top of page
  • Shelley Dark

18. day 4, Montorgueil

John came with me across the Pont Neuf as I walked to class. Aren't I lucky to have a personal photographer?

The route to Co-Work takes me through Les Halles development. Once a magnificent iron building commissioned by Emperor Napolon III in the 1850's, it was the distribution hub for fresh foodstuffs for Paris. It was bulldozed in 1971 in what was called an act of urban vandalism. Underground there was to be a convergence of three new regional RER rail lines, and on top a shopping centre. It remained an empty hole in the ground for years, an eyesore, which locals called Le Trou (hole) des Halles.

photo by Pavel Krok under Wikipedia Creative Commons Licence

The Disneyland-looking shopping centre was opened in 1979 but it was never a huge success. The park became a haven for drug dealers.

One billion dollars (!) has just been spent modernising it with an undulating roof covering two and a half hectares and four levels of underground shopping. 750,000 people pass through this rail hub each day, so that's a lot of shoppers! The gardens next to it are still being completed. I can't say I was much taken by it. In the middle you can look down into a hole four stories deep, which isn't exactly appealing. But perhaps when the gardens are finished and the view of it is from a distance to get the overall impression, it will look better. I heard one cynical onlooker say 'I suppose they'll pull this down in ten years too'.

The St Eustache church watches all this activity the way it always has, serenely. I'm glad that there is a walkway here through to Rue Montorgueil, which along with the parallel Rue Montmartre serviced Les Halles - cafés for the workers, shops selling knives and cooking equipment. The famous E. Dehillerin cookware shop is not far away. Now it's a foodie street.

This morning's lesson was excellent. We learned about the components of a travel article: the title, the lead sentence, the nut graff (that contextualises the article), the hook, the angle (that's the backbone of the story), the sources, the ethics, the transparency, the clarity. We talked about how to 'pitch' an article to an editor, freelance writing, publishing to free websites. The need for a short bio and business cards. And self-publishing.

There's such good energy in that classroom where we all want to learn. A real atmosphere of silent absorption, punctuated by questions. It must be rewarding for Heather and Bryan to have such enthusiastic learners.

We were given at an out-of-date 4-page guidebook entry for the Rue Montorgueil area. Our assignment was to walk the street with its restaurants and food shops, find any new ones, discover shops which may have closed, update prices etc. We weren't expected to come back with a completely new entry for the guidebook, but we were to decide if the article described the flavour of the neighbourhood and have at least some additions or corrections to the content.

A speedy lunch at Pain Quotidienne. I had spinach and mustard frittata and a green salad. Perfect. When ordering some wine for Angela and me, I mentioned that I couldn't remember whether carafe is masculine or feminine, whether it's un or une. Bryan said, just ask for deux (2) carafes and you don't have to worry. Funny!

You know what a foodie I am (not), so I wasn't filled with enthusiasm for this project. I'm pretty sure I'm never going to want to do entries in a food guidebook. But still, I describe neighbourhoods for you, so I realised it would be helpful. Then I noticed on the list of shops, a shoe-shop called Shoes Addict. Now we were talking! I thought I'd make that my first stop. Bryan said he'd be very interested to know what I thought of it.

At that moment we were standing outside this éclair shop which looked very new. Éclair de Génie, by Christophe Adam. My first guidebook addition. I'm partial to éclairs so I popped in.

An éclair with gold icing! I interviewed the boy behind the counter in my best travel writing accent. Then I went outside to check the address to add it to the guide. 2 Rue des Petits Carreaux. Hey! Hadn't I seen that address before? You guessed it. That's where the shoe shop was supposed to be. No wonder Bryan had told me to make sure I found it. No shoe shopping for me.

I thought I'd better get a system happening. It seemed sensible to go right up to the top of the street and then walk back down, making notes as I went. I stopped here and there to take photographs of beautiful building facades, old cafés. The cheeses above. But I'd lost interest in the food aspect and was intrigued by the history of the buildings. Easy decision. I'd add another dimension to the guide - points of interest.

Florist shops always qualify for a photo and inclusion in any guide I'd buy. This one was on the corner of Rue d'Aboukir.

Whoaa! The street is Rue Montorgueil at the bottom of the hill and Rue des Petits Carreaux at the top where I'd walked. Straight ahead, a four story green wall. I went into the shop underneath, pad in hand, to ask if they knew the landscape designer, like a real investigative journalist -:). Yes they did. He's Patrick Blanc, the vertical gardener, and it's called L'Oasis d'Aboukir. He works all around the world and has walls in Sydney and Melbourne (Qantas has used him) and at Mona in Tasmania. Now that's really what you call finding your niche.

The Art Nouveau Sentier métro is just here. I feel as if I've made a discovery every time I see this beautiful Hector Guimard iron work with its twining plant symbolism. This one was built in 1904 and considered quite outrageous at that time. Many of his beautiful covered métro structures were demolished before his fine design work was properly acknowledged from the 1960's onwards. It reminds me of Gaudi.

The actual entrance to the street is through the treillage archway, marked Marché Montorgueil. Although this is a pedestrian street, watch out for cars.

A little further down at number 10. I had already taken a photo of this amazing wooden 1890 facade with its decorative panelling, projecting arch over the door, carved swags of flowers. The faded grey paint is cracked and peeling. Originally it was a shop called Au Planteur which sold exotic products like coffee.

Here's a closeup of the painting, representing a black servant bringing a cup of coffee to a planter. Aucune Succursale means no other branch, ie these products are not sold anywhere else. In Australia it would have been torn down as politically incorrect by now. I'm so glad that it's been left here, a record of a colonial era long gone.

On the corner of Rue Léopold Bellan is Café Biard, with its pretty blue and gold mosaic facade, which is all that remains of what was once a busy café.

On the opposite corner, there's a plaque set into the footpath. It commemorates the lives of Bruno Lenoir, a cobbler in his 20s, and Jean Diot, a 40 year-old servant, who were arrested for being homosexuals and were the last to be burned at the stake for that 'crime' in 1750. It reminds you how far we have come in many ways.

This is Au Rocher de Cancale, the café where I had coffee the other morning before class. I came out of Rue Greneta on the left, and I didn't notice the pretty facade. Remember how I said I might have morphed into Camus or Sartre? Turns out it was the favourite haunt of Balzac and other writers of the time. I just had the wrong cast. Gives me goosebumps that I sat there writing like that, totally unaware.

It actually started in 1804 across the road at number 59. Then it moved to the wine shop across the road at number 78. It was the place to go for oysters after the theatre and is featured in Balzac's Human Comedy. This building is classified as a national monument. See the corner featuring the rocks of an oyster bed?

photo by Tangopaso courtesy Wikimedia Commons

Number 51 is the oldest patisserie in Paris. In 1725 Louis XV married Marie Leszczynska, the daughter of King Stanislas of Poland. With her, she brought her pastry chef, Nicolas Stohrer. Five years later in 1730, he opened this shop.

He was responsible for creating a famous dessert. The king of Poland is supposed to have complained of dry brioche. Nicolas soaked it in wine, added saffron and topped it with cream and grapes. The Arabian Nights was on the king's bookshelf, so he called the dish Ali Baba. Wine changed to rum, and it became known as Rum Baba.

On the corner of Rue Tiquetonne, above the Grille Montorgueil, so a very busy street, this is the apartment of a careless gardener. I rather enjoyed the jumble of lifeless pots, probably bought with such optimism as healthy plants, and the cheerful pink geranium which refuses to die. It seems to be the rubbish area as well. I think I can see some rosemary too. A streetfront renegade.

Further down the street is L'Escargot restaurant which has been selling snails for 200 years and is classified as an historic monument. It's been the meeting place for celebrities such as Sarah Bernhardt, Marcel Proust, Colette, Charlie Chaplin, Picasso, Jean Cocteau and Salvador Dali.

Near the St Eustache church, at the corner of Rue Mauconseil, is this gilt mascaron angel, doing its best to frighten away evil spirits, maybe coming from the window up the road.

I had nearly finished my stroll. Out of the corner of my eye at number 17, I noticed this name carved above unremarkable double doors. Passage de la Reine de Hongrie. Passage of the Queen of Hungary. Nothing else. I wondered what it meant. It was getting late, and I almost dismissed it.

That night I found the answer. During the time of Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette, a shopkeeper called Julie Bécheur lived behind these doors, in the passage leading to the Rue Montmartre. Her nickname was Rose de Mai. One day, she and some other women of the district took a petition protesting about the police to the queen of France in Versailles.

Marie Antoinette, photo Alexander Kucharsky via Wikimedia Commons

While she was there, Marie Antoinette commented on how much Julie looked like her mother, Marie-Thérèse, the Queen of Hungary. She invited Julie and the other women to dinner with the king. The deputation was successful. Julie returned home triumphant, and news spread that the queen thought she looked like Marie Antoinette's mother. People began to call her the queen of Hungary, and the passage where she lived the Passage de la Reine Hongrie.

Sadly it eventually spelled her doom. In 1792 the revolutionaries accused Julie of being a royal sympathiser and she was sent to the guillotine. It was renamed the Passage of Equality. Which was changed back eventually after the revolution. I know. The fountain face below says it all.

Later at the post mortem, Bryan asked me how I had liked the shoe shop at number 2. Great I said. I bought a pair of shoes there. He looked puzzled. I burst out laughing.

On my walk home, I took this photo of the smaller of the Samaritaine buildings near the Pont Neuf. The larger one is totally enclosed in white plastic while it's being renovated. It's owned by the luxury brand LVMH who bought it in 2001.

It was closed in 2005 for safety reasons and work has come to a halt several times because of disagreements over town planning approvals and a perceived lack of compatibility with the surrounding area. On the street corner I heard two people discussing what it will look like when it finally comes out from under wraps. I don't think anyone believes it will ever be finished.

The Samaritaine building was named after a hydraulic pumping station which operated on the site on the Seine from 1609 to 1813. It depicted the Samaritan woman drawing water for Jesus at the well. We saw this model of it at the Carnavalet museum.

A photo of Heather, taken by Bryan, at the Shangri La hotel the other day. My admiration for her grows and grows.

Anne, letting her wild child out, with Dawn behind her. I'm bringing up the rear.

The florists are full of huge buckets of peonies in white, pink, red, salmon, wherever we go. The duchess of flowers. I'll leave you with this one, travelling buddies, until tomorrow....

shelley dark, writer 

bottom of page