At the end of rue Saint-Marc, let's turn left into rue Favart and cross the square along the Opéra Comique. There is a little story that I was recently reading in the newspaper Le Monde about this beautiful theatre which has to maintain a curious
tradition. Indeed, the Choiseul family was granted by King Louis XVI the privilege of owning forever a private eight seats box in this theatre. This was as a recognition of their donation of a part
of their private mansion garden for the construction of the Theatre in 1781. And this forever, as long as a male descendant would still bear the name of Choiseul. A private box with a private lounge connected
directly with the Choiseul's mansion through an underground passage! However, the game is over for the Choiseul family who never missed a performance.
After a complete renovation of the theatre and full compliance with safety standards, a ventilation shaft has impaired the box now cut by half. Seven times in the past, the Choiseul family took legal actions
against the head of the Theatre who tried to dislodge them. The drama is set, how is it going to end?
Let's now continue, taking a left onto rue Marivaux, a right onto rue Gretry. Make a right onto rue Gramont up to rue Saint-Augustin.
You will find the entrance to Passage Choiseul at n° 23, rue Saint-Augustin.
Before entering the Passage, if you like old and nice shops, you should
go first onto rue de Choiseul where there is a fabulous haberdashery, a mercerie. It is absolutely vintage, like the shop across the street, selling ornamental fittings that should fit all the needs for trimmings … This is no ordinary shop: there are hundreds of old buttons, of all colors and all shapes,
ribbons of all types, I mean satin, silk, polyester is unknown here… be the day when this vintage stock will be depleted be late as much as possible … it was nearly sold as a bistro twenty years ago … The sight of this shop is so rejoicing
To keep this joyful spirit, let's take a break at Café Joyeux, right at the entrance of the Passage. This café is not ordinary either! It is staffed by people with Downs' syndrom or autism. And indeed, the mood is set : the employees are so happy to have a job providing them with dignity and confidence;
and the same for the customers, so happy to contribute!
In the seventies, I used to go through the Passage Choiseul to meet up with my mother who was working
at the Place Gaillon nearby. At that time, it appeared to me a little bit corny, with its quite
old fashioned clothes and shoe shops.
In his book Death on Credit (Mort
à crédit), the writer Céline tells about his childhood. He disliked the Passage where he lived at n° 64, upstairs his mother's lace shop. As he was suffering from anemia, his family's doctor exclaimed, in Céline's vigorous and distinctive style:
“What he needs isn’t two weeks, but three months of fresh air!... “ That’s what he said. “Your
Passage,” he went on, “is a pesthole… You could not even get a radish to grow there! It’s a urinal without doors or windows… You’ve got to get out of there!...”
say that this picturesque description cannot be applied anymore to the Passage, well-used during the week by many people working in the district.
Before the Passage was built and opened in 1827, there was a mansion, owned
by the Marquis de Gesvres Governor of Paris in 1703, which was said to be the most famous gambling place. This mansion was built in 1655 by a famous architect: Antoine Lepautre, known also for having built the Port-Royal convent and the elegant hotel de Beauvais,
rue François Miron. We can see in the Passage a loggia with columns and a pediment: it is a remain of the central dwelling of the former mansion. Through the glass ceiling of the Passage, we can also see the shape of a perpendicular building: it is
also a remaining part of the former mansion. In 2000, the owners of this remaining town house, Joseph Achkar and Michel Charrière, two renown interior designers have beautifully renovated the rooms (they are currently restoring the Hôtel
de la Marine, place de la Concorde).
Let's take the Passage Sainte-Anne on the left before the main exit of Passage Choiseul
towards rue des Petits-Champs.
So different with the main Passage, especially in Atget's and Céline's time, it could
have deserved this name of Passage des Bérésinas. Céline gave this name to the Passage Choiseul, the Berezina
being the doomed and cold location of Napoleon's defeated army's retreat from Moscow. The photo of the Passage Sainte-Anne taken by Atget is perfectly graphic, its framing enhancing the geometric lines of the glass ceiling.