Road & Travel Magazine - Adventure Travel  Channel

Travel Channel
Adventure Travel
Advice & Tips
Airline Rules
Bed & Breakfasts
Climate Views & Videos
Cruises & Tours
Destination Reviews
Earth Tones
Family Travel Tips
Health Trip
Hotels & Resorts
Luxury Travel
Pet Travel
RV & Camping
Safety & Security
Spa Reviews
Train Vacations
World Travel Directory

Automotive Channel
Auto Advice & Tips
Auto Buyer's Guides
Car Care Maintenance
Climate News & Views
Auto Awards Archive
Insurance & Accidents
Legends & Leaders
New Car Reviews
Planet Driven
Road Humor
Road Trips
RV & Camping
Safety & Security
Teens & Tots Tips
Tire Buying Tips
Used Car Buying
Vehicle Model Guide

Bookmark and Share

The Ghosts of Paris

Paris, France: Legendary Parisians haunt the City of Light

by Susan McKee

You're never alone in Paris. There are familiar faces everywhere.

Paris, France CathedralOut of the corner of your eye, you can see Gene Kelly dancing in the streets. And didn't you just catch a glimpse of Amélie's face in that Montmartre apartment window? Wasn't that Quasimodo behind the gargoyle on one of Notre Dame's bell towers? Cole Porter composed here. Claude Monet painted here. Ernest Hemingway wrote here. Lance Armstrong rode to his sixth Tour de France victory along the Champs-Élysées.

No matter whether it's your first visit or your 50th, Paris is at once familiar and foreign. You've seen it-and heard it-before. The City of Lights has a sound track, too. It's Edith Piaf's "La Vie en Rose," Charles Aznavour's "Et Pourtant," and Jacques Brel's "Ne Me Quitte Pas." Maurice Chevalier is forever singing "Thank Heaven for Little Girls" in Paris. And, if you close your eyes, you can see Leslie Caron and Gene Kelly dancing along the banks of the Seine to the strains of George Gershwin's "It's Very Clear."

I always begin my Parisian explorations at Notre Dame, right at the kilomètre zéro. This bronze disc, imbedded in the pavement in front of the cathedral made famous in Victor Hugo's classic Hunchback of Notre Dame, marks the point from which all distances from Paris are measured. The cathedral is the latest in a series of sanctuaries built on the Ile de la Cité, an island in the middle of the Seine River. Here's where Paris got its start when a Celtic tribe, the Parisii, settled at the ancient trading crossroads.

Under the landscaped mall in front of the cathedral is a museum centered on the island's ancient history. Among the finds highlighted in the Crypte Archéologique are remnants of earlier churches, ancient streets, and ruins of Roman villas. Notre Dame, of course, isn't only a place where the fictional Quasimodo rang the bells for mass. Countless novelists, including Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and Georges Simenon, have spun fictional scenes within its walls. This is where Napoleon grabbed the crown from Pope Pius VII and anointed himself as emperor of France in 1804.

Hotel Des Invalides- Paris, FranceIt's not easy to catch glimpses of Napoleon in Paris, but his ghost clearly inhabits the Hôtel des Invalides. Originally built by Louis XIV in 1670 as a home for old soldiers, it's now a massive complex including the Musée d'Armes (with its collection of military history and artifacts). The Hôtel des Invalides is also the final resting place of Napoleon. His remains were interred under the golden dome in 1861, 40 years after his death in exile. The place also once served as a royal armory. Many of the guns used by the mob when it attacked the Bastille on July 14, 1789, were taken in a raid earlier that morning.

The French Revolution still haunts the city's shadows. Although the infamous prison no longer exists (except for an outline on the ground at the Place de la Bastille) its ghosts-both the fictional and the historical ones-remain in Paris. I can hear echoes of Marie Antoinette's fervent prayers as she takes Holy Communion at the Cathedral of Notre Dame before her imprisonment, and I always think of Charles Dickens's A Tale of Two Cities as I walk past the Hôtel de Ville. Sydney Carton is forever proclaiming, "It is a far, far better thing that I do, than I have ever done…" as he mounts the steps to the guillotine.

Both the Hôtel de Ville-Paris's city hall-and the site of the Bastille are on the city's Rive Droite, the "right bank," as you follow the Seine to the sea. Here, too, is the Louvre, the single largest building in Paris. I always seem to find myself in the same place each visit, standing in front of Leonardo da Vinci's "Mona Lisa".

Across the Seine is the Rive Gauche-the "left bank." Sometimes I think I catch a glimpse of Catherine Deneuve-which might be true, because she lives here in Saint-Germain-des-Prés. But so did the 19th-century novelist George Sand, and the Three Musketeers, the heroes of novels by Alexandre Dumas.

Every time I survey the multitude of boulangeries, cafes, and bistros in Paris, I think of Ernest Hemingway-one of a generation of American expatriates drawn to Paris between the two world wars. "If you are lucky enough to have lived in Paris as a young man," he wrote, "then wherever you go for the rest of your life, it stays with you, for Paris is a moveable feast."

Picking up bread, cheese, and wine and enjoying an impromptu picnic is a very Parisian way to enjoy a leisurely lunch. (I never forget to buy a half-dozen of Marcel Proust's favorite madeleine cookies for dessert).

Another American expatriot, poet Gertrude Stein, had an apartment just around the corner from the Luxembourg Gardens. Others, such as F. Scott Fitzgerald, Cole Porter, Sherwood Anderson, and Ezra Pound, also lived nearby.

Many of the cafes mentioned by the writers in their diaries and novels still attract tourists. Hemingway especially liked La Closerie des Lilas on Montparnasse. The hot spots shifted to Boulevard St. Germain after World War II. Café de Flore and Les Deux Magots (still going strong) were favorite haunts of Jean Paul Sartre, Simone de Beauvoir, and James Baldwin.

Views celebrated by the Impressionists are everywhere in Paris. Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec immortalized Montmartre with his paintings of life in disreputable nightspots such as the Moulin Rouge. Artists Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot, Vincent Van Gogh, Toulouse-Lautrec, and Paul Cézanne all painted the Moulin de la Galette on rue Tholozé. Montmartre is most familiar these days, though, as Amélie's neighborhood.

On my last visit to Paris, I found myself walking in the footsteps of the heroine of the 2001 movie known in French as Le Fabuleux Destin d'Amélie Poulain. I sipped a cafe au lait at the Café des Deux Moulins, where the fictional Amélie works as a waitress, and ended the afternoon at Marché de la Butte, purchasing (as she did) exactly three hazelnuts and one fig.

Somehow, in Paris it's easy to spot fictional characters and ghosts. History is all around me, and if I keep my eyes wide open, I can see beyond the surface. In Paris, I know I'm never alone.

If You Go...

Notre Dame
6 Parvis Notre-Dame
Place Jean-Paul II
75004 Paris

Ile de la Cite

Les Invalides and Musee d'Armes

Hotel de Ville


Windmills of Paris

Le Fabuleux Destin d'Amelie Poulain