In 2002, when she was appointed Paris Bureau Chief for the New York Times, Elaine Sciolino, author of The Only Street in Paris:Life on the Rue des Martyrs, moved to The City of Light with her family, planning to stay for 3 to 4 years. A decade later she and her husband still reside there.
They moved from their apartment in the tony Seventh Arrondissement to a small street on the other side of the Seine around the corner from Rue des Martyrs. This historic 1/2 mile street winds upwards toward Montmartre providing a slice of Parisian life as it used to be, a street filled with cheesemongers, greengrocers, chocolate and wine shops, bookstores, cabarets, bistros, secondhand clothing shops, with hardly a chain store among them. There is even a storefront where the proprietor repairs antique mercury barometers and regilds and restores wooden furniture and picture frames. Encouraged by “The Local Urbanism Plan law that helps to preserve the city’s architectural heritage by giving zoning protection to more than 60 streets, including the Rue des Martyrs”, some residents are following in their ancestors’ footsteps by living and working on the street.
Sciolino made friends with many of the shopkeepers and residents in her neighborhood. Sit back and learn how to remove a mouse from your apartment or visit a secondhand store where the proprietor practically gives away Hermes scarves and shows her delight when a customer finds one in a store bin. Join in with the Cicul’Livre, a volunteer operation that sets up a street table once a month and gives away books to anyone signing a pledge that they will not destroy or sell the books. If you are looking for entertainment go to Michou, the transvestite cabaret that has operated for over fifty years and whose owner was the inspiration for the play La Cage aux Folles and perhaps the movie Birdcage. Attend a street potluck or simply walk down the lane and surround yourself in the local joie de vivre.
Using her investigative skills, Sciolino has written one of the best travel memoirs of 2015 as she provides interesting historic tidbits on topics as varied as architecture, cuisine, religion, French politics, the Nazi occupation, French intellectualism, pride and culture. She intertwines minute details on a variety of subjects and presents them in the most lyrical way. After reading this book, you may come to love this unusual street as much as the author.