Unknown Paris (#2)

 See also :

 The Jewish community in Paris    American landmarks in Paris.

 France has the largest Jewish community in the world outside Israel and the USA (around one million). The main Jewish landmarks in Paris are :

  • Musée d'Art et d'Histoire du Judaïsme ; 71 rue du Temple 75003, in a beautiful XVIIth Century building, a unique collection of artefacts and documents : visit his site

  •  Two major synagogues : Synagogue de la Victoire, 44 rue de la Victoire 75009, Synagogue des Tournelles, 21 bis rue des Tournelles 75004 and The Memorial to the Unknown Jewish Martyr, 17 rue Geoffroy L'Asnier 7500  
  • An old Jewish tradition, with delicatessen shops and schools, in several neighborhoods : rue des Rosiers (le Marais district, with Jo Goldenberg emblematic restaurant and delicatessen), near Belleville and in the Sentier (garment district), ...

  • Anti-Semitism in France : according to the Webster Dictionary, anti-semitism is " Hostility toward Jews as a religious or racial minority group often accompanied by social, economic and political discrimination ". Recently there has been an increase of isolated anti-Jewish acts which are universally condemned, but can one say that the French are anti-semitic ? Literally speaking : no, but the impact of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is strong in the poorest parts of large French cities where many Muslims live. Read a tentative answer to this recurrent question (in the US press), a column I wrote about it and an opinion by an important member of the American-Jewish community in France.

  • Visit the Holocaust Memorial : a heart-breaking monument with 76,000 names with a very moving and informative museum and a good bookstore (3 rue Geoffroy Lasnier 75001). Read my editorial about the French "Justs among the nations".

  • An Anglophone synagogue...
  • More to come

Among the most famous members of the French Jewish community : the Rothschild family, Simone Veil (1928-2017), etc (to be completed)


There are many places with a particular meaning for Americans ; some of them are major landmarks, others are little details. Here are a few examples:

  • The former Texas Embassy : on 1 Place Vendome 75001, a beautiful XVIIIth century building was the Texan Embassy during the few years Texas was an independent country (on September 9, 1839, France was the first nation to recognize the Republic of Texas, as mentioned on a plaque on the building)

  • Harry's Bar (5 rue Daunou, 75002) the most popular and long-established American bar in Paris, famous for its election nights.

  • The American Center, on Boulevard Raspail, was a magic place where you could enjoy the best of American culture (films, dance, jazz, etc...), learn English, meet American students, eat a real hamburger (years ago, it was one of the few places in Paris where you could). The building was sold and destroyed and the new building is now the Fondation Cartier (by architect Jean Nouvel). The American Center moved to Bercy in a building designed by US architect Frank Gehry and then was shut down due to the lack of funds. Purchased by the Centre National du Cinéma, it is now the "Cinémathèque". Too bad that now the only things that the Parisians can see of American culture are sitcoms on TV, McDonald's restaurants and Eurodisney. Don't you think that this shameful shut-down feeds anti-Americanism ? Read a letter a visitor of this site sent to a Congressman about it.
  There is no American cultural Center in Paris : American taxpayers, stand up and do something!

Recently, the Mona Bismarck American Center (34 Avenue de New York 75116 Paris) started enlarging its mission from a sort of an art gallery to a real cultural center, trying to play this role and to recreate this unique atmosphere. Let's hope it will succeed!

  • The Cimetière de Picpus (35 rue de Picpus, 75012) is an interesting private cemetery which contains only the families of the victims of the Terreur, beheaded during the French Revolution. Lafayette's grave is in it, and it was the only place in Paris where an American flag remained during the whole WWII.
  • The history of the Jewish community in France includes
    • a long period with an alternance of banishment and persecution (the most famous by King Philippe le Bel in the XIVth century) and re-installation phases
    • untill Napoleon solemnly granted full citizenship to the Jewish community in 1807 (one of the first, if not the first, in Europe)
    • at the end of the XIXth century the Jewish community was large and influential (with bankers such as Rothshilds, Foulds, Pereire, artists like Rachel, Pissaro) ; Alfred Dreyfus, a (Jewish) French officer in the army, was falsely accused of treason and condemned to servitude in Guyana in 1894 ; for twelve years the country was split between "anti-dreyfusards " (the right wing, the army, the church) and "Dreyfusards " (the left wing, many intellectuals such as Zola) ) and anti-semitism flourished ; the "Dreyfusards" triumphed and Dreyfus was brought back to France and rehabilitated ; the "Affaire Dreyfus" is a major part of modern French history ; read a history of Extreme-Right movements.
    • another shameful episode is the Vichy regime, analized by Robert Paxton ; 80,000 (i.e. one quarter) of the Jewish community were killed by the Nazis ; it is fair to say that this tremendous toll is still the lowest % of all occupied countries in Europe.
    • after the independence of Morocco and Tunisia and the end of the Algerian war in 1962, and the return to France of thousands of non-Arabs, the origin of the Jewish community changed dramatically from Ashkenaze (Eastern Europe Jews, now 27%) to Sepharade (now 73%, see "pied noirs ")
    • Most French Jews live in Paris (56%), the others in Marseille, Lyon, Strasbourg, Toulouse and Nice.
  • More to come

Bibliography :

  • Francois AZOUVI, Le mythe du grand silence : Auschwitz, les Français, la memoire, Gallimard, 2015
  • Jean Denis BREDIN, L'Affaire, Juilliard, 1983 (one of the best among hundreds of books on Affaire Dreyfus)
  • Dominique JARRASSE, Guide du patrimoine juif parisien, Parigramme, 2003
  • Robert PAXTON, Vichy France, Columbia University Press, New York, 1974
  • Robert PAXTON & Michael MARRUS, Vichy et les Juifs, Calmann-Levy, 1981
  • More to come

DID YOU KNOW THAT.... When Dreyfus was convicted in 1894, a solemn ceremony took place in the courtyard of the Ecole Militaire in Paris ; his officer's stripes were torn away and his sword broken in front of the troops and of a huge audience ; a young Austrian journalist Theodor Herzl was so shocked that, soon after, he published his book (Der Judenstaat) and founded Zionism. You can see a statue of Dreyfus on Boulevard Raspail/Rue Notre-Dame des Champs.

  • Do you know where the final act of the War of Independence was signed ? On the building at 56 Rue Jacob 75006, a plaque says : "En ce bâtiment, jadis l'hôtel d'York, le 3 septembre 1783, David Hartley au nom du Roi d'Angleterre, Benjamin Franklin, John Jay, John Adams au nom des Etats Unis d'Amérique, ont signé le traité définitif reconnaissant l'indépendance des Etats Unis".

  • The kidnapping of an American Landmark! Place de l'Alma (75008), the International Herald Tribune presented to the City of Paris a copy of the torch of the Statue of Liberty. It has been turned into an altar to Princess Diana (Lady Di), who died there in a car accident in 1997, and it is covered with flowers and thousands of messages, some of them touching, most of them ridiculous. By the way, did you know that the restoration of the (real) statue in New York was made by French "Compagnons du Tour de France" workers ?

  • Jim Morrison died in 1971 and since then his grave in the Père Lachaise cemetery has been visited by thousands of young people (most of them were not born in 1971).

  • Street by Street, you can read : Brian MORTON, Americans in Paris- An Anecdotal Street Guide, The Olivia & Hill Press, Ann Arbor, 1984. See our page American writers in Paris.
  • Click for just-like-home places and for historical landmarks in Paris...

DID YOU KNOW THAT...? In 2001, as in the past 23 years, Paris ranked first city in the world for international conventions, with 2,6% of the world market. London ranks #4. See the figures for the total number of tourists by nationality in 2005.

DID YOU KNOW THAT......? The oldest tree in Paris is the "Robinier de Robin", next to Saint-Julien le Pauvre, the most charming church in Paris ; it was planted in the 1660s and survived the huge 1999 storm (140,000 trees reported down in Paris).

The Greater Paris project
Launched in 2010, the Grand Paris project is based on a massive increase (the doubling) of the offer of public transport not only for Paris (2.2 million) but for the whole urban area (12.3 million). The total cost of the new transport infrastructures is estimated at 28 billion Euros. It includes 4 new metro lines, the extension of 3 existing lines and the building of 68 new stations. It would generate the building of 250,000 dwelling units. It is now under construction and will be finished by 2030. In addition to this project, several other major infrastructures (including a new dedicated direct train line between Paris and Charles-de-Gaulle airport) have been decided in the framework of the candidacy of Paris for the 2024 Olympic games.
Greater Paris involves a major organizational side : a transfer of power from the city of Paris to a new larger entity, which does not exist yet. For historical reasons, the city of Paris is a very strong power, feared by the State and which does not wish to abandon its power to the suburban cities. The war between them will last (at least) as long as the building of the infrastructures.

With this project, the border currently created by the "Boulevard Peripherique" is expected to disappear.

 Walking in Paris    Places you can avoid !

 Contrary to most American cities, Paris is a city where is easy to walk. Here are a few suggestions :

  • Walk along the Canal Saint Martin and the Bassin de la Villette or (better) take a small boat from the Bassin de la Villette to the Musée d'Orsay : a 2-hour trip, with a dozen locks and a very unusual view of the eastern part of the city or walk on the "Promenade Plantée" (4 km-walk on a viaduct where former rail-tracks have been changed into a beautiful garden of trees and flowers, between the Bastille Opera and the eastern border of Paris and underneath the "Village des Arts", with a plethora of Art and Antique shops).
  • Visit the cemeteries of Paris: the Père Lachaise Cemetery where Sarah Bernhardt, Balzac, Isadora Duncan, and Edith Piaf are buried; the Montmartre Cemetery, the permanent resting place of Utrillo; the Picpus Cemetery where Lafayette and the descendents of people beheaded during the Revolution are buried (35 rue de Picpus) - and (somewhat more unusual).... the dog and cat cemetery in Asnières. Read "Permanent Parisians".
  • Try one of the (many) walking tours with a guide, some of them in English (generally 10 Euros each, groups of 10 to 15. Among them :
    • The Marais and its magnificent buildings
    • Chinatown
    • Saint-Germain des Prés
    • The Palais Royal
    • Ile Saint Louis
    • Montmartre
    • The Père Lachaise cemetery
    • and many others
  • Read about historical Paris and about gardens in Paris
  • "Secret" guides to Paris bars and restaurants and unusual places as well as to the French Riviera are published by Editions Jonglez in English.
  • A very useful book is the "Guide du Routard", Paris Balades, Hachette, with 24 historical walks (2 to 3 hours each)

 A few remarkably ugly buildings or neigborhoods deserve to be avoided (read the page about the ugliest buildings in Paris) :

  • Bibliothèque Nationale François Mitterand : an upside-down table...
  • Tour Maine Montparnasse : stabbing Montparnasse...
  • An absolutely ridiculous building all wrapped in iron noodles, one block from the delicious garden of the Palais Royal. Ironically, it is the Ministry of Culture (!?!)
  • The Opera Bastille : excellent concerts and operas but close your eyes before you enter, to escape the ugly architecture of the building....
  • Everything you can find anywhere in America : Starbucks,McDonald's, Pizza Hut, etc... Try something new !
  • Pigalle : miserable and sad
  • Front de Seine : a blight on the river...
  • EuroDisney : you've seen it before (read about the cultural misunderstandings Disney experienced)
  • More to come (unfortunately)

USEFUL TIPS .... In Paris, use the metro : it is fast and efficient (count 2 minutes per station and 2 to 5 minutes per connection). Beware of gypsies, especially in the metro. When you are surrounded by several of them and trying to figure out what they want, one of them may be pulling out your wallet from your pocket ! Do not try to be nice....

DID YOU KNOW THAT...? For 100 Parisians, the city counts 10 dogs, 8 trees, 4 pigeons, 26 cars .... and 100 rats ! Too many pigeons ? The city of Paris builts dovecotes for them and feeds them with contraceptive grains !

To related pages : more unknown Paris (#1), Paris notebook, ugliest buildings in Paris, historical landmarks, etc...

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For more on intercultural differences, order Harriet Welty Rochefort's books :

  • "Joie de Vivre", Secrets of Wining, Dining and Romancing like the French, St.Martin's Press, New York, 2012
  • "French Toast, An American in Paris Celebrates The Maddening Mysteries of the French", St.Martin's Press, New York, 1999
  • "French Fried, The Culinary Capers of An American in Paris", St.Martin's Press, New York, 2001

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