Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Paris: Day 13

This afternoon we took a walking tour of the Marais, the arrondisement (Paris district) that we are living in. Professor Lazerow, my International Contracts professor, guided the tour. We walked around much of the arrondisement, and he pointed out the historical parts of the area, talked about different buildings and signs, and gave us general information about why Paris is laid out the way it is and why the buildings were constructed as they were.

Paris was/is a dirty city, with a lot of people living in small spaces. One of the professor's French acquaintances mentioned to him that he and his wife raised 3 children while living in about 500 square feet! The French took a different route than the English took in London, where the English have a small yard in the back and in the front of their apartment buildings. The French instead constructed a square/rectangle building with a courtyard or garden in the center.

The ground floor (not the 1st floor by the way, but floor 0) was the worst to live in in historical Paris because the streets were not paved and horses were used by some for transportation, leaving mud and horse droppings in the streets that were tracked into the building. The richer Parisians lived on the second and third floors (1st & 2nd floors in Paris), and the poorer Parisians lived on the fourth and fifth floors (3rd & 4th floors in Paris. This was so because it was a longer walk to the top floors.

Parisians do not spend much time indoors. Most apartments did not and still do not have air conditioning, and many did not have heating. Either coal or wood was needed to heat the apartments. Because of this, most Parisians preferred to be in a warmer place, such as a cafe, and would spend as much time as possible away from their home. That is where the tradition came about that you may spend as much time as you want at a cafe if you purchase something. The owner will not (should not) ever ask anyone to leave their table.

The Marais means "marsh" or "swamp" in French. The area was originally a marsh because of the flooding of the Seine River and one of its tributaries, which border the area on two sides. High banks were created along the Seine, taking care of most of the flooding problems. Because of the flooding problems, the area became a home for immigrants, specifically the Jewish immigrants.

After some time had passed, around the time of Louis XII, the area became affluent. Louis XII bought property here and built apartment buildings around a central courtyard/park (today known as Place de Vogues). He kept one for himself, and one was said to be the queen's. The aristocracy followed the king here, and they purchased apartments for themselves. This period of the Marais' popularity ended with Louis XIV's move to Versailles and the aristocracy following him to the countryside.

More recently the Marais has made a comeback of sorts, with trendy shops and cafes moving into the area. A lot of renovation has occurred, and the Marais is once again a chic place to live.

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