Day Two: Paris
After taking the Eurostar and lodging near the Gare du Nord, the group gathered on Sunday morning near Port-Royal metro station, at which Michael passed on the baton of tour guide to Paris resident and Orwell expert Richard Hallmark.
In a nice continuation from the previous day, we were first presented with another candidate for Nineteen Eighty-Four’s Chestnut Tree café: La Closerie des Lilas on the Boulevard du Montparnasse. Orwell frequented it in his twenties and supposedly a Russian waiter at this cafe was the character Boris in Down and Out in Paris and London.
We then moved on to the Hopital Cochin, where Orwell was admitted with bronchitis in 1929. In front of the hospital, the two Richards (Hallmark and Blair) gave moving readings from Orwell’s essay ‘How the Poor Die’, including the description of the death of ‘Numero 57’. This essay was born out of the author’s personal experiences during his stay at this hospital and his discussion of what he termed a ‘natural’ death is just as relevant today.
Walking onward, the group was taken to the bottom of the wonderful Rue Mouffetard. This narrow street, which predates Haussmann’s grand boulevards, was at the centre of the slum land beautifully described in Down and Out. Nowadays, Mouffetard assaults the senses with an array of upmarket food. But if you glance upward, the buildings are still twisted and bent, reflecting their modest origins and not modern gentrification.
Near the top of Mouffetard, we came to one of the highlights of the tour: the site of the bug-ridden hotel described in Down and Out. Ever fearful of a libel suit, Orwell described the hotel as being located on Rue de Coq d’Or, which in reality is Rue du Pot de Fer. Number 6, the hotel’s address, is now a rather nondescript restaurant. Consequently, the diners on the table outside where rather perplexed when a gaggle of English speaking tourists flocked in front of the building. Once they learned, however, that Orwell’s son was amongst us, out came the mobile phones to take a photo.
The day ended with a wonderfully traditional French meal at a restaurant called Au Doux Raisin. No quinoa or kale visible here. As always much of the joy in participating in tours with the Orwell Society is the conversation and company over meals and while travelling. We all came from diverse backgrounds but were linked by the same intellectual curiosity that Orwell’s work embodies. It is also a thrill to travel with Richard Blair and Quentin Kopp, as they gave us a direct family connection to Orwell’s life and times.
A final thank you to our guides Michael King and Richard Hallmark for placing Orwell so well within his milieu. And for Quentin Kopp and his wife Liz for organising the whole trip and getting us so deftly from A to B, an operation that can best be compared to herding cats. Lastly, a big thank you to Richard Blair for helping to make the Orwell Society so special. See you all in Spain in 2017.
Report by Justin Bowles