Dora Bruder and Picpus

Glance at the front cover of the US edition of Modiano’s novel, Dora Bruder. Can you see the street running diagonally through the background map? It is the rue Picpus.  In that same edition of the evening newspaper shown in my earlier blog-post, Paris-soir, is a story ‘Signé Picpus’. It is an instalment from a serialised novel by Georges Simenon with his famous detective, Maigret as the main character.  What is the significance of Picpus for these two writers of mystery? This is a question for literary geographers. Please let me know if you unearth anything.   

If, like me, you enjoyed Rowan Atkinson in the role of the French Chief Inspector Maigret you will be looking forward to his next episode, called: Maigret’s Dead Man.  If you can’t wait, then you can read the new Penguin translation that came out in March 2016.

It is a perfect story for movie-induced tourism fans and literary geographers alike because of the precision of the opening scene in Paris looking across the Seine.  Maigret is aloft in his office at 36, Quai des Orfèvres. On the telephone a man is speaking, he says he is not far from the police headquarters of la Police Judiciaire; the mysterious caller goes on from his location in the telephone booth of a bar:

‘Just across from your office. A minute ago I could see your window. Quai des Grands-Augustins. There’s a small bar, you’ll know it, it’s called Aux Caves du Beaujolais.’

Or in the French original, Maigret et son mort, which Georges Simenon completed in December 1947:

« — Un moment… Je ne suis pas loin… En face de votre bureau dont, il y a un instant, je pouvais voir la fenêtre… Quai des Grands-Augustins… Vous connaissez un petit café qui s’appelle Aux Caves du Beaujolais… »

The street or quayside that runs along the left bank of the Seine is easy to find, Quai des Grands-Augustins.  You probably already know the Quai but do not realise it; it is the one that joins the « Boul’Mich’ » at 90 degrees just before you cross the river on the Pont Saint-Michel. 

But this is where the fun begins for literary place detectives.  Which bar is Simenon using for Aux Caves du Beaujolais in the novel?  It might be a wine bar that he remembers from his time living in Paris.  The French word for wine cellars, caves suggests that as much as the use of a wine type, Beaujolais. Is it perhaps, Le Bistro des Augustins 39 Quai des Grands Augustins, Paris, France?  It is still a bar à vins, a wine bar.    

The French original might offer more clues to help pinpoint the exact spot of the opening scene. Maigret et son mort can be downloaded from Google Play Books, too, even the free preview.

If you find it, or other locations from the novel or films, please let me know. 

The French Audio-Visual Institute, Institut national de l’audiovisuel (INA) has an earlier film made from the book in the late 1960s or early 70s.