Streets and Stories: Rue de Buci in Saint-Germain-des-Prés

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Streets and Stories: Rue de Buci in Saint-Germain-des-Prés
As a self-confessed, unabashed lover of Saint-Germain-des-Prés, dare I even say addict, walking once more on her streets again, after a reluctant absence, lifts my heart and I really know I’m back in Paris again. My Paris. And nowhere for me encapsulates the soul and vibrancy of the St Germain district quite like the little Rue de Buci. Starting at the crossroads of Rue de l’Ancienne-Comédie, Rue Dauphine and Rue Mazarine, Rue de Buci winds it way to Boulevard Saint-Germain passing Rue Grégoire-de-Tours and Rue de Seine on its way. At only 11.50 meters wide and 190 meters long, the Rue de Buci crams so much into this little street that it is bustling day and night with pedestrians shopping, drinking or dining. The Rue de Buci got its name from Simon de Buci, the first president of the Parliament of Paris in 1341, who in 1350 bought the Saint Germain gate which opened onto the narrow street. By the 1700s the Rue de Buci and its adjoining streets in Saint Germain had become popular watering holes for artists, intellectuals, performers and writers. And it was a group of these disparate, talented men who added singing to the neighborhood’s attractions. They had started three years earlier– in the ‘spirit of conviviality and gaiety’– meeting in the Rue de la Grand-Truanderie to dine and sing together. It was in 1729 below the cabaret du Caveau owned by Nicolas-Alexis Landelle at the crossroads of Rue Dauphine and Rue de Buci, that the eight men, after a meal lasting 10 hours, decided to formalize their group and the goguette du Caveau was born. It was reported that afterwards all the men went their separate ways, drunk… (The idea was likely taken from an association formed in 1630 of drinkers and singers named appropriately, Le Concert des Enfants de Bacchus. The singing had to be accompanied by copious amounts of alcohol, which fortuitously, presented La Société du Caveau with absolutely no problem.) So popular was the area– with Le Procope and the theater just around the corner on Rue de L’Ancienne Comédie– that sedan chairs waited outside the establishments like present day taxi ranks, to take their (inebriated) clients home. The goguette du Caveau was the first of its kind, but certainly not the last, and although this one lasted only ten years, others endured until 1939 in Paris and goguettes were to be found in Marseille, Algiers and Belgium. La Société du Caveau, as it came to be known, was a club exclusively for men. They numbered at that time 20. Amongst the original members were its founder Pierre Gallet, François Boucher (an artist), and the singer Pierre Jolyot. New songs were to be sung to each other and it was here that Jean-Philippe Moreau composed Frère Jacques, the song still sung now, not only by French children, but children the world over, learning French. The colorful history of the Rue de Buci was dragged into the 20th century during the Second World War when after the Nazi invasion of France and the occupation of Paris, a brave demonstration of the Resistance, led mainly by women, took place in April 1942. The PFC (French communist party) assigned the OS (Special Organization) the task of organizing demonstrations against food rationing, the scourge not only of Paris but of all France. Their specific aim was to target restaurants and luxury food stores and then to distribute food which was unavailable to the average Parisian. On May 31st, these activists invaded the Eco food store to appropriate cans of sardines. The subsequent fight between the OS and employees of the store resulted in the police being called. Men in the OS protection group shot two of the policemen dead. Twenty arrests were made including that of the ring leader, Madeleine Marzin, usually known as Lucette. It was during the same war, in 1943, that Simone de Beauvoir and Jean Paul Sartre moved into the Hôtel La Louisiane at 23,25,27 Rue de Buci. Beauvoir took the larger room 10 on the top floor and Sartre a smaller room on the floor below. Beauvoir stayed there until 1948 before giving up hotel life for a room in Rue de la Boucherie. (Sartre had moved out a little earlier to his mother’s apartment on the corner of Rue Bonaparte.) But it was during those febrile war years that La Louisiane became the epicenter of intellectual life, communist debate, drama, fallings out, and the quiet beginnings of a sexual revolution. Both Sartre and Beauvoir took many lovers; Beauvoir was as comfortable sleeping with women as men. Her students visited, and friends– including Albert Camus and Juliette Greco– took rooms there. Sartre was writing Les Mouches and Beauvoir had her first novel, L’invitée, published. La Louisiane advertises itself modestly as “offering old school rooms, an ancestral and quaint hotel, simple, clean and tidy-a budget hotel– do not expect luxury but plenty of history, wifi and ensuites.” The journalist and writer, Agnès Poirier, rented room 10, ‘the round room,’ and felt it had not changed since 1940. For anyone interested in that period of Paris life, I can not recommend her book enough. Left Bank: Art, Passion, and the Rebirth of Paris, 1940-50 is fascinating. However, if a basic hotel is not your idea of heaven, the Hotel de Buci is a classic hotel boasting every comfort. But what has the Rue de Buci to offer today? Bar/restaurants/bistros/cafés are as good a place as any to start, and without doubt, the very essence of French life. The Café de Buci, with its signature red awnings, straddles the corner of…
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Lead photo credit : Saint-Germain-des-Prés, Paris, France

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After some dreary years in the Civil Service, Marilyn realized her dream of living in Paris. She arrived in Paris in December 1967 and left in July 1969. From there she lived in Mallorca, London, Oman, and Dubai, where she moved with her husband and young son and worked for Gulf News, Khaleej Times and freelanced for Emirates Woman magazine. During this time she was also a ground stewardess for Middle East Airlines. For the past 18 years they've lived on the Isle of Wight.

Comments

  • Marilyn
    2020-07-15 12:46:43
    Marilyn
    How lucky that you too, lived in the Rue de Buci and what wonderful memories of your apartment! Still jealous despite the toilets and the bucket baths! Thank you for commenting.

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  • Marilyn Brouwer
    2020-07-15 12:43:45
    Marilyn Brouwer
    Thank you so much for your comments Geraldine. How I envy you living in this wonderful street where I spent many happy times in the late 60's but sadly wasn't lucky enough to live there. I hope you make it back when this dreadful Corona virus is defeated. You won't be disappointed and at least you have such great memories. Kindest regards Marilyn

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  • Repak Geraldine
    2020-07-13 08:14:28
    Repak Geraldine
    I lived at 82 rue Mazarine from 1951 to 1960 and at 3 rue de Buci in 1961 before leaving for the US.

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  • Geraldine Repak
    2020-07-13 06:18:47
    Geraldine Repak
    Thank you , thank you so much for this wonderful article about my street. I lived there from 1951 til 1961. I went back there many times but I miss this neigborhood so much. I remember tle marche de la r rue de Buci and all the places you mentioned in your article. you gave me great pleasure reading your article on the best street in Paris for me. I have been in the US now for many years but I hope I will go back to visit La rue de Buci one more time.

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  • Julia Browne
    2020-06-17 08:16:55
    Julia Browne
    A vital addition to Hotel Louisiane: in the early 1960s Bebop musicians Miles Davis and Bud Powell lived here. The hotel/rooming house was a central site in the film 'Round Midnight' by Bertrand Tavernier featuring the great saxophonist Dexter Gordon.

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  • George Otis
    2020-06-02 15:20:41
    George Otis
    I lived at no.6 rue de Buci between 1980-82. My first wife grew up there, her family lived in two tiny attic rooms on the top floor that weren't even joined. It was rent-controlled and basically free, so the building's owner never fixed anything up. It was an old, pre-plumbing building with squat toilets on little balconies off the stairs landings, and we took bucket baths in the sink. Our home bar was Le Dauphin, on the ground floor. We travelled a lot back then and were in and out, staying a few months and then leaving again. I have not been back since but of course would love to go. I think it has been pretty well gentrified by now.

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  • Ellen A.
    2020-02-28 15:56:49
    Ellen A.
    Charming review of one of Paris's most beloved streets. So much I did not know! Sad that the market street is stopped - no word as to why? But good to hear about the jazz band. Small typo: should be "stationery," not "stationary."

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