“Paris, Rue des Martyrs”… a Street and a Book

The rue de Martyrs in Paris has been getting a lot of attention these days with more and more travel writers pointing out the charming little lunch spot, bakery or florist. This street, longtime the pulse of a neighborhood, has made its way onto the tourism circuit. It’s not exactly the Champs-Élysées, but you will see tourists rubbing shoulders with the locals as you take a stroll.

I started writing my novel Paris, Rue des Martyrs several years ago, when the street mainly enchanted Parisians. When you mention the rue des Martyrs to most Parisians, a dreamy look sets in and the reply is: “My first apartment was on that street,” or “I met my girlfriend there” etc. Things just seem to happen on the rue des Martyrs. Daily life things that make a difference in people’s existence.

Is it because of the traffic-stopping name? Literally “street of martyrs.” (Legend has it that the martyr Saint Denis, decapitated, carried his head along this path and collapsed miles north at the site of today’s Saint-Denis Basilica.)

No. I don’t think the rue des Martyrs is getting attention because of its name. I think it has to do with its spirit.

That spirit was what made it the ideal setting for my novel. Paris, Rue des Martyrs is the story of four strangers and the importance of encounters in each of their lives. My characters needed a place small enough for their paths to cross, yet large enough for them to get lost in the crowd. And, since the protagonists are each very different, they had to live in a neighborhood where diverse populations co-exist. I didn’t have to mull over the possibilities for very long: The idea for the location and the storyline itself came to me almost simultaneously.

As a Parisian by adoption, I can say that the rue des Martyrs is almost a representation of Paris as a whole. It is old Paris and new Paris, calm and bustling, uplifting and downtrodden, beauty and squalor. All of this on one street that measures about a half mile in length. This diversity makes the rue des Martyrs so memorable.

And of course, this path running from the 9th to the 18th arrondissement is the doorway to Montmartre or “mountain of the martyr” (yes, more Saint Denis/martyr references). Once home to artists such as Toulouse-Lautrec and Renoir, the neighborhood still holds the artistic spirit and village-like charm — if you wander past the crowds and explore the many side streets.

On the rue des Martyrs, you will find historic apartment buildings, small shopkeepers selling artisanal cheeses, pastry or gourmet chocolate, florists, an independent bookshop, and cafes where you can sit and watch the world go by. You will even find a loaf of bread named after the street (“Bread of Martyrs”) at a local bakery.

The rue des Martyrs gave us and continues to give us so much. And to me, it has been most kind, offering me inspiration for a book.

Adria J. Cimino is the author of the novel Paris, Rue des Martyrs and is co-founder of indie publishing house Velvet Morning Press. She spent more than a decade as a journalist at news organizations including The AP and Bloomberg News. Adria writes about her real-life adventures on her blog Adria in Paris.

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