History beneath my feet, Left Bank, Paris
What is in a street?
It was my husband, Michel’s, birthday last week. We were in Paris. I decided that aside from taking him for a delicious dinner it was time for us to stay up late and go to a jazz club. We haven’t done that in a while.
Instead of choosing one of the spots we have visited in the past I thought I would find somewhere unknown to us both and after trawling through the pages of Pariscope ( a Parisian equivalent of Time Out, sort of), I settled on the Caveau de la Huchette which promised good jazz and dancing. Because I was busy I did not take the time to find out the history of the place. I looked up the Californian clarinetist, Dan Levinson, who was billed to play, but nothing about the building itself, housed at 5, rue de la Huchette, a small cobbled street running westward from Rue St Jacques, and a very short walk from Shakespeare & Co. Quintessential Paris cinquième, steps from where Michel and I first lived when we began our love affair some years ago in Paris. (And where several chapters of THE FORGOTTEN SUMMER are set).
The street itself is one of the oldest along the capital’s Left Bank, running horizontal to the Seine and it claims some rather handsome buildings, once hotels. I did not know the meaning of the word huchette and neither did Michel. So, I looked it up in my four-volume Harrap’s dictionary. The closest I found was huchet, a masculine noun meaning a hunting horn. I then read on Wikipedia that as early as the year 1200 the street was known as rue de Laas and ran adjacent to a vineyard which was sold off in the early thirteenth century for urban development. I have failed to find out anything further about the vineyard, or the wines grown there. If anyone reading this knows more, I would be fascinated to hear from you.
When we lived around the corner from Rue de la Huchette, I have to admit I always hurried by this narrow street, avoiding it when possible, because I found it rather touristy, full of slightly tacky Greek restaurants touting for clients. I have never really taken to its ambience. I now discover that as early as the seventeenth century, the street was lively with taverns, hostelries, cabarets and rotisseries and that the cries and drunken shouts of laughter could be heard all over the quarter! It is claimed that Abbé Prévost (novelist and Benedictine monk) penned his short novel, Manon Lescaut, published in 1745, in one of these auberges. One wonders with such noise going on how he managed it!