26 March 2009

Sur les trottoirs de Paris

The intersection of the Rue Pavée (horizontal)
and the Rue des Rosiers (vertical)

It is important to remind oneself from time to time that one lives in France, and not some other place. Therefore my “day off” in Paris last weekend included a bit of idling and strolling about, for which the French have a single, highly specific verb: flâner. This included trips down two of my favorite streets in Paris, beloved more for their names than for any other attractions that may lie there.

The first is the Rue Pavée, which means literally “Paved Street.” Because it’s paved. As opposed to, you know, all the other streets in Paris. It’s in the Marais, which is also home to the “Rue du Temple” (Temple Street) as well as the “Rue Vieille du Temple” (Old Temple Street), sources of infinite confusion, since they’re parallel and separated only by the Rue des Archives. If anybody is looking to rename a street in this city, I’ve got a candidate.

Rue Marie Stuart: No place for a nice Catholic girl

My second-favorite street-name is “Rue Marie Stuart,” just off the Rue Montorgeuil in the Second Arrondissement. It’s named after Mary, Queen of Scots, who was also Queen of France from 1559 to 1560, and who grew up in the Louvre a few blocks away, back in the days when it was a royal residence.

The story goes that she was roaming about the streets of Paris herself one day. Of course a monarch can’t merely “flâner”: she has to be attended by courtiers. She and her posse found themselves in a small street and she declared it charming. “What is the name?” she asked.

What the young lady didn’t realize was that the street in question was a hangout for prostitutes. The street had no name, other than “La Rue Tire-Boudin,” which means “Tug-on-the-Sausage Street.”

This is not the sort of thing one tells a princess, who is moreover a nice Catholic girl (lest we forget). Thinking fast, a courtier responded, “Why, it is named for you, Majesty!” And so it has been, ever since.

Mary, Queen of Frogs:
With her first husband, François II


Anonymous said...

Have you ever read Les Paroissiens by Jean Cau? There's an author focused on young characters who like to "flaner" on a regular basis. This is where I first encountered the term and realized that we don't have an exact equivalent for the behavior of those who like to be ostentatious in public -- and who have read the work of Richard Wright (a big hit in France) on occasion.


Mikebench said...

You know, I used to live in that neighborhood and never knew why that street was named "Marie Stuart"! Thanks to you, now I do!



William V. Madison said...

To Rick -- I haven't read Les Paroissiens; I'll look for it. As for the ostentation connected with flâner, that's news to me, too. Where have you encountered that connotation?

Anonymous said...

Well maybe on peut flane without actually being ostentatious, that's just my own take on it. The characters in Cau's novel do what young Americans do when they go out to "see and be seen" in public, and so the verb has had certain associations for me since I read the book.

-- Rick

Anonymous said...

Another uniquely French expression that you might consider writing about is "vivre dans la gene" -- it applies to awful lot of us these days.