The Rue du Jour

I have at last returned and (for the most part) recovered from my Continental trip. No, I was not stuck by an ash cloud; I got back to London (where I’m based; I’m not a native) on Monday, and the chaos began on Thursday. It is now the following Tuesday and there is still no sight of alleviation.

My trip to Paris was fruitful in that I saw several of the places on my list. Unfortunately, for various reasons that really don’t seem to make much sense in retrospect, I didn’t get to them all. Suffice it to say, I never made it to the Grove of Venus, which was actually heartbreaking, and I didn’t make it to the Rue St Gilles, which was less devastating.

I did, however, make it to the Rue Du Jour. Here’s the Google Map version.

The Rue du Jour was where my favorite Parisian prostitute resided in the 1780’s, when she met my favorite callow chevalier. I mean, of course, Nicole d’Oliva and Nicolas de La Motte. Nicole lived here, in the shadow of the Eglise Saint Eustache, a fantastic old pile. It is also directly in the proverbial (though not literal, as in the case of the church) shadow of Les Halles, which was a great marketplace. Now the marketplace has been sunk underground with the Metro even further below. It was quite a maze down below, and it was all we (me and my traveling partner) could do to find our way outside. Once outside, it took some time to orient ourselves because of the way the streets twist and split and braid around each other.

First, Les Halles. This was a covered marketplace, first created here in the 12th century. It would have been pretty obvious to Nicole, though at this moment I haven’t mentioned it in the novel I’m working on; it probably would have been relatively unimportant to Nicole anyway, who spent most of her time at the Palais-Royal. In any case, the covered market was demolished in the 70’s and replaced with the underground shopping.

This link has some more info and a picture of the old Les Halles; you will need to scroll down because it’s in alphabetical order: http://www.trussel.com/maig/encyclo/me_l.htm

When you step into the Rue du Jour–and here the British way of saying “in” as opposed to “on” a street seems appropriate– you get a feeling for the place in the 18th century. Many of Paris’s street are wide, but the older ones are not. This is one of the older one and it is flanked by buildings as tall as six stories. This gives a close, intimate feeling to the street. The ground floors are now shops, mostly for children’s clothing. The upper stories appear to be the same facades as the ones that Nicole would have known, with iron balustrades and bands of masonry demarkating the different floors. There are even gaps that I’m almost sure must have been carriageways or entrances to courtyards. Halfway down the road, there are large green doors in the rusticated front of an old building; when we were there, these were open, and we peeked in to see a courtyard. This is a fire station or some such, because the sign said “firefighters” (I only realized this after I got back from my trip and translated the sign).

Two things dominate the Rue du Jour: the church of Saint-Eustache and an archway. The church looms overhead in a magnificent way, just over the tops of the buildings. For Nicole, it must have been a constant reminder of the sinfulness of her profession–that is, if she had any religious sentiments at all, and she probably did given the time and place (almost everyone was Catholic).

As for the archway, I’m at a loss. Behind it, there’s a shop, and it looks as though it was once part of a building, the archway into the courtyard perhaps. I have yet to understand it and would be forever grateful to anyone who had a clue as to its purpose, what it may have once belonged to, etc.

So, what must it have been like to live here? It would have been thrilling to live so close to Les Halles, with the Palais-Royal a short walk to the west. Churches are a familiar sight in all European cities, but Saint-Eustache really does have a real presence here. It would have been a quieter, more out of the way spot than the bustling marketplace just a few steps away–like escaping from a maelstrom. It also would have been relatively comfortable place to live; perhaps Nicole’s circumstances were more comfortable than she let on.

Nicole’s mention of the Rue du Jour came during the trial two years after she met Nicolas de La Motte. As translated by Frances Mossiker, she says, “I lived close to the Palais-Royal at the time . . . in a small apartment on the Rue du Jour.” It is a passing mention, but it meant I could get a vivid, first-hand view of the place where this young woman lived. It’s a fantastic feeling.

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