Behind the Scenes with Paris Walks

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Behind the Scenes with Paris Walks
There was a frisson of the spy novel about the instruction to meet outside Exit 1 of the Cardinal Lemoine métro station. A little group of us gathered, all looking round, wondering who was “one of us.” We were there to meet Chris Spence, a Paris Walks tour guide who was to take us around Hemingway’s Paris, and when he arrived we gathered round him expectantly. Chris was immediately endearing, slapping his forehead in mock frustration when he misdelivered the punchline to his opening joke. I felt straight away that it would be fun to tour this little corner of Paris with someone both knowledgeable and amusing. And so it proved.      Chris took us past the places where Hemingway had lived and worked in his early days in Paris, reading a relevant extract here and putting a “fact” right there. The plaque, he explained, may say Hemingway lived at a particular address in Rue Cardinal Lemoine, but more accurately this was where the author had rented a freezing attic in which to work. The flat he shared with his first wife, Hadley Richardson, was just along the street. And in fact, Hemingway wasn’t as poor as he liked to imply, because he had regular payments from an American newspaper and could tap into Hadley’s family legacy.  I enjoyed the asides at least as much as the Hemingway material. ‘Those yellow stickers,” explained Chris, “are for a City of Paris scheme to make sure big booksellers can’t undercut the small independent shops and drive them out of business.” I hadn’t expected an explanation of what happened to James II’s brain, once stored in a reliquary at the Collège Écossais in Rue du Cardinal Lemoine or of why the word “campus” for a university site may have originated here in the 5th arrondissement. I knew the Église Saint-Étienne du Mont was famous for its rood screen, but now I know what a rood screen is and why most of them were demolished.  “Look,” said Chris, pointing at the carved stone sign for Rue Neuve Geneviève, “do you know what word has been chiseled out?” I do now!  An ancient street marker indicating Rue Neuve Geneviève. Photo: Marian Jones It all set me wondering about Paris Walks and so I got in touch with Oriel Caine, co-founder with her husband Peter, of the company to find out more. What followed was not just an insight into the workings of this busy little company, but also a feast of information about Paris and what Oriel has learned from almost three decades of living there, building up the business and enjoying Paris and all it has to offer. Here’s what she told me when she kindly took a few moments to answer my questions. Can you sum up what Paris Walks offers?  We’ve been offering walks in historic neighborhoods of Paris, plus thematic tours and museum visits for nearly 30 years now. Some of our customers are new to Paris, and discover it with us, and many others already know the city and have visited the districts and museums before, but appreciate a deeper exploration with our knowledgeable guides.
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Lead photo credit : Chris leading the Hemingway walk. Photo credit: Paris Walks

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Recently retired from teaching Modern Languages (French and German), Marian now has time to develop her interests in travel and European culture and history. She will be in Paris as often as she can, visiting places old and new, finding out their stories and writing it all up as soon as she gets home. Marian also runs the weekly podcast series, City Breaks, offering in-depth coverage of popular city break destinations, with lots of background history and cultural information. She has covered Paris in 22 episodes but looks forward to updating the series every now and then with some Paris Extra episodes.