Paris-Auteuil: A Tranquil Village in the City

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Paris-Auteuil: A Tranquil Village in the City
When I was living in Paris years ago, I had the great fortune to live in a lovely area not generally frequented by tourists. Even today, it is still off the beaten circuits. I loved this tranquil and refined little haven called Auteuil – a pleasing village by the River Seine. In 1860, as part of Haussmann’s grand redevelopment plan, Auteuil was incorporated into the 16th arrondissement and soon acquired, and retained, the reputation as an area where the nouveau riche bourgeoisie like to live. Nevertheless, the little commune continued to retain its country character where life centered around Le Clocher du Village (the village bell tower). Auteuil’s origins actually date back to the early 12th century when it was part of the feudal domain of the Abbaye de Sainte-Geneviève. Auteuil abolished serfdom in 1247, about a century before the neighboring parishes, and in the 16th century became a refuge for Protestants escaping the infamous St. Bartholomew’s Day massacres. After the revolution in the 18th century, Auteuil became a commune. It was in the 17th century, however, that the pastoral atmosphere of Auteuil appealed to the upper classes in search of a reposing, healthful retreat. Soon Auteuil became home to some of the world’s most fascinating and illustrious literary and stage personalities – along with a mix of aristocrats and diplomats. Auteuil gained the additional reputation as a health center in the 1800s when therapeutic mineral springs were discovered. Several medical clinics sprouted up but they no longer exist. The most famous resident of Auteuil was Jean-Baptiste Poquelin (better known as Molière, 1622-1673), father of many classical French plays. His country home was at #2 rue d’Auteuil. Molière and many of his companions in the arts enjoyed gathering at an inn to eat and have stimulating discussions on the latest artistic currents and topics of the day. This took place at L’Auberge du Mouton Blanc, #40 rue d’Auteuil, one of the oldest restaurants in Paris. Some of the people Molière shared company with are famous literary personalities like playwright Jean Racine and poet-critic Nicolas Boileau. Among the independent ladies were the writers and progressive thinkers Madeleine de Scudéry, Ninon de Lenclos and the prominent tragic actress, Marie Champmeslé (who died in Auteuil). Should you decide to dine at Le Mouton Blanc, you may feel the lingering presence of this group as their portraits hang on the walls looking over the diners. Between 1784-1785, two future U.S. Presidents – John Adams and his son, John Quincy Adams – resided at #43-47 rue d’Auteuil in a house named Hôtel Antier that had been built for a renowned baroque opera singer, Marie Antier. The Adams family lived in Auteuil while John Adams negotiated treaties between France and the U.S. colonies. Adams’ compatriot, Benjamin Franklin, and a very popular personality in French society, lived in nearby Passy, within walking distance to Auteuil. Adams and Franklin may have been born only 12 miles apart sharing similar backgrounds, but they were complete opposites when it came to style and outlook. During Franklin’s nine-year stay in Paris he could be seen on most Wednesday and Saturday afternoons at #59 rue d’Auteuil attending the reputed drawing-room parties (salons) of the elegant and aristocratic socialite-hostess, Mme. Anne-Catherine de Ligniville-Helvétius, widow of a distinguished academic. His visits, in fact, were so frequent that a permanent place at the table was always set for him. He was smitten with Madame’s refined charms, but so were many others. It was not the matron’s physical attraction so much as how she engaged people with her warmth, intellect and wit. Eventually, the widowed Franklin would propose marriage to Madame, but she preferred to remain independent. It’s easy to see why Tout-Paris eagerly flocked to Madame’s delightful afternoon salons called L’Académie d’Auteuil. Hers was one of the best salons of Paris. They loved the country atmosphere and Madame’s relaxed, informal style. Around the table they engaged in lively discussions as well as flirtations – like coquettish little fights over cream – while a menagerie of 18 ribboned angora cats, canaries, two coiffed lap dogs and assorted chickens, pigeons and other animals wandered in, out and around the house. Madame’s friends called her “Minette.” Franklin called her Notre-Dame d’Auteuil. One neighbor, and occasional guest, was not so impressed by Notre-Dame d’Auteuil, and that was the straight-laced American, Abigail Adams (wife of John). Abigail found Madame’s behavior “shocking” as she witnessed her greeting Ben Franklin warmly with kisses on each cheek and the forehead. Abigail looked disapprovingly as “that bad woman” would sometimes warmly fling an arm around him. The Bonaparte family was also on the guest roster. Of course. One of them, Prince Pierre Bonaparte, even lived at #59 for a while. Napoléon Bonaparte, himself, was a guest at Madam’s salons on at least three occasions between 1798 and 1799. He complained that the property felt too “narrow.” Of course. Madame Helvétius bought the three-acre property at #59 after she was widowed. It already had a long history. The previous owner was none other than Maurice Quentin de la Tour, the famous rococo court portraitist. The original house is long gone and a modern apartment building erected in its place that, as things turned out, became my address for a few years. [caption…
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Lead photo credit : vintage postcard of the Eglise d'Auteuil

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Dorothy Garabedian is a retired, expat American from central California living in Germany and now devoting her time to writing on travel, culture and lifestyle. She has traveled around the world and lived in Uruguay and the European cities of Brussels, Paris, Frankfurt and Moscow. Read more of her work on her blog, Detours and Diversion: https://dorothygarabedian.wordpress.com

Comments

  • Dorothy
    2016-03-04 18:44:36
    Dorothy
    Yes, I'm familiar with the Queens Hotel and have stayed there a couple of times from way back. That is my first choice for staying in Paris when I have to stay in a hotel. Enjoy your future visits to Auteuil!

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