A bird’s eye view of Paris
In July I came across a website and campaign called Walk for Women. Celebrating the fight of the suffragettes and acknowledging the thousands of women who marched across Britain in 1913 for the right to vote, Walk for Women were organizing walks throughout the country.
I wished I could have joined in a walk, so I organised my very own walk here in Paris to show my support. I had two weeks to plan a route and invite friends.
I was wondering where to direct us through Paris when my BFF had the idea of focusing the walk on the women of Paris. This gave me a helpful starting point and I set about researching all the monuments, statues, street names,and whatever else I could find dedicated to great women of Paris’s history.
Hello hurdle number one. Funny thing, the city of Paris isn’t exactly brimming with accolades to the wonderful females of its history. I found a few female statues, mainly of Joan of Arc (who didn’t make it to the tour in the end), other saints, or representations of abstract ideals (la justice, la patrie etc.) But eventually I managed to come up with a map of Paris spattered with interesting ladies.
Hurdle number two. The scarcity of these women around the city meant it would be impossible to cover them all, they were spaced out in nearly every arrondissement. I had to start the process of culling some in order to create an enjoyable walk. Eventually I settled on covering the east and centre of Paris, starting in the 20th and finishing in the 6th. This still left large parts of the walk free from stops, but they were interesting areas in themselves.
So with 10 days to go I set up my event and invited some friends, put up a few posters, sent a few e-mails, and waited. The day arrived and only two of my friends turned up! But we weren’t going to let this lack of interest bother us, it was a beautiful day and we set off from Place Edith Piaf to do our 8 mile walk in high spirits.
And hurdle number three. Near the start of the tour we passed through the Père Lachaise cemetery to look for the graves of Gertrude Stein, Sarah Bernhardt, and Colette. Yes, we even had to resort to grave gazing to honour Paris’s women. Unfortunately, Père Lachaise is a very large, very packed, cemetery and even with the map I had procured, we had a little trouble finding our women. In the end we managed to get to them all with a bit of help from a google image search. This foray through the graveyard ate up a lot of our time but thankfully the trees had provided much needed shade as the temperature was soaring.
En route to our next woman we happened to pass the office where the aforementioned BFF works and we poked our noses in to see her boss. He was super happy to see us and even prepared us a little refreshment which we enjoyed in the communal garden opposite. A worthwhile stop we decided, to honour one of Paris’s great women of the future.
Time to press on. Next we came to the Salle Olympe de Gouges, a very grotty looking building bearing the name of the under-acknowledged feminist, anti-abolitionist and revolutionary. I have since found a square named after her in the 3rd, but this fit nicely into our route, though it would be great to see her honoured in a more substantial way.
We had a long stretch now before the next notable woman, which led us serendipitously through the marché Aligre, where we stocked up on a bag of cherries. I love this market, it has a great feel to it and is probably the cheapest in Paris. We finally reached the Passarelle Simone de Beauvoir and had a welcome sit down in the shade of the bridge. By now it was scorching in the midday sun on what turned out to be the hottest day of the summer. We dragged ourselves up and across the river, noting with jealous eyes the frolicking Parisians in the open-air floating swimming pool named after Josephine Baker.
Our stomachs and sweaty brows led us to Chez Lili et Marcel where we had a welcome lunch. A 2 hour lunch. Well we thought we deserved a proper rest. They even served Berthillon ice-cream, what a treat!
Now we were on the home straight and we headed through the beautiful Jardin des Plantes into the latin quarter. For the last time we made a little detour from the planned walk to visit the pharmacy at Place Monge. It is the cheapest in town, and we couldn’t resist a bargain!
Skirting round the Panthéon we did a small salute the TWO women buried there, one Sophie Bertholet, the wife of a chemist, the other Marie Curie, who we were to tip our hats to on the next stop at the Institut Curie.
Finally we arrived at the Jardin du Luxembourg where a statue of George Sand was hiding. It had been hard to pinpoint exactly where, so we ended up completing a tour of the whole garden before finding her just next to the entrance. Before flopping onto a nearby bench we had a couple of pictures with the very feminine looking Sand, a woman who in real life liked to dress in men’s clothing.
The time was 19.10. It had taken us 8 hours (with breaks). We had a great time though and didn’t stop talking all day; our chosen women were really inspiring and we discussed their lives, those women who hadn’t made the route, and the seeming unfairness that so much of Paris’s landscape and history is devoted to men even though there are so many great, intelligent, and important women out there.
I would love to organise another tour of Paris’s women, there are so many I couldn’t include in this one.