Rue Mouffetard is the first single from my fifth album, ‘The dust of time‘. It features Dawn Loombe on accordion, Rhys Wilson on piano and additional guitars, and Brian Harvey on bass. Here is the video for the song; it is also available for listening or download
La rue Mouffetard, in the 5ème arrondissement of Paris, is my favourite street in the city. It runs down the hill from the Place de la Contrescarpe to the Place St Médard, lined with cafés, shops and market stalls, and steeped in history. Its course has remained unchanged in 2000 years since the Romans built it as part of the road linking Paris with Rome.
The quarter has not always been as relatively genteel as it is today. As Paris expanded out into the surrounding villages in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, the Faubourg St Marceau attracted poor workers from other parts of France and beyond. It developed an insalubrious reputation, smelling as it did of the tanneries along the River Bièvre. Hugo set Les Miserables in the neighbourhood and in 1834 Balzac referred to it as ‘the grimmest quarter of Paris’.
As with other working-class areas of Paris, it helped fuel the revolutions of 1789 and 1848. Its steep slope spared it the attention of Baron Haussmann, who destroyed many of the mediaeval streets of the city while constructing les grands boulevards, and during the Paris Commune of 1871 the barricades went up again. However, as the Commune ended in the Semaine Sanglante, troops from Adolphe Thiers’ army stormed up the street to crush the barricades. The customary massacre and mass executions in the gardens of the École Polytechnique followed.
The nearby Butte aux Cailles lasted a day longer and is now home to La Place de la Commune de Paris and a café organised as a workers co-op and named after Le Temps des Cerises. This song, written by Jean-Baptiste Clément five years before the insurrection, has remained associated with the events of 1871 and indeed Clément was later to dedicate it to Louise, a young ambulance worker who joined him on one of the final barricades.
The area continued to attract artists and writers – Verlaine lived nearby in the 1890s and Hemingway, Joyce and Orwell spent time there in the 1920s. Scenes from the films Amélie and Trois couleurs: Bleu were filmed in the street.
The quarter has now become attractive with tourists and students, but retains a distinct, almost village-like, feel – especially when friends meet up again after Paris’s annual August break over breakfast in the Cave la Bourgogne, while purchasing cerises in the marché, or while browsing the shelves of local bookshop l’Arbre à Lettres (recently bought by its employees). At such times you feel far from the frenetic centre of Paris.