 rue de Varenne (right near the famous l'Hotel Matignon, the residence of the Prime Minister of France) and here's a link to the sign you will see at 53: http://bit.ly/EdithWParis -- that's right, American author Edith Wharton lived here for a decade and it was a very special time in her life and in the life of Paris, since she was there between 1910 and 1920 -- war years during which 1 million French men were casualties of war and another 1.5 million French men were wounded, altering for decades to come, the face of France -- remember, France only had 40 million people at the time. The impact on subsequent birth rates and France's ability to mount an army successfully for World War II were quite material. Of note, Wharton apparently had quite a steamy love affair during her Paris time. And here's a link to the cool article from the NYTimes in 2009 all about it: http://travel.nytimes.com/2009/10/11/travel/11footsteps.html?pagewanted=all My wife is a big Edith Wharton fan so it is of special interest to us.
The Musee Maillol, mentioned above, is a sweet little museum. In January of 2012, we saw a wonderful exhibit of incredibly preserved antiquities from Pompei. I understand that the Museum is closed for a few months in q1 of 2012 but will reopen by late March or early April. http://www.museemaillol.com/ This happens to be a block or two away from Deyrolle and is a very manageable place.
Of course, rue de Varenne is also the street on which you will find the Musee Rodin. Perhaps I have been there too often or perhaps it is something else, but I find the grounds to be spectacular and always worth a visit, but the interior is not as compelling for me. http://www.musee-rodin.fr/ However, the history of the place is again, pretty awe-inspiring. This is where Rodin actually lived -- imagine the grandeur of this kind of city living. It is also a site to ponder how and why Camille Claudel went insane...or did she! Claudel was a sculptor of great talent and perhaps even genius. She was sent to Rodin as an apprentice, by another famous artist with whom she had studied. They had a well known affair (Rodin was with another woman at the time). The affair ended after a number of years and she later was committed to a mental institution. Her mother intervened in various ways with her treatment and her connection to the outside world and it was contended that she was not insane or that even if she had problems, they didn't -- even by the standards of that time -- merit commitment. Claudel languished in this incarceration and ended up destroying many of her artworks. It is believed that Henrik Ibsen wrote a play about her. There have been films (one starring Gerard Depardieu) and many writings about her and the controversy surrounding her. Here's the wikipedia entry for Camille Claudel: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Camille_Claudel
Of course, directly across the Boulevard des Invalides is the Invalides, very worth a visit. Les Invalides is also the site of the Dreyfuss Affair. This one deserves its own entry as I have actually read a bunch of stuff on this and have a friend who is a professor in Paris who specializes in and has written extensively about the Dreyfuss Affair. There's a wonderful history lesson in this one -- or, if you ask my kids -- a boring lecture from dad trying to use socratic method as we talk for over an hour about this thing. Nonetheless, the role of Emile Zola, France's then-leading novelist, is extraordinary and his J'Accuse is still a major piece of journalistic history as he wrote an open letter to the world in a newspaper which resulted in his expulsion from France (this is an oversimplification). There are all sorts of wonderful questions ranging from "had the French army not been humiliated by the Prussian war, would this have happened?" "Had the French military academies not just commenced a meritocratic system, would Dreyfuss have been so offensive to the French military?" "Was Emile Zola murdered (in 1902 he suffered carbon monoxide poisining in his sleep) and if so, was it indeed as a reaction to his role in ending and publicizing the unjust incarceration of Dreyfuss?" (decades after Zola's death, someone confessed to having murdered him by stuffing his chimney with rags and gassing him during the night). Exactly the sort of thing my children found enthralling (as did I). Here's his wikipedia entry, followed by that of the Dreyfuss Affair:
Consider these things while gazing at both Rodin's home and the Invalides at the little cafe on the corner of rue de Varenne and Boulevard des Invalides in the 7eme and order a Croque Monsieur and a Diablo de Menthe (mint syrup in a sparkling lemon water...it is great in warm weather). Then stroll over to the Square de Ajaccio, which is a tiny botanical garden in the corner of Invalides, right opposite that cafe -- Ajaccio is a wonderful place in Corsica and since Invalides is where Napoleon reigned supreme, you'd expect it to be a place that honors Corsican history and places. Consider, as you walk through, that there has been a great controversy over Napoleon's death. When he died, he had unusually high levels of arsenic in his blood. Long after his death, a question arose -- was he poisoned to death? I am not sure if the question has been definitively answered (there's much conjecture regarding his wallpaper's role in his demise), but I do know that all biographies of Napoleon written before a certain date have been called into question as the theory that he was assassinated by arsenic poisoning has gained ground. Another mystery to consider with the kids. Here are some web sites that can help you ponder this mystery (I don't vouch for any of them):
And of course, if you do believe in the assassination by arsenic theory, you will need to watch Cary Grant's performance in the brilliant film Arsenic and Old Lace (by Frank Capra) (1944). Here's a link to the imdb site about it: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0036613/
Well, that's it for now. Enjoy and don't say I'm solely focused on the food!
The title of this post references both J'Accuse by Zola and the wonderful song "I Stand Accused" originally recorded around 1964 by the Merseybeats and covered (quite brilliantly) by Elvis Costello on the Get Happy album, which starts with these great lyrics:
Girl, I stand accused, people say I love you
Yeah, I stand accused, oh, but what can I do
You belong to some other guy
Hope I never have to testify
If loving you is a big crime
I've been guilty a long time