By Thirza Vallois
When I first moved to Paris, some 40 years ago, people hardly ever spoke in terms of arrondissements.
At the time Paris was perceived as a collection of "villages," which is, in fact, how it all started... some thousand years ago. Parisians in those days referred to their "quartier," which meant the neighborhood around your home, basically within walking distance. It would include your baker's, butcher's, green-grocer's, newsagent's, florist's, post-office, pharmacy, school, church, etc. If you were lucky there was also a little garden nearby.
Some "quartiers" had their open-air markets two or three mornings a week, and all had their cafés and one café-tabac, an important gathering place for the neighborhood's men on Sunday mornings, where they would fill in their coupons for the weekly horse-racing ("le tiercé"), washed down by "un ballon de rouge" (a glass of red wine).
Meanwhile, their wives would be doing all the heavy shopping at the market, followed by the cooking of the huge Sunday midday meal, not to mention the washing up (dishwashers were unheard of in your average French household in those pre-women's emancipation days). In short, going "into town" was reserved for special occasions such as shopping for clothes or an outing to the theatre etc. Other than that, you could spend your entire life without ever setting foot beyond the boundaries of the self-contained microcosms of your "quartier."
And yet, the division of Paris into arrondissements goes back to the French Revolution, precisely in 1795. Although the chopping off of aristocratic heads (as a matter of fact many more belonged to commoners....) is what sticks out when bringing to mind those sanguinary days, the main goal of the Revolution was to modernize France, predominantly in terms of economics and administration. The church, owner of so much property, went the way of the nobility and the feudal system, and with it was gone the division of Paris into parishes (replaced by the "quartiers"). But striding into modernity also meant an increase in the population, which entailed a division into bigger territories - hence the arrondissements, only 12 of them at the time of the Revolution, each of which was divided in its turn into 4 administrative "quartiers," which, being an arbitrary division, do not necessarily correspond to the "personal quartier" the Parisian refers to as "home."
So where do the 20 arrondissements come in? Simple: in 1860, when the Baron Haussmann had the toll walls of Paris demolished and pushed the city out as far as the fortification walls. The villages that lay around Paris, between those walls, were incorporated into the city, following a parliamentary bill known as "l'Annexion." Meanwhile the numbers of the arrondissements were also changed (for example, today's 10th was the 5th before 1860), starting from the heart of the city and spiraling outwards clockwise like a snail shell ("l'escargot de Paris") as Parisians refer to the layout of their city.
There was a big row over which arrondissement would be allocated number 13 -- nobody wanted this number of ill omen (which is skipped over in French hospital and many hotels). Worse -- since there was a popular belief that "couples who get married at the Mairie of the 13th, will be adulterous to each other," the number became downright anathema. If you are considering marriage in Paris, be careful where you take up residence! At the time of Haussmann, the area which was to become the 13th was no better than a cholera-ridden shantytown (e.g. Victor Hugo's "Les Misérables"). Whether its populace cared to have the number of ill omen imposed on it or not was of little consequence -- nobody bothered to consult it and the number was simply dumped on this dump of a neighborhood.
In the late 1960s, having recovered from two world wars, France was striding at a giant pace into modernity and French society began to enjoy mobility. As French students were backpacking in Peru, Parisians crossed the borders of their "quartier" and extended their territory to the entire city, using less and less their feet, and more and more their cars. Little by little (these things never happen overnight), each arrondissement began to take on a specific character, blurring the old "quartier's." However, the "quartiers" are all still there for you to enjoy, even though lifestyles are changing. History never comes to a standstill. You can still enjoy the local market, the local café, the local little garden, and more of those at present - having been deprived of greenery for centuries, in recent years Paris has become the greenest city in Europe and now boasts 150 gardens of varying sizes).
This is why I decided to divide my series Around and About Paris into arrondissements rather than "quartiers." Some guidebooks and magazines still refer to the city's "quartiers," usually in association to a major monument or landmark (Bastille, Montparnasse....), but this makes for a fluctuating definition which can add to your confusion. By referring to an arrondissement, you know exactly where you stand, as I clarified in the introduction to Around and About Paris, from which I am quoting:
"Today the administrative life of every Parisian, from birth to death, is regulated by and revolves around his arrondissement which, in a way, has replaced the old parish. Its center of gravity is the monumental Mairie, where newborn babies are registered, children are enrolled in school and couples get married; where also social welfare is provided and sports and cultural activities are organised. Although Parisians still speak of old neighborhoods such as the Marais, the Latin Quarter or Les Halles, they commonly refer in everyday contexts to their arrondissements. Each arrondissement now has its history, its own economic, social and cultural heritage and its own local color and character, even though the uniformity of modernization has rendered the differences somewhat indistinguishable to the unpracticed eye."
"Because the arrondissements reflect on the social, economic and cultural pattern of Paris, it is essential to focus on these in order to understand Paris thoroughly. This series of books is therefore organized by arrondissements, so as to allow the city to unfold little by little before your eyes. The names of streets, the geographic location of the city's monuments, the social and ethnic distribution of the population will become meaningful and coherent. You will understand that it is not pure chance that draws the wealthy to the 16th arrondissement or publishers to the 6th. You will find out how and why haute couture started in the 1st arrondissement and why it has recently shifted to the 8th. You will realize why the 5th has to some extent lost its soul and why embassies are often located in the 7th...." To help you make your choice, following is a brief portrait of each of the city's districts (arrondissements). This week, you will find out about the 1st to the 10th; next week, from the 11th to the 20th. Bear in mind, however, that Paris is changing fast and some previously unappealing neighborhoods have become trendy and even desirable. Bear in mind, too, that there are heavenly havens to be discovered in unsuspected places. It's worthwhile being adventurous.
The 1st arrondissement
It gravitates around two hubs: the Louvre-largely aristocratic before the Revolution (although there was a slummy neighborhood literally under the windows of the now-gone Tuileries palace in the 19th century...; Les Halles-the site of the central market of Paris back in the Middle Ages and all the way up until the late 1960s. Needless to say it was crowded with the 'plebe'...., or 'the good people of Paris', depending on who was talking... The Louvre area today is overall commercial, ranging between the junky and/or touristy under the arcades of rue de Rivoli (with some elegant survivors from the British heyday) and the fabulous luxury of place Vendôme and thereabouts. However, there are a few exceptional flats that one doesn't normally know about, sometimes even with a view overlooking the Tuileries Gardens. One such place is the US consulate, located in the one-time palace of the famous Talleyrand! You are not very likely to come by a place like this, but it's fun to know that they exist. As you walk east towards the les Halles, you will pass by the 'villagey' neighborhood of place du Marché St. Honoré with its proliferation of eateries, and the wonderful food shops on rue du Marché-St-Honoré. Some wonderful, spacious, quiet apartments with high ceilings and thick walls are hidden behind the courtyards of some of the commercial façades.
There are two other secret havens to explore-le Palais Royal, the aristocratic and intellectual hub of Paris in the 18th century, now a gem of an arcade lined with fabulous boutiques, restaurants and surrounding a lovely garden; the leafy, car-free triangular place Dauphine on the way to the western tip of the Ile de la Cité, the one-time home of Yves Montand and Simone Signoret. Unless you are young and a very present-day sort of person, I do not recommend you get a place around Les Halles, now a gigantic shopping mall. The mall attracts drug dealers and isn't a very safe place. The gardens lying between the shopping mall and the church of St. Eustache, on the other hand, are pleasant enough to stroll through or rest one's feet during the day. They also constitute the largest pedestrian precinct in Europe.
The 2nd arrondissement
Commercial on its western side, and down-at-heel in its eastern part, once the site of La Cour des Miracles for those who've read Victor Hugo's Hunchback of Notre Dame, and in the 19th century the center of the press. Today, it is the site of the junk-clothes industry (and also of the Paris 'Silicon Valley' phenomenon, unbeknownst to most). The sex industry flourishes on its eastern edge, around rue St Denis. Overall, it's not a residential area, but, like every part of Paris, it has a few pockets that grace it-the bustling, pedestrian market street, rue Montorgueil, just north of the church of St. Eustache, the elegant square Louvois, opposite the old National Library, and the streets around it, the enchanting arcades of Galerie Colbert and especially Galerie Vivienne, and the graceful Place Gaillon, off avenue de l'Opéra where the celebrated Drouant restaurant houses the annual celebration of the Goncourt literary award.
The 3rd arrondissement
This is the northern part of the Marais district, where it actually all began in the 13th century, thanks to the Knights Templars who settled here and set out to drain its marshes (except for the western edge, which had already been drained by the order of St Martin in the 12th century). Little by little the area developed to the south, as far as the river, especially from the late 14th century on, after the Regent and future Charles V settled there. The Marais became the aristocratic part of Paris, reaching its golden age in the 17th century, but began to decline after the move of the court to Versailles in 1682. The French Revolution dealt it a death blow and in the 19th century it was no better than a slum, attracting many poor Jewish immigrants from Eastern Europe in the latter part of the 19th century and early 20th century. Following André Malraux's bill, renovation of the Marais began in the 1960s. Most of the palatial homes were turned into museums or cultural centers, especially in the southern part of the Marais, which was renovated first. The more north and east you head, the less luxurious overall, but also the more genuinely Parisian, the more atmospheric, and the less touristy. It is neighborly, but not strong on gardens, except for square du Temple-a delightful miniature of an English garden. Needless to say it is named after the Knights Templars whose territory it was, together with all the neighboring streets. And for those who like history, it was in the Tower of the Temple that the Royal family was held prisoners during the Revolution, and from where Louis XVI was taken in a tumbril to the guillotine on place de la Concorde.
The 4th arrondissement
This is the southern part of the Marais, closer to the river. Three sides of the perfectly square place des Vosges belong to the 4th arrondissement. (the northern side belongs to the 3rd). This was Place Royale before the Revolution, the holy of holies. You are not likely to find a vacant apartment on the square, but you never know. If you do, it is bound to be very expensive. The 4th is a permanent feast to the eyes, lined with fabulous boutiques on the arty side, eateries of varying prices and all things beautiful. It is also home to the gay and Jewish communities who share a tiny territory and often rub shoulders against one another in perfect harmony (rue des Rosiers and thereabouts, and rue Ste-Croix-de-la-Bretonnerie, and thereabouts too).The 4th arrondissement also includes the eastern part of the Ile de la Cité, including Notre Dame, and the very few old, picturesque streets north of the cathedral, which have survived Haussmann's bulldozer when the Prussian war put an end to the Second Empire. There are some marvelous apartments with stunning views here but they are very hard to come by. To the east lies the Ile St Louis, a great favorite with Americans with a surprisingly decent turnover of property. It's a tiny self-contained village of amazing 17th-century architecture (most of it was built by the King's architect). Everything is pretty, stylish and exciting, sometimes at bargain prices. The downside of this gem is the fact that it's become too popular and can get overcrowded when the weather is nice. It is also home to Berthillon, the city's famous ice-cream, whose fans converge here from all over the city. Last but not least, the Centre Pompidou is surrounded by apartment blocks which tend to draw trendy and arty people. Some of them are actually quite fabulous, at times offering spectacular views over the roofs of Paris. However, here, like at the neighboring Les Halles, safety can be iffy at night.
The 5th arrondissement
This is where the Latin Quarter is located, the home of the University of Paris and the Sorbonne, the university's most famous college. Latin was the only language taught and tolerated prior to the 16th century, hence the Latin Quarter, or 'land' as it was then referred to. Despite the 'événements' of 1968 which scarred the arrondissement to a certain extent, despite the fact that most of the bookshops on the Boulevard St Michel have been replaced by junk-clothes shops, the 5th arrondissement has maintained its appeal and its side streets are still wonderful. It is very popular with professors, professionals and politicians with an intellectual bend. It is discreet, understated and secure in its Left Bank self-confidence. When it has money, it is quite old. Among its celebrated recent or present residents let me mention President Mitterrand on rue de Bièvre, Laurent Fabius on place du Panthéon. I love the 5th. I lived there for many years and never ventured far away from it. It also boasts one of the city's loveliest gardens, le Jardin des Plantes with their wonderful 'Alpine' bit (closed at weekends). It is certainly top of my list, with its great street markets. Available apartments, however, are few and far between. And they are not inexpensive.
The 6th arrondissement
This is by far my favorite Paris, the one that has it all, but it IS expensive! It's gorgeous, it's stylish, it's sophisticated, it has history. It's by far the longest chapter of my books Around and About Paris, and by far the most prominent arrondissement in my book Romantic Paris. It's the Paris of the Liberation, of St-Germain, of Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir, of Hemingway, of jazz and of all the myths and mystiques that shroud this city. It has great street markets, it has music on the streets, it has art galleries, cinemas, fashion, beautiful people, you name it. And of course, the Luxembourg Gardens! It also boasts variety, since its eastern edge is still part of the Latin Quarter, while as you head south you are in the best part of Montparnasse, where all the artists of the first half of the 20th century conglomerated. You can still see wonderful studio artists in the side streets. Whether any of them is available is a different matter.
The 7th arrondissement
The one time aristocratic neighborhood of Faubourg St-Germain (re-read your Marcel Proust and Henry James) lies to the east of the Invalides. To the west is a more recent development, which is also very expensive but does not display the same splendor. It is leafy, bourgeois, safe, comfortable and it includes the famous street market on rue Cler. There are some excellent restaurants here, among the city's best. And of course, the Eiffel Tower is part of the deal, with its magnificent gardens of the Champ de Mars that most tourists tend to overlook because they are too busy focusing on the 'Iron Lady'.The real splendor, however, is on the eastern side of the arrondissement, in the 'faubourg,' which blends little by little into St-Germain-des-Prés as you head east. Much of it is in the hands of embassies and government administrations, and therefore hermetically out of bounds, but there are also private people living around.
The 8th arrondissement
It wouldn't have occurred to me to buy property in the 8th. I am a 100% Left-Bank person and will never move house across the river. Besides, it's off the Champs-Elysées, which has the same stigma as the Eiffel Tower when you are an intellectual snob, which all Left Bankers are (whether they admit it or not). Don't believe them when they give you their socialist spiel-that's part of the snobbery. However, the other day, a New York friend of mine bought an incredible pied-à-terre on one of the avenues that radiate from the Arc de Triomphe, which confirms my point-you can find great places everywhere and every arrondissement has its pros and cons. The good part of the 8th, which is where my friend found this gem lies south of the Champs-Elysées. Needless to say it is expensive, and, obviously, safe, comfortable and very centrally located. Surprisingly, it even has a few side streets, where the everyday food shops are tucked. These have a genuine Parisian atmosphere and are completed by a great market on avenue d'Iéna, a few mornings a week. Just as a reminder, the 8th is also home to the French President, the US and British Embassies, the glorious shopping streets of Faubourg St-Honoré and avenue Montaigne and thereabouts-you get the picture.
The 9th arrondissement
The 9th arrondissement that I am talking about lies north of the Grands Boulevards, on the way to Montmartre. It is all about understated side streets close to the exquisite place St-Georges. It is THE quintessential Paris of the 19th century, unbeknownst to all, probably the city's best kept secret. All the romantic artists, writers and musicians lived here at some point or frequented it (hence the Museum of the Romantic Life on rue Chaptal, for instance). If you are not after flashy places, if you like understatement, if you like good taste, and if you are lucky to find an available place here, you might consider living here. It's the kind of neighborhood that grows on you, and it's full of wonderful courtyards and lots of excellent, neighborhood restaurants.
The 10th arrondissement
Overall the 10th is down-at-heel, poor and close to two railway stations. However, it has one wonderful feature, and that is the Canal St Martin. It's not about glamor. The glamor goes to the Seine. But it's about charm and poetry, and a feel of timeless France (even though I wish they hadn't built those modern blocks of flats along the water). Go and walk along the canal, see how you feel about it. Sit down by the turn bridge and the legendary Hôtel du Nord, look at the barges and the locks and soak up the atmosphere. You will then be able to decide if you can feel comfortable in this unique part of Paris.
The 11th arrondissement
This was the heart of working-class Paris, the birthplace of the French Revolution. Together with the 12th arrondissement, on the southern side of Faubourg Saint-Antoine, it all started in the Middle Ages when the wood was floated to Paris on the Seine, making this the neighborhood of woodwork and cabinetmakers. In the 1980s designer Kenzo moved to the 11th arrondissement, followed by the less established artists who could not afford to rent art galleries in Saint-Germain-des-Prés, let alone Faubourg Saint-Honoré! The opening of the new opera house in 1989, to coincide with the bicentennial of the French Revolution, also helped. In short, the young and trendy started infiltrating the area, settling in the one-time workshops of joiners and carpenters who were delighted to get a good price for their property and retire to the countryside. This means that if you are lucky you may be able to find a home complete with a bucolic courtyard and the song of birds! Many trendy residents, dotcommers and other graphic designers, have converted the one-time workshops into street-level "lofts" (the exact meaning of "loft" has escaped them, but who cares!), and have filled the cobbled courtyards with geraniums, wisteria, bamboo bushes and other rambling vegetation -- they are all equally exquisite! And once you step out into the big world, you are in one of the most bustling neighborhoods of Paris, with the great market on boulevard Richard-Lenoir twice weekly, great bistrots that serve real French food, but also lots of Latin American stuff, which the young and trendy crave. Needless to say nightlife here is very active, as it was in the past, except that it was more for the humble. In fact the traditional Parisian bal-musette music was born on rue de Lappe. Note also that once prices at the Bastille area started rocketing (inevitably), the next generation moved further out, to the area of rue Oberkampf.
For those of you who remember the fabulous film "Les Enfants du Paradis," that too, was in the 11th arrondissement, around République and boulevard du Temple. But that was before Baron Haussmann bulldozed through that part of the city, destroying all the fun.
The 12th arrondissement
Much the same as above in its northern bit, around the Bastille and Faubourg Saint-Antoine. (The Bastille Opera House actually stands in the 12th arrondissement). And instead of the twice-weekly market on boulevard Richard-Lenoir, in the 12th you will enjoy the daily market at place d'Aligre, one of the exciting remnants of old Paris, even though different ethnic groups are taking over, reminding you that history never stands still. But the 12th is also the new development around the new park of Bercy (on the site of the old wine warehouses), facing the new national library, across the river. I was very unhappy when the warehouses were gone, although I must admit the park is developing beautifully. Living in one of the blocks overlooking it and the river could be quite a privilege. And with the opening up of the exciting "village de Bercy," with its row of picturesque little houses on the eastern edge of the park, the neighborhood is definitely picking up. Bercy is also home to a huge sports center, le Palais Omnisports, and to the Ministry of Finance. Above all, it is home to the defunct American Center, alas. This important building from an architectural point of view, by Frank Gehry, has been standing empty for years, waiting for a new tenant.
Another important development that has changed the face of the 12th and has brought it to the attention of both Parisians from other parts of the city and tourists is La Coulée Verte (also dubbed La Promenade Verte), the stretch of suspended gardens that runs from the Bastille to the Bois de Vincennes on top of the old railway viaduct (the Bastille Opera House stands on the site of the old railway station). Underneath, the arcades have been turned into trendy art and crafts' galleries, and, of course, some cafés. Last but not least, the 12th is also the home of the Bois de Vincennes, the "siblin" of the Bois de Boulogne. It is just as attractive, even though traditionally the beautiful people of Paris parade in the western parts of the city, and therefore in the Bois de Boulogne. Since the 1980s, the authorities have been focusing on the development of the eastern part of Paris, "l'Est Parisien" so as to strike a healthy balance between the two sides of the city. Their efforts are certainly bearing their fruit, and the 12th can be just as pleasant to live in as any other place. It has a lot of leafy arteries, lined with good-quality buildings. It's residential, yet close to the center.
The 13th arrondissement
In the 19th century, it was as wretched as they come, the world of Victor Hugo's Les Misérables, for example. Much of it is still out of bounds for most of us, since the slums have given way to boring concrete high-rises, often taken over by the Asian immigrants. You definitely want to avoid those, if only for aesthetic reasons. However, close to Parc Montsouris (on the edge of the 14th), there are some cottage havens you would never guess about when you stick to the main streets. One such place is the historic Cité Fleurie, once frequented by the likes of Gaugin and Modigliani, where only a few privileged artists have permission to reside.
But the 13th has a little hill, La Butte aux Cailles, once the home of quails, which comes with a very famously listed swimming pool and where you may still find a semi-bargain. I said, "maybe.".. Of late, the humble, drowsy, provincial-looking houses of the "hill" have drawn the attention of the young and trendy - the same story as elsewhere. And then, there is the lovely garden of René-le-Gall, on the site of the river Bièvre which, by the end of the 19th century was no better than a pestilence-ridden sewer and therefore had to be covered up. It is the pollution of this river (caused among others, by the Gobelins workshops), that was largely accountable for the downfall of this one-time pleasant rural area. If you can get a place overlooking the gardens, you will make many people envious!
Although it's too early in the day to guess how that area will develop, mention must be made of the new National Library with its four controversial glass towers, along the Seine. The surrounding streets are meant to be developed into an intellectual part of the city, an extension of the Latin Quarter to the east. Furthermore, there is a plan for a financial city along the river, too, opposite the Ministry of Finance in the 12th arrondissement, which makes sense.
The 14th arrondissement
This is "my" arrondissement, and definitely one of my favorites. It is the residential extension of the Latin Quarter, filled with ex-students, many from the '68-generation, but not necessarily. It is home to the Cité Universitaire, which also contributes to the atmosphere and injects permanent young blood to the area. It is also home to Montparnasse and to loads of artist studios with huge glass windows. It is full of market streets and market stalls (including the wonderful rue Daguerre and the twice-weekly market on boulevard Edgar Quinet). It has plenty of cinemas. It is also completely unpretentious, both sophisticated and provincial in the best sense, with a real neighborhood feel. You can see…I love it…especially from my home, up in the air, practically within reach of the branches of Parc Montsouris. Every morning, I say wow, as if I am seeing my breathtaking view for the first time, and I repeat the same exclamation every evening, when the sky looks like a stunning abstract painting, and convinces me that no 20th-century painter has done better than God. I have been "wowing" twice daily for the last nearly 30 years!
The 15th arrondissement
This too, was a working-class neighborhood until the late 1960s, filled with smallish factories and workshops. And then, in the late 60s, when the 7th arrondissement was becoming too expensive for its residents' children, they started moving beyond its borders, encroaching little by little on the 15th. The new yuppy generation followed suit, moving to the comfortable modern blocks of flats that replaced the poorer shacks in no time. The problem with the 15th, from my perspective, is that much of it is uninspiring, because of the proliferation of modern, drab buildings, however comfortable they may be for modern-times cocooning. But you will be completely safe here, and certainly comfortable. And the shopping is excellent because the new population is well-to-do and enjoys good living. They are often families with children, with professional women, a French version of the US city dwellers, in a way. One of the success stories of the 15th, is the laying out of a new park along the Seine, on the site of the old André Citroën car plant.
The 16th arrondissement
So much has been said about the 16th, for better and for worse. There are those who love it and those who snub it and those who claim it's boring. Yes, it's expensive, yes it has a lot of nouveaux riches, but it also has old money, and occasionally an old resident with not much money at all, the odd survivor from days of yore, when even here there were some humble "villages." My problem with the 16th would be that much of it is quite far out from the center, residential, leafy, not that well-connected transport-wise; beautiful for sure, but inconvenient without a car. On the other hand, there are some fabulous, quality homes to be found here, and like in every neighborhood of Paris, it does have its lively hubs, namely around rue de Passy, and also around place Victor Hugo. Needless to say, the 16th has several beautiful gardens, the Trocadéro, Ranelagh, les Serres d'Auteuil, above all, the celebrated Bois (de Boulogne, of course! What else could it be?) This is where La Bagatelle is tucked, both the exquisite "pavilion" and the gardens - the gem in the crown.
The 17th arrondissement
When the arrondissement was developed in the 19th century, it had four clearly defined neighborhoods -- Monceau, close to Parc Monceau where the wealthiest Parisians lived; Ternes, near the Etoile, where the very well-to-do lived; Batignolles, where the lower middle class lived, often humble retirees (and the Impressionist painters, who couldn't afford anything else) and Epinettes, which was working class, but not rebellious working-class overall, contrary to Eastern Paris. Today, this division still holds to a large extent, and much of the "better" part of the 17th is very comfortable, snug, even opulent, but not particularly inspiring. However, if you can live in the vicinity of both Parc Monceau and the market street of rue Lévis, just north of the gardens, you will have done pretty well for yourself - the market is very colorful and Parc Monceau is simply gorgeous. If you skim through your Paris restaurant guidebook, you will notice that several of the city's top restaurants are located in the 17th, which will also help you take the measure of the social profile of its residents.
The 18th arrondissement
First and foremost is Montmartre, which goes all the way back to the ancient Druids, who had preceded the Sacré-Coeur. So did the Romans who, in the 3rd century, executed on the hill Saint-Denis, the first Bishop of Paris. Closer to us, in the latter part of the 19th century and early 20th century, the hill and its perched village became a draw to the artist community, who turned it to the cradle of Cubism and of Modern Art. Before long the tourist industry followed suit, streaming into the gigantic, white "wedding cake" and turning the place du Tertre into a kitsch farce. The artist community, by the same token, was chased out of the hill right away. The good thing is that to this very day the majority of tourists don't venture into the northern slope and into the streets around rue Caulaincourt/avenue Junot, at least for the time being. There are some heavenly spots to look into. And of course, there is the world of Amélie Poulain, which, beyond the actual site of the film, takes in the entire neighborhood, as far as rue Lepic. This is Paris at its most picturesque and most genuine.
East of Montmartre is La Goutte d'Or, a very picturesque territory divided up between North Africa and Black Africa. It includes a very exotic African market at Château Rouge. However, beyond the exotic, it's not the kind of neighborhood you would look to live in, and it's not necessarily safe at night, but during the day it is definitely worth exploring - you will be entering another world.
The 19th arrondissement
There are three main sections in the 19th -- La Villette, les Buttes Chaumont, Belleville (which is shared with the 20th and will be dealt with later). La Villette developed on the site of and around the old abattoirs. It includes a science museum, the music conservatory, campus and museum (la Cité de la Musique), the Zenith pop-concert hall, La Grande Halle de la Villette, a beautiful iron structure where the livestock auction market was held, now used for various cultural activities. All around is the huge Parc de la Villette which is beginning to come to life to grow on me. If you are young and/or adventurous La Villette has a lot going for it by way of concerts, open-air cinema and so on. Late at night, however, the area is rough, largely taken over by drug trafficking, and of the worst kind. Don't' hang around here. On the other hand, during the summer months, le Bassin de la Villette is popular in good weather, with plenty of outdoor activities and festivities on offer.
For living purposes, the one neighborhood you want to look into is around the gardens of Les Buttes Chaumont. Not much is available here, unfortunately, but the park is stunning and there are some glorious side streets, once humble working-class bungalows, today the expensive houses of the very happy few. Wander off into rue de Mouzaïa and the enchanting streets on either of its sides, among others. There are quite a number of secrets to discover here. And if you are interested in the sociological development of the city, this part of the 19th arrondissement has become very popular with the Orthodox Jewish community in recent years.
The 20th arrondissement
Although rue de Belleville constitutes the boundary between the 19th and the 20th arrondissements, most of Belleville is associated with the 20th, notably the birthplace of Edith Piaf who epitomized the true spirit of working-class Paris. Belleville was anathema to the self-righteous bourgeoisie of the beaux quartiers of western Paris till very recently. Today, like all neighborhoods in the process of gentrification it is a mix. There are lots of immigrants here, including a substantial China Town, there are also regular middle-class people and professionals, and of late, lot's of young artists, happy to settle in humble, bucolic, picturesque bungalows which they turn into charming homes thanks to their imaginative taste…the same pattern that keeps repeating itself in Paris generation after generation. The parallel rue de Ménilmontant, further south, is also in the process of becoming trendy among the young. It too, was one of the emblems of working-class Paris, with such spokesmen as Maurice Chevalier. In other words, if your budget is limited, the 20th arrondissement should not be overlooked. There is no stigma attached to it any more, and it can only improve. All the more so, as the 20th conceals some unsuspected villages of greenery, notably La Campagne à Paris, by the Porte de Bagnolet, on the eastern fringe of the arrondissement, and le Village de Charonne, around rue Saint-Blaise, east of the cemetery of Le Père Lachaise. Yes, in case you didn't know, the city's biggest cemetery lies in the 20th, and it also happens to be a much sought after cemetery. Paradoxically so many of those who cling to the western parts of the city for their temporary life on earth, actually come to the poorer east for their definitive residency. And it is actually very expensive to "live" here permanently! I have always been amazed by the paradoxes and the contradictions of the French!
About the Author Thirza Vallois is the author of the highly acclaimed series Around and About Paris and of the forthcoming Romantic Paris. She holds several post-graduate degrees from the Sorbonne, including the prestigious agrégation. Acknowledged worldwide as a Paris expert, Thirza Vallois is invited regularly to lecture throughout the world. She is the author of the Paris entry for the Encarta Multi-media Software Encyclopedia and of the "Three Perfect Days in Paris" video, viewed on all United Airlines international flights and cable channels throughout the world in 1998. She contributes regularly to magazines, radio and television, notably BBC, PBS, CNN, The Travel Channel, Discovery Channel and The French Cultural Channel, United Airlines' Hemispheres, Condé Nast Traveler and others. Web site: http://www.thirzavallois.com, where her books can also be ordered.