Visit to Paris
April 13 - 16, 2007
Almost 25 after my first and only stay in the French capital, here I am returning to Maigret's city. For a long time I've wanted to walk the streets and boulevards described by Simenon. What remains of the city told by Simenon? Does the shade of Maigret still haunt the Parisian streets? Can we find in the city of today traces of the passage of our favorite Chief Inspector?
A map of Paris in one hand, Michel Carly's book ([Maigret, across Paris]) in the other, I started on the search for my memories…
So the "route" I'll describe is a condensation of my walks, focusing on Simenon's places, without being too concerned with their chronological position. On the other hand, the route can be done, but it depends on how much time you have and how much you want to walk. Certainly I think that the best way to discover the city is on foot, like Maigret, an unrepentant stroller…
The itinerary I propose is of course but one variant among many others you could take to cross the capital, and it's obvious that it can't be done in a single day. But it will still be possible to take up the route from a described location, and use it as a point of reference.
click on photos to enlarge
Course A: The Latin Quarter
Starting at the Gare de Lyon, we are welcomed by the characteristic sound of Paris... that of police car sirens, which will accompany us throughout our stay. We begin our itinerary by crossing the Pont d'Austerlitz (photo 1).
To the left of the bridge, the entrance to the Medico-Legal Institute (photo 2).
From here we'll head towards the center of the city, along the Seine... the lower part of the quays has been developed, at least in part, for pedestrians, with greenery, grass and flowers, since the traffic is very dense at the top of the quays, and not very suitable for strolling. So, after crossing the Austerlitz bridge, we go along the bottom of the Saint-Bernard quay... at the beginning of the Tino Rossi Garden is moored the boat of the River Brigade of the Prefecture of police. At the edge of the water, we pass several barges (ah, Maigret !). We cross the garden of the outdoor sculpture museum, before returning to the upper part of the quay.
Leaving on our right the Sully bridge, we take the Boulevard Saint-Germain, very popular with tourists. We stroll the streets as we wish, choosing the route we'll take to cross the Latin Quarter... Numerous areas evoke something for readers of Maigret and/or lovers of Parisian history Place Maubert, Rue des Ecoles, Boulevard Saint-Michel, the Cluny museum, the Luxembourg Gardens... Behind the Luxembourg Gardens, we can look for 33 Rue Vavin, where the famous Anthropometric Ball was held... Today, there's nothing but a metal gate across an empty shop window, and not a trace of the Boule Blanche cabaret… We can then continue to the Boulevard Montparnasse, passing in front of La Coupole, the brasserie where a good part of the action of A Man's Head takes place.
Next we go up to the Pantheon, which we pass to get to Rue Lhomond. It's hard to localize the action of Maigret Takes a Room, for the houses seem have have greatly changed. And furthermore, Simenon, in the novels, often writes, "it was just a few steps from" such-and-such a street. At the scene, it's less obvious is Rue Lhomond really "a few steps" from the Boulevard Saint-Germain? A few big steps, then!
From Rue Lhomond, we go up Rue Mouffetard... tourists, shops and bistros, on the way up to the little Place de la Contrescarpe. From there we take Rue du Cardinal-Lemoine, to number 48, at the back of a courtyard, where we're looking for the Bibliothèque des Littératures Policières (BILIPO), a place not to be missed for a lover of Maigret or Simenon... In this small, quiet bookstore, we can find everything about Simenon and his character everything written about the author, from biographies, essays, and the special Télérama on Maigret, to issues of the journals TRACES and Cahiers Simenon. And furthermore, lovers of detective literature will find there a number of references on the subject, including books on the tv series, works on criminology, and more...
Course B: The Île de la Cité
When we've satisfied our thirst for literature, we take up our path again on Rue des Fossés Saint-Bernard. Spurning the iron footbridge of the Pont de Sully, we return to the banks of the Seine, below the Quai de la Tournelle. We can see, on the other side of the Pont de la Tournelle, the apse of Notre-Dame (photo 3).
We'll take this stone bridge to visit the Île Saint-Louis. We cross Rue Saint-Louis-en-l'île, very touristy, but pretty. At the end of the street is the Pont Saint-Louis, which brings us to the Circle de la Cité. Here we are at the apse of Notre-Dame.
We pass alongside the cathedral and arrive at the Place du Parvis. At the back of the square, the Prefecture of police (photo 4)
with its lines of people come for a passport, a traffic permit, some document or other... We take Rue de la Cité on our right, then the Quai de la Corse. We come to the Boulevard du Palais, with the Palais de Justice in front of us. We continue by the Quai de l'Horloge to the Conciergerie (photo 5),
noting the numerous policemen on guard, and we come to Rue de Harlay. Across from the great stairway of the Palais de Justice (photo 6),
is the Place Dauphine, with Barreau's, the former brasserie Aux trois Marches, otherwise known as the Brasserie Dauphine (photo 7)…
We push on to the Place du Pont-Neuf... at the right of the bridge, a view of the statue of King Henri IV, the Samaritaine and the church St-Germain-l'Auxerrois (photo 8).
Behind us, the Henri IV Tavern(photo 9).
If we cross the bridge to the left, we come to Rue Dauphine, and the Chope du Pont-Neuf (photo 10).
Maigret's thirst assuaged after passing through the three bistros, we are ready to follow the Quai des Grands-Augustins, in search of the "Caves du Beaujolais", from which little Albert had telephoned Maigret (Maigret's Dead Man). A cafe called "Le Bistro des Augustins" seems close... from there we can see the windows of the Quai des Orfèvres (and Maigret's?), and the interior of the cafe fits well enough with the idea we get from the novel…
We can follow the Quai des Grands-Augustins to Pont Saint-Michel, and photograph there the clock at the corner of the entrance to the Metro (photo 11),
while taking in the view of the Tour Pointue (photo 12),
then cross the bridge and find ourselves on the Quai des Orfèvres. We have but to follow this quay to find – finally! – our mythical edifice, and to photograph it from all angles (photos 13 to 17).
Let's not forget the plaque relating the history of the building, which mentions Chief Inspector Maigret! (photos 18-19)
When we've finished admiring everything, we'll take the Pont-au-Change, opposite the Pont Saint-Michel, and from there we have two possible routes, as we can go to the left or the right after the bridge.
Course C: The Louvre and Tuileries
We'll start on the left... We're at the Quai de la Mégisserie, where are still found several bird shops, but above all, florists. After passing in front of the Saint-Germain-l'Auxerrois church, (photo 20)
we follow the Quai du Louvre, before taking a right to find ourselves between the Louvre and the Tuileries Gardens. (photos 21-22)
Crossing the Tuileries we arrive at the Place de la Concorde it truly has "global" dimensions, as Simenon writes in Maigret's Dead Man, but there's nothing deserted about it in the middle of the day on the contrary, it's bustling with tourists, and the traffic coming off the Pont de la Concorde is terribly heavy. On the square, the doorman of the Hotel Crillon looks sharp in his uniform…
From here we have a choice... art-lovers can go to the Pont Alexandre III, manifestation of incredible grandiloquence, fitting well with the architecture of the Palais de la Découverte, erected for the National Exposition of 1900, like the Gare d'Orsay. If we cross the bridge, we come to the Quai d'Orsay Museum, which houses the treasures of Impressionist painting… From there we can take the Solférino crossing, the Senghor footbridge, permitting us to cross the Seine while avoiding the automobile traffic of the bridges. We find ourselves in front of the Tuileries Gardens, free to take up our route with Course D, F or G…
Course D: the "fancy neighborhoods"
We'll stay on this side of the Seine, proceeding on the Avenue Winston-Churchill and the Place Georges-Clemenceau (noting as we pass, the presence of the statues of the two great men)... we see the Champs-Elysées extending in the distance, and way in the background, the Arc de Triomphe. Unfortunately, it's impossible to take a photo from the sidewalk to see the Arc de Triomphe well, you have to stand in the middle of the road, a more than dangerous undertaking in light of the heavy traffic which rules, making us think that the filmmakers who have filmed this perspective must have done it very early in the morning, unless they'd stopped the traffic!
Then, taking our choice of streets, we go to the Saint-Philippe du Roule church, then take Rue de Courcelles, which leads us to Parc Monceau. We can easily understand why this park is a place Maigret dreams of... the trees there are magnificent, you can enjoy great tranquility, and it brings to mind the "peaceful" life of the rich neighborhoods. (photo 23)
After a stop at the park, and a meal, if it's early, of a sandwich whose crisp baguette recalls those sandwiches devoured by Maigret, we'll make a choice once more for our itinerary... either go back down to the Seine, or up towards Montmartre. I give you here the two variants, for you to choose as you wish!
Course E: Montmartre
From the Parc Monceau, we take Boulevard de Courcelles, whose rich-looking buildings evoke for us Fumal in Maigret's Failure, or Nicole Prieur in Maigret on the Defensive. We continue on Boulevard des Batignolles, not skipping the obligatory "pilgrimage" in front of the Hotel Bertha, Rue Darcet, where Simenon first stayed in Paris on December 11, 1922... the name of the hotel hasn't changed, and it's not much to look at!
Now we're at Place Clichy, from which we can go up Rue Caulaincourt to Montmartre. At the corner of Rue Joseph-de-Maistre is a hotel, according to Michel Carly, on the site of the Moncin butcher shop (Maigret Sets a Trap). We continue to climb Rue Caulaincourt, arriving in front of Cépage Montmartrois, the brasserie which corresponds to Chez Manière, where Maigret often ate. Frankly, this restaurant hardly (at least for me!) evokes the one frequented by the Chief Inspector… and I prefer to keep the image I've gotten from the novels! Nor is Place Constantin-Pecqueur very "inspiring" (but then where could poor Lognon live?!)…
Then we take the stairs of Mont-Cenis which lead us to Place du Tertre... the square is crammed with tourists, with a restaurant in the middle, whose outside tables are almost hidden by the "Sunday painters" offering their canvasses to the customers… From Place du Tertre we rejoin Avenue Junot, very quiet, so quiet that we realize that this is the street the Mori brothers chose to get rid of the body of Marcia! (Maigret and the Informer) Norris Jonker's house (Maigret and the Ghost) has less to say... the famous picture window is truly small, we imagine "the painter's studio" larger! On the other hand, the house opposite could easily correspond to Marinette Augier's! From there, we could take, for example, Rue Lepic, which leads to the basilica of Sacré-Cœur, where we would have a "bird's-eye view" of Paris... We can make out the towers of Notre-Dame at the left, the rest is difficult to identify, lost in the fog, if not to say the cloud of pollution…
Then, to follow in the steps of Maigret and his wife (Maigret's Little Joke), we can descend by the Saint-Pierre stairs, then take Rue Steinkerque, a true "tourist trap" spilling over with shops offering, which a few variants, the same more or less kitsch "souvenirs of Paris"… But we enjoy it nonetheless, since it's part of the game…
At the foot of the street, we arrive at the Square d'Anvers, very "provincial", very familial with its play area, fine view of Sacré-Cœur and its 1900s-style kiosk. (photo 24)
We know Madame Maigret found it pleasing! (L'Amie de Madame Maigret) We imagine that her dentist has his office in one of these two buildings, (photos 25-26)
and since it's time for her appointment, we leave Louise and take Avenue Trudaine, which leads us to Place Lino Ventura, a tiny triangle a little shopworn and lost in the midst of the traffic. But we can console ourselves that this great actor at least had a square named after him! From there, we take Rue des Martyrs, then Faubourg Montmartre. So we leave Montmartre, a relatively peaceful area, except for the crowds of tourists, a little outside the bustle of the boulevards, and which makes us think, as Simenon wrote, of a "village" outside the city…
From here we can take Course G, which will be described below…
Course F: Faubourg Saint-Honoré
This route will be followed on leaving Parc Monceau, but it can just as well be taken in the opposite direction, after Course C…
From Parc Monceau, we'll rejoin Faubourg Saint-Honoré by the street of our choice... here, everything feels rich the houses are beautiful, opulent, the neighborhood quiet. On Rue Saint-Honoré, there's a succession of the great names of fashion... confectionaries, jewelers, watchmakers, Place Beauveau, the Ministry of the Interior, the back of the Elysée Palace, Rue des Saussaies and the English Embassy, all well-protected by the numerous policemen on guard. And let's not overlook the 4- and 5-star hotels, like the Bristol, whose uniformed doorman in an officer's hat pushes a golden baggage cart… On this street, we can make a little detour to the Place Vendôme, all golden with riches, Dior on the corner of the square… Then we continue on Rue Saint-Honoré where we rejoin Rue Royale and then Rue de Rivoli, arriving at Palais Royal, where we admire the magnificent main courtyard, and where we can stroll under the arcades, retrieving images seen in the episode "Maigret and the Young Girl" of the Jean Richard TV series…
Course G: The Marais
recalling Emile Zola's "The Belly of Paris". From here, we may take Rue Montmartre, at the entrance to which is found a "mini market," with colors and odors which might remind us of those of Les Halles, and we can ascend Faubourg Montmartre, in other words, do Course E in the opposite direction, or take Rue Rambuteau to Place Beaubourg to discover the famous Centre Georges Pompidou, before randomly crisscrossing the neighboring streets which make up the Marais, graced with well-conserved architecture.
Rue des Francs-Bourgeois, in the heart of the Marais, is bordered with truly beautiful buildings. It leads us straight to Place des Vosges, for me the most beautiful place in Paris! (photos 28-29)
Early in the morning, it's an oasis of calm in the heart of Paris. Let's pause to admire the chestnut trees in bloom at the center of the square, and photograph the windows of No. 21 where Simenon (and Maigret…) lived (photo 30),
then rejoin Rue de Turenne for the "Royal Turenne" (photo 31),
otherwise known as the Grand Turenne, the cafe where the inspectors set up their headquarters in The Friend of Madame Maigret… Rue du Roi-de-Sicile has changed a lot since Maigret's Dead Man... like Rue de Rivoli, a rich street, and the Marais itself, it has become a rather "chic" neighborhood. From there, we take Rue Saint-Paul, then Quai des Célestins, after having made a little detour by Pont-Marie, and spotted the corner of Quai d'Anjou where Simenon moored the Ostrogoth (photo 32),
then Quai Henri IV, or better, to avoid the traffic, very heavy in this area (the route connects to the peripheral highway), Rue de Sully and Rue Morlay, which will take us back to the corner of Boulevard de la Bastille and the Quai de la Rapée, before starting the next Course.
Course H: Boulevard Richard-Lenoir and Quai de Valmy
This route, following the previous, can also be done from Course A, where, leaving the Gare de Lyon, instead of taking the Pont d'Austerlitz, we would take Boulevard de la Bastille.The automobile road is bordered by a very pleasant pedestrian path, filled with greenery (photos 33-34).
Place de la Bastille, the July Column (la colonne de Juillet) shines like in the novels… Now we take Boulevard Richard-Lenoir, also full of greenery (photos 35-37).
At the entrance to the Bréguet-Sabin Metro, we leave the boulevard for a moment to take Rue du Chemin-Vert. At the corner of Rue Popincourt, we should find the building where Doctor Pardon lived. It's hard to pick out such a building, the only house on the corner being a little two-story building whose first floor shelters a bar... not how I imagined Pardon's building… and it's rather on Boulevard Voltaire that we find houses closer to the novels… For me, Boulevard Voltaire is more representative of the buildings of Maigret's time, with their wrought iron balconies. (photo 38)
We return to Boulevard Richard-Lenoir, so in bloom above the Metro entrances. Above the entrance to the Richard-Lenoir metro, a facade resembling that of "Catoire et Potut" (photo 39),
and, opposite, around No. 62, a building which could have been Maigret's. (photo 40)
We go to No. 132, much further away, but this building doesn't seem to correspond to that of the novels. (photo 41)
It's a little as if Simenon had made a blend of the entrance to the metro, the facade of "Catoire et Potut", and an address "too far away" from there, but a No. 132 more reasonable if Maigret lived "a few steps" from Avenue de la République…
All the way at the end of Boulevard Richard-Lenoir, Quai de Valmy and Quai de Jemmapes. It's hard to recover the atmosphere of Maigret and the Headless Corpse, because this neighborhood has undergone great transformations in its buildings. Happily, there's still the poetry of the Saint-Martin Canal and the lock, (photos 42-44)
and the restaurant "L'Atmosphère" (photo 45),
which corresponds to the bar "Chez Popaul" of the novel.
Course I: the Grand Boulevards
From the Place de la République, we take Rue René-Boulanger, formerly Rue de Bondy. There we find another building which could be that of "Kaplan and Zanin" (Maigret the Man on the Bench). We arrive in front of Porte Saint-Martin (photo 46)
and the Renaissance Theatre (is it still haunted by the ghost of Sarah Bernhardt?) (photo 47).
Then we go in search of the bench where Louis Thouret sat... and, covering Boulevard Bonne-Nouvelle, and the entire Boulevard Saint-Martin, we found but a single bench! (photo 48)
It's just across from the Porte Saint-Martin Theatre. A little further along Boulevard Saint-Martin, we find a "Meslay passage" which could correspond to the dead-end where Thouret's body was found.
It requires quite a bit of "navigation" of these boulevards to locate the places of the action described in Maigret and the Man on the Bench; it's a little as if Simenon created a mixture of different neighborhoods of the Grand Boulevards, and drew from them a description of a semi-imaginary street, inspired by reality…
So there are some ideas for strolls across Paris, embellished by impressions gathered over the course of my stay. I'd like to end with some more general reflections about the city.
To discover Paris, you need a plan the city is large! A good map is necessary to walk as I have, and it helps to have a good sense of direction…
Parisians love flowers (numerous florists, flowers on the quays and Boulevard Richard-Lenoir) and trees (numerous parks, gardens, squares and alleys); little fruit markets are found on all the street corners.
If you find yourself seeking some fresh air because of the heat, head for the banks of the Seine, or the heights (Montmartre, for example), or the museums…
To discover another side of the city, you can also try a tour in a "batobus", the boats which crisscross the Seine from the Eiffel Tower to the end of the Île Saint-Louis, which they circle before returning along the other bank. You can get on and off as you wish, at whatever point you like.
I understand why Maigret often stopped in bistros... always thirsty, because of the heat, the dust and the walk: to avail yourself of a drink can prove useful…
It's fairly difficult to recover the atmosphere of the streets described in the Maigrets, because not only have they changed much, but they had also been idealized by Simenon. Crossing certain streets, you can imagine yourself in any French city, but it's Simenon's talent and genius to have made of these streets something poetic and unique, magnifed by his writing…
I also have the impression that's it's going to become more and more difficult for the Maigretphile tourist to recover Maigret's city... what will remain of it in 20 years? We can only hope that certain buildings will be protected by urban planning, and that the Parisians won't forget their history too much in profiting from modernity…
While I'm content to have "put a face" on certain streets and buildings described by Simenon, I believe that his "idealized city" will continue to speak to me as much as the "real city"… The imaginary will continue to play its role, and you have to tell yourself that the Paris of Maigret and Simenon is above all in the novels, with its own veracity and its own novelistic authenticity…
translation: S. Trussel