Just around the corner from the famous restaurant Lapérouse coyly sits another fine dining establishment I’ll probably never have a 6 course meal at, Le Relais de Louis XIII.
If you look on the wall there is an inscription stating “Here the young Louis XIII was declared king, one hour after the death of his father King Henry IV”.
Despite the building’s old appearance, this elegantly stenciled testament to history is a bit vague on the HERE part.
Instead, HERE was actually the Grands Augustins Convent (destroyed during the French Revolution) and it was HERE that 8 year old Louis XIII- who suffered from crohn’s disease, shitty teeth, and an embarrassing studder; was given the horrible news that his “Papa” (King Henry IV insisted his children call him by this rather than the more appropriate Monsieur, just another reason why he’s my favorite King) was murdered by the religious fanatic Ravaillac on May 14, 1610.
Which went as followed (by my interpretation) “Hey kid, eh, I got good news and bad news. Well your old man kicked the bucket in a violently painful death BUT on the bright side, you are now King! Cheerz! “
While he wouldn’t REALLY wear the crown for another 7 years thanks to Mommy Dearest, the ambitious Marie de Medici, he did last an impressive 33 years as K.O.F. Unfortunately, Louis didn’t make much of a name for himself in comparison to the reigns of his father and his future sun, I mean SON, King Louis XIV.
This painting, depicting a scene not so different from one we could find today in the same location, has a cheeky hidden context.
Clutch your pearls and grab your smelling salts respectable folks!
WE’RE TALKIN’ PROSTITUTION
A reproduction of the lost original and first shown in salons in the early 19th century, artist Louis Léopold Boilly barely escaped the Reign of Terror thanks to his habit of pushing the boundaries of propriety with his “morbidly obscene” yet realistic style of painting. He continued to scandalize the slightly less rigid standards of a post-Revolutionary Paris with this scene of a seemingly normal moment in the day to day Bourgoise life of Parisian men, women, and children at the Palais Royal.
However, on further inspection there are a few clues that show this is anything but an appropriate family afternoon outing.
To start, we got a few ladies of leisure, who can be identified by their scandalously bare arms, naked ankles, and flimsy dresses. Accompanying them are upper middle class men whose reputations are high enough to afford a little afternoon delight without risking their honor or position.
On the far left, there seems to be a minor dispute. Monsieur clutches the railing, perhaps he feels the price tag of this ménage à trois is too high. Beside them we see the round rump of a girl lifting her skirts, probably giving potential buyers a taste of the goods before they commit to buy. The woman above her seems to say “for fecks sake Constance, you are giving it all away! I can see the outline of your knee through those five layers of petticoats!”
To the right, a satisfied customer grasps the waist of a visibly annoyed lady, who is probably thinking “Hell no we will not be Facebook friends. Pay up and back off, I got things to do.”
Moving along, a women is batting her eyes at potential customers, maybe trying to sweeten the deal. “You want me to put that cane up your bum? Ok but there’s a 15% added charge for sodomy”. A child looks up beside her, is it a decoy to make this scene more PG?
On the far right we have a Mademoiselle stroking a dog in a basket, held by a man who appears to be translating for his turbaned master who stands behind them looking on. The woman between them is the Pimp; her arms around them both while negotiating the price.
The garden and galleries of the Palais Royal were well known for their more libertine activities, and this was a popular hotspot for working ladies of all classes who came here to “faire leur palais”. This was even where pre-Emperor Napoleon picked up a lady who he lost his V-card with! (see related post below!)
As many as 600-800 women lived and worked at the Palais Royal until Louis-Philippe forbid prostitution there in 1830.
So you are fed up with relaxing all inclusive Caribbean resorts and ready to visit Paris eh?
Trading in those sexy sandals for practical orthopedics is just one of the many obligations I really must insist you adhere to before you are allowed entry into the world’s most meticulously detail-oriented city.
The days of serendipitous travel to foreign lands where local customs are learned through meaningful interaction and trial and error are over; the average full-blooded French citizen of 2022 no longer tolerates naive ignorance and the repercussions can be severe. (Just look what happened to their Royal Family if you don’t believe me!) Prepare yourself for total assimilation by reading the following conclusive and totally indisputable list of Paris Do’s and Do Not Even Think About It’s!
1. DON’T REQUEST KETCHUP You may have heard the controversy surrounding the derogatory “YO GARCON!” old school method of calling attention to your server, but the resulting anger that may result is just a fraction of the wrath you will incur compared to if you dare request a ketchup accompaniment with your meal. The only accepted dipping sauces are mustard (pronounced MOO-TARDE), mayonnaise, or occasionally that green garlic butter sauce your escargot has been boiled alive in. I could dip my shoe in that savory shit and eat it!
2. DO Tip Historically, this is the most controversial question that Paris tourists face, especially the generous American ones when they inevitably ask themselves what to leave as a gratuity when faced with the terminal phase of a French Restaurant meal. According to legend, the whole misconception began during the American Revolutionary War when Governor Patrick Henry famously declared “Give me Liberty or Give Me Death!” to the second Virginia Convention in 1775. Word spread quickly with everyone more or less understanding the message until the heroic (and not as fluent in English as most would believe) French General the Marquis de LaFayette caught wind of it at the end of a meal at his local tavern bar. He misunderstood the whole thing and thought the whole liberty notion Henry spoke of was a broader term to include liberty from the obligation to include a 15-20% gratuity following a meal in addition to liberty from British rule.
It didn’t help matters that across the bar and at the pool table about to pocket the winning 8 ball, Paul Revere overhead the whole thing and hastily added it to the whole OH SHIT THE BRITISH ARE COMING Midnight Ride Speech which spread word faster back to France than the American Government would displace native american tribes from their ancestral homelands in 1831. Ultimately, this could be complete historical bullshit, so I’ll leave you with the shocking result of the following indisputable scientific study recently conducted over eight years through Harverd University.
According to 100% of Parisian servers, a tip is appreciated following a meal.
3. DON’T Fondle the Fruit Remember that scene in the 1992 Disney film “Aladdin” when the naive Princess Jasmine plays palace hooky and swipes an apple on behalf of a hungry peasant child only to learn that in the real world outside the royal walls of her pampered daily life, monetary compensation is required for the acquisition of a good? Just like their Middle Eastern counterparts, burly Parisian market vendors won’t hesitate to chop off an appendage with a quick swipe of their machete if you are caught groping any melons. This is especially true at the organic markets like the one found on Boulevard Raspail where the blood curdling screams of tourists can be frequently heard as they frantically attempt to reclaim their detached fingers after they rolled away under the pesticide free grapes (pronounced des raisins) as a result of picking up an orange and sniffing it for freshness. Thank God Emergency Medical care is affordable in France!
4. DON’T Climb the Eiffel Tower If I’ve said it once, I’ve said it a million times. Don’t be tempted to scale the 1887 relic that once served as a big fancy door to the 1889 World’s Fair. Look, I get it: I’m empathetic to the struggle thousands of tourists face daily when they realize tickets to the tower are sold out weeks in advance and the lines to get up the Iron Lady sans une réservation are as alarming as seeing an erect dolphin’s penis with your kids at Sea World. What your Rick Steve’s guidebook doesn’t tell you is that each night dozens of foolish tourists are peeled off the tower scaffolding like mice stranded in peanut butter after they made the poor decision to get up to the summit and indulge in a 15 euro glass of champagne with or without a ticket. I’ll spare you the grim details, but these are the lucky ones. If you are really set on an Instagram worthy view of Paris from above, I urge you to consider the Montparnasse Tower. Compared to the 300 meters (1083 feet) of the ET, the MT has a more realistic 210 meter (689 feet) height attainable for even the most mediocre Spiderman impersonators.
5. DO Witness a PSG VS Marseilles Match Ici c’est Paris! Sure the budget of the capital city’s home team is at least twice that of their competitors, but ultimately talent has far more worth when compared to the pockets of billionaire PSG owner and Quatar ruler Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani. Introduce your soccer lovin’ youngins (Watch out! It’s called le foot in France!) to a little family friendly match between bestie rivals Paris Saint Germain and Olympique de Marseille. These heart-warming games put even the twinkling lights of the Eiffel Tower to shame with their passionate raging fires that burn brightly from the stands, accompanied by the unexpected heart stopping explosions from home-made mazel tov cocktails as they are sent hurtling onto the field to the delight of spectators, the team, and law enforcement officers present. Don’t forget your face guards and flame retardant apparel!
6.DON’T Consume Food On The Go Paris might not be known as the friendliest place to visit, but this is just because they have more manners than you, it’s not their fault. In addition to loud noises, fun, and deodorant, French people are easily offended by witnessing food consumption that is done anywhere that is not on a chair, so think twice before you stuff your face without discretion while out and about. Originating back to the French Revolutionary War when soaring bread prices made the desperately starving citoyens viciously attack anyone seen carrying any form of edible nourishment in the street, Parisians today have an uncontrollable impulse to roll their eyes or grunt in disgust at the sight of anyone eating while not passively relaxing. Don’t be mistaken by the wide availability of food to ‘manger sur la pouce’ (literally eat on your thumb, AKA to go), this is meant to be eaten at home, or on rare exceptions in a park on a park bench. If you are unable to control your hunger pains, do what the Parisians do and light up a cigarette.
7. DON’T Wear Shorts Closely following eating in public on the go, (see above) exposing your naked legs while wearing shorts comes in second on the unofficial list of How to Piss off a Parisian. You might be thinking, “Why are legs accompanied by shorts bothersome when the French culture embraces naked boobies at the beach or public advertising with nudity?” The answer is not so black and white and may surprise you. The delicate curves of a female breast or the coy glimpse of a male derrière are respected artistically in French culture. The problem lies in your knees. Yes, your wrinkly squishy knees are as repulsive to the French as margarine and Cheese Whiz. Which is probably why you have never seen a bare set on a Parisian in real life before. As a culture they have gone far to eradicate this grotesque feature from sight, including cropping Leonardo Da Vinci’s Mona Lisa masterpiece (to be fair her knees were disturbing) and ordering French sculptor Auguste Bartholdi to lengthen the robe on his original design of the Statue of Liberty before he handed her over to New York. It is important to acknowledge that some efforts are being made to challenge this rather old-fashioned notion in 2022. Shorts (denim or otherwise) are more noticeably tolerated when worn with hosiery.
The following series of bluntly honest posts might trigger people nicer than myself but I’m not going to sugarcoat this harsh reality as the gates to Paris tourism reopen this summer. Pickpocketing in Paris is out of control and the thieves are in control. Nothing pisses me off more than seeing tourists fall into traps that ruin their trip because they are in awe of this beautiful city and not paying attention to their surroundings. Here are some tips to follow to avoid being a statistic.
DON’T SIGN THE CLIPBOARD I see this all the time around Paris landmarks. Young women brandishing clipboards approach tourists and ask them if they speak English. Once you say yes, they thrust the clipboard and a pen in your face and ask you to pledge money to support deaf children. You sign to get rid of them, or maybe you give them money. If you are lucky; you lost a few euro. If you are unlucky and a victim of this common scam, you notice your cellphone or wallet are missing a few minutes later. While the clipboard was distracting you (and strategically placed under your line of vision) one of the young women was busy exploring your pockets. Sounds obvious right? I was a victim of this very scam a few years ago by two very young girls who were a lot slicker than they appeared. I shouldn’t have even let them approach my café terrace table but how can you tell off innocent little girls? PLOT TWIST : You can! All you jolly Americans out there who struggle with not smiling at every person they cross, this is for you because you are a target. You can avoid 99% of all scams if you just totally ignore any stranger that tries to engage with you. The easiest thing to do is to pretend you don’t speak English and keep walking.
PUTTING YOUR GUARD DOWN IN FRONT OF KIDS I love kids. I really do. I made one. But some of the kids you see in the streets of Paris are not innocent and they do not deserve your pity enough to justify stealing from you. They are usually pre-teen or teenager age. and usually in small groups. The moment you feel sorry for them is when they pounce. They are quick, and their skilled hands can effortlessly swipe your wallet or phone. Don’t let them approach you and don’t be afraid to gently push them away if they get too close.
KNOW WHAT’S A THREAT AND WHAT ISN’T There are two types of thieves to watch out for; mobile thieves and non-mobile ones. The mobile ones are the pickpockets with the clipboards or other tricks that roam the streets or metro all day. Unless you know what to look for, they aren’t obvious to the untrained eye but often these are young children and women in small groups of 2-4 carrying clipboards; often around landmarks and in the metro. The non-mobile ones are less of a threat because they don’t move much. They usually occupy the same spots in the same neighborhoods day after day begging for money with their various accessories including cute animals, sleeping babies, and small children, (Who are frequently drugged. If you don’t believe me look it up or pay attention next time you see one. They are ALWAYS asleep) Watch out for the coffee cups with small amounts of change on the sidewalk directly in your path. These are put there purposely so you trip over it and feel bad enough to give them money for the trouble.
pLaY StUpID gAmES, WIN STuPiD PrIzEs!
Don’t fall for these easy to spot scams!
Bracelets – I’ve only see this one in the Montmartre/Sacre Coeur neighborhood of Paris. If you see anyone coming towards you with an arm full of bracelets, don’t acknowledge them. What they will do is quickly tie a bracelet on your arm just tight enough that you can’t get it off, and then demand money in return.
Fake Ring – This hasn’t happened to me yet, but I fantasize about the day it will! If you happened to be approached by someone claiming to have found the ring you dropped, keep walking. They will pretend to be doing you a big favor by returning it to you, but when you reveal its not your ring, they will offer to give it to you anyways in exchange for cash. Of course the ring is worthless!
The Cup Game – This is a classic scam I see from time to time (especially near the Eiffel Tower or on bridges) and I am bewildered by the people who actually believe they will win. How it works is that someone will have three cups and a ball on a map, if you guess which cup they hide the ball in, you win the cash. You might observe for awhile and notice other people winning, so you feel it must be legit. However these “winners” are actually decoys who are apart of the game.
FOR GODS SAKE LADIES carry a purse that has a GOD DAMN ZIPPER. Keeping your valuables in an open bag is an invitation to a pick pocket. Cross body bags are great so your arms can be free, but I usually stick with a backpack and have no problems. Keep the zipper at the top, its harder to sneak into. You really don’t need special anti-theft bags or devices (in fact these will just further acknowledge you are a tourist and an easy target).
MEN- Wallets go in FRONT POCKETS HORIZONTALLY and placed DOWNWARD. This makes it much harder and less of a target for someone with sticky fingers. Also avoid having a lot of cash in your wallet. If you got a bulge in the front of your trousers, its for 2 reasons. Your wallet is full of cash, or you have an erection. A pick pocket knows the difference.
DON’T CARRY A LOT OF CASH there are ATMS all over Paris and they are free. (although your home bank will probably charge you) Use them but be aware of your surroundings. It is not uncommon to get jumped by an ATM in broad daylight. Go inside the bank if possible to use the ATM.
During peak tourist season (June through September and around the holidays) thieves are out in full force. So if you’re traveling at this time, you’ll want to be extra vigilant.
Pick pockets love the metros that are crowded but not too crowded so that they can be close enough to smell your deodorant or bump into you without being suspicious. Line 1 is probably the worst because it goes right through the heart of Paris and hits several big tourist stops. If you find yourself in a crowded metro, do your best to get your back against a wall. Move your bag or briefcase so that you are hugging it. If you can sit down, even better.
DO NOT TAKE OUT YOUR PHONE ON THE METRO! I know its tempting, but avoid this at all costs. It takes one second for that door to be shut and one second more to realize you are no longer playing Candy Crush because your phone was swiped just as the door was closing.
Do You Have Victim Potential?
You think a pickpocket won’t target you because you have a baby in a carrier attached to your chest and a 2 year old holding your hand? You are a target. You are wearing stilettos or carrying lots of bags? You are a target. You’re wearing valuable jewelry? You are a stupid target. (I once saw an older woman get her diamond necklace ripped off her neck on the metro as the doors were closing.)
I don’t see many thorough, bluntly honest anti-theft guides for tourists that include all this information. I wish someone had told me these details when I arrived here 8 years ago with stars in my naive eyes. Don’t make the same mistakes that costed me a few valuables.
And most importantly, don’t let the threat of being robbed stop you from visiting Paris. Like any other large city, its just one negative among many positives that are a part of daily life. If you follow these tips and are always aware of your surroundings, your chances of being a victim are minuscule.
Let’s talk deadly epidemics shall we? Tucked away behind the Hotel de Ville (City Hall) is one of those medieval Paris streets that transports you back in time. And since this portion has been around for a solid 800 years, it might be the closest thing we can get to a legit time machine.
However, you might not want to go back to the year 1832, when Paris was slammed with the Coron.. err Cholera Epidemic.
Within 3 months, there would be 19,000 Parisians dead. This street, known at the time as the Rue de la Mortellerie, was hit the hardest. Of the 4,000 people living there, 304 would perish. If you understand French (mort = dead) and are sensitive to bad omens, you might say “Well what can you expect with a name like Little Dead Street?”. In fact, the street was given this name in 1212 (!!) because many stone masons (some of whom dealt with mortar, thus giving them the title Morteliers) worked here.
In old Paris, many street names were reflected who lived or worked there. Can you guess what inspired the Rue Tire-Boudin (Sausage Puller)? No, its not a Butcher. You can still see the passage people living here took to reach the Seine for water, Ruelle des Trois-Maures. (More bad Juju, it sounds like Three Dead in French) It’s been blocked off since 1841, but not for THIS GUY.
So anyways, post-epidemic, the inhabitants of this street petitioned to change the name of their street to something less macabre. In typical Paris admin fashion, it only took the city 3 years to agree and in February 1835 this street was dubbed Rue de la Hotel de Ville.
The street was mostly razed 1914 but a few remarkably old buildings still exist at the very end. You can still see the former name Rue de la Mortellerie carved in stone above number 95.