Friday, 28 August 2015

if these walls could talk...

c o u r   d u   c o m m e r c e   s a i n t - a n d r e

I wonder if any other street in Paris contains as much history as this one does. 

Walking through Cour du Commerce Saint-Andre can give you two very different experiences. The first one would be if you stumbled upon it by chance & strolled around while thinking what a cute little passage, full of Parisian charm. The second one would be going there knowing what it has witnessed of this city's bloody & turbulent history & looking at it with entirely different eyes. It won't take away any of its charm, only increase its value by making you aware of how much of Paris' history is still among us. These old cobblestones & walls have seen so much. For us to be able to watch, touch & feel history so closely still fascinates me... And then step out in 2015 and ask for an espresso at the terrace next door.

Last time I went there, I was greeted by one of the waiters who asked me if I knew about this place' s history. I was taking pictures & waiting for him to make a reference to Guillotin or Danton, but no, he just asked me if I knew that Kevin Costner used to come here all the time... (by the way this was the moment my right foot chose to get stuck between the cobblestones, which is why my best advice is to not wear heels when you visit this passage).

Of course, the stories this street has to tell go a bit further back. One of the leaders of the French revolution used to live here: Georges-Jacques Danton, although the building he lived in has since been demolished. In number 8, another protagonist of the revolution, Jean-Paul Marat established the newspaper "L'Ami du Peuple". As most of you probably know, he was murdered in 1793 by another revolutionist, Charlotte Corday, who stabbed him with a knife while he was in his bathtub. David depicted the scene in his famous painting. 

Meanwhile, in the basement of house number 9, live sheep were getting their heads chopped off as Joseph Guillotin started experimenting with what would later become the infamous guillotine. The funny thing is that this physician was actually opposed to death sentence & through his work sought to relieve the convicted by finding a more humane way of carrying out the capital punishment. At that time, beheading in France was usually carried out by sword or axe where the first attempt wasn't always successful.

Little did he know that this death machine would be named after him although it was in fact Antoine Louis who made the first prototype. For a while it was even known as the Louisette. But apparently guillotine sounded better.  It was since used as France's main form of execution up until 1977.

And there's more to be found in this little passage, Procope, the world's first literary cafe, where Voltaire, Oscar Wilde, Musset & Balzac are said to have been regulars. The place is still very popular among actors & politicians. Clearly, the waiter mentioned above would agree with me.

Plese also stop to have a look at the lovely Art Deco design at Relais Odeon, also known as Bistro 1900, another landmark.

Frog legs & onion soup anyone? Please pretend you can't see the new, hip, Kusmi tea boxes.

Or why not combine culture with a bit of chocolate? Un dimanche a Paris is a chocolate shop & tearoom serving delicious pastries, owned by Pierre Cluizel. Inside, you will find the remains of one of the defence towers built by King Philippe-August when he decided to fortify the city of Paris by building a 9 m high defencive wall. This takes us even further back in time, to the year 1200...

Beautiful, old wrought iron signs:

And eh, some more modern signs, because it's time to leave the past:

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