Paris Walking Tours
A Man in Uniform is set in two distinct Paris neighbourhoods. Francois Dubon’s life revolves around the business district of the 1st and 2nd arrondissements, and his nearby residence in the 8th. He is a man of the bourgeois Right Bank.
While in our lexicon the Left Bank is the student quarter and source of all that is bohemian, the Left Bank, and especially the 7th, was also the home of Paris’ old aristocracy and the seat of government. This is where the aristocratic army officers felt at home, whether exercising their horses on the Champs de Mars or relaxing in their hôtel particuliers, their townhouses.
If you visit Paris, here are two walks, one on the Right Bank, the other on the Left, that retrace the steps of my characters. If you actually walked them book in hand, you would find I have occasionally shortened streets or omitted street numbers for my fictional purposes. Instead, I would recommend a copy of “L’indispensable” the Paris map book that can be bought at any news stand in the city.
(about 20 minutes or half an hour from the rue St. Honoré to the rue Bayard)
To follow Maitre Dubon home from work (see Chapter 1, p. 20), begin on the rue St. Honoré, one block in from the rue de Rivoli, anywhere west of the Palais Royale and the Louvre. Admire the fancy boutiques as you walk and pick out an office building for Dubon before you get to the rue de Castiglione. (If you are doing some tourism, you can also cut north here to see the place Vendôme.)
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The next block or so (rue Cambon or the rue St. Florentin) turn left and cut down to the rue de Rivoli where it meets the place de la Concorde. Dubon proceeded south down the eastern side of the square and then west across the bottom of it, noting the statues of the cities of France that stand at its four corners. The statues are still there – Strasbourg, once draped in black, was uncovered after Alsace and Lorraine were returned to France at the end of the First World War. But you are also going to encounter a huge amount of car traffic that did not exist in Dubon’s day. Use the pedestrian crossings and look out for aggressive drivers coming up on your left.
As you reach the river, continue along the cours de la Reine, now a wide boulevard with several lanes of traffic and some green space along by the river. In Dubon’s day it would have felt a lot more like open country, with riders on horseback taking the air and a huge open space where the Grand Palais and Petit Palais now stand. You can see them on your right; in 1897, the site was only being cleared for their construction for the Paris Exhibition of 1900. (The metro was also built for that occasion: if Dubon did not want to walk home, he could take a new electric tram that would have run along the quai des Tuileries and cours de la Reine, a route now replaced by the No. 1 metro line.)
Cross the bottom of the avenue Franklin D. Roosevelt and the place du Canada (France is always generous in honouring foreign friends) and you will have reached, on your right, the rue Bayard. The older buildings on the street would have been constructed around the time of Dubon’s marriage in the late 1870s. It’s a short street: you can quickly pick out a nice house for him.
If instead of this walk, you want to retrace Dubon’s steps from his office to Madeleine’s apartment (Chapter 6, p. 66) on the rue de Gramont in the 2nd, get out your map and plot a route from the rue St. Honoré, perhaps up the rue St. Roch, across the avenue de l’Opéra, up the rue Gaillon and eastwards along the rue du Quatre September. Madeleine’s street is now filled with sushi restaurants.
(about half an hour or 40 minutes walk from the Champs de Mars along the rue St. Dominique to the rue de Lille)
The first part of this walk is optional: it lies a bit to the west of where the Statistical Section was located but I include it because there’s a fun strip of shops and restaurants along this section of the rue St. Dominique.
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So, start in the middle of the Champs de Mars, facing east. To your right or southwards, is the Ecole Militaire. This park is where military parades and public gatherings used to take place (and if you walk around the back of the Ecole Militaire, you can still sometimes see cavalry officers exercising their horses – but that would add a good 20 minutes to this walk.) To your left, of course, is the Eiffel Tower. You want to find the rue St. Dominique that runs eastward off the Champs de Mars from the place du General Gouraud. Follow this bustling section of the rue St. Dominique until you end up in the park right at the foot of Les Invalides. (If you’re doing some other tourism, you can stop and visit Napoleon’s tomb.)
At this point, we get into the heart of the military and government neighbourhood where the conspiracy against Dreyfus was built (Chapter 13, p. 118.) Keep walking along the rue St. Dominique and you’ll note the character of the street is much quieter now. Notice, on your left, that forbidding unmarked building that takes up a whole block and is guarded by military policemen? That is the French Ministry of National Defence, and the headquarters to which the officers of the Statistical Section reported. It ends at the rue Solférino. Turn left, so you are heading towards the river, and you cross the Boulevard St. Germain and hit the rue de Lille one block later. Turn left and you will head down into the area where both the Statistical Section and the German Embassy (now only the ambassador’s residence but still visible at number 78) were located. Keep going a few more steps and you reach the side of the Assemblée National, France’s parliament, where the minister of war Godefroy Cavaignac affirmed Dreyfus’s guilt. Turn left down the rue Aristride Briand and you’ll encounter the Assemblée National gift shop. Highly recommended for interesting souvenirs.
If you retrace your steps and continue further along the rue de Lille in the opposite direction from the German Embassy, you’ll soon find yourself at the main entrance of the Musée d’Orsay. You can stop for a visit: it is filled with the art of Dubon’s period, both the famed Impressionists and the traditional salon painters of the era. The palace that once stood there had been burned during the Commune; in Dubon’s day the site was being cleared to build a new train station, that only became a museum in the 1980s.
If you are game for a much longer walk, keep going down the rue de Lille until it ends at the rue du Bac. Turn right (away from the river) and stroll along enjoying the shops and restaurants of the rue de Bac as it crosses the Boulevard St. Germain, and the rue de Grenelle. Once you reach the rue de Varenne, turn right. Now you are in the heart of the artistocratic quarter where a man like the Baron de Masson would have had his residence. Keep walking and you will reach the Museé Rodin just before you find yourself back at Les Invalides.