20 August 2013


...including a café, Le Flore. The other famous café in the Saint-Germain neighborhoods is Les Deux-Magots, of which I posted a photo earlier.

From the top of the Tour Saint-Jacques, looking out over the place Dauphine and the western end of the Ile de la Cité
toward Saint-Germain-des-Prés and the 15th arrondissement beyond

In the photos above and below, you can see the tower of the Eglise de Saint-Germain-des-Prés, which was built in the fields or meadows (les prés) outside the city of Paris around the year 1000. It replaced a Benedictine abbey that had already been in existence for 400 years but had been sacked repeatedly by invading Norsemen in the 10th century.

Here and below, one of the oldest church towers in France, according to the Michelin Green Guide

The abbey (a monastery) grew into a huge walled complex of buildings by the 14th century. The wall with its defensive towers was torn down in the 17th century when the area was developed as a new residential zone. As you can see, today it is in what we know as central Paris. The church, which as been greatly altered over the centuries, was dedicated at the time when construction of Notre-Dame cathedral was just getting under way. The remaining Saint-Germain bell tower — two others have long since been demolished — is one of the oldest in France.

In the 20th century, Saint-Germain became known for its two famous cafés, hangouts for Paris Left-Bank intellectuals, writers, and artists (Jean-Paul Sartre, Albert Camus, Pablo Picasso, Juliette Gréco, and so on). Across the boulevard from the cafés is the Brasserie Lipp, then and maybe still frequented by writers and political figures in search of a choucroute garnie. The neighborhood has really changed over the past 40 years, however. No longer bohemian and intellectual, it's now fashionable and touristy.

In the 1960s and '70s, the hub of activity in the Saint-Germain neighborhood was an establishment called Le Drugstore, which was right across the boulevard from the Café des Deux-Magots, at the corner of the rue de Rennes. It was a good place to go for coffee, a hamburger, or a club sandwich, not to mention an ice cream sundae. Au Drugstore Saint-Germain, you could buy a newspaper and a pack of Gitanes or Gauloises, and then lounge on the terrace for part of the afternoon. Unfortunately, it was the target of a terrorist bombing in the mid-1970s (I worked in the neighborhood at the time). Two people were killed and more than 30 injured. But the Drugstore re-opened and stayed in business until the mid-'90s. It's gone now, replaced by an Armani boutique.

I know Walt has many memories of the Drugstore and the Saint-Germain neighborhood — Saint-Sulpice and the Alliance Française — from the early 1980s, when he lived there for a few months in a pension de famille. The proprietor of the boarding house was Madame Cornille — which can be translated as  "Mrs. Black-Eyed Pea" — and one of her employees was a decrepit old codger that Walt dubbed « Croque-Monsieur ». Judy "Seine Judeet" remembers these characters as well, I'm sure, as do I. Encore une fois, de bons souvenirs...


  1. The only time I have been inside the church in Saint-Germain was when we needed to find somewhere for Simon to rest quietly. He had brought me to Paris for the day without telling me he had pneumonia. I wandered about the church and was approached by a beggar. I only had small change in my pocket, which I showed to him and he rejected as too small an amount.

  2. I think if you go to Cafe de Flore and eavesdrop on some conversations, you'll find that's where the artists and writers are hanging out these days.

  3. Yes, lots of memories and history. I like the St Germain/Saint Michel area a lot.

  4. In the mid 1850s, my grandfather, the painter, had his atelier at N° 12 , rue Taranne.
    Rue Taranne, probably not a wide street but a short one, began rue de Rennes and ended rue des Saints-Pères, along the south side of what is now Blvd Saint-Germain. The atelier would have been located across the street from Brasserie Lipp. Then, Baron Hausmann opened Boulevard Saint-Germain across the old neighborhoods of the left bank!

  5. I meant around 1850! LOL

  6. What a difference in the look of the church from above and at street level.
    I'm enjoying all the photos that you've been posting, and learning quite a bit in the process.

  7. Ahhhhh, these are great photos, Ken! And, yes, I do remember Mrs. Black-eyed Pea -- though never would have remembered her name-- but not Mr. Croque Monsieur. I was only there a month, and Walt spent longer there, right? I do remember meals there -- Knorr soup!-- and waiting for the shower, shaking in your boots that you might take a minute longer than the 42 seconds you were allowed ;)

    I love that whole neighborhood!

    chm, that is very interesting about your grandfather's studio being around there!

  8. If you enlarge the first photo, the twin towers you see above that patch of green look like the towers of the 19th century St-François-Xavier church, between the avenue de Breteuil and boulevard des Invalides.

  9. and I went to school for a year 1969-70 basically right across the street from the drugstore and just down the block from cafe de flore.....on blvd st germain, so i remember the area well too....we had classes in the apt of the directrice (who was lucky enough to live in a gorgeous apt on the 2eme etage overlooking st germain)......it was a short lived program sponsored by Mary Baldwin in VA....and cost the same as tuition at the VA school (amazingly)...we lived with families (I lived in the tres chic 16th chez la comtesse)...good times

  10. Has anyone read "The House I Loved" by Tatiana de Rosnay? It is about the destruction of whole neighborhoods near St. Germain under the direction of Baron Haussmann.

  11. CHM, that does appear to be Saint-François-Xavier in the first photo. But what is that green dome to the left?

  12. Ken, I noticed that too, but I have no suggestion. It's probably just an apartment building, even though it looks like to be a small tower. Compared to Saint-François-Xavier, which is farther, it is much smaller.

  13. Penny, I did read it. And it is a good, quick read. Tatiana de Rosnay spoke at the American Library just before it came out; she's an interesting speaker. I think I read the book in French because it hadn't come out in English, yet. I noted some errors, nothing very important, and every time I'm at the intersection of rue de Rennes and St. Germain, I think of it.
    (Others might remember the author, too. She wrote "Sarah's Key", which became a successful movie.)


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