The Invention of Paris

BOOK: The Invention of Paris
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The Invention of Paris

The Invention of Paris: A History in Footsteps

Eric Hazan

Translated by David Fernbach

Ouvrage publié avec le concours du Ministère français chargé de la culture—
Centre national du livre

This work was published with the help of the French Ministry of Culture—
Centre national du livre

This paperback edition first published by Verso 2011
First published in English by Verso 2010
© Verso 2010
Translation © David Fernbach 2010
First published as
L'Invention de Paris. Il n'y a pas de pas perdus
© Éditions du Seuil 2002
All rights reserved

The moral rights of the author and translator have been asserted

1 3 5 7 9 10 8 6 4 2

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Verso is the imprint of New Left Books


British Library Cataloguing in Publication Data
A catalogue record for this book is available from the British Library

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
A catalog record for this book is available from the Library of Congress

Typeset by Hewer Text UK Ltd, Edinburgh
Printed in Sweden by ScandBook AB

‘Lost steps? But there aren't any.'
– André Breton,


A Few More Wrinkles: Preface to the English-Language Edition


Part One: Walkways

1. Psychogeography of the Boundary

2. Old Paris: The Quarters





     The Arcades

     Les Halles



     The Grands Boulevards

     THE LEFT BANK QUARTERS: The Left Bank Boulevards

     The Latin Quarter




     Faubourg Saint-Germain

     Haussmann's Cuttings

3. New Paris: The Faubourgs


     Faubourg Saint-Honoré

     Faubourg Saint-Antoine

     Popincourt and Faubourg du Temple

     Faubourg Saint-Martin and Faubourg Saint-Denis

     Faubourg Poissonnière and Faubourg Montmartre

     Saint-Georges and Nouvelles-Athènes

     Quartier de l'Europe

     Plaine Monceau

     THE LEFT BANK FAUBOURGS: Faubourg Saint-Marcel

     Faubourg Saint-Jacques


4. New Paris: The Villages

     THE LEFT BANK VILLAGES:Vaugirard and Grenelle


     Denfert-Rochereau and the 14th Arrondissement

     The 13th Arrondissement, Butte-aux-Cailles, the Italie Quarter

     THE RIGHT BANK VILLAGES:Passy and Auteuil

     Batignolles and Clichy



     Goutte d'Or

     La Chapelle and La Villette


     Belleville and Ménilmontant

     Père-Lachaise and Charonne


     The Zone

Part Two: Red Paris

5. Red Paris

     The Birth of the Barricade

     Victor Hugo's Redemption

Part Three: ‘Crossing the swarming scene . . .'

6. Flâneurs

7. The Visual Image


Preface to the English-Language
Edition: A Few More Wrinkles

To spot what has changed in Paris since the time this book was written, one should really have returned after a long absence. Instead of this, I have left the city for only short periods in the last ten years, and so I see it changing like the wrinkles on a beloved face that one observes every day. The city within the walls, the subject of
The Invention of Paris,
is now changing only slowly. Time is needed for a district of Kabyl cafés to be transformed into fashionable bars, for the Chinese rag trade to advance a street or two, or for what is called renovation to press the poor a notch more towards the Périphérique.

The physical transformations of Paris can be read as a ceaseless struggle between the spirit of place and the spirit of time. Take for example the nameless spot formed by the widening of Rue Mouffetard below the church of Saint-Médard. The ancient food shops, the market stalls, the immense trees that cast their shade onto the porch of the church, the remains of the little cemetery where the ‘convulsionaries' danced on the tomb of Deacon Pâris in the reign of Louis XV (see p. 158), the two large cafés facing each other across the road – this whole panoply of eras, styles and events gives this place a spirit that cannot be compared with any other. Old Parisians are aware that under their feet flows the River Bièvre in its descent towards the Jardin des Plantes, and that this district was crossed by the main road towards Italy. As well as a spirit of place, therefore, the spirit of the time has also succeeded in making itself felt: the middle of Rue Mouffetard is occupied by an enormous floral parterre with a fountain at the centre. The combined action of the Voirie and Espaces Verts departments has attempted the impossible, to transform this area into one of those thousands of roundabouts that punctuate the roads right across France. For me, respect for the spirit of place has nothing to do with the sad idea of ‘heritage', any more than distrust of the spirit of time means rejecting the contemporary. Over the last twenty or thirty years, some innovations have
indeed managed to create a new spirit of place. I. M. Pei's pyramid, for example, gave life to Napoleon III's Louvre courtyard, formerly a dusty parking area for the museum staff, and not far away is a whole new quarter, with its good points and bad, organized around the Beaubourg centre. (I never say ‘Centre Pompidou', as the late president had deplorable artistic taste – his office decorated by Agam – and besides he was opposed to the Piano-Rogers project, which was only adopted thanks to the stubbornness of the jury chair, the great Jean Prouvé.)

Conversely, I may say, the charm of certain places has evaporated in the last ten years without the historical décor having changed. On the Place Saint-Sulpice, the Café de la Mairie used to be an establishment where it was pleasant to drink coffee in the first rays of sunshine – this was indeed where I wrote those pages in my book that discuss this spot, as a homage to Georges Perec who wrote his
Tentative d'épuisement d'un lieu parisien [Attempt to Exhaust a Parisian Space
] there (p. 99). The setting is the same, but I avoid it now because of its clientele, made up of smart tourists and elegant ladies taking a rest there after doing their shopping in the hautecouture boutiques nearby. Easy to avoid, but then where to go? The answer is difficult, given how rare now are terraces on the historic Left Bank that are worth a visit.

Among the active agents of urban deterioration in these last ten years, I would give top marks to the Service des Espaces Verts. What they call ‘
' runs rampant in every quarter, striking places that ask only to be left in peace. Along the line of the former wall of the Farmers-General (p.109 ff.), the Boulevards de Rochechouart and de Clichy (from Barbès to Place Clichy via Place Pigalle and the Moulin Rouge on Place Blanche) used to be divided by a central reservation that was used partly for parking, partly by the local kids as a football pitch, partly as somewhere you could drink a can of beer on a bench, but above all by Eastern European tourists emerging from the neighbouring sex shops and kebab joints. In sum, an undefined space, just what is needed to give the city some air. But the
is not fond of such spaces. Right along the length of these old boulevards, the Service des Espaces Verts has established plantations hemmed in by metal grilles, with plants of a particular ugliness that are found now throughout Paris, selected so that they never flower and get rapidly covered with an unpleasant dust.

Sometimes this
is effected by shrubs in tubs or enormous pots, as for example in the Rue des Rosiers in the old Jewish quarter of the Marais: in combination with the newly laid paving and its central gutter, these sickly stems have given the coup de grâce to this street, which ten years ago still kept something of its Ashkenazi–proletarian past.

But I shouldn't exaggerate. These last few years have not known any disaster comparable with the destruction of upper Belleville in the 1960s, or the ravaging of the Bastille by the installation of Carlos Ott's opera house twenty years later. They have even seen a number of successes, like the walkway on the old viaduct leading to the Bastille station, or Marc Mimram's footbridge which cleverly links the Orsay museum with the Tuileries gardens. In point of fact, the very widespread impression that Paris has changed a great deal in recent years is quite correct, but what has changed is not so much the mineral and vegetable setting as the way in which the city is inhabited.

This development can be precisely located. On the Left Bank there has been scarcely any change. Apart from the great Chinatown of the 13
arrondissement, the population has remained almost uniformly white and bourgeois. The Blacks are street sweepers, the Arabs are grocers, the police are rarely seen and the historic streets are as clean as in the pedestrianized zones of the provinces. Everything is just a little older than when I started to write
The Invention of Paris
: the friendly beggar whose pitch had always been the five metres between the La Hune bookshop in St-Germain-des-Prés and the newspaper kiosk nearby now has grey hair and wears glasses to read the books that the bookshops pass on to him. Nothing happens anymore on the Left Bank, whereas in my youth we hardly needed to cross the Seine: the Right Bank was like a faraway desert.

Today the Right Bank is no more homogeneous than it was back in the insurrectional days of June 1848 or during the Commune. In what are rather ironically called the ‘
beaux quartiers
' – let's say west of a line that runs from Les Halles to the flea market via Rue Poissonière, Rue du Faubourg Poissonière and Boulevard Barbès – almost nothing has changed in ten years. The Batignolles, Plaine Monceau, the Faubourg Saint-Honoré, Auteuil and Passy slumber peacefully. The Avenue des Champs-Élysées has gone downhill – I wrote in the closing years of the last century how it evoked ‘the duty-free mall of an international airport, decorated in a style that is a mixture of pseudo-Haussmann and pseudo-Bauhaus' (p. 121); this is still the case, but the airport is now more down at heel, and you can scarcely find a table to have a drink except in the chains of faux pizzerias, genuine fast-food outlets, or pseudo-1900 cafés.

BOOK: The Invention of Paris
12.73Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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