Tuesday, November 26, 2013

The Catherinettes, Lorettes and redlights in Pigalle

Yesterday was St. Catherine's Day - a day once widely celebrated by young women ' the Catherinettes'.  These were single ladies over 25 afraid of becoming 'old maids' who would attend church and pray to St. Catherine for husbands.  And they wore amazing hats. They had a lot of fun doing this, rumor goes.  Few ladies celebrate this anymore but there's always a wink and nod from the old timers. Karl Lagerfeld, supposedly gives his 'midinettes' seamstresses little Chanel gifts and probably a lot of companies celebrate with joke gifts and the ladies use it as an excuse for drinks after work.
In Pigalle just up from the Square Montholon with the Catherinettes you'll find the area of former 'Lorettes'. The 'Loretttes' were the kept ladies installed by their patrons in the area surrounding the church Notre Dame de Lorette. The 'Lorettes,' with their apartments, were a step up from the ladies who walked the streets a few blocks up on boulevard de Clichy the hub of red-light Pigalle.

Pigalle is back in the news after a op-ed piece in the NYtimes titled 'How Hipsters Ruined Paris'. This caused a big houha and raised controversy in the blog world - there were some great counter argument blogs - but this op-ed hit me differently than others. For one, the author titled the piece 'How Hipsters Ruined Paris' when he wrote specifically of Pigalle in the 9th arrondissement - the setting of my next book - not 'Paris'. He mentions running out for a bottle of Pouilly something - and he's not a hipster?  He can't figure out the Asian massage parlor across the street from him is a brothel. He likens Pigalle to being Brooklynized - with kale chips.  No local life or colorful red-light ambiance to speak of  since it's being ruined by hipster expats who've taken over the food scene and brought about upmarket clothing shops.

Puhleeezee. S'il vous plaît.
Some say seedy Pigalle area has been transformed into one of the hippest spots in the city. Located on the border of the 9th and 18th arrondissements, the capital’s red light district is dotted with sex shops, topless cabarets - including the famous Moulin Rouge - and euphemistically named “hostess” bars. But recently, its southern area, which some are dubbing SoPi - South Pigalle - has seen an influx of trendy cocktail bars that are making this neighbourhood a hot nightlife destination in Paris. 
Le Carmen started this trend. Opened a few years ago in the decadent Baroque setting of composer Bizet’s former residence - and from whose famous opera it gets its name - the bar comes complete with Neoclassical columns and sparkling chandeliers – but with a rock and roll vibe. Its eclectic programme features music ranging from 1960s to electro, and events such as fashion week parties and live tattooing draw in a boho clientele.
But Paris travels on it's stomach, as Napoleon said of armies. The Mairie of the 9th arrondisement spearheaded a campaign this year to bring a fishmonger back to rue des Martyrs - a shopping street -- after the former retired and closed down. The residents wanted fresh fish. It's all about food in the quartiers and below Pigalle, long in a downturn until the 90's when French Bobo's - bourgeous boheme's moved in because it was central and then cheap with big apartments - formerly the abode of the 'Lorettes'.

This was years before some foodie expats moved in. To me the 9th not only has a history of painters - Toulouse Lautrec, Degas, Vuillard - who all lived on rue de Douai 
but the classical music composers Berlioz, Chopin, Lizst who lived there as well. 
While it rubs me the wrong way that this writer has only lived in Pigalle since 2011 and sprouts off in a NYT op-ed - that's his opinion. My friends Annie-Laure and Claude her partner would roll up their eyes and ask 'has he been on our street, rue Chaptal, hasn't he seen the other side of Pigalle - the daytime family scene until the night world of Pigalle descends at dark?' Or visited the guitar stores on the infamous rue Victor Masse, a musician's valhalla, or attended one of the 13 thriving theatres ( from tiny, to small to mega seating like Casino de Paris) playing stage pieces every night? No kale chips here.
Cara - Tuesday


  1. Me thinks the upstart NYT reporter has learned not to take aim at Leduc's city without checking in with you first.

  2. Sacre bleu! The NYT can get neighborhoods so wrong because of their reporters superficial understanding and arrogant belief in they own infallibility. Years ago, they described my block of West 12th Street, here in a city you would expect them to understand. Their piece was completely wrong. A VERY toney brothel had been discovered on our street. The Times description of our neib as staid and snooty was wrong in almost every fact. It was inhabited by a whole lot of ex-hippies and people in rent-controlled apartments. My friends believed the Times and not us--though we walked up and down that street every day. I would not expect the Times guy in Paris to have a clue, much less an insight. Lucky we have you to show us the real place in all its complexity and mystery.