Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Litanies of Noir - Paris

As part of Bouchercon, City Lights the venerable North Beach bookshop founded by Lawrence Ferlenghetti and still thriving, will host Litanies of Noir...readings at a 'secret' location on Thursday. To get the address you need to pick you your invitation in a black envelope at the store and then voila the destination is revealed.

We've been asked to read a short noir piece either a homage or published work. At first I thought I'd read Fleurs de Mals by Baudelaire since he qualifies as dark but then I found my copy of Paris Noir - The Secret History of a City by Jacques Yonnet...this definitely fit the reading. My friend showed me her copy several years ago in Paris and in French. Now it's translated and you really should READ this book. Brilliant.

Yonnet's book was first published in 1954 under the title Enchantements sur Paris - Paris Spellbound then re-issued with Yonnet's preferred title Rue des Maléfies - Witchcraft street. This is a real street on the Left Bank, in the 5th arrondissement now named rue Xavier-Privat after a celebrated poet and singer in 1890. But over the centuries it's had other names; rue des Trois Chandeliers - 3 Candlestick street and Rue de l'Homme-Qui-Chante - the street of the man who sings. Yonnet delves into the possible reasons and legends in the story ie 1269 a Flemish nobleman issued a decree banning access to this street 'to all who are blind whatever the origins of their blindess'. But the reason you should read his only published work is that it's set in Paris during the German Occupation yet is part personal diary, memoir of some of the darkest hours in France's history, a guide to the city's lower depths, a sociological study of an urban population that no longer exists or was driven elsewhere, record of a number of paranormal incidents and experiences
- all of these.

Jacques Yonnet is 24 years old when war breaks out in 1939. Captured by the Germans in June 1940, he escapes to his native Paris but hides underground in the Latin Quarter. Yonnet finds a world that would have been familiar to Francois Villon, the thief 15th century poet, a world of beggars, rag pickers, mercenaries, petty criminals, informers, whores, healers. exorcists and gypsies. And he survives thanks to them. Then the quartier was declasse but now it's the second highest rent in Paris.
Cara - Tuesday


  1. Cara - Young people would love to live on a street called Witchcraft. Imagine the joy a teenager would have in telling someone from the DMV that he lives on a street with that name. Instant coolness would be bestowed by the address.

    Authors and poets deserve to be honored by having places named for them but can Longfellow Street really compare to Witchcraft Street?

    And just think of all the demonstrations that would have provided great street entertainment when crowds gathered, with firebrands, to scorch out this tribute to the darkside?


  2. Just the 2nd highest rent? Can't wait to read and be transported to Occupied France-- well, you know what I mean!