The Rue Galande is a cobbled narrow street located on the left bank near the river Seine. Like the rest of Paris, it’s a street that has seen a number of changes since the 19th century – but unlike Paris, its frame – its brick and mortar – has remained the same since Eugene Atget photographed it over a century ago.
Three photos of this street have been taken. One by Atget in the early 1900’s, another by Christopher Rauschenberg in the late 1990’s, and a third by our very own Taylor Reese in 2018. In them, you can track the changes wrought by modernization, but also what I argue is an intriguing shift back towards the nostalgia of the 19th century in the past twenty years. The differences from Atget’s time are clear, and glaring: a large advertisement on the wall of a building has disappeared, the streetlamps have given way to wall-mounted lamps, and pylons have been erected along the sidewalk to protect pedestrians from cars. Along the street, the buildings have been lifted to a uniform height, all becoming seven floors instead of ranging between four and six in the early 20th century. Rauschenberg has done excellent work in capturing all of these differences, but there are a large number of key differences between his photo and Taylor Reese’s that are worth drawing attention to.
First, in general, the area has become notably more upscale in its establishments. What was once a newspaper stand and market in Atget’s photo became “La Friterie,” a shop selling fries and grilled sandwiches with a few cheap chairs outside. Today, the store is now “ODETTE” – an upscale café featuring a deliberately stylized and beautified exterior, as well as more expensive outdoor seating (sturdy metal stools and tables in place of the flimsy, thin bistro chairs of Rauschenberg’s image.) Following this trend of beautification, flower pots overflowing with vegetation rest in the windows above Odette, and it appears the short wooden building in the corner has had its roof raised about a meter and given a coat of paint (forest green and maroon, letting it keep its dark shade.) All of the street signs have been moved, and a road once barring all vehicles from entry now permits bicycles, owing to a recent push for sustainable transport.
One of the most interesting changes is the redesigning of a streetlamp above the Rue Galande. From Atget to Rauschenberg, the 19th century-styled metal streetlamp is removed from the sidewalk, replaced by a circular, much more modern looking lamp just above the wooden building. However, from Rauschenberg’s image to Taylor’s, this modern, circular lamp becomes again an antiquated, stylized metal lamp hanging above the street – its design not unlike the original 19th century streetlamp. Following this move in calling on the aesthetics of a prior period, the Odette café has been stylized as well, with the font of its logo imitating the thick Art Deco lines of Broadway in the 1920’s.
What reasons might there be for this recent trend away from modernization? Tourism is a good indicator. The area surrounding the Rue Galande has been heavily influenced by tourism, and gentrification has resulted. On the street immediately to the right of the photo, no less than five tour buses were maneuvering to find parking for Notre Dame when we visited. Just a block away is Shakespeare and Company, an English language bookstore that’s very popular among tourists. More and more, tourists that visit Paris seek to validate their conceptions of a romantic, easygoing, and beautiful European city unspoiled by unattractive modernization, and even little details like wrought-iron hanging lamps affirm this notion.
Though there have been shifts towards a greater wealth and touristic draw of the area, many facets of the Rue Galande have served the same purpose for over a century. This corner has always been a location to purchase food, changing from a small market stand to a fry shop to a café. The street width and building locations have all remarkably stayed the same beyond some renovation, and even most of the window positions on this particular corner have remained in their same locations. At its core, the Rue Galande still retains its basic identity.
However, it’s impossible to judge the full character of a neighborhood from one snapshot of one street corner. This image alone wouldn’t be able to clue you in on the tourism of the area, the crowds of people a block away along the Seine, or the tour buses cramming to get closer to Notre Dame. In many ways, these images display a version of Paris that is wholly timeless even in the face of constant change.