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  Field Notes From
Bohemian Rhapsody

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From Author

Cathy Newman

Bohemian Rhapsody On Assignment

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William Albert Allard

In most cases these accounts are edited versions of a spoken interview. They have not been researched and may differ from the printed article.

Photographs by Brian Strauss (top) and Saadia Iqbal


Bohemian Rhapsody

Field Notes From Author
Cathy Newman
Best Worst Quirkiest
    Everyone who lives in the Marais has some small corner that is theirs and theirs alone. (If only by thinking it to be so.) It may be a single block or a short section of street, but it acquires the familiarity of a cherished pair of shoes that takes on the shape of its owner's feet through constant wear. For Nicole Bismuth, a teacher and mother of two, it's the Rue des Bretagne where she does her shopping: Jouannault for cheese, the shop of Madame Marquet for meat, and the Jardin du Marais, where you may choose between 12 different kinds of strawberries, 20 kinds of lettuce, and 10 varieties of tomatoes. 
    One weekend I went with Nicole on her Saturday morning shopping rounds and saw the Marais through the eyes of someone who lives there, rather than as a tourist. We went from store to store and ended up in the Jardin du Marais. It was love at first sight—and smell. Among the offerings that day were boxes of maras des bois, a small, intensely sweet, and delicately perfumed strawberry that grows in the southwest of France. I bought a small box, took them back to my hotel room, and had a feast.

    Are you kidding? I spent three weeks in Paris. It was May. The chestnuts were blooming in the Place des Vosges, where I could go in the morning to linger over a steaming cup of café au lait. The streets were full of life and music at all hours of the day and night. I found a St. Laurent smoking jacket in a vintage clothing store for a song, and you want me to suggest there was anything less than wonderful about any of it? 

    The whole Marais is quirky. The streets bend and twist like a corkscrew, a legacy of its medieval heritage. It's openly gay, where anything—and everything—goes. Nonconformity is an art and eccentricity practically a historical imperative. Consider the 17th-century dramatist Paul Scarron, a Marais resident who was so ill at the end of his life he could no longer move and so greeted visitors by raising his cap above his head with a pulley. His spirit lives on.

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