Been a bit quiet here lately, hasn’ it? Yes, well my excuse is a good one: I’ve been in Paris. While there, you can be sure, I paid visit to some FIA terre sacrée and collected some material for this blog. And what place better qualifies than 18, rue de Vaugirard? Does it exist?
To be sure, rue de Vaugirard exists. It is the longest rue in Paris (over 4 km en longuer), and one of the oldest, being an ancient Roman road connecting Lutèce (now Paris) with Dreux. Its eastern terminus (beginning?) lies directly opposite the lovely Place de la Sorbonne pictured here (where my wife and I had a lovely déjuener at a cafe on the right, the name of which escapes me).
What do you say we take a walk from here along Rue de Vaugirard and look for #18, the Belleau family residence?
Rue de Vaugirard runs due west from here, intersects rue Monsieur le Prince, then arrives at the Place Paul Claudel. Here the rue des Médicis that borders the northeastern edge of the Jardin de Luxembourg intersects and merges into rue de Vaugirard. Looking to your left, you see the tall iron fence that rings the Jardin and through it, the eastern face of le Sénat.
On your right (north) rue Corneille, which runs to the Place de l’Odéon, intersects rue Vaugirard. At this corner is a café, « Au Petit Suisse » for which there are some favorable reviews available online. The address of the café is 16 rue de Vaugirard.
West of rue Corneille is the back of the Odéon Theater. No number is visible from the street, and indeed the Odeon’s street address is not on rue de Vaugirard, but is 2, rue Corneille.
To the west, the Odéon is bordered by rue Rotrou and the next building along rue Vaugirard bears the number 20. This is the Librarie du Sénat. Le Sénat itself is now nearly directly to our south (our left as we walk down rue de Vaugirard).
And so as a result of our promenade we come an inescapable conclusion about the legendary 18, rue de Vaugirard:
Il n’existe pas.
Here is what Prof. Capretz had to say about this mythic address on the Yale FIA site in 1992 in response to a letter from French teacher who took his FIA-tainted class to Paris. Here is the teacher’s letter, followed by the good professor’s response:
On a recent trip to France, a group of my students took an hour off to hunt down the infamous 18, rue de Vaugirard, hoping sans doute to catch Mireille qui sortait de chez elle…or at least to have their pictures taken in front of this apartment with such a beautiful view (except for the Tour Montparnasse–quelle horreur!) of the Jardins de Luxembourg. Please make note for future tourists that this new Mecca (which proved more of a draw than Jim Morrison’s grave), is, however utile pour apprendre le français, as fictitious as the rest of story!
Dr. Casey Black
Northern State University
Editor’s note: Yes, indeed number 18, rue de Vaugirard is fictitious; for the very reason illustrated in Professor Black’s letter. Before FiA was filmed, we at Yale and at a few other institutions were teaching with a prototype course. So many of our students would rush to the real building on rue de Vaugirard and ring the bell, hoping that Mireille would open the door, that we were obliged to move Mireille and her family twice. When we made preparations to film French in Action, we anticipated the problem would be, of course, worse after the program was seen by tens of thousands of students and millions of home viewers. So, we had to find a number on rue de Vaugirard that would not pose a problem. I selected number 18 precisely because it does not exist. (If it did, it would be the back of the Odéon Theatre.) This solution created only a minor difficulty: whenever we wanted to shoot in front of Mireille’s house, the crew had to bring a ladder to take down the actual number, replace it with number 18, and put back the right number when we were through.
So…what then is the address of the building featured as the Belleau’s 4th floor apartment with its vue imprenable? Sounds like a good subject for my next article. Stay tuned!
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