Falling in love with a Parisian, Paris, and rue Mouffetard

MyFrenchLife™ - falling in love -godmotherI fell in love with Paris when I was very little. In fact, before I fell in love with the French capital city, I fell in love with the coolest of all Parisians – my godmother.

My mother’s cousin, Tatie Renée, as my brother and I used to call her, was born in 1914. Her father, who had been conscripted when WWI broke out, was killed at Verdun and she never knew him. Soon after her father’s death, her mother decided to leave northern France and settle in Paris, where she and Renée lived in an apartment on the Ile Saint-Louis. She spent her childhood and youth in Paris, moving to the suburbs after she married (she later divorced).

Renée was the quintessential Parisian. Her speech was inflected with a smart-ass Parisian accent and, although she probably did not have more than a 9th grade education, she was extremely well-read and cultured. She was always elegantly dressed and accessorized, and exuded a sensuality that I always envied, but could never emulate.

My family would sometimes go to Paris to visit Renée, and I have vague recollections of traveling on the métro, and of loving everything about it – the noise, the people, even the funky smell. And I got to discover some of the great Parisian sights before I was even eight years old. I believe that it is around that time that my parents told me that the rue du Quatre Septembre (and its eponymous métro station) had been named in honor of my birthday. Of course, I believed them.

MyFrenchLife™ - falling in love - rue du quatre

Later on, when my brother and I were teenagers, we were allowed to go and spend a few days by ourselves with Renée. And what a time we always had! We felt so grown-up, having adult conversations with her, while drinking champagne and smoking cigarettes by her apartment window. Since she was at work during the day, Renée would prepare a daily sightseeing program with us, and quiz us on what we had seen every evening. She also took us to lots of fun places – the Musée Grévin remains one of my favorites.

But the place that really stole my heart was rue Mouffetard, in the 5th arrondissement, on which my brother and I strolled with Renée one day, and I remember her telling us about that quaint little street’s history, which goes back to Roman times, when Paris was still Lutèce. I loved that street name as much as I adored its liveliness and the buzz of its open-air food stalls.

Elisabeth Donato, 02/03/2012

Rue Mouffetard sank into the deepest recesses of my memory, even though, after 2002, I began returning to Paris for at least a few days every year. In 2005, I led a group of Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education Honors students on a trip to Paris, and our hotel was right across from the Sorbonne. It is then that I rediscovered rue Mouffetard – although a couple of years earlier a graduate school friend had taken me there for the best and most fun ice cream I had ever had. Of course, I shared my enthusiasm for ‘my street’ (and the aforementioned ice-cream) with the students who were on that trip.

Last June, one of my ultimate dreams came true: I got to stay on rue Mouffetard for ten days. A colleague and his family had rented a terrific apartment there a couple of years earlier, and, remembering this, I asked him for the owner’s e-mail address. Within a week, the rental had been arranged, and it was incredible!

Elisabeth Donato, 02/03/2012

The place was located a bit away from the heavily touristy area of the street, between a wonderful wine shop and a fabulous poissonnerie. Right around the corner was a boulangerie where I could buy my morning baguette, which would still be warm when I ate it for breakfast. When I was too lazy to cook, all it took was a short walk down the street to pick one of an incredible array of very decent and reasonably-priced restaurants.

But that is not all. This coming June, I am renewing and expanding this experience by renting the rue Mouffetard apartment with a colleague and good friend of mine for an entire month! It is not exactly cheap, but worth every euro that I will be paying for it!

Falling in love with French things is inevitable. What has stolen your heart?

Image credit
1,2,4 © Elisabeth Donato

3. Rue Mouffetard, via Wikipedia

About the Contributor

Elisabeth Sauvage-Callaghan

I am a native of France, and a retired French university professor living in the USA. I return to France every year and love discovering new places I have not yet visited. I am interested in issues of bilingualism and expatriate identity. I enjoy good food, great books, and all kinds of music.

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  1. Suzanne Cavanagh Feb 13, 2012 at 4:08 PM - Reply

    What an evocative article Elizabeth. I love the photo of the ‘coolest of all Parisians’. How I wish I had had such a godmother. I’m also extremely envious of the visits you & your brother had with Renée as teenagers….champagne & cigarettes – so wicked..so wonderful..so French.
    It’s not surprising your love of Paris’s arrondissements is now hard-wired but, ice-cream aside, when you visit rue Mouffetard today does it still live up to the images created by your marraine?

  2. Elisabeth Donato Feb 13, 2012 at 10:55 PM - Reply

    Suzanne – Rue Mouffetard has become, alas, way too touristy, but Paris still lives up to the images created by my dear marraine. I always feel her presence by me or, rather, inside of me, when I am there – because it is because of her that I love the French capital city so much.

  3. Suzanne Cavanagh Feb 14, 2012 at 12:03 PM - Reply

    Ah……I thought that may well (sadly) be the case. It goes to show how powerful the imagination and the senses are….how they can transport us to wonderful places (reminiscent of Proust..).

    Again thanks for generously sharing your experiences with us

  4. Suzanne Cavanagh Feb 14, 2012 at 12:09 PM - Reply

    By the way, I wonder …… do others have cherished experiences / reminiscences to share from their childhood in France involving ‘quintessentially French’ uncles, shop-keepers, teachers etc??

  5. Sylvie Naux Feb 15, 2012 at 11:45 AM - Reply

    Enjoyed reading your description of Rue Mouffetard, Elisabeth. I still like it even though it attracts many tourists.

  6. Nikki Lavoie Feb 16, 2012 at 8:35 PM - Reply

    I love this article, especially the photo of you and your godmother. Thank you for sharing such a special experience! I haven’t actually explored Rue Mouffetard since being in Paris (mainly because I’ve heard about how touristy it is), but this gives me inspiration to brave the crowds and focus on the charm of the area. 🙂

  7. Virginia Jones Feb 19, 2012 at 3:55 PM - Reply

    Rue Mouffetard holds a very special place in my heart as well. I spent 3 weeks near there in June 2009 and we crossed many times a day going to and from the Metro and for all of our groceries. The dancers on Sunday have been a joy to photograph many times on recent trips. I think they will be featured here next month. I wish you a lovely time with your friend.

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