Archives For ParisSights

Rue Daguerre is always a hoppin’ place, but on Sundays it really comes to life. It’s a magnet for Parisians and tourists looking for a good lunch or really choice groceries – today we bought slices of an outstanding rolled veal roast, from a butcher who normally deals only in poultry. It was a good dinner.

Rue Daguerre is in the 14th arrondissement, south of the major attractions, one of the middle-class districts without a lot of tourist interest. It is only 630 meters long, and its anchor at the east end is the wide Avenue du Général Leclerc. A grateful France renamed it in 1948 in honor of the French general who led his armored division up the avenue seventy-one years ago during the fight for the Liberation of Paris (August 1944). Today there’s an interesting museum to his life above Gare Montparnasse.

View down Rue Daguerre

View down Rue Daguerre

Until the 1990s the first block of the rue, the most active part, was a covered shopping street. Today it’s a mostly pedestrian area with a half-dozen restaurants, a couple of vegetable vendors (primeurs, who only sell the prime stuff), a fancy honey shop, a little general store where you can find just about anything, two grocery stores and a wine merchant. Plus thousands of people.

It is part of Montparnasse. The west end of the rue is only a short walk from the Montparnasse railway station (Gare Montparnasse). Hemingway’s haunts aren’t far away, Simone de Beauvoir lived nearby, and Calder had a studio on one of the side streets. The apartment we rented this year has a view across Montparnasse cemetery, an oasis of green in city of stone. And there’s much more in the neighborhood.

Café Daguerre

One of the traditional go-to spots on the rue is Café Daguerre, which dominates the corner. It serves a great breakfast (either French or “English,” depending on whether you want an omelet; I had one, with ham). It seems to be open all the time, and there’s very little turnover among waiters. This is our fifth year to stay in the 14th and the faces seem to be pretty much the same.

Cafe Daguerre

Cafe Daguerre

Café Daguerre is where I learned to appreciate the “café gourmand,” a platter of small desserts with an expresso. It was developed a decade ago as a way to speed up lunch, but I view it as my chance to sample three or four different desserts at the same time.

Rue Daguerre was named after Louis Daguerre, who introduced the daguerreotype photograph in the early 1800s. He’s considered one of the fathers of modern photography and is one of the few luminaries whose names are engraved on the Eiffel Tower.

Transportation hub

The great square just above Rue Daguerre, Place Denfert-Rochereau (Google images), is one of the city’s major transportation hubs. It provides access to two metro lines, the RER B suburban train (which goes straight to Degaulle airport), and a half-dozen city buses.

It’s the entrance to the Catacombs, the ossuaries moved to the old quarries under the Left Bank when the Right Bank cemeteries burst their banks and threatened the city with disease and unpleasantness. (Most of Paris was built from stone quarried under the city, but that’s another story.)

Seventy feet under the square the bunker from which the Résistance fight for the Liberation 71 years ago was directed; it was built before the war as a precaution and the Germans seem not to have found out about it. My latest information is that it’s now used for temperature-controlled plant science.

Photo Gallery: Sunday morning on Rue Daguerre

Butcher wrapping our veal. No one had taken the pig's head

Butcher wrapping our veal. No one had taken the pig’s head

Cheese merchant

Cheese merchant

A primeur. Note the cooling spray on the vegetables, with water running down the mirror behind them

A primeur. Note the cooling spray on the vegetables, with water running down the mirror behind them

Café Daguerre

Café Daguerre

Another offering from the cheese merchant. This one is good, I guarantee it

Another offering from the cheese merchant. This one is good, I guarantee it


The butcher who sold us the slices of roast veal

All photos except the map by John Pearce
Sun 06-28-15


If you’re a fan of David Downie’s Paris books, as I am, you shouldn’t miss his new one. It’s entitled, romantically enough, A Passion for Paris: Romanticism and Romance in the City of Light, and was published only a few days ago to general acclaim — even from some of the crankier reviewers.

The best compliment I can pay the book is that its overall quality and level of interest are up there with Paris, Paris: Journey into the City of Light (2011) which I consider one of the finest introductions to Paris you can find anywhere. I refer to it regularly during my visits there, along with his fine smartphone app, David Downie’s Paris: Time Line.

A Passion for Paris is the story of the Romantic period in Paris, the period most Americans PassionForParis coverthink of as Paris itself — the nineteenth century from Victor Hugo onward. Downie’s knowledge of the city is encyclopedic, as you’d expect from someone who’s lived in and written about it for decades. He and his wife Alison Harris, an outstanding photographer who contributes to his work as well as having her own practice, also offer walking tours of the city, which I’ve taken. They are excellent.

He has the guts of a daylight burglar. Some of his best vignettes result from back-door visits to places not ordinarily open to visitors, as well as ad-hoc interviews with people who start out unwilling to talk to him but wind up offering delightful vignettes.

His descriptions of the sights are colorful and add to the pleasure of the book. For example, here he is in full flight about the Carnavalet museum, the must-see municipal museum in the Marais:

“It’s an entertaining steeplechase of 146 rooms on three floors with 600,000 items on display in two multi-winged historic town houses wrapped around five mossy courtyards joined by staircases and passageways, one of them flying like a Chinese bridge over the Lycée Victor Hugo.”

All this history started with Victor Hugo, who lived and wrote during the turbulent period between the French Revolution and the Commune, the violent near-revolution in Paris shortly after the fall of Napoleon III. Or, in Downie’s words:

“…1830 was the year a motley group of French Romantics gathered around Victor Hugo and his friends and rivals and swept Paris into the paradoxically romantic modern age, or the unexpectedly modern Romantic age.”

Much of their work was descended from Chateaubriand, especially his René, who Downie believe “shaped or warped the minds of a generation, starting with Victor Hugo.” George Sand said, “I was René.” Baudelaire, a generation later, was still influenced by Chateaubriand.

Read the book. It’s a bottomless well of information about one of the most important periods of Paris history. St. Martin’s Press, 2015. Kindle edition $12.99, hardcover $20.17 on Amazon.

Visit the author’s web site or Amazon author page.

The Paris Time Line App

Downie Time LineIf you have trouble keeping up with the characters, turn to his outstanding Time Line app. I use it frequently to look up personalities or points of history, and can’t summarize it any better than this “about” material Downie sent me:

About this app:

Entertaining, informative, opinionated: David Downie’s Paris Time Line brings Paris alive.

This is much more than a Wikipedia-style listing. It features Paris and Paris alone and goes into places revealing details you’ll find nowhere else.

The When, Where, Why, What and Who of Paris: David Downie’s Paris Time Line features key Dates, Places, Events and People in Paris’s 2,000+ years of history.

The layout is simple and clear. This app is all you need to explore the City of Light on site or in an armchair, from the time when Paris was a pre-Roman settlement of mud huts, to the kaleidoscopic megalopolis of the present day.

Fully illustrated with hundreds of historic images and contemporary photos by the author or by photographer Alison Harris, David Downie’s Paris Time Line tells you where to go to see Paris’s history alive today or documented in the streets, monuments, churches, museums, parks, and gardens of the city. While you roam around Paris, David Downie’s Paris Time Line helps you discover dozens of key Places: you learn what you’re looking at, when it was built or came into being, and what historical or contemporary figures are associated with it.

You can also search by name: “Napoleon” for example. Or you can search by an event-driven term like “Impressionism.”

It’s available on the App Store  (Look up Romanticism for a thumbnail history.) $4.99

What better way to celebrate Valentine’s Day in the most romantic of cities than with the author and photographer Alison Harris, whose most recent book is Paris in Love, and her husband David Downie, author of the forthcoming A Passion for Paris and many other Paris books.

Paris in Love, by Alison Harris

The English-language service of France24 interviewed both of them recently for its Encore! program, whose topic this week is the most romantic spots in Paris (there are many). The program has been running frequently yesterday and today. Alison’s interview by host Eve Jackson starts at 2:55 and runs about four minutes.

Alison and David have been working together for years on books about France

A Passion for Paris, coming April 28

A Passion for Paris, coming April 28

and Paris and food in Italy, where the spend part of the year. My favorite remains Paris, Paris, a series of deeply reported essays on varied aspects of Paris life, from the families who drive cargo barges up and down the Seine to David’s on experiment of spending an entire day in Luxembourg Gardens, just watching. It’s not a guidebook, and he didn’t intend it to be one, but all the same it’s my favorite guide to Paris. Diane Johnson, author of the celebrated Le Divorce, a National Book Award finalist, liked it so much she wrote the introduction. David talks about his books at his main site.

I got to know them well in 2012, when Alison spent a morning making the pictures that would become my author photo for Treasure of Saint-Lazare and the forthcoming Last Stop: Paris. Her flattering portraits of me paled next to the outstanding she’s done of subjects both famous and obscure. My favorite is the one of Sophia Loren, but there are many others to see on her web site,

The other side of their enterprise is tours. They lead a series of very sophisticated tours of Paris that show a very deep knowledge of the city and its history. When my sister visited us in Paris a couple of years ago she invited us along on their tour. I’m not a tour person, but I wouldn’t have missed that for anything. You can find out more about the tours at their own site.


There’s a neat new feature in Apple’s MAPS app under iOS – Flyover. It’s available for several major cities, but of course I think the Paris one is the neatest.

Open Maps on the iPhone or iPad and search for Paris. Under the city name you’ll see a line saying “3D Flyover Tour of Paris.” Press “Start” to the right and enjoy. The screenshots I’ve posted below will give you an idea of what to expect.

I enjoyed watching as the (virtual) overhead camera took me from the Eiffel Tower to the Louvre, Notre Dame and the Seine islands, the Grand Palais and the Arc de Triomphe. It’s virtual reality with the emphasis on real, other than the missing throngs around the glass pyramid at the Louvre and the chaotic traffic bustling around Place Charles de Gaulle.

It’s a nice way to spend a few minutes.

H/t to OSX Daily

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At 125 years old, the Eiffel Tower is under almost constant painting and renovation, but the most recent has a crowd-scaring twist.

The city has just spent 30 million euros updating the first floor, 180 feet above the ground. In addition to cosmetic upgrades and solar panels, part of the flooring was replaced with glass, a change that garnered mixed reviews from early visitors, as the AP report below shows.

Link: from



John Pearce  —  September 24, 2014

Followup to my post of Aug. 30

For five years, lovers in Paris have demonstrated their eternal fealty by attaching padlocks to the Pont des Arts, an elegant old footbridge that connects the Louvre Museum to the Institut de France across the Seine, then throwing the key in the river — 700,000 of them so far.

Over time, they’ve multiplied like rats and spread to other bridges and sites. And they pose a structural threat to the bridge. Here’s what a full section of the fence looks like (it weighs a thousand pounds, and 15 sections have failed completely or had to be removed because of damage):


Photo by John Pearce

Don’t lean on it the next time you visit.

There’s been a publicity campaign against them, and in recent months the City of Paris has had to cover some of the panels with plywood to keep more from being added. The plywood, of course, has become the substitute for the locks — visiting lovers now autograph it and, Paris being Paris, the more assertive graffiti artists also visit. As a result, the bridge is much less welcoming to lovers or padlock vendors.

Here’s the view this afternoon. The crowd in the background is around the remaining locks.


Photo by John Pearce

The City of Paris announced on its web site a couple of days ago that it’s testing glass panels to replace the fencing that’s been there for years (and which provided somewhere to attach the locks). French architects do great things with glass, but this will be a challenge.

Here’s a view of the test panels, from the city’s web site:

Glass panel testing on Pont des Arts  Paris fr

Photo courtesy of the City of Paris



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Adrian Leeds at her desk

Adrian Leeds came to Paris twenty years ago with a husband and a baby and a plan to stay one year. The baby is now a grown daughter, the husband is no longer in the picture, and she’s become the undisputed queen of the American real estate market here. And a permanent resident.

She may be best known outside Paris as the main character in 19 of the popular “House Hunters International” TV shows on HGTV. (If you’ve missed it, the popular show follow buyers or renters as they kick the tires of three properties before choosing one. The French shows are set mainly in Paris and run the gamut from multi-million-euro pads with view of the Eiffel Tower to student housing that’s considerably less grand.)

Her business empire, now operating under the name Adrian Leeds Group, finds properties, handles rentals and promotes fractional ownership.

Her main vehicle for contacting customers and prospective customers is the written word. She publishes three newsletters – the original, Parler Paris; a more technical one called French Property Insider; and her newest, begun when she bought an apartment in Nice, Parler Nice.

She lives and works in a very trim and very white apartment in the “haut Marais,” on the Right Bank between the Archives Nationales and Place de la République. We had lunch at the busy Café Charlot, one of her favorite lunch places, then walked around the corner to the old-fashioned carriage entrance that leads to her building on a quiet courtyard. It’s a popular neighborhood for Americans, and you’re likely to hear as much English as French around the café.

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Café Charlot, a busy bistro in the Marais

Everyone who’s watched her House Hunters International shows has seen the apartment, because a part of every episode is filmed there. The living room is dominated by her long desk under the windows, where she keeps two desktop computers and parks her ever-present Macbook Pro (plus, the day I was there, a copy of my novel Treasure of Saint-Lazare).

The opposite wall is all books, and at the end there is a striking 1988 composition by the photographic artist Barbara Kasten. You’ll see it in the background of the video.


Part-Time Parisian interview with Adrian Leeds

One of my favorite Paris blogs — no, make that My Favorite Paris blog — is the scrupulously researched and written Parisian Fields. It first caught my attention with its header picture of the outstanding bronze sculpture in the Tuileries Gardens, “L’Arbre des voyelles,” or the Tree of vowels, a 1999 sculpture by the Italian artist Giuseppe Penone depicting an uprooted tree lying in the forest. You are very likely to take it for a real tree if you don’t look carefully.


“L’arbre de voyelles” — the tree of vowels — in the Tuileries Gardens

The most recent entry is one I’ve been thinking about doing — the wonderful variety of shutters on Paris buildings. I’ll shelve that idea now, because Parisian Fields has done it in a way that would be hard to match. Take a look:


Parisian Fields

Parisian Fields is written and photographed by Philippa Campsie and Norman Ball, two Canadians who spend much time in Paris on much the same terms Jan and I do. We/they ride the bus, ride the métro, look for budget deals, and try to mix as much as possible with the Parisians. I don’t know about them, but I consider it a successful day when only one Parisian has responded to my French in English. It happens.

Two of us

Philippa and Norman

Here’s their bio page:

Take a look, and follow their blog. It’s worth the effort. They don’t post often, but when they do it’s worth reading.

Riders of the busy Paris métro Line 4, which runs north and south through the entire city, will recognize this unusual station at the old abbey church of Saint-Germain-des-Prés, which traces its history back to Childebert I (ruled 511–558). It’s in the 6th arrondissement, which is pretty much the center of tourist life.

Metro Paris Ligne 4 station Saint Germain des Pres 01

Métro Saint-Germain-des-Prés. Photo from Clicsouris, Wikipedia. Click for credit.

Unlike most métro stations, it is virtually free of advertising posters. Its pristine white-tile walls are decorated with light, and exhibit cases line the walls along both sides.

Last week one of the exhibits featured illustrated letters from famous artists. They are difficult to photograph because of the curved glass of the exhibit cases, but I was able to make acceptable pictures of letters from the painters Salvador Dali and Henri Matisse and the composer Camille Saint-Saëns (click the links to see their Wikipedia pages, in English).

The exhibition is entitled “The most beautiful illustrated letters from the Museum of Letters and Manuscripts,” a private museum in the neighborhood.


Salvador Dali to Massine, 1941-1942



Caption for the Dali letter



Henri Matisse, 1943. The letter discusses his drawings for Pasiphaé, Chant de Minos, an illustrated book he completed in 1945. It wasn’t published until almost 20 years after his death.

The story behind Pasiphaé, Chant de Minos (English)

Saint Sens

Camille Saint-Saëns


Wikipedia pages for the artists (English):


Musée des Lettres et Manuscrits (English)

Saint-Germain-des-Prés – what does it mean? (English)

It started as a charming tourist phenomenon – Lovers, mostly tourists, engrave their name on a padlock and attach it to the fence along each side of the Pont des Arts, the old footbridge connecting the Institut de France and the Louvre, then throw the key into the Seine below. What could be more romantic?

Couple looking

Will they or won’t they? A couple surveys the locks, with the Louvre in the background

There is not yet a law against it. But the law that governs anything and everything — the Law of Unintended Consequences — is enforcing itself with a vengeance. There are so many locks on the bridge railings that some have collapsed. The market has attracted lock vendors, themselves a form of pollution, and the crowds are dense. And engraved names are a thing of the past. Now, think Sharpie. And there are so many locks you can no longer see through the fencing, or find places for new ones. So creative lovers have started expanding the lock frontier. The other day I found several of them on a trash can.

Trash can

No room on the railing? Lock up the poubelle

The city is doing its best to discourage new locks. Most recently, it has covered several parts of the railing with plywood and encouraged lovers to sign and take a selfie, or maybe just take a selfie.

Sign plywood

This couple got the word

Where to put the next lock?

Dense locks

Locks, locks, locks

Some interesting links

Rude Baguette

Love locks collapse bridge rail, from BBC, with a nice video that sets the scene.

Are love locks on the bridge romantic or a menace?  BBC

Weight of love too much for the bridge, from Deutsche Welle

The anti-lock movement on Twitter: #LoveWithoutLocks

The anti-lock movement in Paris:

(Photos by John Pearce)