How a Paris Bus Ride Became a History Lesson

A free woman in Paris in search of alone time, to calm my thoughts and clear my mind, with an hour or two to spare, I would hop a Paris bus, traveling from one terminus to the other, always sitting on the right to watch the crowds from the window. As the bus moved through traffic, I would observe the grace, refinement and ugliness, glimpsing the mundane drama of sidewalk cafés and storefronts. The old RATP buses had open back platforms, and when the warm weather came in spring, I would ‘ride through Paris with the warm wind in my hair.’

I was a stranger to Paris then. I had barely ventured beyond the Latin Quarter since my arrival. Too busy settling in, dealing with the bureaucracy, and struggling with a language I had thought I knew sometimes left me feeling overwhelmed. My sense of discovery had dwindled.

Through the dusty windows or from the open back, I saw the history of France in the social fabric of Paris neighborhoods. I crossed wards and wondered at the street names. Having grown up in a city where the streets and avenues were mostly named by numbers and states, I had never thought about the origins of Paris street names. The bus became my school. At the library, there was no internet then, I used books to research the names of streets the buses followed. The bus became a deep dive into French culture and history, and each route a curriculum. Passing through the streets, I encountered the lives of philosophers, martyrs, kings, architects, politicians, doctors, novelists, composers, soldiers, teachers. I mulled over the details of battles, cities, countries, landmarks. I became quite an expert, instilling awe in my French friends that une Américaine could be si cultivée.

The Paris bus network was implemented in the 1950s and only modernized last year. A new and upgraded system came into service on 20 April 2019 following extensive consultation with user associations, members of the public and local authorities. One of the updated routes was Bus 22 from Opera to Porte de Saint Cloud. Now it runs from Gare Saint Lazare to Porte de Saint Cloud. One of my favorite routes, the change was not too dramatic.

No longer a stranger to a city that has become my home, and I must say, my first love. The frustration of French bureaucracy and paperwork long settled. Perhaps not French but definitely Parisian, taking an hour or two to ride the bus is now a luxury that time rarely allows. But recently, nostalgia for my salad days and a new discovery at the other end of Bus 22, convinced me to take a ride. After all these years, this quickly became a memory test more than a quaint reminiscence.

My ‘trajet’ begins at the somewhat ordinary rue du Rocher, which is most likely named after a street sign. However, the rue du Rocher is nonetheless remarkable and very ancient in origin since it follows the route of an old Roman road. Yes, the rue de Rocher once led to Rome.

But not Bus 22, which merges on to rue Pasquier named after a 19th-century politician, Étienne-Denis Pasquier, who lived through two empires, two restorations of the monarchy, two revolutions and two republics. Now long forgotten, he lives on through the 22. Leaving Etienne behind, the bus continues to the grandeur of Baron Haussmann and his boulevard that yields to streets named for 19th-century war heroes and battles, an assassinated president, a 17th-century nobleman and historian, to finally be saved by the arts at avenue [Pierre Jules] Théophile Gautier, a French poet, dramatist, novelist, journalist, and art and literary critic.

Politics and art converge where rue Rémusat crosses rue George Sand. Did they ever meet in life?

Paris bus
Having fled his creditors, Balzac rented the top floor of a house at 47, rue Raynouard, Paris from 1840-1847. Today the Maison de Balzac museum can be found at this address.

Continuing towards La Muette-Boulainvilliers, leaving behind the hum of tourists and vendors at Place du Trocadéro, 22 comes to a quiet enclave of soft lanes that shelter the Maison de Balzac and the Musée du vin. Emerging on the right bank of the Seine, it rounds an icon to French public radio and culture, Radio France.

Altruism is on call at the rue Chardon-Lagache which pays homage to Doctor Pierre Chardon, the “doctor of the poor” of Auteuil for fifty years during the 19th century.

At the end of its itinerary, 22 slopes down to the Avenue de Versailles to be greeted by the vitality of the market on a Tuesday, Thursday or Sunday morning, and continues to the Place de la Porte de Saint-Cloud, adorned by a pair of recently renovated monumental fountains created by renowned sculptor Paul Landowski.

Usually, this is where I would hop on the next bus back to Saint Lazare. But today I have not quite arrived at my final destination. I have made a discovery. A four-minute walk from the terminus, crossing a footbridge over the « Péripherique » and a garden bursting with springtime, is Bill & Rosa’s Book Room. It boasts an eclectic treasure trove of new and previously loved books in English and in French and complimentary coffee. This is where my Paris bus journey ends and the stories begin in a comfortable chair far from the bustle.

Bill & Rosa's Book Room
A cosy corner to snuggle down with a book a Bill & Rosa’s Book Room

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