Translator Sophie Weiner Goes Train-hopping in Paris

Sophie Weiner, translator

Sophie Weiner has translated a number of books for Le French Book. The latest is The Rare Earth Exchange by Bernard Besson, another action-packed spy thriller, this time  in a world of high-frequency trading where manipulation and corruption reign. The main characters live in Montparnasse in Paris. Here Sophie recalls her memories of that neighborhood.

Crêperie Port-Manech on the Rue du Montparnasse

Crêperie Port-Manech on the Rue du Montparnasse

Daguerre Village, a neighborhood located in the Parisian district of Montparnasse, is the home base for our crime-solving trio in both The Greenland Breach and the upcoming The Rare Earth Exchange (both by Bernard Besson). Montparnasse has special significance for me because much like the Bretons who settled there during the turn of the twentieth century (bringing their traditional crêpe-making talents along with them), it was via Montparnasse that I arrived in Paris for the very first time in the fall of 2006. I was spending my junior year abroad in Tours, a city whose TGV railway’s terminus ends at the Montparnasse train station because of its southwestern proximity to the capital. Other major lines feed into either one of Paris’ six remaining stations: Gare d'Austerlitz, Gare de Bercy, Gare de l'Est, Gare de Lyon, Gare du Nord, and Gare Saint-Lazare. As soon as I had a free weekend unfettered by schoolwork or program-organized excursions, I dashed to the Gare de Tours (designed by the same architect that would build Paris’ famous train station-turned-museum, the Musée d’Orsay) and took the easy hour-long train ride to Paris, where I was welcomed by the giant Lion of Belfort statue guarding the Place Denfert-Rochereau.

Montparnasse Revisited

Four years later, I was back in Paris, this time to earn my master’s degree. Once again, I found myself in the fourteenth arrondissement as my program had suggested we seek housing in the American residence at the Cité Universitaire. I jumped at the proposition since after reading A Moveable Feast I was eager to discover Hemmingway’s old stomping grounds and the residence was only an RER train stop away from Montparnasse. In the end, I often opted for the twenty-minute walk whenever venturing to that neighborhood as the regional express rail was not the most pleasant public transport experience—especially at rush hour. During these outings, I visited the graves of Simone de Beauvoir, Jean-Paul Sartre, Serge Gainsbourg, and Charles Baudelaire inside the Cimetière du Montparnasse, I went to cafés frequented by the expat novelist and his “Lost Generation” friends, I took in panoramic views of the entire city atop the Tour Montparnasse, I saw films at any one of the district’s many movie theaters followed by savory and sweet crêpe dinners on the Rue du Montparnasse. Not only did images such as these swim in my mind as I worked on the scenes in The Rare Earth Exchange set in Daguerre Village, but I learned of new spots to discover on my next trip across the Atlantic.

Serge Gainsbourg’s tomb in the Cimetière du Montparnasse

Serge Gainsbourg’s tomb in the Cimetière du Montparnasse