Telling Paris Stories
It’s normally considered rather rude to follow people around, but that’s what I do. Fortunately (or unfortunately) the people I follow are long gone and I follow their traces along Paris streets, creating walking tours that focus on stories about those who lived and wrote and performed in them. The current trio of audio walking tours of Paris, available on this site focus on Audrey Hepburn, Coco Chanel, and the writers and artists of 1920’s Montparnasse.
Let’s start with Audrey. I had already created a walking tour about her Paris movies and fashion career for GG2P, first as a simple PDF you could download, then as an iPhone app with written instructions. Now it’s an audio app. VoiceMap technology allows you to wander the streets listening to the narration, rather than having to stop and check written directions or maps at every turn. The narration starts automatically at each stop on the tour, thanks to GPS. Just follow the instructions you hear through your earbuds and enjoy your surroundings.
The Audrey Hepburn walk takes in Givenchy headquarters, the gardens of the Champs-Elysées, the Place de la Concorde, and the Ritz Hotel (which reopens this year after its recent renovations). The last three are all film locations in films such as “Funny Face,” “Charade,” and “Love in the Afternoon.” My personal favorite of all Audrey’s films is “How to Steal a Million,” in which she is paired with the blue-eyed Peter O’Toole. Several scenes were filmed at the Ritz, including the one in which she wears a black lace Givenchy dress with a matching eye veil in order to look “inconspicuous.” Classic.
The next tour focuses on Coco Chanel, because, well, who isn’t interested in the inventor of the Little Black Dress? Chanel is a mysterious character (just whose side was she on during the Second World War, anyway?), and there is no shortage of stories about her, some of which are probably true. This walk also takes in the Ritz Hotel, because she lived there for many years. Her walk to work was a brief stroll from the back door of the Ritz down the rue Cambon to her boutique and atelier. The ideal commute.
Someone else who loved the Ritz and spent a lot of time there was Ernest Hemingway. The bar near the back entrance is named for him. But I wanted to create a walk in the area where he spent much of the 1920s, Montparnasse on the Left Bank. If you’ve seen “Midnight in Paris,” you may remember some of the places that the young hero goes in Hemingway’s company, including the salon of Gertrude Stein.
I also wanted to focus the walk on more than just Hemingway, although he did keep popping up at nearly every turn. But I was interested in his wives (first Hadley, then Pauline), other writers (F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald, James Joyce, Ezra Pound), Sylvia Beach of Shakespeare and Company, and people like the photographers Man Ray and Berenice Abbott, performers Isadora Duncan and Kiki de Montparnasse, and artists like Modigliani. There is quite a large cast of characters in this walk, because in the 1920s, everybody who was anybody wanted to be in Montparnasse.
This was the hardest route to create, because there is so much history on every street, and I wanted to cover the key locations without exhausting the walker. Of course, the nice thing about these tours is that when you are footsore, you can stop at the nearest café, sit down, and order something refreshing. The narration will start up again when you reach the next location.
I hope that you will try out at least one of the tours, and I’d really welcome feedback. I’d also be interested in hearing about other tours you’d like to take. Paris of the Impressionists? Amélie’s Montmartre? Traces of the Revolution? I encourage you follow the people you care about through the streets of Paris.
Note: Philippa Campsie is a professor in Toronto a writer, blogger and gg2p contributor who studied in Paris as a university student, and has never quite got Paris out of her system ever since. She collects Paris maps and travels there with Norman (her hubby) as often as possible.