Paris The 16th Arrondissement 1, rue Jouvenet

"Paris is the capital of France and the 16th arrondissement is the capital of Paris," according to Victor Hugo, whose last Parisian home was situated on the present site of the present site 22 avenue d'Eylau. Well before Victor Hugo, the entire literary set of 17th-century found peace and quiet in the village of Auteuil, in the southern section of the arrondissement - Moliere , Racine, La Fontaine, above all Boileau who spent more than twenty years in a humble one-storyed house at the present 26 rue Boileau, away from the city's congestion which he vividly described in Les Embarras de Paris. Once famous for its spring water, Auteuil is situated in what is now the southern section of the 16th arrondissement, a long way from Paris at the time.

In the 18th century it was at the home of Madame Helvetius, also in Auteuil , that the greatest minds of the Age of Enlightenment gathered - Diderot, d'Alembert, Andre Chenier, d'Holbach and Turgot and many others. They called their circle La societe d'Auteuil, and their admired hostess was nicknamed affectionately Notre-Dame d'Auteuil. Many of them ended up being guillotined, the Revolution not being particular about the victims' ideological loyalties, but Madame Helvetius managed to save her neck. The Americans John Adams and Thomas Jefferson were also guests at her home, but especially Benjamin Franklin, France's darling who became her very close friend. He lived a little further north, in Passy, whose prosperity, like the prosperity of Auteuil , lay initially in its spring water.

Franklin had come to Paris in 1776 as the spokesman of the budding American Republic and to plead for the support of Louis XV against the English, their common foe. Twice a week he would walk out of his house, (now 62 rue Raynouard) in his modest brown garb, carrying his white walking stick, and head down to Auteuil along the rue Basse (now Raynouard and La Fontaine) to visit the widowed Madame Helvetius. Totally infatuated with her, he asked her to marry him, as did Turgot, but she wished to remain faithful to the memory of her late husband, and declined both offers.

Turgot admired Franklin whom he described as the great citizen of the world, "qui arrache la foudre au ciel et le sceptre aux tyrans" ("who snatches the lightning from the heavens and the scepters from the hands of tyrants") - the tyrant alluded to in this case being George III of England. The reference to the lightning was a tribute to Franklin's invention of the lightning conductor. As a matter of fact, it was in the 16th arrondissement, in his garden on rue Raynouard that Franklin carried out his first experiments.

John Adam's wife, on the other hand, was less kind to Madame Helvetius. In one of her letters, the puritanical New Englander expressed her disgust with the lack of propriety of the 60-year-old Madame Helvetius and of the liberties she took with Benjamin Franklin, Voltaire and others. Indeed, on one occasion Fontenelle, a very close friend who often stayed for the night, and by then in his nineties, met Madame Helvetius unexpectedly in the morning, when she was still barely dressed. "Oh Madam!" said the old man, "if only I were 80!" Voltaire, another of her admirers, once said, "There are in Paris a great number of small coteries presided over by a woman whose spirit dawns as her beauty declines."

She certainly proved him right a couple of years after the Revolution, when Bonaparte paid her a visit and expressed his surprise at the modest extent of her property. To which the lady replied, "General, if only one knew how much bliss can be contained in a few acres of land, one would reflect less about conquering the world."


When Franklin left France in 1785, by then an ailing man who had to be carried to Le Havre in the Queen's litter, he had on him some mineral waters from Auteuil as a souvenir. Madame Helvetius was much grieved by his departure, and her sorrow was compounded when her other faithful friend, Turgot, died shortly after. Today both a street and a statue commemorate the great American in the 16th arrondissement. At this moment of writing, his Parisian career is also celebrated at the Hotel Carnavelet, the Museum of the History of Paris, in the Marais.

Paris from City of Light expert Thirza Vallois. We continue our tour in the glamourous sixteenth arrondissement, including the brilliant salon of La Princesse de Polignac. Paris is the capital of France and the 16th arrondissement is the capital of Paris "Many Parisians will be surprised by this statement, and even more so coming from Victor Hugo. Yet, for centuries the area had been a draw to the intelligentsia no less than to the privileged and moneyed. La Maison Balzac, the writer's home-cum-museum and its neighbouring annex of the Turkish Embassy, once the home of Marie-Antoinette's closest friend, la Princesse de Lamballe, bear witness to the cohabitation of the arts and of wealth in these parts, as will a visit to the area's cemeteries at Passy and Auteuil.

The most illustrious example of this fruitful cohabitation could be found in the early years of the 20th century at the brilliant salon of La Princesse de Polignac, on Avenue Henri Martin, now 43 Avenue Georges Mandel. Its famous rotunda-shaped music room, complete with mirrors in the fashion of Versailles, still overlooks rue Pasteur-Marc-Boeugue. Here were performed the works of Gabriel Faure, Ernest Chausson, Darius Milhaud, Igor Stravinsky and Maurice Ravel, by such artists as Wanda Landowska, to such guests as Marcel Proust. Not to mention memorable try-outs of Diaghilev's Ballets russes. On one evening in 1927, the Princess played host to Henry James, Isadora Duncan, Cole Porter and Ezra Pound. Playing duets at the piano were two fellow-Russians who did not like each other - Stravinsky and Prokofiev. Winnaretta was concerned only with the music and ignored personal feuds.

Born to the American multimillionaire founder of the Singer sewing-machine factory, she was wealthy enough to be accepted by the blue-blooded aristocracy and accordingly married Louis de Montbeliard. However, when it became clear to her that she was lesbian, the two agreed to part ways and divorced. Divorce, however, was a drawback for a woman of society, an obstacle removed by Prince Edmond de Polignac, himself a notorious homosexual. At the time of their wedding, Winnaretta was 28, the prince 59, and the marriage proved an ideal partnership, leaving the couple plenty of leeway to lead their own independent lives. Yet, it was not devoid of deep, sincere, mutual affection and a shared love of the arts, which manifested itself in the quality of the paintings they collected and, above all, in the music and ballets performed in the wonderful music room on Avenue Henri Martin.


It was love of the art that brought them together in the first place, during an auction where they fought tooth and nail over a Monet. Winnaretta had the upper hand and outbid the infuriated Prince, who originally cursed her to eternal damnation. Robert de Montesquiou, formerly her friend, took offence at not being invited to her intimate wedding and called it a marriage between the dollar and the sou, between the lyre (thd Prince was a fine musician) and the sewing machine! - an unfair slander, Winnaretta being an accomplished musician. Jean Cocteau himself entitled one of his poems machines a coudre (sewing machines). It was set to music by Maxine Jacob. Winnaretta, however, knew how to rise above such taunts. When an embittered, impoverished noble acquaintance protested that his name was as good as Polignac, she retorted, "Not at the bottom of a cheque!"

She wasn't any more sparing towards up-and-coming Chanel, who never gained access to her salon. When asked why she never invited Chanel, Winnaretta replied, "I never entertain my tradespeople." But her generosity towards the artists she admired knew no bounds, notably towards Eric Satie. Following the Ballets russes' premiere of Parade, on 18 May 1917, when Jean Poueigh wrote that the ballet lacked everything - inventiveness, wit and professional skill - Satie sent him a postcard which read, "Monsieur et cher ami - vous etes un cul, un cul sans musique!" (Dear Sir and friend - you're nothing but an arse, an arse without any music). Arguing that this constituted a public humiliation, since the postcard was unsealed and could be read by everyone, including the concierge (!), Poueigh sued Satie and won his case. He had to pay 1,000 francs in damages and serve a week in prison, and it was Winnaretta who forked out the money. During his first appeal, Cocteau raised his cane in a gesture against Poueigh's lawyer and was fined in his turn for "making physical threats against a lawyer during the execution of his office!"

Satie won the case eventually. In a letter written to Winnaretta from his very humble home at Arcueil-Cachin, dated 10 October 1918, he confirmed his outstanding debt of 688 francs and 74 centimes (having paid out 311 francs and 26 centimes) and meekly asked his benefactress to allow him to keep the sum as an advance, owing to his poor finances in the wake of the war. Poor he was indeed, more than any of his friends had ever realised, for he never allowed anyone into his flat. It was only after his death in the summer of 1925, when his flat was opened for an inventory, that his friends were staggered to discover the appalling destitution he had been living in - apart from the piano, a bed and a chair were his only possessions. Eric Satie had fallen fatally ill the previous January, after a life of heavy drinking of cheap wine, and it was Winnaretta who arranged for him to have a private room in the Hopital Saint Joseph, in the 14th arrondissement