Reading lately John Baxter’s delicious book Immoveable Feast I stumbled upon an interesting idiom ma griffe. In French griffe means a claw. As the author describes it has a new wider meaning of a trace, a signature, impact bestowed on you by favorite spots in the city or left by you on things you like, used to visiting etc.
Griffe is a secret intangible inscription which makes certain places so special. In fact la Closerie des Lilas became cultural fenomenon long before Hemingway and other ex-pat luminaries made it legendary as well as Le Dome and La Coupole on Montparnasse, Les Deux Magots and café de Flore in Saint Germain. The griffes, the memory, made these brasseries and cafes a treasured Parisian heritage. These places invariably mentioned in all guidebooks are still glowing with those reflected light.
Free spirited Montmartre of fin de siecle with its cafes and cabarets, brothels, bals de musette and moulins is immortalised by Utrillo and Lotrec changed dramaticaly but still is an enormous magnet for tourists.
And Notre Dame, the heart of Paris, much earlier became sa griffe for Victor Hugo. (Thanks to Disney every child knows The Hunchback of Notre Dame today).
Legends and myths of Paris are made of griffes and in return your own griffes, an inner circle of preferences, become a definitive part of your love affair and bonding with the city in a very Parisian way.
Your griffe is an indefinite number of favorite small and big moments and places that make you believe that Paris is yours. It can be a bistro, a square, Jardin de Luxembourg or boulevard stroll.
For lucky those who live there it can be a book shop frequented for years, florist, hairdresser, gallery, just about anything including the sort of fromage or wine, restaurant and chef who knows your name and greet your friends, a Marché or a bouquinist stall where owner puts aside something interesting for you.
Those legendary bouquinists along the Seine are probably the only ones in the world who still remember what was the long forgotten art of ex-libris about: an artistic graphic stamp for labeling the books from a private library. And this tiny imprints could have been very elaborated designs, unique for being your signage.
It’s a kind of imaginary ex-librises you live on different pages across the city to support your claim that Paris was yours. One of this places for me is atop of Notre Dame. On a clear day you can embrace the most beautiful view in the world.
The eternal vista is so fascinating that it always makes me sing,… well… humming a tune of the moment and wishing a had a powerful voice of Mireille Mathieu to express the overwhelming feelings that could make me fly, well…, almost.
Climbing to the very top on spiral, narrow and steep stairs is not an easy task, and going down is even trickier, but to leave the towers and a catwalk on the roof is the hardest.
I’m always the last one to step down, when security guy tries all the broken languages he knows added to a polite but persistent Madame….s’il vous plait.
This place along with many others is ma griffe, these images are etched on my heart long time ago. Can’t help it. Could you?
Thank you for visiting.
All images by Natalie Rapoport