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“Fixed Points”

Avenue Rachel, 18th Arrondissement

Avenue Rachel, 18th Arrondissement

There are two parts of Paris that I know fairly well from having stayed there for a few days in May 1997 and again a few years later. I couldn’t say exactly when because, for some reason, our arrival at and departure from Charles De Gaulle were inexplicably missing from my passport of that period.

During the first visit, Martine and I stayed at the Citadines ApartHotel on Avenue Rachel between Montmartre and the place de Clichy. Avenue Rachel is a one-block street that dead ends (how appropriate is that expression!)  at the main entrance to the Montmartre Cemetery. Opened in 1825 at the site of an old gypsum quarry, it was originally called the Cimetière des Grandes Carrières (Cemetery of the Grand Quarries). Buried therein were such notables as Hector Berlioz, Henri-Georges Clouzot, Edgar Degas, Theophile Gautier, Edmond and Jules de Goncourt, and many other luminaries.

Something brough the Avenue Rachel to mind this week: It was Patrick Modiano’s somber and brilliant novelette entitled In the Café of Lost Youth: “I had forgotten the silence and calm of avenue Rachel, which leads to the cemetery, slthough you never think of the cemetery, you tell yourself that at its end it must let out into the countryside, or even, with a bit of luck, onto a seaside promenade.”

I, on the other hand, was very aware of the street ending in a cemetery. From my hotel window on an upper floor, I would stare at the funerary statuary. I also got to know the immediate area pretty well, from the massive Lycée Jules Ferry, the Rue Caulaincourt with its bridge arcing over the necropolis, Place Blanche, and the nearby Moulin Rouge—all of which figure in Modiano’s story as locales where the heroine, if she could indeed be called one, was raised.

In a futile search for a patisserie, I tromped up and down the streets of the neighborhood. It was not a particularly picturesque area, known primarily for nude dancers and sleazy bars.

It was interesting to be reminded of the place. Such a short street. And yet so memorable!