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Boulevard Saint-Germain and boulevard Saint-Michel

Saint-Michel climbs up from Notre-Dame past the Sorbonne and is full of students, Saint-Germain intersects the left bank and is full of intellectuals and their audience. Both are full of tourists, too; the point where they intersect – at the Roman end of the Musee de Cluny – is just about the spiritual heart of Paris. It is as if the High at Oxford and the King’s Road, Chelsea, met at the Tower of

London. Yet the scale and vitality of this colossal city can absorb all of this; Saint-Mich’ doesn’t feel undergraduate, Saint-Germain doesn’t feel affected. At midnight they are full of genuine animation: the city’s most surprising triumph.

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Paris Map In France Poet and Peasant, or the Place Saint-Michel

South from the Ile de la Cite, past the Palais de Justice, is a main road that splits on either side of a famous fountain, designed by Davioud in the late 1850s, which takes up the splay end of a block very prettily. One arm is the boulevard Saint-Michel which continues unabated. The other, in perhaps sixty yards, runs into the Place Saint-Andre-des-Arts and then splits again: and this time the end of the view is a ramshackle collection of stucco walls, surmounted by a pair of stovepipe chimneys and menaced on one side by a tall block with the stonework all keyed up to extend. But the tall block is at least fifty years old and already looks shabby, whilst the older parts are taken up with a far from shabby cafe, L’Alsace a Paris. This by itself would be a good joke; but take it together with the other – the crazy mix-up seen at the same time as the imaginative and highly formal gesture – it spans the whole range of Paris.

Place de l’Odeon

A tough, expeditious bit of formal planning which ties seven roads in a firm knot and then sends the traffic on its way like a deft gendarme. The strict, compact bulk of the theatre – temperamentally the exact opposite of the Opera – faces a semicircle of smooth buildings which do their job simply and then allow Paris to get on with living. In a city with formal spaces which sometimes protest too much – vive le rond-point! – the Place de l’Odeon is refreshingly terse. Like so many worthwhile things in Paris, it comes from the last few years before the Revolution.

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