Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Mouffetard Street

My video of Mouffetard Street is finally finished and online. I shot it in September, but it took a long time to get around to editing it.

The French word for “street” is rue, which is why you see this word so often on street signs in Paris. In place names, words like street or avenue are usually not capitalized in French, and the name of the place follows the noun designating the type of place … so rue Mouffetard simply means “Mouffetard Street.”

Mouffetard Street is one of the better known streets in Paris. It is famous as a street with a lot of food shops on it, although it really doesn't have that many food shops. It's extremely old, too: it has followed roughly the same path since the days when the ancient Romans ran the city, and there are signs that it had already been an actively inhabited area for thousands of years before the Romans arrived twenty centuries ago. Today it's a moderately straight street that physical extends approximately south from the place Maubert to the avenue des Gobelins in the Latin Quarter, although it doesn't actually take on the name of Mouffetard Street until you reach its lower (southern) end.

The street starts low at its north end, near the Seine River, and then rises significantly as it passes over the summit of the Montagne Sainte Geneviève, a hill named after the patron saint of Paris. From that point it descends again towards the avenue des Gobelins, ending at a spot where a small stream, the Bièvre, used to flow (and it flows still today—but it is completely buried below street level). At the summit of the hill, it passes discreetly to the east of the huge Panthéon, the twenty-five-story church of Saint Geneviève that dominates the Latin Quarter skyline.

Most of Mouffetard Street is “standard charming,” meaning that it is a typical street of Paris, which in turn means that it is charming, as soon many typical streets of Paris tend to be. For various reasons, it is more famous than most streets, but I wouldn't say that it is really much different from thousands of other interesting streets in Paris. However … since it is so well known, I've made a video about it.

From tourist guides, you'd think that Mouffetard Street is just jam-packed with food shops, but that's not really true. Most of the street (under its various names) is lined by shops and restaurants, and a significant landmark near its midpoint is old École Polytechnique campus. (The school moved to the suburbs years ago, but the campus is still there and serves as a government ministry now.) As it moves south and actually becomes Mouffetard Street by name, it passes the place de la Contrescarpe, a roundabout that Hemingway wrote about in A Moveable Feast. From there, there are more and more shops and restaurants, and eventually the street is blocked to vehicular traffic, allowing only pedestrians. As you finally descend towards the southern extremity of the street, the food shops and some open markets appear. Overall, it's about 2/3 of a mile long.

In my video I start at the place Maubert (where there is a very nice open food market on certain days of the week, although not on the day that I shot), and I walk all the way down to the lower end of Mouffetard Street. I make a quick detour to show Hemingway's former apartment, which is right off the place de la Contrescarpe.

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