The Only Street In Paris –
Life on the Rue des Martyrs
By Elaine Sciolino
W. W. Norton & Company – £18.99
I’ve noticed that people who know how to eat are rarely idiots.
(Guillaume Apollinaire, Le flaneur des deux rives)
The ”thinkers” had their own table. (”They say nothing, they write nothing, they just think… Bald heads, flowing beards, with an odour of strong tobacco, cabbage soup, and philosophy”).
(‘Some Of My Favourite Ghosts’)
It surely goes without any sort of saying, that Paris is indeed, exceptionally special.
Special in so many ways.
Not only as a place and some sort of ideological belief system, but as a renowned, cultural epicentre of where it is truly/romantically/architecturally at.
As much partially explains why Paris is so easy to wholeheartedly embrace.
And (therefore) read about.
The Only Street In Paris – Life on the Rue des Martyrs is no exception to such subscribed thinking. Almost each of its 275 pages (excluding List Of Illustrations, Acknowledgements and Bibliography) leap forth with all the substantial panache one has come to associate with the place. Lest it be said, Elaine Sciolino has captured that special je ne sais quoi – so terribly indicative of what may well be the world’s most beautiful city.
Whether she’s writing about cuisine (‘Now, This Is Butter’), nightlife (‘Minister Of The Night’), literature (‘In Celebration Of Books’) or the street in question’s past history (‘Some Of My Favourite Ghosts’); Sciolino has herein, majestically captured what the Rue des Martyrs as come to mean to so many people. Myself included, for having enjoyed the utmost pleasure of all its charms on many an occasion, I fully understand where the authoress is coming from.
So much depth.
So much colour.
So much to take in; as the second of the above opening quotes and the following – with regards inadvertent poetry – goes some way in clarifying: ”But more than any other, it is the ghost of the poet Charles Baudelaire that hovers here. Baudelaire lived nearby on the rue Pigalle, where he wrote critiques of art and music and used the Brasserie des Martyrs as a sort of private club. He sat at Murger’s table, where he argued about art and drank too much. Dauder described Baudelaire as ”tormented in art by a thirst for the undiscoverable, in philosophy by the alluring terror of the unknown.” He slowly poisoned himself with drink and opium, contracted syphilis, became paralyzed, and died penniless.”
Just like this book as a whole, Baudelaire was himself, idiosyncratically indicative of this particular area of Paris (and its nigh every trajectory). As the French Ambassador to the United States, Gerard Araud, has since been noted as writing:
”In this book she (Sciolino) uses a deep knowledge of French history, a journalist’s curiosity, and a playful sense of humour to examine life on one Paris street. The result is […] insightful, profound, brilliant.”
I can only second Araud’s emotion; for anyone who quotes the French publisher, Bernard Fixot’s infamous quote (”There are two things you don’t throw out in France: bread and books”) is definitely alright in my particular book.