Exploring Passy

Since it was the middle of February I was prepared for snow, slush, sleet, gale-force winds and freezing temperatures, but in fact it was dry and frost-free the entire time, and on my last day we had brilliant sunshine and temperature readings from 17° C. at noon up to 20° C. a couple hours later, as shown on the green-cross signs of the pharmacies.

So I kept changing Vélib’ bikes and did a lot of riding in Passy, in the 16th arrondissement, which was where I happened to be.

At Place Tattegrain I found that by looking back down Rue de la Tour, where I had just been cycling, I could see the Eiffel Tower framed between the buildings. Of course it wasn’t planned that way, because the street was there long before the tower was built.

(The Eiffel Tower is not in Passy, by the way, it can just be seen from there.)

Benjamin Franklin lived here (at this address, not in this building)

In Passy, at the corner of Rue Raynouard and Rue Singer, there was once a house called the Hôtel de Valentinois — the word hôtel is used here in the old sense of the word, meaning mansion. This was where the American diplomat, writer, scientist and inventor Benjamin Franklin (1706-1790) lived for nearly ten years while he was the American “plenipotentiary” (and later ambassador) to France.

All you loyal readers of my post on the Händel House and Music Museum in Halle, Germany, might recall that I mentioned Benjamin Franklin as the inventor of a musical instrument called the glass armonica in 1762.

Historical plaque about the Hôtel de Valentinois

Fifteen years later, when he arrived in Paris, Franklin was seventy-one years old and his mission was to secure French assistance for the American War of Independence against the British. He was very successful in this, and he was also successful in negotiating the Paris Peace Treaty of 1783, which officially ended the war and established the United States as an independent country.

The historical plaque at the site of the Hôtel de Valentinois says that in the early eighteenth century it had one of the best views of any building in Passy, because in 1711 the owner bought the house on the opposite side of the street, had it torn down and prohibited any further construction there, so he had an unencumbered view of the river.

From 1736 to 1774 the house was used as a theater and was the site of wild parties hosted by the Countess de Valentinois. Later the house was bought by a merchant named Le Ray de Chaumont, a friend of Benjamin Franklin’s who invited him to stay there from 1777 to 1785.

Hôtel de la Princesse de Lamballe

Behind this wall on Rue Berton in Passy is the former residence of the Princess of Lamballe (1749-1792), a prominent aristocratic lady who was lynched during the French Revolution.

In the nineteenth century this house was the clinic and asylum of the famous physician and psychiatrist Dr. Esprit Blanche (1796-1852) and later his son Dr. Émile Blanche (1820-1893). Their patients included many prominent authors, painters and composers such as Berlioz, Liszt, Gounod, Rossini, Delacroix, Maupassant and Nerval.

The house is now used as the Turkish Embassy, hence the Turkish flag flying behind the wall and fence.

Villa Mozart

This elegant cul-de-sac in Passy is named after the composer Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756-1791).

Mozart never lived in Passy, which during his lifetime was only a tiny village with six streets, but he did spend some time in Paris in the years 1763-64, when he was touring Europe giving concerts as an eight-year-old child prodigy, in the company of his father and sister. He returned in the spring of 1766, two years older but still on the same tour.

As an adult, age 22, he spent six months in Paris in the year 1778, but this visit was a sad one. He didn’t get any of the jobs or commissions he was hoping for. His mother, Anna Maria Mozart, who was with him on this trip, fell ill and died in Paris on July 3, 1778 at the age of 57. She was buried the next day in the churchyard of the parish of Saint-Eustache, near what is now the Forum Les Halles.

Rossini lived here (I think)

One of the mysteries of operatic history is why the composer Gioacchino Rossini (1792-1868) abruptly stopped composing in 1829 at the age of 37, when he was at the height of his powers and had just scored a huge success with his opera Wilhelm Tell. Since he was a prolific composer who churned out two or more operas a year with little apparent effort, nobody expected him to just stop. But that’s exactly what he did.

Since he had made a considerable fortune from his many operas, he was able to buy a large house in Passy, which at that time was a village on the outskirts of Paris, and devote the rest of his life (he was to live for thirty-nine more years) to his two favorite hobbies, gourmet cooking and gourmet dining.

One afternoon in 2008 I rode around Passy on a Vélib’ bike looking for the place where Rossini used to live — and I think this is it, more or less.

Rossini’s house was called Villa Beau Séjour (= beautiful stay) and this fenced-in cul-de-sac in the photo is called Villa Beauséjour. The street going past is Boulevard de Beauséjour, and the next street over is Avenue Ingres (named after the painter), which I have also seen listed as Rossini’s address.

Plaque on one of the houses at Villa Beauséjour

There is a plaque on one of the houses, but it has nothing to do with Rossini. It says “Here lived and died Adolphe Alphand 1817-1891 creator of the Boulogne Forest and the gardens of the Second Empire, Director of Public Works of Paris.”

My photos in this post are from 2008 and 2011. I revised the text in 2019.

See more posts on Passy.
See more posts on the composer Gioacchino Rossini.

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