Thursday, January 3, 2013

Marais-me (Pronounced mah-ray)

"A walk about Paris will provide
lessons in history, beauty, and
in the point of life."
~ Thomas Jefferson

Finding the Paris flat where we're going to stay happened quite by accident.  The sheer number of arrondissements in Paris and what each offers was driving me crazy.  "All I want," I whined more than once, "is an affordable and comfortable place that is centrally located."  I was looking for the proverbial needle in the haystack.

I saw the photo first, and the garrets caught my attention.  I loved the way the bed sat under one of the windows, cozy under the angled ceiling.  "Studio under the roofs, in the heart of Paris..."  It was affordable! I was hooked, and it was booked. I had no idea where, except central, it was, though it was in the 4th arrondissement and central.

Covering parts of the 3rd and 4th arrondissements, the Marais is one of the historic districts of Paris.  Once home to French aristocrats, the Marais is now a working-class district and protected by the government as a place of special cultural significance.  In the last 30-40 years, federal and local officials have pushed for restoration and rehabilitation of the area.  More medieval (pre-revolutionary) streets and buildings in the Marais remain than in other arrondissements.  

(A side note:  When Napoleon ruled France, he wanted to get rid of the small alleys, cobblestone streets, and old buildings. He razed much of Paris in an attempt to build wide avenues and huge plazas.  They were supposed to be wide enough to support military movement through the city as a means of protection. In additiom, the wide avenues and boulevards, monuments and large buildings served as a reminder that the people who lived on and in them were of a better class than those who remained in the older, smaller buildings and areas.)

The Marais retains much of its old charm – narrow cobblestone streets, small patisseries and cafes, locally owned shops.  There are a number o ethnic quarters, Jewish and Chinese being the largest.  Within its boundaries are a large, open-air market and an old, English-language bookstore as well as delis and antique shops. It's walkable,  within walking distance  of  so much history, and it's just the Paris I want to experience.

Of course, the happy accident of my finding a flat in the perfect place leads me to question why I – lover of all things modern, convenient and techie – would be so drawn to a quaint, medieval district.

Next time: Who? Me?

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