East of Bastille, Work and Play

Passage du Chantier

The photo is deceptive; there is a lot of light
in the passage du Chantier.

Around the Rue du Faubourg Saint-Antoine

Paris:- Friday, 27. February 1998:- It may be appropriate that the artisans and craftsmen from the Rue du Faubourg Saint-Antoine who made chairs for Louis XVI were the ones to capture the Bastille, symbol of oppression imposed by a 'divine' and absolute monarchy.

Under Louis XI, all trades and sorts of businesses were licensed here; the restrictions faced by craftsmen elsewhere - permitted only to make certified copies - did not apply in the rue du Faubourg Saint-Antoine. Free to invent, the styles now known as Louis XIV, XV and XVI came from this street.

Like a backbone, the Rue du Faubourg Saint-Antoine snakes its way from the Place de la Bastille, 1,810 metres long, to the Place de la Nation. Until 1632 it was a 'chaussée, but it has always been a part of Paris life. In the time of Louis XI it was called the Chaussée de Chelles, when on 20. April he wanted to impress the Ambassadors of Aragon with 100,000 armed Parisians.

There was a big fight between the Fronde and the King, with the Condés, on 2. July 1652. TheFountaine Thogneux Rue du Faubourg Saint-Antoine got the nickname of being the crater with the revolutionary lava, especially after it popped off eight days ahead of the Etats Généraux on 27. April 1789.

Barricades when up again in 1830 and 29 of them were thrown up in 1848. And again in 1851, to protest against the coup d'etat by the prince who would be president, or vice versa; who was finally Napoléon III.

The Fontaine Trogneux in the Rue du Faubourg Saint-Antoine.

What really gave the area life, was the relative freedom of creation, first granted by license in 1471, renewed by Colbert in 1657 - but with internal rules dating to 1290. By 1740 the rules were strict - the artisans had to work in physically-open shops, not work at night - all to prevent frauds - everything they did had to be in the open and on view to all.

The street varies considerably in width, from 17 to 30 metres. From the Place de la Bastille, it looks interesting as it curves to the left. Up close, in it, the telescoped facades turn out to be - at first glance - relatively ordinary. They are mostly furniture shops; the front-ends for the ateliers behind.

Also from the place de la Bastille, is the first entry to one of the 'behinds,' the passage du Cheval Blanc, maybe 120 metres long, but with further passages off it and another entry from the Faubourg at number 21.

I got the machine I am making this magazine with in this passage. The guarantee has long expired and today I see that shop I got it from has expired too. Closertypical cour to the street, I find the new location of an old employer, named after the street it was in so long - Fleurus, in Montparnasse.

A private courtyard, with workshops and ateliers.

Almost directly across the street is the Maison du Faubourg, which has somewhat the same function as the Maison des Grands Boulevards I wrote about recently. A bit further along, the couture designer, Gaultier, has a whole building with a boutique for threads on the pavement.

There is an application for the construction of a restaurant with 900 seats in the location of an antique dealer. The mayor of the 12th arrondissement has been able to block this permit twice already, but the Hôtel de Ville says that if the applications meets all city codes, there's no reason for stopping it.

The local mayor, Jean-François Pernin, thinks if the giant restaurant comes, then tour-buses won't be far behind. He would rather see it as a centre for small artisans, with exhibition spaces that pass within the character of the neighborhood.

In the Passage du Chantier, with its cobbles, stairways, courtyards within courtyards, itrue de Charonne somewhere in the 18th or 19th century - without the authentic smells of course. There is room for a coach to pass and two very narrow sidewalks and neither I nor anyone else uses them while I am there.

Even with flat shoes the cobbles are not easy to walk on, so the shops seeking walk-in trade are closest to the street, and the workshops are further back. The furniture in the shops is very fancy and does not look like the usual claptrap, fiberboard that the Swedish company says it test-closes 5,000 times and my five-year-old can wreck at whim by merely looking at it.

Bars in a row, in the Rue de Charonne.

It is not my style of furniture though. As if I had one. It is more the idea around here - and you see it everywhere - workmen taking wood and metal and making things out of it. Some workshops do have open doors, and they look like workshops inside.

Back in the Passage du Cheval Blanc I saw a fellow working on an engraving stone, set on a wooden-framed press, about two metres long, with a huge, spoked, rimless turning wheel. Wasn't it Picasso who used to draw right on the stone?

I am only going as far as the Rue de Charonne - the whole street will take several features, as it changes along its length. Opposite the Passage du Chantier is the Fontaine Trogneux.

It is one of four water fountains put in place in between 1719 and 1724, for this quarter without water. Water came to it from the pump at Notre-Dame and afterward, from the one at Chaillot. It was named for a local beer brewer. It was reconstructed in its present style in 1807.

There is another passage off the Rue de Charonne, but it looks like it has been well rebuilt and a bit sterile. Not so the series of bars which come in the 50 metres after it, all ofPassage du Chantier which lean to various shades of funk.

When I think I've seen the one which most looks like it will collapse, then I am at the Rue de Lappe, which has been here since 1652. A really straight street in this neighborhood is rare, so it should be no surprise that one that is, is morally bent.

The other direction, in the Passage du Chantier.

In the last century, this is where the 'Apaches' hung out and the bourgeois came here to have fun in the bals populaires. Nothing has changed, although the proprietors probably change often. It is 265 metres long and 10 wide.

Louis-Philippe toured it on 23. December 1830 and the locals were so enthusiastic they asked for and got it named after him a year later. Came the revolution in 1848 and back came its original name. The 'in' bars all have Mexican beer and tapas this year, but there are music places too and I even find a shop that sells used game software.

At the end of it is the Rue de la Roquette. The café La Rotonde has a history: Verlaine lived here with his mother for a short time in the 1880s, and just before the first war there was a mythical murder here - but it's safe enough today.

If you are in the Place de la Bastille, just beyond the café of the same name is the Rue de la Roquette and all it has to offer in the way of bars, cafés, restaurants,guitar player dance halls, used books, second-hand shops - but it was once the route of the condemned - the cemetery of Père-Lachaise, and some think it still has this sinister reputation.

But after a hard day's night in the Rue de Lappe, there will be a bar or café open in Roquette where one can get a place to sit and a cool drink.

Right on the Faubourg, just sitting and strumming.

When I did this type of thing I was never in this part of town. It was a long time ago and it might be different now - but on the other hand it might not be all that much different from a hundred years ago.

I'm sure the 'Apaches' would have liked the Mexican beer. I've been told it is fizzy, but I've heard that people in Mexico like it a lot.

Although there are nearly as many fake Mexican places as fake Irish pubs in Paris now, I can assure anyone who is worried about it, that authentic French bar-cafés outnumber both of them together.

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