For those who loved the old neighborhood of Montparnasse...
The fourteenth arrondissement is located in southern Paris on the Left Bank of the Seine River. It covers about 2.2 square miles (over five and a half square kilometers) and is home to over one hundred thirty thousand residents and about seventy thousand jobs.
Some people will want to visit its famous Catacombs, Roman limestone quarries converted to burial grounds more than two hundred years ago. In all my years in Paris (actually less than two) I never saw the Catacombs and never felt that I missed them. But hey, that’s just me. The Catacombs were created because improper burials caused lots of disease in the famous Les Halles market district and in fact all over Paris. These quarries, by no means limited to the fourteenth arrondissement definitely reduced disease but did cause many safety problems. During the construction of Paris’s newest subway line an elementary school courtyard collapsed. What luck that no children were present.
You can take an authorized tour of the catacombs or strike out on your own. There’s a word for such people, cataphiles. Among the authors fascinated by the Catacombs are Umberto Eco and Edgar Allan Poe. With all the underground visits it is interesting to note that only a single death has been confirmed in the Catacombs during the last 250 years.
The Cimetière de Montparnasse (Montparnasse cemetery) is the final resting place of many famous French intellectual and artists including Charles Baudelaire, Samuel Beckett, Simone de Beauvoir, and Jean-Paul Sartre. The cemetery also has monuments to Parisian police and firefighters killed in the line of duty.
The name Montparnasse comes from "Mount Parnassus," said to be the home of the Greek muses to the arts and sciences. To my knowledge this neighborhood was not very important for science with a single, extremely important exception. Montparnasse is home to the world-famous Pasteur Institute, one of the leaders in the fight against the AIDS virus and numerous other viruses. This neighborhood has been important for the arts since at least the Seventeenth Century. As usual for artistic neighborhoods, it boasts numerous cafes, bars, restaurants, and nightclubs. But in the old days many Montparnasse artists lived in extreme poverty. In the local cafes the rule was simple; waiters did not wake sleeping artists. In some cafes such as La Rotonde, actually in the Sixth district on the other side of Boulevard Montparnasse, the artists “lent” their work to the cafe owners until they could pay their bills. In the words of Marc Chagall, "The sun of Art then shone only on Paris." And while some of that sunshine was in Montmartre, most of it was in Montparnasse.
The famous music hall Bobino was and still is a neighborhood fixture on the Rue de la Gaité, just west of the Montparnasse Cemetery. Its famous non-artistic residents included Vladimir Lenin, Leon Trotsky, and Symon Petliura, an anti-communist Ukranian political leader. History does not record whether the three ever met at Bobino or other Montparnasse nightspots.
You can immerse yourself in the spirit of the times at the Musée du Montparnasse (Montparnasse Museum) located at the former studio of the Russian-born Montparnasse painter, Maris Vassilieff. Vassilieff was quite a character; she founded a canteen for starving artists and once pushed the Italian-born Montparnasse painter Amedeo Modigliani down the stairs. Afterwards she did a drawing of the incident. The Museum offers members a monthly cultural gathering. Try as they might, I don’t think they can capture the flavor of old Montparnasse.
La Cité Internationale Universitaire de Paris (International University of Paris) is a complex with several dozen residences for students and visiting academics. First started in 1925, many of its buildings were designed by famous architects including Le Corbusier who designed the Swiss and Brazilian pavilions. North of the Cité is the lovely Parc Montsouris (not translated as Mouse Mountain Park) designed as an English garden.
La Santé is one of France’s most famous prisons. It includes both VIP and high-security sectors. Founded in 1867 it owes its name (which means health) to the nearby Ste-Anne hospital. La Santé was divided into four blocks to place prisoners with others from the same geographic or ethnic environment. During the Twentieth Century it was the sight of many executions by guillotine, the last one in late 1972. Near the end of World War II on July 14, 1944 political prisoners revolted and were massacred by the Vichy (collaborationist) forces.
Of course you don’t want to be in Paris without sampling fine French wine and food. In my article I Love French Wine and Food – A Bordeaux Rosé I reviewed such a wine and suggested a sample menu: Start with Andouillette (Chitterling Sausage). For your second course savor Esturgeon à la Libournaise (Sturgeon cooked with White Wine). And as dessert indulge yourself with Fanchonette Bordelaise (Puff Pastry with Custard and Meringue). Your Parisian sommelier (wine steward) will be happy to suggest appropriate wines to accompany each course.
Levi Reiss has authored or co-authored ten books on computers and the Internet, but to be honest, he would
rather just drink fine French or other wine, accompanied by the right foods.
He knows what dieting is, and is glad that for the time being he can eat and drink
what he wants, in moderation. He teaches classes in computers at an Ontario
French-language community college. His central website is
www.wineinyourdiet.com devoted to the health and nutritional aspects of wine and its place in your weight-loss program. Visit his global wine site www.theworldwidewine.com and his other websites devoted to Italian wine, Italian travel, and Italian food.
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