On a 'Typical' Street
Lack of pedestrians is the only thing not 'typical' here.
No More than Just Average
Paris:- Friday, 9. May:- In a mild complaint a reader suggested there are no photographs of a 'typical' Paris street in Metropole. This was coupled with an absence of 'typical' buildings in Paris' 'business district.' The latter was addressed in the last issue with the feature, 'Looking for 'Typical.'
I put the 'typical' street question to Dimitri. If you hit somebody who has lived here a long time with a question like this they are not going to have a ready answer. So I posed the question in reverse - 'Which do you think is the most boring street?'
There is no need to go to the other side of the city for this, because every quartier has its 'boring' street, even in Paris. After a seriously in-depth discussion, we agreed that the Avenue du Maine - the part from the Rue de l'Ouest to Rue d'Alésia - must be one of Paris' least interesting streets. After the Rue des Plantes it doesn't even have a café until you get to the intersection at Alésia. This part is a 450-metre long desert.
Once this was decided, then it was easy to imagine that our other major thoroughfare, the Avenue du Général Leclerc, is a 'typical' street - especially in comparison to the Avenue du Maine.The original site of the Moulin d'Amour.
The two streets are not going to be compared here. The Avenue du Maine is 'atypically' boring, so what more can anybody say about it? But the same distances have been examined. In Leclerc's case, from its beginning at the Place Denfert-Rochereau to the Rue d'Alésia, which is about 750 metres - with its remaining 485 metres omitted. Take my word for it - this missing part wouldn't make the street more or less 'typical.'
The Avenue du Général Leclerc is not unique. There are enough other streets like it - many even - in physical size, in historical terms, with its overall outlook - to class it as 'typical.'
It is not a 'grand boulevard' and it is not any one of thousands of fairly ordinary and narrow residential streets. Its overall length is 1235 metres and its width varies from 28 to 34 metres. From Denfert to Alésia it has uniformly wide sidewalks.
The traffic part of the avenue used to be three lanes wide each way, but the curb lane on either side has been reserved for the buses of two lines, and taxis. This means that cars and trucks that used to use all three lanes, are now restricted to two. Some of Paris' other 'typical' streets are getting the same treatment.
In theory, doing this speeds up the buses. In practice, it means pedestrians have to be more careful when stepping off the curbs because if they do it with inattention, they could get slammed by a fast bus instead of a light delivery van. Drivers have to be careful making right turns because they have to cross the bus lane. In sum, traffic on the street is a bit more adventurous than it used to be.
'Used to be' - it was a prolongation of the old Rue d'Enfer. This existed before there was a Boulevard Saint-Michel, and it was parallel to the Vielle Route d'Orléans, which was and still is the Faubourg Saint- Jacques and the Rue de la Tombe Issoire, part of the old road to Orléans, and if you go far enough, the pilgrim's route to Santiago de Compostela.One of the two cinemas on this 'typical' street.
After 1730 the Rue d'Enfer became more important than the pilgrim's route 300 metres further the east and it became the Chemin de Montrouge, the Grand Chemin de Bourg-la-Reine, and it was part of the Route Départemental number 20 from Paris to Orléans.
The area south of the customs gate, the Barrière d'Enfer - Montrouge - was incorporated into Paris on Sunday, 1. January 1860, and the Rue d'Enfer became the Avenue d'Orléans. It was renamed in 1948, after Général Philippe Leclerc de Hautclocque who led the French 2nd armored division into Paris on Friday, 25. August 1944 - via this road.
But before this, it was the road to Beauce through Montrouge - 'out of town' - and served through traffic plus the 30 windmills for making wheat into flour. Some of these dated back to or before the 14th century, and the only one left from the past is the Moulin des Frères-de-la-Charité, or Moulin-Moliniste, sitting inside the Montparnasse cemetery.
The Moulin-d'Amour, Moulin-Neuf, the Moulin du Pavé, Moulin de la Citadelle and the Moulin des Bondons were on the avenue or within a few metres of it. A bit to the west, the Moulin des Perrousets, is reported to have been destroyed twice, in the 12th and 14th centuries.
But at some date in the 17th or 18th centuries, some of these wheat grinders converted their mills into ginmills, or Sunday fun-and-dance places. Being beyond Paris' tax collectors until 1860 gave them a competitive advantage in addition to their semi-rural location just out of town.
Thus, the Moulin-d'Amour which was at 26 to 28 on the avenue, had no sails to catch the wind in the 18th century, but did have a terrace and balconies and a fair garden. Supposedly built in 1191, it was probably torched three times - by the British in 1360, by the 'Imperials' in 1560 and by Henri IV's troops in 1593.
To catch the wind, it was built on a hill that no longer exists. But when it did, it had a nifty view. The old windmill was demolished in 1916 and its vaulted cellar - eight centuries old - disappeared in 1926.
Today its space on the avenue is shared by the not-so-new Corsets de Paris shop - slogan 'We carry large sizes' - and the entry to a Club Med gymnasium.
At number 5, Lenin used to pass the time reading the free papers in the Café du Lion. This is now a branch bank. A bit further down on the same side, after an Asian fastfood outlet, an optician, a photocopy-cum-DVD rental shop, and there is La Rochefoucauld hospital for old folks.
It was founded in 1780 for ill and impoverished military and church personnel by Père Gérard of the Frères de Saint-Jean-de-Dieu with a grant from the Assemblée du Clergé. Louis XVI added to the operating funds. Others assisted too, including Anne-Rosalie Chauvelin - wife of the Vicomte Polycarpe de La Rochefoucauld-Doudeauville - who helped organize 36,352 livres in donations.Of the three métro stations, this classic one is at Mouton-Duvernet.
The hospital gained further income from its orchards, windmills and the mine sites. Designed by Antoine, it was built from 1781 to 1783 by Viel de Saint-Maur. Ten years later there were only 20 beds for the ill, out of 42 planned. Actually, the Révolution transformed the hospital into the Hospice National de Montrouge in 1792, mainly for the residents of Bourge-Egalité, or Bourge-la-Reine.
In 1802 it became the Maison de Retraite de Montrouge, with more than 100 places. Its actual name was given to it by the Duke, La Rochefoucauld- Liancourt, in memory of Madame de La Rochefoucauld-Doudeauville, of course, even though she was one of the lesser contributors. Its size was increased again in 1821 to 210 beds.
The hospital's grounds were amputated by the creation of the Sceaux rail line in 1845, and a bit more was lost to the insertion of the Avenue René Coty in 1877. In 1958 the hospital had a capacity of 240 patients. There is a marker inside the hospital's grounds indicating the distance from Notre Dame's 'point zero' as being exactly three kilometres.
The Mistral cinema started out in 1840 as a branch chapel of the Eglise Catholique Française, but it didn't last long because it didn't suit the sub-prefect of Saint-Denis. In any case the building contractors weren't paid, so it became a shop, then a theatre, and then the cinema it is now.
Somewhere along the avenue, or more likely in an atelier just off it, the molds were made for the castings - done in the Rue Chazelles - of the various pieces that made up the Statue of Liberty by Bartholdi. 'Liberté Eclairant le Monde' was erected in the harbor of New York City in 1884.
The only trace of this on the avenue is the interior decor of the McDonald's opposite the Rue Daguerre. Maybe there's more in the other McDonald's next to the Gaumont cinema, close to the Rue d'Alésia.
The church Saint-Pierre de Montrouge has its address on the Avenue de Général Leclerc, but its story is associated with the place formed by the crossing of the Rue d'Alésia and the end of the Avenue du Maine. In 1731 the place was called the Carrefour de la Croix-des-Sages. It was also called the Carrefour des Quatre-Chemins.
In traffic reports radio FIP often mentions this intersection as being one to avoid during rush hours because of its access to the Perifreak! and proximity to the A-6 autoroute. FIP often adds 'as usual' to its reports.A sudden shower and suddenly everybody has an umbrella.
Besides his other projects, Baron Haussmann oversaw the building of several churches, including this Saint-Pierre de Montrouge - in Montrouge which became Paris' new 14th arrondissement in 1860. The city assembled the property between the Route d'Orléans and the Chaussée du Maine, and the construction began in 1863. The architect and builder was Emile Vandremer, who also built the Santé prison in the nearby Boulevard Arago about the same time.
It is a melange of Roman and Byzantine styles, with a clock tower 57 metres high. Most of the church was completed in late 1869 and was fit to serve in the Franco-Prussian war in 1870 as a medical station and a lookout post, which attracted enough shelling to cause its evacuation.
The following year the Commune taxed it equally, using the nave for meetings of the 'Club Montrougien,' the crypt as an ammo dump, and the tower as a shooting platform against the Versailles troops who stormed Petit-Montrouge on Tuesday, 23. May 1871. Captured in the tower, 37 communards - fédérés - were shot on the spot.
The church's two bells were replaced in 1903 and consecrated on Thursday, 8. February 1923, by Cardinal Dubois with the assistance of two archbishops and four bishops.
The official name of the intersection - of the place faced by the church - is Place Victor et Hélène Basch. Victor Basch was the President of the League of Human Rights, before being killed along with his wife by the militia on Monday, 10. January 1944.From a pizzeria to the marché across the avenue.
In the 750 metres of the Avenue du Général Leclerc between the Place Denfert-Rochereau and Alésia, the first establishment open to the public is Paris' Catacombs. Leaving Denfert there are cafés on both sides, followed by a SNCF ticket boutique, a FNAC service shop, a crêperie, a métro entry, a shop specializing in café and tea, a traditional boulangerie, a McDonald's, a tabac, another café, and a bank. These are within 55 metres of the Denfert lion statue.
The rest of this 'typical' street is the same. There are newspaper and flower kiosks, and a palm-reader's caravan. There are clothing stores, shoe stores, perfume stores, the hospital, lingerie stores, mens and kids' clothing stores, a jeans outlet, a Damart insulated clothing store, hairdressing salons, a parking garage, three or four travel agencies, a café-tabac and two other cafés, a combo photocopy-DVD-rental- Internet-access shop, a pizzeria and a chain steak house.
There is a china and porceline outlet, a computer store, a linen shop, umbrella, luggage and bag shops, discount books, A Tati jewelry shop, a chain photofinisher, odds and ends stores, another métro entry, a major post office, uncountable portable telephone shops, many banks, several opticians, a second McDonald's, some snack bars, a flower shop, and newest of all, an Air France ticket boutique.
There are no wine shops, but there are two multi-line Monoprix supermarkets, both with wine sections. Near the Rue d'Alésia end there is a small food marché area that winds around the corner that has cheese, meat, fish, and fruit and vegetables. Finish up with the third métro entry, the last newspaper kiosk and a café, plus the church. There are no gas, police or fire stations.
As I have already mentioned, the sidewalks are wide, so this 750 metres of 'typical' Paris street does not seem crowded, even with the empty- bottle depot tubs, the café terraces, the shops spilling their wares out on to the pavement, and the cars occasionally parked on the sidewalk, along with the usual snaggle chained-up of scooters, motorcycles and bicycles.
I shouldn't forget that occasional vendors set out their wares in the path of all - but really, under the high plane trees lining the avenue, this street seems fairly airy, and with ample headroom.
With my scouts' honor signal held high, trust me, this is a 'typical' Paris street. With its history and all, just average. Every other arrondissement in the city has several of them too.
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