La Passage du Grand Cerf

I’ve written about the flaneur before – a person who walks the city in order to experience it – and now am genuinely starting to feel like one. I’ve been in Paris for just about 2 months now and no day goes by that I don’t think for at least a few moments of how lucky I am to be able to walk along the streets of this amazing city. I think I can safely say that I’m past the honeymoon phase of my stay here in Paris. I still love it, but I’m feeling more comfortable, more at home, less touristy. I don’t feel the need rush to go out and do everything all at once, which is exactly how I felt when I first arrived. Of course, my to do list is still ten pages long, so if I plan on checking it all off before the end of May, I’d better keep the pace up.

A glass covered arcade in the midst of the busy 2nd arrondisment, La Passage du Grand Cerf transports you back in time to the 19th century, right to the heart of the time when Baudelaire was writing about his famous flaneur. I can only begin to imagine what it must have felt like to walk down this alleyway 200 years ago with the huge arching glass windows letting in so much beautiful light and the abundance of little shops and restaurants that line the way. 

Today, it’s home to some small boutiques, including this amazing one that sells all sorts of knobs. I kind of have this weird obsession with knobs. Last year I spent over 50 dollars at anthropologie buying new knobs for my dresser. It might have something to do with the fact that I want to own everything in the home section of that store. Either way, I spent a solid 15 minutes checking out these ceramic little balls until I realized it was going to be silly for me to buy them as I don’t even have a dresser here to put them on and I have 10 perfectly good knobs waiting for me back at home in New York. They’re still so pretty to look at!

After my stroll through the passage, I took a rest at a cafe right across the road and sat drinking my coffee and gazing at the people who happened to go down through the arcade. It somehow manages to vanish within the busy landscape of present day Paris. Many people didn’t even seem to notice it as they walked down the main drag, while a few happened to turn their head upon seeing the cherry red carpets and stopped to take a peak inside, much like I did.

Recently, I have been coming to grips with how much of a spectacle Paris is. Everything has such intense meaning and importance to the tourists who come to see it, but I often feel that the magic that made Paris so wonderful in the early 20th century has somehow been lost behind all the pomp and pageantry of 21st century Paris. It tries so hard to cater to the many millions of tourists who pass through its borders every year and sometimes the original significance of these places is forgotten. Le Passage du Grand Cerf, to me at least, is a reminder of what the splendor of Paris used to be like, before it became glossed over. Sure, the stores and boutiques are not hundreds of years old like the passage itself, but the archways and windows contain a secret history that only those who search for it will find. So many people come to Paris today and only hit up the big landmarks and sites. While that’s a valuable thing to do, one must go beyond the sheen and find places like Le Passage du Grand Cerf in order to be a true flaneur.

La vie d’un flâneur & Le Panthéon

Walking in Paris is so different from walking in NYC. In New York, you’re walking on a grid (which was recently written about here in a great article from the New York Times). I know the NYC grid like the back of my hand. Whenever I need to go somewhere, it takes me just a few moments to orient myself and I’m off in the right direction, easily catching a subway or bus that run strictly up and down or side to side. In Paris, no street is alike. Some wander left, some right, very few are parallel to each other and the countless roundabouts allow for 4, 5 or even 6 roads to all intervene at one spot. The pandemonium of cars at these traffic junctures, in my mind, is one of the most amazing feats of man – to drive in a roundabout where there appear to be no lane markers, yet somehow cars coming in from 8 directions somehow know what to do. Most of the time that is 😉

Obviously I’ve only been here a few days, so everything is new, but there is just something about these streets that leaves the streets of NYC trailing far behind. I love it! It’s so easy to get lost and just wander the main roads and back alleys for hours without ever setting foot in the same place twice. I would definitely consider myself a Baudelairian flaneur. From a paper I wrote sophomore year on what Walter Benjamin had to say about the flaneur, “Benjamin invites the reader to wander the streets of nineteenth century Paris, similar to the way a flâneur might, by discovering the historical, psychological and literary elements that gave the flâneurs so much pleasure during their strolls.”

On one afternoon of wandering the other day, I found myself in front of Rue du Panthéon, right next to, you guessed it, Le Panthéon. On my previous trip to Paris in high school I thought we had hit up practically every single major tourist attraction in the city, but apparently a stop at the Panthéon did not make it onto the itinerary.

At first I was hesitant to pay the entrance fee, as everything in Paris seems expensive to me, but decided I had nothing better to do, so went on in. I serisouly had no idea what this place even was, although it looked mighty grand, like a former palace from the outside. It was well worth the 5 euros, as the inside was pretty magnificent. On another note, it always pays to carry some form of ID around that proves you are under 25, as there are tons of discounts if you know where to look!

What I learned from my visit was that Le Panthéon was originally a church dedicated to St. Genevive that was constructed in the 18th century, right around the time of the French Revolution, but it has since turned into a secular mausoleum where the remains of many famous Frenchmen and women can now be found. The inside is really quite stunning. The huge vaulted domes show off beautiful frescos showcased throughout the cathedral.

Down below in the crypts is the most exciting. I saw the crypts of Voltaire and Rousseau, as well as Victor Hugo and Pierre and Marie Curie. It feels like you are in the underworld of Paris. You’re in a completely stone room that is full of the remains of dead people. A little scary in retrospect, but equally amazing when you realize who the people are who are entombed around you. I’m really glad I went and can now tick off one more historical landmark that I can say I have visited in Paris.

I decided I’d try this nifty little gallery feature to fit more pictures into one post. What do you think?