I’m aware I haven’t exactly been keeping up the momentum on my new blog. However, there has been a little hiatus in getting to know my new surroundings as we returned to England for a few days for a wedding. London did its best to prevent me regretting my departure by producing buckets of rain and very autumnal temperatures. After a walk from Temple up to Holborn we both had wet feet and the moisture had leaked into D’s rucksack.
We were briefly grateful on our return to find dry weather and 16 degrees at nighttime in Paris. Friday, however, was a different story. The rain came and went all day, clearing up to tempt us outside, only for the heavens to open an hour or so later.
D had meetings in the rue des Saints Pères, the main site of the Université Paris Descartes, so I took the opportunity of a free ride into town on the scooter to spend a couple of hours mooching around Saint-Germain-des-Prés. I popped into one of my favourite bookshops, L’Ecume des Pages, to buy the Parigramme book on the area I’d identified a while ago.
“Saint-Germain-des-Prés: four words which resonate like four musical notes, soft and nostalgic; four words for an area known throughout the four corners of the world, the mention of which, more than seventy years after its birth, still causes a frisson…” (my translation). For me, the name still conjures up images from the bande dessinée Lili (which apparently holds the record for the longest running French comic book series, and which I spent hours reading as a teenager). I don’t remember much of the plot, but as the cover suggests it features Lili dashing about with a portfolio and wearing lots of lovely fifties’ dresses. Now, thanks to the location of Paris Descartes, it happens to be the only area of Paris I really know well.
Despite this, there is so much to learn about an area beyond its immediate layout, familiar buildings, and the location of the best salons de thé. As I left the bookshop, Paris had determined to prove beyond doubt that it is London’s equal when it comes to rainfall. So I took refuge in Malongo, and settled down to read the first chapter outlining the ‘birth’ of Saint-Germain as a phenomenon in 1947. I learned how Sartre, de Beauvoir, Camus, Duras and many more had rented rather crummy sounding hotel rooms here during the Second World War and spent their days in the now legendary Cafe Flore to save on heat and electricity, tending to keep to the area because of the wartime curfews. After the press leaked the story in 1947, they all disappeared to underground bars and cabarets to escape the tourists.
The rain then conveniently gave way to sun, leaving me to explore the streets I had just read about, including the rue des Grands Augustins, where Picasso painted Guernica, the Hotel la Louisiane on rue de Seine, where Miles Davis and Charlie Parker followed in the footsteps of Sartre and de Beauvoir, and rue des Beaux Arts, where Oscar Wilde died at the Hotel d’Alsace, leaving an unpaid bill of 2068 francs. I spend an hour and a half winding my way slowly back to rue des Saints Pères – and I haven’t even covered 10% of the book!