Every year, millions of people visit Paris. Most of them stay only 2 or 3 days, in which time they visit the major tourist attractions: the Eiffel Tower, the Arc de Triomphe, Notre Dame, Sacré Coeur and the Louvre. They will also drive past some of the secondary attractions: Les Invalides, the Champs Elysées, the Place de la Condorde, La Madeleine, the Opéra, the Place Vendôme, the Panthéon and the Sorbonne. In the evening, they will probably see a show at the Folies Bergères, the Moulin Rouge, the Casino de Paris or the Crazy Horse Club; or perhaps they will have dinner on a Bateau Mouche cruising the Seine. On their “free afternoon” they’ll shop on the Rue de Rivoli or browse the bookstalls lining the banks of the Seine – and in a week or so, when they are doing the same thing in Rome or Madrid, they will have forgotten all but the highlights of their séjour in Paris. But for those lucky enough to have time to spend, there is much more to see in Paris than towers and churches. This is My Paris: not all of it, but just a few of the images which made Paris more personal, more special for me when I first visited the city in 1973.
You can see the Eiffel Tower from almost anywhere in Paris and I must confess that, seeing it for the first time as I approached from the West, a thrill of excitement ran through my body. Not that I have a profound appreciation of structural engineering; it was simply that the Eiffel Tower has become the icon for Paris, the symbol which is instantly recognisable and unequivocally associated with this city. Seeing it that day meant that I had arrived, at last, in the city I’d dreamed so long of visiting.
This is another view of the Eiffel Tower, as seen from the Rue de Belleville in the heart of the working class north-east of the city. Edith Piaf, the legendary French singer was born in a doorway only a few metres down the hill on the left. For her, growing up in the streets of Belleville and Menilmontant, the Eiffel Tower must have seemed distant and inaccessible. It represented another Paris, a more affluent, more leisurely place than the one she knew; but it’s constant presence, looming out of the fog or the haze, gave her something tangible to aim for. Although her life started in the most humble of circumstances, it ended in the fashionable district adjacent to the Tower.
It was in this doorway that Edith Piaf was born.
This is not a stop on the standard city tour and it is so far from the conventional tourist areas that visitors are unlikely to stumble upon it. Sadly, Belleville is a part of Paris few tourists get to see.
Edith Piaf is buried alongside her last husband, Théo Sarapo, in Père Lachaise Cemetery in the North East of Paris, near where she was born.
Père Lachaise is the final resting place of many famous citizens of Paris, including Oscar Wilde, Chopin and Molière and Amadeo Modigliani (left).
The note, placed on Modigliani’s tomb by an anonymous admirer, reads:
“Cher Modi, Chère pauvre petite Jeanne Hébuterne, le monde est si cruel de temps en temps quand l’on est si sensitif. Moi, je sais bien. Je me suis si sensitive aussi comme vous deux. Je suis triste et je suis goususe de temps en temps. Restez, restez maintenant, tout va assez bien. Merci pour tous les belle choses que vous avez me donne. Je n’oublie pas.”
Of course, there is more to Paris than structural marvels and cemeteries. In the following chapters, I will take you on a tour of my Paris and hopefully, it will encourage you to make the trip yourself one day.