In Paris people always pay attention to the place where you live. It’s important which bank of the Seine and specially an area – “arrondissement”.
If a naive visitor asks: “Where is the center here?” A Parisian inhabitant can come in confusion: “What a center?” We have to know that the river divides the city into the right bank (traditionally bourgeois, aristocratic, bureaucratic) and the left one – democratic, bohemian, student.
Remember, there are not apolitical Parisians in the nature. Even thirty years ago almost all residents of the right bank voted for the right politicians, the left – for opposite side. Today spirit and wealth of two banks are more close, but in Paris mythology Seine continues to be a boundary of two worlds.
But… Never ask a Parisian for who he (her) votes, it is simply indecent. If want to know – just watch. For example, a respectable gentleman in a cafe unfolds the newspaper “Liberation” – he is left (votes for socialists). A man in a cheap jacket pulls out his “Le Figaro” – it means he is the right one. People in Paris vote according to traditions. For example, all people of art are the left. Exception – a supporter of invincible order and military discipline – Alain Delon. So, his place is on the right bank of Seine.
Coco Chanel and Christian Dior – the pioneers who turned the tailoring into the high fashion, of course, were not “bourgeois” they had been artists. But now their “homes” and the whole “haute couture” are focused on the right bank at the most expensive in Paris avenue Montaigne, where it’s better not to go a mere mortal. Of course, no one would drive a wealthy person out who visits these boutiques-palaces. But he may feel uncomfortable there in shoes of the last season and with a haircut made a week ago. To be accepted at Dior, Valentino or Harel, you should be not just the rich.
If it does not matter for you – the left bank agrees with you! Subtitle mark of “Yves Saint Laurent” – “Left Bank”. The great couturier Christian Dior gave his young successor Saint Laurent a fire of art, not a bag of money. But it has been so long ago!
Politically active film star Catherine Deneuve lives on the Left Bank in the 6th District on Bonaparte street, and you can meet her in one of famous cafes – “Bonaparte,” ” Les Deux Magots”, “Café de Flore”, “Lipp”. Tourists, students and writers sit close at little tables. Here at Saint-Germain des Pres, where philosopher and writer Jean-Paul Sartre lived, the 6th district goes into the 7th – quiet, respectable and expensive on the left bank. Here there are embassies and the store «Le bon Marche» – seemed to be “cheap”, but one of the most expensive in the city. On du Bac street – the apartments of the President of the Republic of France, not indifferent to all luxury and glamor the great dancer Rudolf Nureyev lived at Quai Voltaire.
When you are asked “where do you live in Paris?”, people mean not the exact address but an “arrondissement”. This is a sketch of your social portrait. Totally there are 20 districts in Paris, and each number is important. The 20th District is in the east of Paris – poor and “color”. It’s not spoken aloud, but an address in the 19th or 20th is a sentence. Nowadays, e-mail saved poor Parisians, who worried about their reputation and career, buying a mailing address in a decent area. But they bought – in 1-9 and from the 14th to the middle of the 17th.
Why to the middle? A half of the 17th district near Place de l’Etoile is a respectable Paris. Another one, where avenue de Clichy with sex-shops leads to Place Pigalle – already not. So, talking about the 17th District you will be asked the question “Where?”. In the “wrong” 17th writer Georges Simenon (Belgian provincial) began his career. As soon as it was possible he had moved to the 4th District on Place des Vosges. To live there is the dream of all provincials, conquering Paris. Very nice, prestigious and very expensive.
The northern 18th arrondissement is also color and poor (politically incorrect, but in Paris it is synonymous). But there is Montmartre in the 18th – a tourist center, what many years ago was bohemian. Today the only attraction of Montmartre is Sacre Coeur church. Before Toulouse-Lautrec, Picasso, Modigliani lived here, and local cafes brought together almost all famous artists of XIX-XX centuries. Now, Montmartre is just a simulation.
In the central areas near Seine – a full international, here there are children of all nations. Many Parisians who support nationalist Le Pen (his slogan “France for Frenchmen”) live on the island of Saint-Louis – between two banks. Real estate prices here are very-very high, and the “typical natives” are hereditary lawyers and bankers. Local Church of St. Nicholas, where the sermon are in Latin, is favourite for the supporters of ultra right views. Here you’ll find atmosphere of “good old France”.
In the 1st District (the most pompous in Paris)on Rue de Rivoli a classic French photograph Cartier-Bresson lives. Once Russian Empress Catherine II bought here an apartment for her favorite writer Diderot. The philosopher, however, had not had time to move to a new home, staying in the 5th District near Jardin des Plant. The honor of French literature – Descartes and Pascal, Zola and Merimee also lived here. Hemingway, living in Paris, also chose this area. However, it is important to remember that the French capital – the city of moving. People prefer not to buy but rent an apartment in Paris. So, all moved changing the district and the environment hundred times, depending on mood and content of the purse.
There was a time when in the 2nd District Count Cagliostro had performed, Chopin, Liszt and had lived. Now it is a quite usual district of the Exchange and sewing workshops. Liszt and Chopin and his friend George Sand moved to the 9th district – the area of Opera, Dumas also moved from the 2nd. Later Dumas settled in the 17th on Avenue de Villiers.
Parisian salon life has always revived in some areas and faded in others.
But there are the quiet places. Nobody heard that one of famous Parisians lived in the 10th District (East Station) or in the 11th (Republic Square). Both are in the same direction as the 19th and the 20th, but closer to Seine. These districts, as well as the 12th (Gare de Lyon) and the 13th (with Chinese quarter), – those Paris, which may disappoint the expectations of tourists.