IN 2014, I MARKED International Women’s Day on this blog with a visit to the Marie Curie Museum in the 5th arrondissement to see an exhibition in the museum garden of photographic portraits celebrating the careers of prominent women, past and present, who worked or who are currently working in the fields of science and medicine. You can see my report on the exhibition here.
To mark International Women’s Day in 2015 I recorded a women’s march in Paris, the Marche Mondiale des Femmes, which you can see here.
For some reason that escapes me, I didn’t mark International Women’s Day last year so I thought I ought to make up for that lapse by coming up with something for this year.
International Women’s Day 2017 was yesterday, 8th March, and I spent the afternoon in the 1st arrondissement here in Paris. It’s a neighbourhood I pass through frequently but, although it’s one of the most exclusive and opulent parts of the city, it’s by no means my favourite part. I’m rather like the man in Nina Simone’s ‘My Baby Just Cares For Me’ – I don’t care much ‘for high-tone places’.
Still, the 1st arrondissement did set me thinking about International Women’s day.
The Ritz Hotel, Place Vendôme, 1st Arrondissement, Paris
Apart from the Musée du Louvre and the Jardin des Tuileries, the 1st arrondissement is perhaps best known for the Place Vendôme. With it’s Ritz Hotel, it’s elegant Hôtels particuliers and establishments like Boucheron, Chaumet, Van Cleef & Arpels, and Cartier, some of the world’s finest jewellery houses, the Place Vendôme attracts a regular clientele of European royals, Middle Eastern sheikhs and billionaires from all over the world. Undoubtedly, it’s one of Nina Simone’s ‘high-tone’ places.
A few steps away from the Place Vendôme though is another street, much less elegant and opulent but a street I know well: Rue Danielle Casanova.
Originally known as rue Neuve-des-Petits-Champs, the street dates back to the early seventeenth century when it was then part of the rue des Petits-Champs. It acquired the name Danielle Casanova in December 1944.
The street is named in honour of Danielle Casanova, a militant communist, a tireless activist, a member of the French resistance and a remarkable woman.
Danielle trained as a dentist in Paris and in 1928 joined the Communist Youth movement eventually becoming a member of its Central Committee. In 1936, she became the first president of L’Union des jeunes filles de France (UJFF).
The UJFF was founded partly as a response to the resentment of young communist militants who had little responsibility within the then young French Communist Movement, and partly as a way for the French Communist Party (PCF) to recruit young female members.
Danielle and the other founders of the organisation wanted to focus on issues related to all areas of gender equality: work (referring in particular to the difficulties encountered by Marie Curie in her career), education and leisure. They emphasised the double discrimination of women from the working class due to both gender and social background. The UJFF supported the Republicans during the Spanish Civil War, participating in demonstrations of support and welcoming refugee children from Spain.
After the fall of France in 1940, the French Communist Party and its related organisations were banned and Danielle went into hiding. Working underground, she helped set up women’s committees in the Paris region, she wrote for the underground press, especially Pensée Libre (“Free Thought”) and she founded la Voix des Femmes (“Women’s Voice”). She also helped organise resistance against the occupying forces,
French Police arrested Danielle on 15 February 1942 and she was transported to Auschwitz where she worked in the camp infirmary as a dentist. While in Auschwitz, she continued campaigning and organising clandestine publications and events. She died of typhus on 9th May 1943.
Danielle Casanova was a heroine of the women’s movement and the French Resistance and she has lent her name to streets, schools, and colleges throughout France.
Rue Danielle Casanova:
And I might have left my contribution to International Women’s Day there had I not called into the Café Bourbon in rue Danielle Casanova.
After living in Paris for the past eighteen years I know the 1st arrondissement reasonably well, although I don’t claim to know every nook and cranny. So while sitting in the café with time on my hands, I launched Google Maps to see if there were any streets I had yet to explore … and what I found was astonishing.
The 1st arrondissement is the least populated of the city’s twenty arrondissements and one of the smallest by area and yet I discovered that it contains 182 streets.
Paris streets are mostly named after people, professions, places or events so, since it was International Women’s Day, I decided to count up how many of those streets were named after women.
Out of the 182 streets in the 1st arrondissement, just SEVEN are named after women:
Place Colette: Named after Sidonie-Gabrielle Colette, (1873–1954) a French novelist nominated for the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1948.
Place Marguerite-de-Navarre: (1492-1549), sister of King François Ist
Rue Sainte-Anne: Anne of Austria (1601–1666), queen consort of France and Navarre, regent for her son, Louis XIV of France, and a Spanish and Portuguese Infanta by birth.
Rue Thérèse: Marie-Thérèse (1638-1683), wife of Louis XIV
Passage de la Reine-de-Hongrie: Named after a merchant from the neighbouring Les Halles, Julie Bécheur, who lived in the late eighteenth century. She was said to resemble the Archduchess Maria Theresa of Austria, queen of Hungary (and of Bohemia).
Avenue Victoria: Named after the British Queen Victoria who paid a visit to the nearby Hôtel de Ville in 1855.
And of course:
Rue Danielle Casanova:
Two more streets are named after exclusively female professions:
Rue des Lavandières-Sainte-Opportune: – the washerwomen
Rue de la Lingerie: – the seamstresses
In fact, to be precise, there are only six-and-a-half streets named after women in the 1st arrondissement rather than seven. The Rue Danielle Casanova is bisected by the boundary of the 1st and 2nd arrondissements so half the street is in the 1st and, as can be seen by the sign below, the other half is in the 2nd.
It seems that, despite having a female Mayor, the Paris City authorities still have more work to do on the gender equality of Parisian street names.
AFTER FOURTEEN YEARS of planning and five years of construction work, La Canopée des Halles was officially opened on 5th April.
Designed by the architects Patrick Berger and Jacques Anziutti, La Canopée is a gigantic 7,000-ton steel structure shaped in vegetable-inspired curves covering nearly 2.5 hectares of Les Halles in the 1st arrondissement.
La Canopée stands on the site of the traditional central market of Paris dating from 1183. In the 1850s, Victor Baltard designed the famous glass and iron pavilions, Les Halles, which featured in Émile Zola’s novel Le Ventre de Paris, (The Belly of Paris), set in the busy market of the 19th century.
View of Les Halles from Saint-Eustache in 1870
In the 1970s, the Les Halles market closed and moved out to Rungis on the outskirts of the city. All of Baltard’s glass and iron pavilions were dismantled, save for two which survived and have since been re-erected, one in the Paris suburb of Nogent-sur-Marne and the other in Yokohama, Japan.
The Baltard Pavilion at Nogent-sur-Marne
The closure of Les Halles left a vacuum, a vacuum filled by an eminently forgettable spasm of 1970s urban renewal – a claustrophobic underground shopping mall and flimsy street-level pavilions.
Speaking at the Canopée opening ceremony, Anne Hidalgo, Mayor of Paris said, “We had to fix this broken place.”
La Canopée is part of a €1 billion project to ‘fix this broken place’; to re-integrate it into the urban environment and make it a more agreeable experience for everyone who uses it.
With a maximum span of 96 metres, La Canopée incorporates 15 translucent slats made of sheet glass, which provide natural ventilation and, at either end, glass awnings offer shelter to the street-level pedestrian walkways. La Canopée also captures solar energy from photovoltaic panels mounted on the north and south buildings as well as rainwater, which will be used to feed the fountains in the neighbouring, still to be constructed, gardens.
Together, the north and south wings of the Canopée accommodate a number of spacious and diversified cultural facilities including a 2,600 square metre conservatory, offering instruction in music, drama and dance as well as concerts, master classes and lectures. There is a 1,050 square metre library, over 1,000 square metres of public workshop and studio space for amateurs and professionals of all hues, a hip-hop centre where young people can express themselves, as well as a swimming pool and a cinema.
And, of course, let’s not forget the more than 6,000 square metres of underground retail shopping.
Sounds under La Canopée des Halles:
Whether or not the Canopée des Halles becomes what the Mayor of Paris has called, ‘the new heart of Paris’, remains to be seen but for me at least it is certainly an improvement on the ‘broken place’ that preceded it.
AT FIRST SIGHT, the Rue Saint-Roch seems to be an ordinary street in the 1st arrondissement of Paris, a stones throw from the Jardin des Tuileries and the Musée du Louvre. But, as is so often the case in this wonderful city, things are not always quite what they seem.
Let’s start with the obvious. The most prominent feature in the street is the Église Saint-Roch at the junction of the Rue Saint-Roch and the Rue Saint-Honoré.
The church was built in the late baroque style. Louis XIV laid the foundation stone in 1653 and building was completed in 1754.
Sounds inside the Église Saint-Roch:
The church suffered during the French revolution, it was ransacked, and many works of art were stolen or destroyed. Scars of the revolution are still to be seen on the façade of the church with the marks left by flying bullets.
It’s a well-kept secret, but the Église Saint-Roch is notable because the French aristocrat, revolutionary politician, philosopher, writer and notorious libertine, the Marquis de Sade, was married here on May 17, 1763.
The Église Saint-Roch is special for me because it is yet another Parisian church with an organ that has the fingerprints of the master organ builders, François-Henri Clicquot and Aristide Cavaillé-Coll all over it.
In 1750, François-Henri Lesclop was commissioned to build the first organ but he died before the work was completed. François-Henri Clicquot was asked to finish the work, which he did in 1756. The organ was restored just over a hundred years later in 1859 and again in 1881 by Aristide Cavaillé-Coll. This magical combination of work by François-Henri Clicquot and Aristide Cavaillé-Coll is to be found in churches all over Paris, not least in the Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Paris.
And so, back to the Rue Saint-Roch itself. The origins of the street date back to somewhere around the tenth-century. It was officially named for the first time in 1450 as Rue Saint-Vincent then, several hundred years and several name changes later, it became Rue Saint-Roche in 1879.
Today, amidst scaffolding and extensive building work, Rue Saint-Roche is home to the Paris Bureau of the BBC who advertise their presence in rather austere terms compared to the other more elegant signage on the rest of the building.
Sounds in the Rue Saint-Roch:
The sounds of the Rue Saint-Roch may be what I came to listen to but what I especially came to see was this house, two doors down from the BBC office, N°41 Rue Saint-Roch. An ordinary looking house you might think, but this house has a history, a secret history. During the First World war, N°41 Rue Saint-Roche was the headquarters of a secret British military intelligence operation involving an underground espionage ring operating behind enemy lines.
The story of 41 Rue Saint-Roch is intriguing and brilliantly set out in Janet Morgan’s book, The Secrets of Rue St Roch. It’s a story of ingenuity, bravery and meticulous attention to detail, the very stuff of espionage behind enemy lines.
During the First World War, the Germans depended on trains to sustain and move their armies. The Allies realised the crucial importance of timetable information and of knowing what troop trains in occupied territories were carrying. Movements of men and guns from one part of the front to another, or the clearing of hospitals in forward areas, indicated the position and timing of the next offensive.
It was difficult to find people who could provide such intelligence, and difficult for it to be passed on. The front line was impermeable, neutral borders mined and electrified, movement restricted and clandestine radio and aerial reconnaissance were in their infancies. The Allies made many attempts, but German counter-espionage was formidable – though one network, La Dame Blanche in Belgium, was an espionage triumph. There was no coverage of tiny Luxembourg, which became, as the war went on, an increasingly important rail hub.
It was partly to address this that Captain George Bruce, later Lord Balfour, was assigned to a department of British military intelligence at 41 Rue Saint-Roch. He identified a possible recruit, a middle-aged Luxembourgeoise called Lise Rischard, whom he persuaded to return to her country as a railway spy. She began reporting by letter and newspaper code, which was a difficult business but this improved when she was joined by another of Bruce’s agents, an irrepressible Polish-Belgian soldier called Baschwitz Meau, who had escaped five times from German prison camps.
Meau was inserted into Luxembourg by hydrogen balloon at a late and crucial stage of the 1918 German spring offensive. The importance of the intelligence that he and Rischard provided from the agents they recruited can be gauged by the honours they later received – she the CBE, he the DSO, and both were made Chevaliers of the Legion d’Honneur.
I often wonder how many of the people who pass along the Rue Saint-Roch every day have any idea of the secret history of the house at N°41.
I walk the streets of Paris endlessly, observing and listening, and I am constantly intrigued by how the seemingly ordinary can often turn out to be quite extraordinary. The Rue Saint-Roch is a perfect example of this serendipity.
Today, the Palais Royal, in the 1st arrondissement, accommodates both the old and the new in harmony. In the Cour d’honneur, Daniel Buren’s black and white columns, known as Les Colonnes de Buren, and the seventeenth-century facades somehow seem to sit comfortably together.
Cardinal Richelieu lived here in the early seventeenth-century, as did various itinerant ‘Royals’. In the second half of the eighteenth century, Louis-Philippe-Joseph, duc d’Orléans moved in and changed the character of the place.
In the arcades of the Palais Royale:
In the 1780’s he turned this aristocratic home into a public place with a shopping mall complete with luxury shops, cafés and even a circus and a waxworks museum. The Palais Royal became the place to see and to be seen in. It attracted customers, flaneurs, passers-by and prostitutes in equal measure – a hotbed of pleasure and entertainment. But more than that, it represented a significant change in the social dimension – a sort of classless rubbing of shoulders.
By the end of the eighteenth-century it had become a hotbed of political radicalism. In 1789, close to the restaurant Le Grand Véfour, which still stands in the Palais Royal and where Napoléon and Joséphine, Victor Hugo and Honoré de Balzac once sat, a young lawyer, Camille Desmoulins, an immature, reckless but passionate young man, stood on a table and issued his call ‘To Arms’. The crowd around him were to storm the Bastille the next day and the French Revolution was about to unleash unimaginable bloodshed.
Although the shops and restaurants are still there, the Palais Royal has a more sedate feel to it today.
Music outside the Palais Royal:
But keeping the eighteenth-century spirit of revelry alive, this group of young musicians enthusiastically reflect the former atmosphere of the Palais Royal much to the enjoyment of the large crowd rubbing shoulders around them.