The Independent Traveler's Newsletter                                  PAGE THREE

The Tower of Fearless John (a Medieval Scaredy Cat!) 
                                                                                                                                                               by Arthur Gillette

Just to the north of the Beaubourg Center, you come to a decidedly foreboding rectangular ~ and obviously medieval ~ structure some seven stories tall at 20, rue Etienne Marcel (near the Métro stop of the same name).  This is the Tour de Jean sans Peur ~ the Tower of Fearless John, Duke of Burgundy.

Born in 1371 at Dijon, the Burgundian capital, John earned his nickname by Turk-bashing during a Crusade in Bulgaria. Returning to the royal court in Paris, he advocated healthy administrative reforms at a time when the reigning king, Charles VI, was beginning to show signs of incipient dementia. 

As the king's mental faculties waned, his younger brother, Duke Louis of Orléans, a partisan of the Armagnac clan, garnered ever more power...and (probably) dipped into the royal treasury. A head-on clash with ambitious John became inevitable and, on November 23 1407, the Burgundian had Duke Louis assassinated.

The Tower of Fearless John

Big trouble brewed between the Armagnacs and the Burgundians, who without openly allying themselves with the anti-Armagnac English didn't want to alienate them either.  Brit-Burgundian business was profitable. And, oh, the Hundred Years’ War was in full swing.

That's a slightly long intro to the fact that, once Louis of Orléans was assassinated, Fearless John was so scared of revenge that he had this tower built and placed his bedroom at the virtually unassailable top floor.

Today, the Tour de Jean Sans Peur is the only free-standing Medieval military building extant in Paris. The foundations of the Louvre fortress, two hundred years its elder, can only be visited in an underground crypt, and the length and towers of a part of King Philip Augustus’ city rampart on rue des Jardins St-Paul can't exactly be considered a 'building'.

Managed today by a non-profit association, the Tour boasts a number of curiosities well worth visiting. (At this writing: afternoons Wednesdays through Sundays. Entry: 5€. Web site – French only, but plenty of pictures:   Here are a few examples:

  • The spiral staircase up to John's bedroom, with beautifully crafted Gothic vegetal ceiling motifs.
  • A tower from the late 12th century Paris city rampart of King Philip Augustus encased within Fearless John's structure – Russian nesting dolls style. 
  • What is probably the oldest toilet extant in Paris. No, recently restored, it doesn't smell; boasts, indeed, a velvet covered seat, ventilation and (back-to-back with a fireplace used in winter) warmth; not to forget a sink for washing hands, a rare habit in the Paris of six hundred years ago.
  • And very original temporary exhibitions (the entry fee is a bit higher, but well worth it). One of the latest of these has been Medieval Cuisine. A multi-sensory experience, this expo offered lectures on topics such as:
    • Tableware and Kitchen Utensils in the Middle Ages, 
    • What the Popes Ate in the 15th Century, and
    • Vices and Virtues of the Medieval Apple
  • Concerts, performed on instruments including: recorders, bagpipes and vielles (a kind of Medieval hurdy gurdy). 
Not to forget - hey, we're in France! -  commented and hands-on (the fork only arrived in Paris in circa the 16th century) tasting sessions of authentically prepared Medieval food.
PS -   'Fearless John' hunkered down in his Tower for something like ten years. And then was lured out by the Armagnacs, who assassinated him (“turnabout is…”) in 1419.

[Photo credit given to the web site]

Paris-based Arthur Gillette guides 16 personalized and
 theme-specific strolls to help visitors discuss Paris Through the Ages
If interested in taking one or more,  contact him at
 And don't pass up the chance to experience Number 17: 
  his newest outings to Vaux le Vicomte and Senlis just outside of Paris. 
 His knowledge of these wonderful places, as with his knowledge of Paris, will astound you!

Petite Pleasures
                                                                                                                       by Maxine Rose Schur

We hope you enjoy Petite Pleasures ~ little snapshots of Paris
by contributing writer Maxine Rose Schur.  We believe that her insight and writing style

                                 will add a unique and personal perspective to your view of the City of Light.

When I'm in Paris, I take great pleasure in naughty things.  What I mean by that is I take a perverse pleasure in all things that we in the United States view as politically incorrect or just plain weird. 

For example, a few years ago I got completely lost while wandering in the Marais, something very easy to do.  I came upon the Café des Musées.  This café is at the corner of rue de Sevigné and rue de Turenne.  I was very hungry so I walked inside and did what I don't do in the States.  I ordered a huge steak, cooked the very way the French eat it, saignant,  which literally translates to “bloody”, and with that steak, I ordered a mountain of French fries and, of course, I washed this all down with a couple of glasses of red wine right in the middle of the day! As I ate, a very old German shepherd, large and scraggly as a wolf, salivated at my side.  From time to time, he put his shaggy head on my lap and drooled to the amusement of the waiter who encouraged me to feed him tidbits from my plate.  For some strange reason, this didn't bother me at all.  I viewed it as just an example of French eccentricity ~ their uncompromising love of the dogs they take everywhere.  I have a friend in Paris who brings her black Labrador to the Café l’Île des Fous on the Île Saint-Louis so the cute waiters can spoil him for hours while she's away. He roams the café begging from the adoring patrons and is fed his own bowl of party mix. 

In Paris I revel in the wrong. There's nothing I like more than eating the succulent foie gras, seared to velvety perfection at Gaspard de la Nuit on rue des Tournelles. The owner, is a chatty man, and he makes the experience seem like a celebration.  Late at night, sitting outside among the glittering cafés, I feel as if I am part of a great happening.  It's the electric life of the grand boulevards that,  particularly in summer, makes the city seem like one big party.  In these moments when all the bridges and monuments are illuminated as brightly as in a bad painting and the air holds the energy of thousands, I not only discuss politically incorrect things like politics, but I smoke a cigarette, sometimes even three.  I never smoke at home.  Never, ever.  I know how bad it is for your health and yet, in Paris, just a few nights a year, I give the devil his due.

The charcuterie windowThen in winter, when the air is cold-wet and while I'm walking at night, I see the Eiffel Tower lit up bright gold through the swirling snowflakes, I feel I am in a snow globe that has magically been enlarged, and I pull my fur coat tighter.  Yes ~ in Paris, like so many Parisians, in winter I wear fur for its unsurpassed warmth and, yes, for its beauty.  The fur is old, and I comfort myself with that fact, but really I revel in its sensuous feel and the knowledge that here I will not be scolded.

At Christmastime, the charcuteries and boucheries display their delicacies:  horse meat steaks, Burgundy snails in puff pastry, marinated frogs legs, quails small as your fist and wrapped in grape leaves, entire pigs in pale death, decorated prettily.

The billboards say "Don't Forget to Light Your Hanukah Candles!", and the exquisite town hall boasts a beautiful crèche. 

This year I found myself actually living on the rue de Sevigné and one afternoon, merely out of curiosity, I entered the Café des Musées and asked about the dog.  "Oh, he died", the bartender replied then added cheerfully, "The chef cooked him up in a nice ragout for our most loyal customers."  Yes, he was kidding for even the French have their limits but this joke confirmed that for a brief time out of time, the politically incorrect pleasures of Paris can feel traditional, honest, liberating and secretly satisfying.

[Don't forget Maxine's book, Places in Time,
recounting a long ago journey around the world and how it changed her life. 
It blends gentle insight with delicious surprises to make for a highly
        entertaining and memorable reading pleasure. She can be reached and
you can learn more about her at her web site]

[Photo credit:  Ethan Schur copyright 2006.  All rights reserved.]



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