À la carte: Getting around Paris on paper

[Alyson Kuhn] Paris is a fabulous city to walk in, for at least three reasons: the facades of old buildings, the intrigue of storefronts, the surprise of landmarks coming into view. Actual walking tours abound with incredible specificity—architecture tours, neighborhood tours, bakery tours. Articles and books of walking tours abound, and now, walking tour apps abound. I still recommend Richard Saul Wurman’s Access Paris guide, which works its way through neighborhoods of interest in four different colors of ink (for culture, gastronomy, retail, and history/architecture). For myself, though, I am most interested in books and ephemera having to do with the Paris bus and metro systems.

I bought this Paris metro map dish towel in San Francisco seven or eight years ago. I do not dry dishes with it. Rather, it is my favorite in-the-car lapkin—when stuck in traffic in the Bay Area, I amuse myself by figuring out a metro route.

The Carte Orange is my old Paris transit pass, circa 1996. I am really happy to have kept it. My new one is so unflattering I cannot show it to you. Last week, on our first morning in Paris, we went to the photo booth at the closest metro stop (Goncourt) and learned the new rules: no earrings, no head coverings, no hair falling over your face, no smiling. No joking! Then, you present your sheet of four identical photos at the ticket window, where you learn that new weekly transit passes are not issued at this station, Madame. So, you walk to the closest big station, République, and throw yourselves on the mercy of the very nice agent, who cuts your photos into little ovals and affixes them to the passes. When I say ovals, do not think “cameos.” Think mug shot with your hair cut off.

Despite the ugly photo, my new pass is high tech. Instead of taking the little ticket out and sliding it through the turnstile, you tap the magic part of the pass, still in its plastic case, on the matching magic part of the turnstile, and it lets you in. Ditto on the bus. It is great. My first week in Paris on this trip, I took about 25 metros (including one automatic train, meaning it had no driver) and about a dozen buses.

Last Thursday, we hopped on the 63 bus at Sèvres-Babylone, on the Left Bank, across from the new Hermès store, where we had spent a lot of energy buying a bar of soap, which we will show you another day. Directly above (left) is one of the two spreads in my Guide Paris Bus dedicated to the 63 bus. The lefthand page gives the exact street address or location of each stop in both directions. Our bus took us past Les Invalides (Napoleon’s Tomb, whose dome is covered in about an acre of gold leaf), across the Alma Marceau Bridge, up the Avenue du Président Wilson, to the Palais de Chaillot, now called Cité, (French for city). It’s a cavernous treasure trove of Parisian and French architecture. We went to see an incredible exhibit, Architectures en papier, featuring cityscapes created by five artists out of cut paper.

Marc Treib’s article (above right), “Taking the Bus in Paris,” appeared in Print magazine more than a decade ago. It is brilliant, and I have made beaucoup de photocopies of it for friends visiting Paris over the years. To little avail: Almost nobody will take the bus (without me). The 63 was my favorite bus when I lived here in the mid-’70s, but I have discovered some great new-to-me routes on this trip. In the past week, I have ridden three buses through the courtyard of the Louvre, one of them at night. Magnificent is an understatement.

Paris is organized into 20 arrondissements (an arrondissement is somewhere between a neighborhood and a ZIP Code). Today, of course, there are apps for finding anything anywhere, but I am loyal to my arrondissement guidebook and my full set of arrondissement maps (Ier through XXe), which I bought at Papeterie Lavrut, 30 or so years ago. The shop is long gone, and, as far as I can tell, so is the publisher, Cartes Taride.

Right before this trip, I made myself an envelope out of the Paris-plus-suburbs map that came in the back of my arrondissement guidebook. (Note the self-adhesive Tombow string and button.) The envelope houses a folder printed with a patchwork of vintage French correspondence—a fitting home for my arrondissement maps. I have learned on this trip that the maps are less useful than in the past, because the newer metro lines and stops aren’t included. Perhaps someday, someone will help me put all my favorite spots on digital arrondissement maps that I can send my friends. When I lived here, I wrote my notes all the way around the margins in my arrondissement guidebook (the middle book in the top photo)—and I routinely lent my guidebook to visiting friends. My notes still mostly involve bakeries and paper stores. These “twinterests” make a very euphonious pair in French: les pâtisseries et les papeteries.

Here is a Paris bus map that I bought  at the Marché des Vieux Papiers, the weekly outdoor ephemera market, about 15 years ago. The map is undated, but the original price of 200 francs indicates it was published before the  devaluation in 1945. My impression is that almost all of the routes I use are exactly as they have been for at least three-quarters of a century. Vive la stabilité!

Photos © 2013 StudioAlex 


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Comments (4)

  1. Posted by Mick Hodgson on 01.9.13 at 12:50 pm

    A Li son Have a tres bon temps en Paris Mddme!

  2. Posted by Maureen on 01.9.13 at 6:51 pm

    Great write up about some of my favorite things and places. Don’t you miss the Carte Orange? I have my last one sitting on my desk so I can return to Paris with just a glance…

  3. Posted by Diane Tompkins on 01.10.13 at 10:21 am

    Dear Mlle Kuhntributor – Thanks for sharing your Paris paper guides, your bus love and your joie de vivre. More tales of Paris, please.

  4. Posted by Julie Salestrom on 01.17.13 at 2:18 am

    Loved reading + seeing this!

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