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February 16, 2009
One of my favorite strolls in Paris starts at the church of La Madeleine. Designed to look like a Roman temple, its construction began in 1764, but it wasn’t consecrated until 1842. During the Revolution, there was some thought about turning the church into a bank.
This upscale neighborhood is gourmet heaven, a center of epicurean delights—the emporiums of Fauchon and Hédiard. This is the chic part of the city with broad avenues, perfumed air, and Haute Couture.
When Baron Haussmann, prefect of the Seine under Napoleon III and city planner extraordinaire, transformed Paris from a congested medieval town into a grand capital with magnificent vistas, he broke ground here. These are the streets that welcomed the first boulevardiers.
Looking down the rue Royale and across the Place de la Concorde, note La Madeleine’s twin, the Palais Bourbon. There, on April 15, 1975, Josephine Baker was accorded the grandest funeral ever witnessed for an American, becoming the only woman to ever receive a 21-gun salute. She received both the Légion d’Honneur and the Médaille de la Resistance.
I walk into Hediard to whet my appetite for just about everything. Founded in 1854, this gourmet mecca introduced Parisians to exotic spices and produce sold from open stalls by pretty young women from Martinique. Colette, Chaplin, and Marlene Dietrich all shopped here. Today Hediard makes or imports roughly 6000 items.
Next door, I peek iinto the Michelin three-star Lucas Carton, famed for its Belle Epoque décor and the nouvelle cuisine of superstar chef, Alain Senderens.
I amble into two very different neighboring alleys. Le Village Royal, an open market between immaculate buildings housing upscale boutiques and cafes, contrasted with the Old World charm of the Galerie Madeleine, a covered shopping arcade from the 19th century. In between the two, there’s No. 28 rue Boissy d’Anglas, formerly Boeuf sur le Toit, a '20s nightclub and hangout for the Avant Garde—Cocteau, Picasso, Brancusi. Here for the first time, Parisians heard jazz.
Vive le Jazz Hot!