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   Les Halles 1898 by Leon Lhermitte                Petit Palais, Fine Art Museum
                                                                                                    

Paris
Insolite

 Flower seller byTavík František Šimon
Unfluent French
There's a piece of advice which you will find in every Guide Book ever written; it's always on the lines of "Try to learn some every day phrases which will endear you to the locals who will be pleased that you have made an effort." They usually go on to give some examples of situations which may arise on your holiday.  Opening a page at random in my Guide Book to Paris one phrase reads;
"Pouvez-vous y mettre de nouvelles semelles et talons sur mes chaussures." which means "Can you put some soles and heels on my shoes."  Then underneath the phrase is repeated phonetically ;
"Poovay voo zee mehtr duh noovel suhmeh ay talons sure may showsures,"
Over the course of many years I have never met anyone who wanted their shoes soling and heeling while on holiday and if in some alternate universe the situation did arise then firstly cobbler's shops aren't exactly ten-a-penny these days and the joke about the man who "leaves his shoes to be soled and heeled then forgets about them until 5 years later when he returns to the shop to pick them up, and the cobbler says they will be ready tomorrow," still stands.
Regarding the pronunciation part - how many people could memorize the above phrase never mind dozens of them.
Sometimes I think that the people who write travel books have never been over their own doorstep  - why else would they persist in telling us that the locals in any country you enter will fall at our feet and invite us into their homes if we thank them in their own language; it's not something I would like to try with the Taliban and it really doesn't work with Parisians, especially Parisian waiters who are legendary for their mastery of the condescending sneer or the stare into the middle distance (National Lampoons Europe is not too far away from reality.)  I once asked a Paris waiter why the Pont-Neuf was covered in sacking and he answered that "perhaps it was going to be a present for someone " which would have been quite droll if the line had been delivered with just the shadow of a smile.  The sacking was actually an art installation by the avant-garde artist Christo. 
There's a terrible misconception that the English are too lazy or arrogant to learn foreign languages, or we live on an island, or why should we bother when everyone else speaks English anyway.  They are all good theories but they are just not true and the reason why we are not good at languages is far simpler than that; foreign language classes only begin in England at age 12 when a mere two or three hours per week are devoted to grammar.  In any other country children are immersed in learning English often from the age of 3 so we start with a disadvantage right away.  Therefore, when I first went to Paris armed with my G.C.E in French it came as quite a surprise to learn that it was never enough to converse even in basic French.  My lack of understanding first came home to me when I travelled up the rue Monge to a slightly run-down hotel where I later found that the toilets were quaintly situated on each bend of the staircase and were so tiny that anyone of above average height sat with their knees sticking out onto the stairs.  But that came later, and as we were seated in the foyer waiting for the signing-in desk to clear, the proprietress, all hustle and bustle, said pleasantly as she passed by "Vous êtes debonair " which was quite nice of her seeing that she also offered us some delicious coffee.  I went through most of that holiday in Paris smiling at everyone and hugging myself for being debonair, just like Maurice Chevalier - it was many months later before it sank in that what she really said was a more banal "Vous êtes de bonne heure" which simply means "You are early."
After the Maurice Chevalier incident, anyone with any sense would have learned a lesson from that brief faux-pas, but not me - I continued blundering along in the belief that it would all come right in the end - sadly, I was wrong;  there was the time when I needed batteries for my camera and confidently marched into the camera-shop demanding "quatre pilules."  The owner said that he did'nt sell "pilules " which is when the argument flowed back and forth that of course he sold "pilules " and to prove it I insisted that we go outside to the window where I triumphantly pointed out dozens of them - AA, AAA. Duracell, Energizer, Lithium and so on.  To be entirely fair to the shop owner he was quite pleasant as he explained that he truly did not sell "pilules " because what I had pointed out in the window were in fact "piles" (batteries) and not pills which is what I had been asking for.
But even after many such incidents I've never given up and the blunders and faux-pas continue to pile up accordingly and there is just a small part of me thinks that perhaps the locals will one day invite me into their homes and buy me free drinks if I ever get it right.

However, this page is called Paris Insolite which can mean "odd" or "bizarre" so moving away from ramblings about language I will
 on this occasion translate Insolite  as "different Paris" - and describe places where visitors rarely go.
A Mere Bagatelle
The Bois de Boulogne is a huge wooded area on the western side of Paris, beyond the Périphérique, which for centuries has been a retreat for the rich and famous, a weekend playground of boating, fishing and picnics for bourgeois Parisians, a hiding place for approaching Prussian Armies and a shelter for Cossacks following Napoleon's downfall.  As pleasant as it is during the day, the Bois takes on a different aspect when the sun goes down and becomes, as it always has, the haunt of prostitutes, drug-dealers and other creatures of the night.  As huge as it undoubtedly is, the woodland is just a fraction of the vast forest which once covered the western side of Paris.  The delights of the Bois are not easy to get to and I would never advise anyone to get to the place, which I will describe here, on foot from the Arc de Triomphe, as I once did, and onto the gardens of Bagatelle.   
The Château de Bagatelle is on the site of a hunting lodge built in 1720 by the Maréchal d'Ėstrees.  When King Louis XVI's brother, the Comte D'Artois purchased the building, planning to rebuild, he was wagered that the new building would not be completed within three months by the King's wife, Marie Antoinette.  Marie Antoinette lost her bet when the Comte employed over 800 workmen who completed the building in 63 days in September, 1777.  By French aristocratic standards the château is quite bijou but designed by Bélanger in neo-classical style it cemplements the surrounding gardens perfectly and admits to its petite  size with the Latin text "Parva sed Apta" above the entrance which translates as "Small but suitable."
Although it's worth seeing the house for its historical connotations the gardens of Bagatelle are quite superb, especially in June when the are roses everywhere, planted in beds and festooned over pergolas - it is a sight worth seeing.
The name Bagatelle, which is fast going out of use in the English language, means something trifling, and to Marie Antoinette and the Comte D'Artois that is precisely what the house was - a plaything which added to the notoriety of Marie Antoinette.  However, it should be tempered by the fact that the Queen was still only 22 at that time and in the midst of a degenerate court had not yet found her true persona.  There is one other thing to consider which is that however much we may deplore the profligacy of the Versaille aristocracy, Bagatelle is just one of many of their gems which have been inherited by the people of Paris, and in some strange paradox, like so many other things, would never have existed but for the excesses of the court of Versailles.



The Château de Bagatelle
The Bois de Boulogne featured in many stories by Guy de Maupassant
Le Musée Grévin
The Musée Grévin is situated halfway between L'Opéra and République on the rue Montmartre which is quite a long road.  However, with its immensely wide pavements and varied architecture, rue Montmartre is the very essence of a classic Grand Boulevard and quite an experience in itself.  The entrance to the museum is surprisingly modest in size - the same cannot be said of the entrance fee which in 2016 stood at a stunning £26 for one adult.  But once having strolled the boulevard, stumped up the entrance fee and entered the building it is amazing just how large it is inside, where a labyrinth of rooms are filled with dioramas of waxwork figures illustrating various eras and scenes in French history; the French Revolution is the subject of several scenes with figures of the Royal family, others showing Revolutionaries and a  stand-out scene depicting Charlotte Corday stabbing Marat in his bath, after the famous painting by David - the interesting feature is that the knife is the same one that Charlotte used and the bath is the same that Marat was bathing in.  It's interesting to note the roundabout way in which the bath came to be in the possession of the Museum - after Marat's death it was exhibited in Paris and finally sold to a scrap dealer who sold it in 1805 to the retired General Hilaire.  On his death, Hilaire's daughter inherited the bath where it remained in her home in Sarzeau, Brittany.  On her death in 1862 she bequeathed the bath to the local curé who sold it to the Musée Grévin to swell his church funds.
There is a magical Belle Époque atmosphere around the museum which was founded at the beginning of that magical era in 1882 by Arthur Meyer, a journalist for Le Gaulois.  The world of the Grévin museum is one where magic lanterns still exist, illusionists still ply their trade and words such as phantasmagoria are in common usage.  Caricaturist, sculptor and designer, Alfred Grévin, a colleague of Mayer, put so much of himself into the museum that Mayer honoured him by putting his name to his brainchild.  Although the waxwork dioramas change according to fashion the true attraction is the building itself which retains its original baroque decor, ornate balconies and a theatre which is still used for shows.    
Essentially a waxwork museum with over 450 figures, the museum is much more than that and the Hall of Mirrors is worth the entrance fee alone.  The Hall of Mirrors was originally built for the Exposition Universelle of 1900, and later acquired by the museum, well over a century later, depicts an enthralling eastern Temple which overwhelms the senses in a kaleidoscopic riot of music and colour.
You will be educated by the various dioramas (was Sartre really that short ?) and amazed by the trompe l'oeil scenarios and emerge into the light thinking that the entrance fee was not so much after all. 
The Road to the Guillotine
The Palais de Justice just opposite the Cathedral of Notre Dame is a hive of activity as laywers and barristers bustle along, court coats flying behind as they rush from court room to court room.  If you can find any officers who are standing still long enough they will point out to you the courtroom where the Revolutionary Tribunal sat in judgement on Royalty, aristocrats, soi-disant enemies of the people and eventually their own colleagues and friends.  If you are really lucky the same officer will show you where the prisoners were brought to the court from the neighbouring Conciergerie and along the corridor called la salle des pas perdus which roughly translates as "the corridor of the lost"which was apt as very few of those who stood before the Tribunal were ever declared innocent. 

In a terrifying process which lasted from May 1793 to June 1794, every day the tumbrils left the courtyard of the Palais de Justice, rumbled across the Pont au Change and entered the lengthy rue St Honoré.  Most of the houses standing today were there when the daily procession of the condemned passed by and many of them still have the balconies from where the householders had a perfect view of the proceedings.  The householders would have undoubtedly ensured that they saw the King on his final journey and above all Marie Antoinette in her final anguish - Revolutionary artist Jacques-Louis David certainly did and left a sketch of a prematurely aged Queen.  They would also have watched Charlotte Corday, Georges Danton, Camille Desmoulins and so many others that they probably became tired of it all.  There were, however, some whose final journey was more poignant than others as they passed their own homes - none more so than Philippe d'Orléans, better known as Philippe Égalité, a cousin of Louis XVI.   Philippe Égalité had aligned himself with the Revolutionaries that he had voted in favour of the King being guillotined and opened his gardens in the Palais Royale to all and sundry - it was in a shop in the colonnades that Charlotte Corday bought her knife.  None of this could save him from the capricious judgements of the Tribunal and his thoughts are not difficult to imagine as he passed the opulent building which had been his birthright, now embazoned with the
slogan "National Property" on the frontage.
Top :Sidney Carton's last journey from A tale of Two Cities (1905)
Left : Philippe Égalité's Palais Royale on the rue St Honoré. Picture by Marie-Lan Nguyen.
There were others who passed their homes on the rue St Honoré as they travelled to the guillotine ; the renowned chemist Antoine Lavoisier passed his home at no 47, the house with an iron cross outside; the Revolutionary Bazire who had banned the wearing of ecclestiatical teaching lived at number 77 while his equally repugnant neighbour Chabot who lived at number 82 was made famous by banning the words "Sire" and "Your Majesty" and coining the word "sans-culotte" - their Revolutionary ardour never saved them and both had been arrested at their homes just days before. 

The final words of the condemned is a fascinating study in its own right - Marie Antoinette's dignified exit was made more poignant by her apology to the executioner when she accidentally trod on his foot "Pardon me, Monsieur, I did not mean it"  she said.  In complete contrast, arch Revolutionary Camille Desmoulins appealed to an indifferent crowd " It was me who called you all to arms on the 14th July and  it was me who made you don the national cockade !  Citizens you are being fooled - you are killing your protecters and defenders !"
Madame Roland was more philosophical and her final words which resound through history sum up the venality and caprice of the Revolution to perfection - "O Liberty, how many crimes are committed in thy name!"
Danton, who met his death on April 5th, 1794, reserved his final words for an apartment above a house belonging to the Duplay family.  It was there that Robespierre lived and in his deep voice Danton cried "It will soon be your turn, Robespierre !"
The house that Georges Danton passed was number 398 rue St Honoré, the home of the Duplay family who took in lodgers to supplement their income.  One of those lodgers was Maximilien Robespierre, The Incorruptible, who lived in an apartment on the second floor overlooking the street where he would sit in the window and watch the tumbrils pass by.  Many of the occupants of the tumbrils had been chosen on previous evenings when Robespierre and his revolutionary colleague Louis Antoine Léon de Saint-Just sat together in the downstairs drawing room and drew up lists of those who were to be tried for crimes against the state.  The house where Robespierre lived is still there at the end of a passage, along with his old apartment which is still rented out.  The drawing room is now a pub, called predictably Le Robespierre, where the landlord is quite familiar with its history and will point out the corner where Robespierre and Saint-Just schemed together night after night.  Danton's forecast that Robespierre "would be next " was proved true when just three months later on July 27th, 1794,  he went to the guillotine alongside Saint-Just .  There was a great deal of grim irony in that Saint-Just was a previous member of The Committee For Public Safety - he was later given the nickname The Angel of Death and was just 26 years of age when he died. 
The tumbrils never travelled the full length of rue St Honoré but turned off down the rue Royale and entered the massive Place de la Revolution where the guillotine awaited.
The Vigilant Royalist
As the tumbrils rolled day after day into La Place de la Révolution, the numbers of so - called "enemies of the people," aristocrats, those who had been denounced by their neighbours and innocents who had inadvertently been caught in the net, all guillotined in that grand square, ran into the thousands.  As the various factions in the Revolutionary Councils turned upon one another, many of the leading figures in the Revolution began to appear on the scaffold, transported in tumbrils from the Conciergerie and baited and howled at by the jeering mob just as their victims had been - the intellectual and romantic Madame Roland, the vile Hébert, Fouquier-Tinville who presided over the trial of Marie Antoinette all died under the guillotine, along with the King's cousin, Philippe Égalité, the faithful Princesse de Lamballe, the killer of Marat, Charlotte Corday, and of course the King, Louis XVI and his Queen, Marie Antoinette, whose deaths reverberated throughout the Royal houses across Europe.  But Kings or Commoners, good or bad, innocent or guilty, were all disposed of in the same manner with their beheaded bodies casually tossed in random heaps in the cemetery of the église Sainte-Marie-Madeleine awaiting burial in an unmarked grave.

The bodies of the King and Queen were treated just the same as all the others in the cemetery to the rear of the Madeleine and their location would have never been known but for the vigilance of the Royalist M. Desclozeaux who lived in the nearby rue D'Anjou.  Desclozeaux took careful note of where the bodies were buried and when the worst excesses of the Revolution had passed, he planted a weeping willow on the site of each body.  The bodies lay undisturbed for a further 22 years until the return of the monarchy in the shape of the obese Louis XVIII, the King's brother, who returned to Paris in May, 1814.  One of Louis' first acts on taking the throne was to discover the bodies of the King and Queen in order to give them a fitting burial and the appearance of the admirable M. Desclozeaux with his plan in his hand, was a gift he could have never expected.  Following the guidance of M. Desclozeaux the body of Marie Antonette was found exactly where he said it was on the 18th January, 1815, and the following day the body of the King was uncovered.  The bodies were transported to the Basilica of St Denis where they lie today alongside the tombs of the French monarchy - or rather the tombs which were left undescerated by the Revolutionary mob.      
The execution of Louis XVI - 21st January, 1793. 

The empty plinth had a statue of Louis XV on top until it was pulled down by the mob.
In the background, the buildings are little different today.

The street between the
buildings is the rue Royale
where the tumbrils opened out into the theatrical setting of the Place de la Revolution. 


La Chapelle Expiatoire
Recovering his brother's remains was not enough for Louis XVIII, who ruled until 1824 with a brief interlude during Napoleon's "100 days," and he instructed that an Expiatory Chapel should be constructed on the site of the old cemetery.  Dedicated to Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette, the Chapel took 10 years to build, gathering together the shambles left behind by the Revolutionaries and placing the remains into a coherent order of tombs and memorials.  The bodies of the Swiss Guard lie here beneath a row of symmetrical, ornamental arches, while the remainder of the bodies lie in communal graves laid out in the style of formal gardens.  The memorial to Charlotte Corday, who was only 25 when she assassinated Marat, can be found here and also that of Madame Roland but the main body of the chapel is dedicated to the King and Queen whose statues can be found inside.  There is also a marble cenotaph with the words of Marie Antoinette's last letter written to the King's sister, Madame Elisabeth - it is quite incredible that the words ever came down to us as will be seen below. 
Painting by Muller of Charlotte Corday awaiting trial in the Conciergerie.
Charlotte went to the scaffold with her head held high and no regrets for her actions.
She was quoted as saying;
       " I killed one man to save 100,100."
The Queen's Last Letter
Marie Antoinette was always on good terms with the King's sister, Madame Elisabeth, and following her sentence of death on October 15th by the Revolutionary Tribunal she wrote a long letter to her which would have made the angels weep.  It was obvious that the Queen did not sleep that night as the letter was penned in the early hours of the morning of 16th October, 1793, and completed at 4 a.m. just a few hours before her execution at midday.  Far from the picture painted by the Tribunal of Marie Antoinette as a wanton and incestuous mother, the letter begs Madame Elisabeth to care for her two children and instil into them the "sound principles of duty and exact performance of their duties.  I hope my son will never forget his father's last words which I  here purposely repeat for him: Let him never try to avenge our death!"  The letter goes on to say how distressed she is at the thought of never seeing again her aunts, , brothers and sisters and friends and bids Madame Elisabeth - "Adieu, my good and affectionate sister, I trust that this letter will reach you."  The Queen had obviously blanked out any thoughts from her mind that the Revolutionaries would ever harm her children or Madame Elisabeth but of the three only the Queen's daughter the Duchesse d'Angoulême would survive the Revolutionary holocaust. 

Nothing was sacred to the Revolutionarys and in a final mean and spiteful act the letter was confiscated by her erstwhile tormentor, the obsequious Public Prosecutor, Fouquier-Tinville, who triumphantly passed it on to his odious master, Maximilien Robespierre.  Displaying not an ounce of compassion, the self-styled Incorruptible bizarrely placed the letter beneath his mattress, thus giving a whole new meaning to the expression "to sleep on it."

The letter remained beneath Robespierre's mattress for the following nine months until on July 28th, 1794, he vacated the Duplay house forever and went to his own death on the guillotine.  The letter may well have been lost completely at this point if it had not been for the neurotic thoroughness of the laughably named Committee of Public Safety who searched Robespierre's lodgings after his death and discovered the letter beneath the mattress.  It was then placed in the hands of a member of the Convention by the name of Courtois who retained it for years as, following the Revolution, he retreated to a house outside Paris.  When Louis XVIII returned to the throne over 20 years later, Courtois crawled out from under his stone and offered the letter, some of the Queen's clothes and a lock of her hair in exchange for a pardon for his part in the Revolution.  To his great credit, Louis refused to sanction any such agreement and had the relics seized, Courtois arrested and banished to Belgium.
The letter was finally shown to the Queen's daughter, the Duchesse d'Angoulême, who had lost her father (whose death she discovered by a town crier), mother, brother and aunt to the guillotine, and had herself been incarcerated for 3 years and 4 months; the Queen's daughter recognized the writing immediately and fainted to the floor at the sight, promising that she “would live her life devoted to the memory of her parents and to serving and promoting the Bourbon cause.”

The above sketch is the
infamous drawing by Jacques-Louis David of Marie Antoinette as he stood in the crowd watching her pass by in the tumbril.  The Queen's hair has been cropped at the back to receive the guillotine blade and she looks 20 years older than her age of 37.  She went to the scaffold bravely even apologising to her executioner for standing on his foot.
Aftermath
For many years it was believed that the bodies of Danton, Chabot, Camille and Lucille Desmoulins, Robespierre, St Just, Fabre, d'Églantine and many other leading Revolutionaries had been dumped in the cemetery of the Madeleine.  However, the cemetery was closed on the 24th March, 1794, so it was out the question that the above named and many others could have buried in the Madeleine.  They were in fact taken a mile to the north where rue Rocher meets Place Prosper- Goubaux, near to the Parc Monceau, by the name Le Cimetière des Errancis which translates into the "cemetery of the wandering" ; it was a measure of just how fast and how many were becoming victims of the Terror when Errancis became full to overflowing a mere three years later and was closed in 1797 an today there is no indication that there was ever a cemetery there.  Before the cemetery was closed however, the bones were exhumed and unceremoniously bundled together for yet another journey in the tumbrils - this time they were delivered en masse to the custodians of the catacombs of Denfert-Rochereau, and the once leading lights of the Revolution today lie jumbled together in eternal anonymity among the bones of the people that once trembled at their every word.
Danton by David