The street of my childhood, Mendoza St., holds many memories: here is a street in the heart of Manila where, in the late 70’s, you could take your bicycle out to, and ride well into the night without being mugged. On hot summer nights, when cars and jeeps have retired for the night (curfew was strictly imposed on vehicles during Martial Law), my sisters and cousins and some friends would set up a wooden ramp for jumping our bikes off of, Evel Knievel-like. We had believed ourselves to be awesome flying creatures, until Mama’s tsinelas on our butts brought us back to the reality of that dimly-lit street, and send us scampering back into the iron-gated compound of the Ocampos.
When streets stand out in our memory, they do so because they have a story to tell.
The streets of Paris stand out so memorably well for countless stories told about them.
Take any Parisian street, Avenue des Champs Elysees, say, or place Vendome, or Bd. Montparnasse, and chances are, they hold some literary significance, if not historical ones. We know Ernest Hemingway frequented bars and cafes in the Montparnasse district, especially during the time he was hard at work on A Moveable Feast (Schmidt and Rendon 209). There are, in fact, bars scattered in Paris bearing the names of many famous scribes who lived for a time in the rive gauche (Left bank), Paris’ literary enclave. There is a Bar Hemingway in Place Vendome, inside Hotel Ritz, for one (Le Nevez 65). Simone de Beauvoir‘s “hymenal” text, The Second Sex, took shape in a Montparnasse home just above La Rotonde, another bar said to be a favorite haunt of expatriate writers of the 1920s and 30s, for whom Gertrude Stein coined the term the “lost generation”.
Mark Twain had fond memories of the rue de l’Universite, as did Julia Child, an American chef who lived in the same street along with her Embassy official husband, while attending classes at the Ecole Le Cordon Bleu. Will anyone fail to recall Victor Hugo‘s immortal hunchback whose residence is the most spectacular Gothic cathedral in Paris? I doubt it. Also, the mere mention of place Vendome makes us think immediately of expensive French perfumes!
I am especially partial to picturesque Marais not only because one finds Place de la Bastille here, but also for Le Pure Cafe, an unpretentious cafe where star-crossed lovers Celine (Julie Delpy) and Jesse (Ethan Hawke) made typical lover talk over coffee in my favorite movie, Before Sunset. Except for a ride in the Batobus along the Seine which I did not do, I romantically retraced the lovers’ every step, beginning with browsing books at Shakespeare and Co. bookshop across the Cathedral of Notre-Dame, strolled along Promenade Plantee, and took in the postcard-perfect structures along cobblestoned cul-de-sacs of the Ile de la Cite.
In true movie fashion, I too have my own movie scene to add. On a street kiosk near the Eglise de la Madeleine, in the middle of scarfing a Nutella crepe, I was shedding tears in extreme annoyance!
Rue Malher stands out especially vividly in my memory because on this street stands our apartment for a week, which was a stone’s-throw from the nearest metro (St. Paul) and from other historic locations in Paris–Place des Vosges, where Victor Hugo was said to have written a great bulk of Les Miserables in, Marcel Proust’s rooms in the Musee Carnavalet in rue de Sevigne, the artistic Centre in Georges Pompidou, and right next to rue Malher, Rue des Rosiers, the Jewish part of the Marais known for its swanky shops and kosher food.
What stories do your own streets hold?
Le Nevez, Catherine. Paris Encounter. 2nd ed. Australia: Lonely Planet, 2009.
Schmidt, Shannon M., and Joni Rendon. “Six Hemingway Watering Holes.” Novel Destinations: Literary Landmarks from Jane Austen’s Bath to Ernest Hemingway’s Key West. Washington, D.C.: National Geographic, 2008. 209.
- Shopping in Paris (eurotunnel.com)