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August 29, 2010

Saturday in the rue Mouffetard

by soundlandscapes

Like the rue de la Huchette and the rue Saint-Jaques, the rue Mouffetard is one of my favourite streets in Paris. Each are hustling, bustling places steeped in history.

The rue Mouffetard is to be found in the V arrondissement a stone’s throw from the Panthéon and a ten minute walk from the Jardin du Luxembourg. At its northern end, on top of the Mont Sainte-Geneviève, the rue Mouffetard becomes the rue Descartes leading to the Place Contrescarpe. At it’s southern end, at the bottom of the hill, is the Square Saint-Médard where there is a permanent open-air market. It was in this street that I chose to spend my Saturday afternoon.

Dating back to Roman Lutetia, the rue Mouffetard as it became was a major Roman thoroughfare which along with rue Galande, rue Lagrange, rue de la Montagne Sainte-Geneviève and rue Descartes, ran from the Roman Rive Gauche city south to Lyon and on to Italy.

Before the fairly recent gentrification of the area, the rue Mouffetard had a less than glorious past. From the late middle-ages the area was associated with trade including tanneries, starch-makers and dyers some of which only disappeared towards the end of the twentieth century. By the eighteenth century the area had gained a reputation for violence and in the nineteenth century men from la Mouffe’ were always to be found on the Paris barricades at every opportunity from 1830 through to 1871. Balzac said that, “No neighbourhood of Paris is more horrible and more unknown”. Writing in 1920, Georges Duhamel noted that, “Mouffetard country has its own customs and laws which have neither meaning nor jurisdiction over the other side of the rue Monge”. Ernest Hemingway, a resident in la Mouffe’ in the 1920’s, gives a colourful description of the rue Mouffetard that he knew when wrote, “The Café des Amateurs was the cesspool of the rue Mouffetard … The squat toilets of the old apartment houses, one by the side of the stairs of each floor with the two cleated cement shoe-shaped elevation on each side of the aperture so a locataire would not slip, emptied into cesspools which were emptied by pumping into horse-draw wagons at night. In summertime, with all the windows open, we would hear the pumping and the odour was very strong …”

I am pleased to report that the rue Mouffetard is much improved today. It may be one of the oldest streets in Paris but it is also one of the liveliest with wall-to-wall restaurants, shops, cafés and the daily, open-air market which is one of the oldest street markets in Paris .

Join me for a walk along the rue Mouffetard:

… and a diversion into the only bookshop in the street:

… and, of course, a beer in the bistro Le Mouffetard:

These are binaural recordings. To get the best effect you should listen using headphones.

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