The Latin Quarter—part 1: quartier rue de la Huchette

A stroll through the narrow streets of the Latin Quarter in medieval Paris. 

The Latin Quarter on the Left Bank is my favorite neighborhood in Paris. Perhaps because I was a French teacher, perhaps because I led student tours for many years, this colorful part of Paris traditionally frequented by students, intellectuals, writers, artists and the young in general has always been close to my heart. The members of my tours were always surprised to learn that it got its name “Latin Quarter” because in the Middle Ages Latin was the language of learning, and the University of Paris had its beginnings in the 12th century right in this part of town.
The first night in Paris on my tours I wanted the group to experience the narrow medieval streets of this historic district. I suggest starting out at the métro Maubert-Mutualité, crossing Bd. St-Germain and taking Rue Maître Albert, leading into Rue de la Bûcherie, across the river from Notre Dame. Just delight in the tiny streets that haven't changed all that much for 800 years! There are several charming places to have dinner along these streets and also along la Rue Galande, a little to the left, across Rue Lagrange.

At the end of Rue Galande, you will come upon the lovely little church St-Julien-le-Pauvre, one of the city's oldest religious buildings. It was built on the ruins of a church destroyed by the Normans in the 9th century and rebuilt in the 12th century in Gothic style. At the end of the 19th century the church was given to the Greek Orthodox faith. (For more details on Gothic architecture, see my blog of Feb. 8, 2016)
From the front of the church go to the Rue St-Jacques and onto the Rue du Petit Pont and just before you reach the river, turn left onto Rue de la Huchette. This little street and all the other ancient streets around it lying between Bd. St-Michel, Bd. St-Germain and Rue St-Jacques are very interesting and exciting places to stroll, especially after dark. This is not elegant Paris! But it is old Paris—passageways unchanged for centuries including rue de la Harpe, rue Xavier Privas, and the very very narrow rue du Chat qui Pêche. These streets are crowded, noisy, youthful and colorful: lots of cheap restaurants, many of them Greek, with the waiters standing outside trying to lure you in.

On Rue de la Huchette, be sure to take a look at the tiny Théâtre de la Huchette, with continuous performances of Ionesco's plays for over 48 years. Just wander around these narrow streets, and maybe pick up a baclava in one of the many shops specializing in Mediterranean pastries.

One treasure you want to see is the church of St-Séverin. Rue de la Harpe crosses Rue St-Séverin but everything in this neighborhood is so close you won't miss it. If you are here at night you will enjoy the lighting of this Gothic gem, and if during the day, you may want to visit the interior. Interesting to note that this church is a stone's throw from the mighty Notre Dame and I have always wondered how the relatively small population of 12th and 13th century Paris could sustain so many churches.

In future blogs we will look at more of my favorite spots in the 5th and 6th arrondissements. Stay tuned!

Experience France with Geri. Ile de la Cité Part 3

From the moving Mémorial aux Martyrs de la Déportation which we visited in our last blog entry, we move across the street to the magnificent Notre Dame de Paris. I like to stop first at the rear of the church to appreciate the dramatic flying buttresses (les arcs boutants) and to give a little overview of Gothic churches.

Many of the major Gothic cathedrals in France are built on ancient worship spots from before the Christian era. Early peoples recognized a special attraction or energy at those locations and designated them holy places. So these cathedrals have an element of sacredness not just because of their being a Christian place of worship, but from far back in human history. And over the years participants in my tours have reported feeling in fact something that moved them inside these churches. But let's get back to the view we have before us, the flying buttresses. Prior to the 12th century, church architecture was based on the Roman style, with its rounded arches which could only support a moderate height. But in the 12th century a breakthrough happened. Architects discovered the principle of the “buttress”, a support on the outside of the building which pushed in against the weight of the walls. This style allowed the walls to go much higher, and also incorporated the graceful pointed “gothic arch” associated with this time period. Another marvelous aspect of the buttresses was that the walls could be thinner, which allowed windows to be installed and this caused the flourishing of the art form we all love, stained glass windows.

So as we stand here we admire the particular kind of buttress known as “flying buttress” which show us dramatically the thrust of these supports against the walls. It is interesting to note that the most authentic and beautiful Gothic churches were all built in the 1100's and early 1200's. At the front of the church, always flooded with tourists, move back away from the entrance to get a perspective on the façade. Over the west entrance is a row of 28 statues called the King's Gallery. They represent the Kings of Judea and Israel, mentioned in the Old Testament. But in 1793, the Revolutionaries thinking they represented the Kings of France pulled them down and cut their heads off! The heads can now be seen in the Cluny Museum. It was only in the 19th century when the famous architect Viollet le Duc did renovations on the church, that these statues were re-created and installed where we see them today.

The rose window over the entrance is nearly 30 feet across and is so perfect that it has never shifted in over 700 years. It forms a halo to the statue of the Virgin and child supported by two angels. The twin towers are 226 feet high and in the right (south) tower is the great bell, tolled only on solemn occasions. Inside the church there are hundreds and hundreds of tourists which often make the experience feel less than sacred! Try to let that go and sink into the beauty of this exquisite monument over 850 years old. Usually you must follow a path to the right. Be sure to stop at the transept, or the cross section that goes across the altar in the center. Here there are several things to notice. First, to the left and above you are the breathtaking north and south rose windows. Be sure to take your time here to enjoy the vibrant colors and the stories they tell. And just in front of you, to the side of the altar is the delicate and lovely 14th century statue of Mary with the Child—Our Lady of Paris. The next visit of our day on Ile de la Cité takes us to the beautiful Sainte Chapelle and ends with our picnic at the other tip of the island. Don't miss it!

A New Video Series for the New Year!

Hard Words in French w/ Geri Metz

 I am offering a new video series called “Hard Words in French”. These lessons will be similar to the Word of the Week series of 39 mini lessons (that you can find on You Tube) but will treat words that many people find challenging to say. I am hoping that many students, expats, teachers and travelers will have fun with these words. Some of them are really tricky like “serrurerie” where many of us non-native speakers are scared to go! Enjoy and start a conversation where you share your favorite “hard words” and please comment with your favorite hard words for future lessons. Merci!