“Paris is an ocean. Explore it, and you still won’t know its depths.” – Honoré de Balzac
The streets of the Marais are narrow enough in some places that sunlight pierces the shadowy canyons between its soaring Renaissance-era buildings for just a few hours a day. At night the lanes take on a mysterious, medieval air when streetlamps sputter to life, casting a sheen on timeworn turrets, carved doors and stone mansions.
Slip into a cobbled alley off the Rue des Francs-Bourgeois, a main artery, and you’ll find yourself standing where the Duke of Orleans was assassinated in 1407 by a power-hungry rival’s henchmen. Around the corner, the magnificent 18th-century Hôtel de Soubise palace, home to France’s national archives, showcases the last, anguished letter written by Marie Antoinette, bidding “adieu” to her sister before heading to the guillotine.
Strolling amid the steep walls and angular slate roofs always transports me back to a bygone era — a storied past that vibrates beneath the ferment of the chic international crowds, designer boutiques, neo-bistrots, kosher delis and L.G.B.T. clubs.
Fifteen years ago, I was lucky enough to find a quaint apartment on a small rue in the central Marais. I’d just moved from Washington, D.C., to be the bureau chief for a financial news agency covering the birth of Europe’s new currency, the euro, which I would go on to write about for the former International Herald Tribune and The New York Times. In short order, that historic project burst into a Continentwide financial, social and political crisis, the aftershocks of which I continue to report about today. [ . . . ] Full Story