Today I had the pleasure of experiencing le Marais on an inpromptu tour from a friend I had never met. He showed me around the quaint, lively neighborhood whom houses a large portion of the cities Jewish and gay population. Quite a combination, I know! As I walk along the narrow streets lined with 300 year-old buildings it is clear when I enter one area into the next. The Jewish area carries the distinct smell of falafel as it wafts through the air from the many, many falafel stands. The hungry and eager patrons stand on the cold streets waiting their turn to feast on this Jewish delight…to some I guess (to me it smells of dirty laundry and unbathed skin). In a matter of blocks the neighborhood brings an array of nicely decorated bars and intricately designed shops signaling that I have entered the other part of le Marais.
Our walk continued. I have learned that “hotel particulier” is a term used to indicate a home back in the day that housed the entirety of a well to do family. The “homes” are similar to a palace or a country chateau but right here in the bustling city. When they were created everyone around knew the hierarchy as they witnessed the horse-drawn carriages enter into to the large decorated doors that still stand to this day. The carriage then took them into the beautiful garden courtyards waiting on the other side.
I stood silently and envisioned the tight corsets on the fantastical women and the fancy suits of the gentlemen of the house. I see them returning to their city palace at the envy of the hungry, clothes torn commoners getting muddied by the clippity-clop of the horses’ hooves. I saw, in my minds eye, the glorious balls that must have taken place with elegant music and extravagant gowns. It is all written there on the magnificence of the gate that I peer through today; perhaps just like one of the dirty townspeople had before me. Now these amazing structures house libraries, museums, and even apartments. Once again the passage of time shows itself in the must subtle of ways, unnoticed by the arrogant eye.