I Love Touring Paris - the Sixth Arrondissement

by : Levi Reiss

The sixth arrondissement of central Paris is located on the Left Bank of the Seine River. Its area is a bit more than a square mile (over 2 square kilometers) with a population of 45,000 and slightly fewer jobs. Along with its neighbor the 5th arrondissement, the 6th is often known as the Quartier Latin (Latin Quarter) although it's been a long time since you can hear much spoken Latin in either district. Its best-known part is the famous Saint-Germain-des-Pres. In the years following World War II this was the intellectual center of the world; home to philosophers such as Jean-Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir. Later on we'll talk about the district's world-famous cafes that they frequented.

On the subject of intellectuals, this arrondissement is home to l'Academie Francaise (the French Academy), the watchdog over the French language. Personally I'm a strong believer in keeping the French language French and avoiding Franglais. The Academy was founded in 1635 by Louis XIII's famous chief minister, Cardinal Richelieu. It was suppressed by the French Revolution but brought back by Napoleon. The academy is an advisory body with no power to punish the many people and institutions that disrespect the French language. It holds only forty seats, some of which may be vacant waiting for a candidate acceptable to the sitting members. Normally membership is for life but some malfaiteurs (wrong doers) have been expelled; for example, given their association with the collaborationist Vichy regime during World War II.

Since its inception the Academy has accepted a mere four female members, starting with the writer Marguerite Yourcenar elected in 1980. Some very famous writers including Moliere, Zola, and Proust never achieved membership. Male members, except for clergy, get to wear a sword with their Academy outfit. In 1778 the Academy initiated a historical dictionary of the French language. It abandoned the project before getting to the Bs. The Academy's dictionary is partially in the ninth edition. The Academy Francaise has been fairly successful in persuading people to use French words such as logiciel instead of the corresponding English words, in this case software. It rules on grammar issues and offers prestigious prizes in literature, cinema, translation, and other fields.

The Cafe de Flore on the Boulevard Saint-Germain is a historic intellectual cafe and offers an annual literary award. The nearby cafe Les Deux Magots named for two wooden Chinese statues near the entrance is also a literary and intellectual center with its own annual literary award. It has been decades that these cafes are too expensive for all but the wealthiest intellectuals.

The French Senate is the upper house of the French Parliament. Until recently senators were elected for nine-year terms; now their terms are only six years. Senators are not elected by the general public but by one hundred fifty thousand local elected officials such as mayors and city councilors. The Senate tends to be more conservative than France's lower house, the National Assembly. Besides proposing bills and voting on them the Senate publishes reports and so serves to monitor the government. The senate sits in the beautiful Palais du Luxembourg (Luxemburg Palace) in back of the Jardin du Luxembourg (Luxemburg Gardens) the largest garden in the city. This spectacular garden is open to the public and is a favorite of young children and their parents.

If you are looking for a hotel in the sixth district you might consider the Art Deco Hotel Lutetia, built by the neighboring Bon Marche department store in 1910. Its guest list included Charles de Gaulle and Pablo Picasso. When World War II broke out many artists and musicians took residence there. After France's surrender the hotel housed German military officers. Following the liberation of Paris in August, 1944 this hotel became a repatriation center for prisoners of war and concentration camp inmates. Subsequently it was transformed into a luxury hotel.

The Monnaie de Paris (Paris Mint) not only produces coins and medals, it has a great collection of ancient coins. This beautiful French Neoclassical building was constructed in the latter Eighteenth Century. It is open to the public but does not furnish samples.

When you get hungry you might consider the historic Cremerie-Restaurant Polidor, which hasn't changed its name, interior, or cooking style for over one hundred years. Most patrons sit at shared tables so you may get a chance to converse with local students, especially if your French is good. Former diners include Ernest Hemingway, James Joyce, and Jack Kerouac as well as major French writers.

You may remember from your high school French that Pont Neuf means new bridge. Pont Neuf is the oldest bridge across the Seine River in Paris. It crosses the western end of the Ile de la Cite linking Paris's Left and Right Banks. Construction began in 1578 and was completed a mere 41 years later, in part because of the Wars of Religion. The original wooden pilings that support the foundations still remain. In contrast to previous Parisian bridges this one didn't support houses. It did have sidewalks protecting pedestrians from mud and horses. For centuries the homeless have slept under its arches, despite its interdiction, in all fairness to both rich and poor. If you are a statue lover be sure to see the bronze statue of Henri IV, destroyed during the French Revolution but rebuilt afterwards using bronze from statues of Napoleon.

Saint-Sulpice is the second largest church in Paris, smaller than its well-known rival Notre Dame de Paris. This church, built from 1646 to 1732 and beyond replaces a Thirteenth Century Romanesque church. Detractors claim that its two towers are mismatched; why not take a look to see for yourself? It is home to a great organ. Saint-Sulpice Church has hosted life cycle events of some famous French people; for example the baptism of Charles Baudelaire and the Marquis de Sade, and the marriage of Victor Hugo and Adele Foucher. Saint-Sulpice has a huge sundial that helped to determine Easter's calendar date. This scientific instrument may well have saved the church from destruction during the French Revolution. Saint-Sulpice is a featured location in the novel The Da Vinci Code. But the church scenes of this movie were not filmed on location.

Of course you don't want to be in Paris without sampling fine French wine and food. In my article I Love French Wine and Food ' A Red Cotes du Rhone I reviewed such a wine and suggested a sample menu: Start with Fois Gras de Canard (Duck Liver Pate). For your second course savor Caillette (Pork-Liver Meat Loaf). And as dessert indulge yourself with Sorbet (Sherbert) and fresh fruit. Your Parisian sommelier (wine steward) will be happy to suggest appropriate wines to accompany each course.