…the right place at the right time…
Paris comes to life on a Saturday morning, like a sleepy cat rolling over and stretching. This is the Rue Git-le-Coeur, the narrow street, dating from the 13th century, down which, between the years 1958 and 1963, Allen Ginsberg, Peter Orlovsky, William Burroughs, Gregory Corso and Brion Gysin often stumbled to and from their rooms in the Beat hotel. And while the author Barry Miles can describe the scene so much better than I can, I will quote from his excellent book, The Beat Hotel:
The Beat Hotel was located at 9, rue Git-le-Coeur, a narrow medieval lane running down to the Seine from the rue St. Andre des Arts to the quai Augustins in the oldest part of the Latin Quarter. In the thirteenth century the street was called rue de Gilles-le-Queux or Guy-le-Queux (Guy the cuisinier, or cook). It was known also as rue Guy-le-Preux. Over the centuries this transformed into Git-le-Coeur, which Brion Gysin claimed was a pun on the street name made in the early seventeenth century by Henri IV, the first Bourbon King of France, whose mistress lived on the street. The King passed by one day and remarked “Ici git mon coeur” (“Here lies my heart”). Like many of Gysin’s stories, it is probably untrue, but it sounds just fine.
An alternate story, found in Nichol’s Guide to Paris, claims that the street name commemorates the murder of Etienne Marcel, Provost of the Merchants and one of the fathers of Paris. On the night of July 31, 1358, he was assassinated in this street by Jean Maillart, a mercenary in the pay of the Dauphin Charles; the word git means “lies,” as on a tombstone inscription: “ci-git,” or “there lies.”
Today there is an expensive modernized hotel at the location. But in the late 1950’s the hotel was very run down. To give you an idea of what it was like to live there I quote further from Mr. Miles’ book:
The forty-two rooms had no carpets or telephones. Some were very dark, as their windows looked out onto the stairwell inside the building and so received only indirect lighting from the grimy landing windows. The corridors sloped at strange angles and the floors creaked and groaned. The ancient wooden doors had a handle in the middle instead of the side. Each landing had a Turkish chiotte: a traditional hole-in-the-floor toilet with a raised footprint-shaped platform on either side upon which to position your feet while you squatted. Torn sheets of newspaper hung on a nail in lieu of toilet tissue, though many residents bought their own and carried it with them. There was a bath on the ground floor but advance notice had to be given so that the water for it could be heated. Naturally there was a small surcharge for this service. Brion Gysin maintained that if you put your head under the water in the bath, you could hear the gurgling of the Bièvre, the underground river that enters the Seine a few blocks east of the rue Git-le-Coeur, across from Notre Dame—a claim he enlarged upon in his novel The Last Museum. Like everything else in the building, the plumbing was ancient, and it was consequently subject to backups, clankings, fiercely loud vibrations, and leaks. There was radiator heat all week and hot water only on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday.
A link to the New York Times review of The Beat Hotel by Barry Miles is below, as well as a link to a previous post about the Beat Hotel from my blog.
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