Monday 15 November 2010

Chez Maigret

On Sunday, I took my umbrella and headed to Paris Noir, a festival of European crime literature and film. I love detective fiction, so the Maigret exhibition and guided walk were particularly appealing, although the opportunity to discover new books is always irresistible too!

Maigret lived in the 11th arrondissement of Paris, as did Simenon himself for some years. We were therefore on the Commissaire's home ground, although his address on Boulevard Richard-Lenoir proved to have no front door - the ground floor is taken up by a cafe. Was this a mistake, or a deliberate separation of fiction from fact?

There are other traces of Maigret's Paris here, not least this patisserie which is mentioned in one of the books. (Simenon wrote over 70 novels featuring the detective.) However, the rather fine shopfront is an illusion: it is now occupied by a clothing wholesaler. Indeed, this part of the neighbourhood bears little resemblance to the streets of small businesses the Commissaire would have known, as Chinese textile wholesalers have taken over almost all the premises - a complex issue considered by Invisible Paris.

Other changes have also taken place, and might have concerned Maigret more. The local police station has closed: where there were once four in each arrondissement, they have now been centralised. Investigations depend increasingly on scientific evidence, something for which Maigret had little enthusiasm. He preferred to rely on his own thoughts and feelings; as for evidence, he favoured confessions - not the perfect evidence in real life that they appear to be in crime fiction.

Our guide not only bore a resemblance to Maigret, complete with the requisite hat and pipe. He is also an ex-police detective and local resident. This exploration of a neighbourhood off the beaten tourist track, and its insights into both Maigret and Simenon, were well worth braving the rain for.


Minnie said...

Wonderful. And the perfect guide, not only in appearance but also in experience.
A friend here is a great Maigret fan, collecting tattered PBs from the weekend bouquinistes in the Pl de la Justice (hm, appropriate). Sadly, the favoured French player of the rôle, Bruno Cremer, died recently.
The prog. sounds interesting; glad you made it!

Sebastien Ardouin said...

And very soon Maigret's office will move out of the 36 Quai des Orfèvres as the Direction Régionale de la Police Judiciaire de Paris (Regional Criminal Investigation Department) will be relocated to a brand new building in the Quartier des Batignolles in the 17e arrondissement. I wonder whether the famous address will be kept as a byword for the PJ.
For anyone interested in noir novels, there's the excellent International Noir Fiction blog.
I am myself a fan of noir novels. Maybe we should exchange some titles?

Hels said...

*nod*... this part of the neighbourhood bears little resemblance to the streets or small businesses the Commissaire would have known. Changes are inevitable in every big city.

But do you think it would work if oblong blue plaques were placed on famous residences and shops, as they are in London? Each plaque could record who lived in that place, what he/she was famous for and what were the dates.

Adam said...

It was an excellent idea for a walk. I love the fact that a fictional character can leave a trace on a real city. Each time I walk past the Canal Saint Martin, I always think of Maigret's headless corpse - which is not a nice image, but certainly a powerful one!

CarolineLD said...

Ah yes, Adam, that's a very atmospheric novel! I sometimes have the opposite experience, too: a novel making more sense after I've seen the place where it's set. Sebastien, I didn't know about that move. As you say, the address may well live on.

Hels, there are a lot of similar plaques in Paris although I don't think there's a central scheme as London has. However, can we mark changes to shops and neighbourhoods in a similar way? Would we even want to?

That's something I like about older novels, Minnie - the chance to pick them up second hand!

Philip Wilkinson said...

I'm so pleased that Simenon's Maigret novels are getting some appreciation. Simenon seems to me to be a great evoker of place. The way he conjures up locations, especially Parisian ones, is little short of miraculous. A seedy night club, the lodge of a sloppy concierge, the place under a bridge where the homeless sleep, a bar that smells of calvados (what a nose Simenon had!) - all these and more are described evocatively and stick in the mind.