The Run of the Streets


By Karl Whitney.


I close the door of the apartment and duck through the corridors, under the low wooden beams, down the stairs past the post boxes on which the names of the inhabitants of the building are printed; one of them reads ‘Bastard’.

I press the button to release the heavy front door and I’m out on the street. Suddenly, Parisian life teems around you, like the volume has just been turned up. Like you’ve just been underwater and have quickly surfaced.

I set off at pace along the street, dodging past the tables of the small cafés that adjoin our building. I pass the small community garden on the corner, cross the small side street and run in the direction of the traffic lights at the top of the street. Trousseau, Charles Delezcluse, Charonne: these are the three streets that I’ve so far intersected on my run from the apartment in the 11th Arrondissement.

On 3rd December 1851, at the southern end of rue Trousseau, Alphonse Baudin, a deputy in the French Assembly, was shot dead on a barricade that had been erected after the previous day’s seizure of power by Louis Napoleon. On the wall of a building nearby, a plaque whose text is etched in gold paint commemorates his death.

Paris is a city upon which so many layers of history can be read that sometimes it can seem not a living and breathing city at all, but rather an archive of past events and people and ideas that have been lived out on such a grand scale that, for those who live there, it can surely appear difficult to do anything new or worthwhile.