Two Parisians are making weekend plans:
Lui (Him:) “Qu’est-ce-qui te tente? Une balade dans le Marais, ou à St Germain des Près peut-être?” (What are you in the mood for? A stroll in le Marais or in Saint Germain des Près maybe?)
Elle (Her:) “Bof. On connait par coeur. Il y aura plein de touristes en plus. — Et si on faisait un petit tour du côté de Passy?” (Meh. Been there, done that. There will be lots of tourists. — How about a stroll around Passy?)
Lui: “Le 16éme? Un peu calme. A part les musées du Trocadéro, le Marmottan-Monet ou le Bois de Boulogne ça ne bouge pas beaucoup et c’est un peu à l’écart, non? (The 16th arrondissement? A bit quiet. Apart from the museums at the Trocadero, the Marmottan-Monet museum or the Bois de Boulogne, it’s pretty quiet, and a bit out of the way, don’t you think?)
Elle (Her:) “Passy, c’est vivant, et c’est intéressant. On pourrait y aller.” (Passy is lively and interesting. We could go there.)
Lui (Him:) “Tu veux aller faire du shopping rue de Passy? La plupart des magasins sont des chaînes. Il y a même un centre commercial, comme en banlieue. Qu’est-ce-que tu lui trouves à Passy?” (You want to go shopping rue de Passy? Most of the stores are chain stores. There’s even a shopping center there, just like in the suburbs. What’s so great about Passy anyway?)
Elle (Her:) “Passy, c’est fabuleux, comme un village en plein Paris, les touristes en moins. Même les Parisiens y vont rarement. De l’histoire, de l’architecture, des petites rues sympas: Fais-moi confiance, tu ne t’ennuieras pas.” (Passy is fabulous, like a village, in Paris, minus the tourists. Even Parisians rarely go. History, architecture, cool little streets: Trust me, you will not get bored.)
She is right, of course. Yet I know where He is coming from. I used to think like him when I lived in Paris, many years ago. So in December, on my last day in the city, (and what a cold day that was!) I decided to treat myself to a stroll in the quaintest part of the chic, conservative, and residential 16th arrondissement, and I headed to Passy. The old pastoral village on the outskirts of Paris is no more. Once, there was a lush hill with vineyards and fertile fields, a monastery where monks made wine, the land where Parisian bourgeois loved to spend time in their weekend homes, built thanks to the local limestone quarries. Passy was the place to be and relax, well before popular French seaside resorts took off. The Passy mineral springs discovered in the 17th century were renowned. Illustrious visitors, from France and beyond, visited the village like the American Benjamin Franklin, who lived in the neighborhood during most of his Parisian years, gathering support for the American Revolutionary War.
In 1860, under Napoleon III, like so many other neighborhoods on the Paris outskirts (Montmartre, Belleville, Ménilmontant, les Batignolles,) Passy was annexed into the French capital, and then it grew. Fast. I started my walk by the imposing Trocadéro, There, below the small Passy cemetery, and in front of the giant wall where a monument (like so many others around France) honors French casualties in WW1, one gets a better idea of the former height of the Chaillot hill, before limestone quarries were exploited to build the Trocadéro.
From there, I headed south, along rue Doumer, rue Scheffer, down rue Vineuse to the Place de Costa Rica square. The architecture along the way is imposing, with many Art Nouveau buildings, even if here and there, a handful of elegant 18th century mansions have survived, tucked between larger buildings.
As one heads towards the Passy Métro station, spotting Paris’s most famous landmark becomes a game.
Until, finally, She appears…
As everyone knows, not all Métro stations are created equal. In Passy, the station matches the imposing buildings around it.
Nearby is the wine museum, located in former wine cellars used in the 16th and 17th centuries by the monks of the Couvent des Minimes, the local monastery. I continued walking south, across the peaceful (and unusual) Parc de Passy – where few tourists ever venture I am guessing – and marveled at the beautiful buildings and streets along the way.
I had been walking for at least two hours. In spite of the winter sun, it was a very cold day by Parisian standards. I was grateful for my wool peacoat, my scarf and leather gloves. I walked at a brisk pace, (my favorite speed,) only slowing down to capture a few photos along the way, or check for directions in my trusted pocket-size Plan de Paris par Arrondissement. Before I stopped for a late lunch, I was determined to find the heart of the Village de Passy, the part of the 16th arrondissement that can’t be blamed for being too sedate, or too residential. When I reached quaint rue Berton, I knew I was there.
Right above it, la Maison de Balzac, where the famous French novelist lived for several years after 1840, welcomes visitors and has been turned into a museum. The peaceful garden offers panoramic views, and Balzac must have enjoyed it there, when he was not busy running away from his many creditors through the “emergency exit” located at the back of the garden.
I continued exploring the neighborhood’s streets, and finally reached the heart of the village, through la rue Lekain.
Finally, I sat down for a well-deserved lunch in la rue de l’Annonciation. I had not been there in over 20 years, but with its many shops overflowing in the street, restaurants, and passers-by (mostly locals,) it felt familiar, just like a street in the centre-ville of any mid-size town in la Belle France. It would be a Breton lunch for me that day. My fingers were so numb through the leather gloves I could not push the shutter button on my camera any more. I knew a bolée (bowl) of Normandy cider (or two) would quickly work their magic.
It was already mid-afternoon when I re-emerged in the street. I took the time to explore a few landmarks on la rue de l’Annonciation, including this beautiful courtyard (#35.)
I headed back towards le Metro Muette that would take me “home” (the rental apartment where I was staying in les Batignolles neighborhood.) It would be several months before I returned to Paris, and since I was near lively rue de Passy, I indulged in some very French, high-end boutique shopping, à la Maison Guerlain. If one *must* live in suburbia, one can still smell marvelous, n’est-ce-pas?
All photos by French Girl in Seattle. Please do not use without my permission.
More reading about Passy:
The Discreet Charm of Auteuil-Passy. The New York Times, 1997.