The Triangular Square

The Dauphine is full of history. Photo courtesy Oleh Butchatsky.

There was this square where we stopped for something to eat in one of our earliest trips to Paris. A triangular place at the junction of several narrow streets with some sort of garden or rotunda in the middle and a café or two facing the open space.

It was one of those places that, at first glance, can stop you in your tracks — that certain play of light, that unusual angle, that interplay of cultivated beauty with nature — it might only be the briefest moment but it stays with you as a thrilling flash of joy which will return again and again in your memory.

Like our dawn promenade along the Seine one chilly April morning when the river was a luminescent, light-bottle-green of almost velvet consistency, perfectly contrasting with the pastel greys, reds and blues of the surrounding architecture in the translucent light of early morning, creating, as I have read somewhere, “a pearly refinement that excludes all shrillness”.

But where exactly was this triangular place? All the details escape me.

It certainly wasn’t place Dauphine, that’s too obvious and distinctive. After all, the triangular place Dauphine is full of history, having been built in the early 1600s by the good and great Henri IV, purportedly in honour of his son and heir to the throne, the dauphin who was to become Louis XIII.

Ad. Article continues below.

Henri IV’s statued figure, mounted on horseback, adorns the Pont Neuf in a little enclave somewhat devoted to Henri, with the riverside, weeping-willow-lined square du Vert Galant (also triangular) in his honour, as well as a hotel and bar in place Dauphine named after him.

The Dauphine is full of history. Photo courtesy Oleh Butchatsky.
The Dauphine is full of history. Photo courtesy Oleh Butchatsky.

So, back to my mysterious triangle… and the details.

Ad. Article continues below.

Was it a fountain or was it a statue in the middle of the square? I do remember there was a large, hairy dog seated below one of the tables waiting lazily for the regulatory scraps from the table. Was it a Collie or some other breed? Was it in the morning when we might have had a pain-au-chocolat with our crème, or was it lunch when salade niçoise could well have fit the bill? Yes, all the details they do escape me.

For the life of me, I have never been able to find that place again. I had expected that by now, after all those months spent in Paris over the years, I would have stumbled across it somewhere.

In the end it doesn’t matter. This is how Paris is Paris. I won’t find that particular triangle again but I will, at random, chance upon a similar one, maybe even more charming, in a different quartier at a different time of day.

Maybe I will be guided by scholarly opinions, like those of Eric Hazan in his book The Invention of Paris where he nominates “the little triangular place formed between Rues Vavin and Bréa, overlooked by the hanging garden that belonged to Matisse’s paint supplier, and by the white-and-blue-porcelain steps of the Sauvage building.”

Away from the 14th, at the other end of Paris, he also favours the triple junction of rues Jean-Pierre-Timbaud, Trois-Couronnes and Morand. This wins out if for no other reason than the piquant names of the streets!

Ad. Article continues below.

Other writers evoke a time past, as does Walter Benjamin in his unfinished treatise on Paris life in the 19th century, that time of complete transformation of the Paris cityscape, care of one Georges-Eugène Haussmann: “… the little timeless squares that suddenly are there, and to which no name attaches.

They have not been the object of careful planning, like the Place Vendôme or the Place de Grève, and do not enjoy the patronage of world history, but owe their existence to houses that have slowly, sleepily, belatedly assembled in response to the summons of the century.”

And ever it be so.

Have you found something wonderful while travelling only to be confounded about where it was you found it? Tell us about it. Have you been to Paris, France?

Ad. More articles below.