The Cool Hot Air Hilltop of Paris
There’s a corner of Paris few tourists ever venture, nor even Parisians for that matter. I ventured there last night after saying so-long to all the folks at Parler Paris Après Midi (be sure to read all about it at /parlerparis/apresmidi.html) to visit an apartment for sale on a well-lit pedestrian street with nothing particularly special about it except for an unusual lavender brick building with deep lavender painted shutters.
Just off the Place d’Italie, this is the highest point in the 13th arrondissement, one of the seven hills of Paris, from which one has a panoramic view of the city. It’s the unassuming “quartier” known as “La Butte aux Cailles.”
No, it’s not the “hilltop of the quails” — which one might easily assume — but named after Pierre Caille who purchased the land on this hill in 1543. His son, Clément, developed the family heritage by acquiring additional land until it became known as first, “Butte de Caille,” then “Butte Caille” and now today, “Butte-aux-Cailles.”
On November 21st, 1783, Jean-François Pilâtre de Rozier, who was a French chemistry and physics teacher, and one of the first pioneers of aviation, made the first manned free hot air balloon flight in history, accompanied by the Marquis d’Arlandes. During the 25-minute flight using a “Montgolfier” hot air balloon, they traveled 12 kilometers from the château of La Muette to the Butte aux Cailles in (what was then the outskirts of Paris), attaining an altitude of 3000 feet. Engravings representing the landing display a tranquil country landscape. The landing spot today is the exit to the underground parking called the “Galaxie!”
The Buttes aux Cailles and the 13th arrondissement has changed quite a bit since. One century ago, it wasn’t even part of Paris, but part of the Commune of Gentilly. (Gentilly is also a name I grew up with as the eastern part of New Orleans, now sadly under water.) Still, the moment you step off the main streets that run between rue Bobillot, rue de Tolbiac and boulevard Auguste Blanqui, onto the one-way tiny streets spilling off the main street of rue de la Butte aux Cailles, you will sense that you’re in another world altogether.
It’s a strange sensation. The Butte aux Cailles is one of the few areas of Paris with single-family two-level homes, many covered in ivy or dripping with vines. Scattered among them are contemporary apartment buildings with chic architectural style and as a backdrop not far away lie the looming high-rises the 13th is so famous for. I stood in the center of the street rather dumb-founded by the contrast and wondered for a moment whether I was in Paris at all!
The neighborhood is awash with old-world charm — cafés, bars and restaurants, most of which still sport original decor. Quaint shops dot the landscape along with one of Paris’ most well-know swimming pools — Piscine de la Butte aux Cailles at 5 place Paul Verlaine — in art-deco style, supplied by a natural hot spring of a constant 28°C. You can still see a performance at The Théâtre des Cinq Diamants, once known for its Folie Bergère shows between the two world wars and as a hideout for the Resistance during World War II(see what’s playing at http://www.theatreonline.com/indexation/t/detail_theatre30.asp).
I wandered along the streets until my nose led me to land at Le Temps des Cerises for authentic “boudin noir,” served in a casserole covered by crispy thin slices of apple. The authenticity of the bistrot with its “petites ardoises” nailed to every available spot on the cluttered walls, wood tables and bentwood chairs, each elbow to elbow and deep burgundy upholstery, overshadowed
the quality of its cuisine, but no matter…it reeked of Butte aux Cailles charm and didn’t cost enough to be a bad value (18-20 rue de la Butte aux Cailles, 01.45.89.69.48). Around the corner at L’Avant Goût, your check will be double (31 Euros for 3 courses), but will be a better bet for an outstanding meal — known as the quartier’s best dining experience and one of the city’s best values (26, rue Bobillot, 01.53.80.24.00).
There was even more action at the many bars and cafés, spilling out onto the street in the warm evening air. La Bonne Cave didn’t offer even one seat for the weary. Others to test include Papagallo (25, rue des Cinq Diamants), the Sputnik (14-16, rue de la Butte aux Cailles and the Folie en Tête (33, rue de la Butte aux Cailles), each offering a different ambiance to set the mood.
If you can’t get there in person, (it’s in French, but…) click here for a great little tour of the neighborhood: http://www-inf.enst.fr/~premiere/butte/ If you CAN get there in person, make a point of discovering a Paris you wouldn’t have otherwise.
A la prochaine…
Editor, Parler Paris
Email [email protected]
P.S. It’s that time of year again…
1) Don’t miss Les Journées du Patrimoine this weekend (September 17-18) when the whole country opens its doors to the public to celebrate its heritage. Visit sites and monuments you’d never be able to otherwise. Visit http://www.journeesdupatrimoine.culture.fr/ for complete information or stop at the information centers: Ministère de la culture et de la communication at 5, rue Valois and at 182, rue Saint-Honoré, 1st open from 9:30 a.m. to 7 p.m. and…
2) Don’t miss the annual Rentrée Lunch Party at Parler Parlor (10 euros), Saturday September 19th, 11 a.m. for conversation then 12:30 p.m. for lunch together. PLUS Save 10 Euros on a 10-Session Card and 20 Euros on a 20-Session Card That Day!!