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Many of the places in Three Lives of Tomomi Ishikawa are real and if you look for them you will find them easily. A few are not there any more. They are shops/bars/institutions that have closed down or were ephemeral things. Other places are not where they should be or not how they should appear. So they may be hard to find and if you find them they may not look like they do in the book. Some details are just made up.

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> benjamin-constable.net > books >three lives of tomomi ishikawa >places

The Alchemist's House

Alchemist's house - rue Myra

I found the legend about the alchemist's house in a folder of anacdotes and local information sitting on the counter in a take away pizza shop on rue Doudeauville. As I remember, it said that at number 1 rue Myrha there used to be a six floor building and on the top floor lived an alchemist and at 11 o'clock each morning a single drop of gold fall from the top of the building.

I know rue Myra and the building I thought was number 1 is a two story mordern, glass-fronted café that I put in the book.

It was only a couple of years later when a friend moved to number 2 rue Myra that I realised the low numbers were at the other end of the street. The café is in fact at number 100 so I have no idea if it really is the site of the alchemist's house or not or if the alchemist even existed. I suppose I ought to go back to the pizza shop and check the details.






6th Street and Avenue B Garden

Garden at 6th and Avenue B

All East Village people will know this garden. I passed by in 2007 when I originally went to New York to research the book and was surprised and amazed by the big wooden tower sculpture kind of thing, I think it's no longer there. At the time I had no idea I was going to have a community garden theme and so didn't pay much attention to details so my apologies to anybody who feels betrayed by my lack of accuracy. They layout I wrote about was almost entirely imaginary.

Beatrice's Place

Beatrice lives at 15 Charles Street. I've no idea what floor or what kind of view she has but the green awning at the front is real - I saw it on Google Maps!


Before I went there in June 2013 I had no idea how fancy it was.

Breakfast Café

Cafe Mogador

In the book Ben stumbles on a café on St Mark's Place where he has breafast. Later in the day Beatrice takes him to the same place to drink wine.

The café is real and called Café Mogador and last time I went they had some great breakfast choices. I've also been there in the evening to eat and drink wine but to be honest my memory of that evening is a little hazy (albeit pleasant).

Bryant Park

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Bryant Park is just behind the New York Public Library between 40th and 42dn Streets and 5th and 6th Avenues.

It's formal in a French kind of way with straight alleys of trees and manicured lawns and tin tables and chairs. I don't know how intentional the french connection is (it reminds me of the Jardin de Luxembourg or the Tuileries) but like several French gardens it is the home to a few bits of art and touring exhibitions and events.

One of the statues on the terrace is of Gertrude Stein who was an expat American famous for hosting regualar Saturday evening salons on the left bank apartment she shared with her long-term partner Alice B Toklas. She wrote a book called 'Three Lives' which I have as yet not read but I like the title.

Café on the Corner of West 4th Street and West 11th Street

There is a café onthe corner of West 4th Street and West 11th Street. This of course shouldn't be able to exist because in New York's easy-to-use grid system streets should all run parallel and only intersect with avenues and not each other. But the West Village breaks a few rules, and why not?

The café is called 'Tartine' which is the French word for an open-topped sandwich (often topped with jam and eaten for breakfast or equally with ham then cheese and toasted for lunch).

Café with 'Our Waiter'

Lou Pascalou

The café with 'Our Waiter' could be any number of cafés around Belleville or Menilmontant. This one is called the Lou Pascalou, where particularly around the time that I was working on Three Lives, I spent a fair bit of time drinking and talking nonsense.

It's a great place and has plenty of interesting music and events including a short film night (during winter months when it's dark enough for the projector).

The Chelsea Hotel

The Chelsea Hotel is in Manhattan on West 23rd Street. It's famous for the pantheon of artists, musicians and film stars who have lived (and in some cases died) there. The walls are covered in paintings by residents who apparently gave their wears in lieu of unpaid rent.

In 2011 the hotal was sold and is in the process of being renovated. Many of its long term residents have left and the word on the street is that the golden age of being a magnet for artists and a world centre for some of the most amazing creativity is over.

Clock Sculpture

Clock Sculpture This is the statue behind which Ben finds the note book entitles 'Stranger'. It stands in front of Saint Lazare Station on the cours du Harvre. At the other side of the station, on the Cours de Rome is a sister statue in the form of a pile of suitecases. Both are the work of eminant sculpter and collecter of things, Arman who died in New York in 2005.

Daddy's House

The house where Tomomi Ishikawa's Father lived in the Mojave desert was based on a couple of pieces of 'Desert Modernism' archetecture. One a house built by Albert Frey which overlooks Palm Springs and the other is the house in Zabriski Point (1970 by Michelangelo Antonioni). For your viewing entertainment here is the final sceen from that film where the house explodes.

The Delicatessen on Elizabeth Street

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As far as I'm aware there is no Deli on Elizabeth Street in the East Village.

I suppose the big confession about this book is thatbecause it was quite difficult to research places in New York from my home in Paris, I made a lot of stuff up. I also spent a lot of time on Google Maps Streetview going round wecking places I'd put in the book to see if they were how I remmebered them. When writing about a deli that sold the most amazing Yoghurt I almost chose a deli at random from the internet but backed out at the last minute and chose a street convenient for my characters where there was no deli so as to avoid any both

Dream Street

Dream Street When you stand on the north side of Place Martin Nadeau and look towards rue Gasnier Guy you get a vague feeling of recognition as though it was something you once dreamed of.

Jardin Atlantique

Jardin Atlantique

On the roof of Montparnasse station is a garden closed in on all sides by tall buildings. In the middle is a metal structure which is a no-longer functioning weather station which I think has the name 'l'ile de Hespéredes'.

I love this place not for its beauty or the fact that you can look down through grills at the parting trains or up to the sky to see the Monparnasse Tower proud above you, but simply for its improbabability and multi-leveledness which are favourite things.

All the bigger trees were planted above significant pillars in the station to support the weight but there's still seems to be a fair bit of subsidence.

Jardin des Soupirs

Jardin des Soupirs

Jardin des Soupirs is a community gardin in the east of Paris. It's a real place and can be found by following this map. The layout isn't the same as in the book but I'm sure if you were respectful they wouldn't mind you going to have alook.

They also have a website:

Jefferson Market Community Garden

This community garden that sits in the shadow of jefferson Market Library was (I think) the site of a women's prison that was the prison from which Holly Golightly is released in Breakfast at Tiffany's.

Jefferson Market Library

Jefferson Market Library was once named the fourth most beautiful buiding in the United States of America (I think it was sometime at the end of the 19th Century). I don't know if that fact made it into the final version of the book but it certainly shouldn't be ignored.

Before it was a library it was derelict for a long while and and the clock stood still at twenty past three for a few decades which is why all the clocks in the book say the time is twenty past three. Before being derelict it was a district courthouse and before that a market - hence the name.

The Lost Subway Station

City Hall subway

The lost station was the original City Hall subway station at the end of the line on the 6 train. It was abandoned because the paltform was too short.

But it's still there, tiled, vaulted, abandonned and beautiful. Illuminated by skylights from the square above.


I took a photo of this when I saw it from the window of a subway train in 2007 but the picture is so blurred as to be abstract (not necessarily a bad thing - but not what I was trying to capture). This picture is borrowed from Wikipedia.

McCarthy Square

McCarthy Square is a real West Village place and trianglar in shape rather than the square that the name suggests. There and some trees and flowers and stuff and a war memorial type thing. As far as I'm aware there is no Katsura tree though and no hidden treasure.

New York Public Library



The NYPL is a three-storey neo gothic construction on 5th Avenue. It's possible the lowest building in that part of town but by no means diminuative. With pillars, front steps and stone lions it looks every bit the mighty home of knowledge that it is.


When I was in New York for the launch of the book in June 2013 I went to places in the book and made these little videos for your entertainment pleasure.

Pantheon Clock

Pantheon Clock

The story Tomomi Ishikawa tells about a clock in the pantheon being renovated by a bunch of geurrilla clock restaurers is essentially true. She embellished it a bit but there is a clandestine group called 'Les Untergunther' who illegally restore French heritage sites - this clock included and there was a scandle. When I wrote about it I had never seen the clock so when I went to take this photo I didn't know where to find it. I was in a rush because I reallywanted to be there at 3.20 so the picture would be the time that all the clocks in the book are set to. I glanced around the main room then asked a security guard who pointed me to the corner at the far left. When i arrived (mere seconds before twenty past three) the clock had stopped at ten to twelve.

The inscription beneath dedicates the clock to writers who died for France during the first world war, which seems somehow appropriate.

Papilles et Papillons

Papilles et Papillons This is a community garden on the Dream street (otherwise known as rue Gasnier guy). It has flowers, terraces and like all community gardens a great sense of neighbourhood.

The Plant in the Metro

Plant in the Metro This is the real plant in the metro. It's not on the line 7bis but on the line 13 between metro station Liège and Saint Lazare. It's the only plant I know that grows in the metro where there's no natural light. From time to time they cut it back and it is extraordinarily difficult to photograph. This is the best I could manage.

rue de la Cloche

Rue de la Cloche 'Cloche' is the French word for Bell and rue de la Cloche takes its name from a bell-shaped cavity situated underground beneath the houses here. The cavity was created by erosion due an underground stream desolving the stone over millenia. A few years ago the 'Cloche' had become so big that the houses were no longer stable and had to be demolished. There is now a small park. There's a sign and path showing were the tiny street used to be.

The Late-Night Smoking Place

Smoking Place The Late-Night Smoking Place is a cobbled circle half way along a cul de sac at the top of rue Menilmontant. There are two concrete bollards one a little lower than the other for sitting on. Walking home late one night I couldn't resist going to explore the tiny street and found two people sitting smokng and I thought, "'That'll be perfect for my book."

The Book in the Piano

St Mark's Place 44 1/2 St Mark's Place doesn't exist - I checked. I do know someone that has a piano not too far from there but I'm not telling you where.

The Catacombs


Paris Catacombes are mostly old quaries dating back thousands of years and regularly used for extracting the stone from which much of the city was built up until the late eighteenth century when the frequency and unmapped nature of the tunnels meant that the city started to collapse back in the the ground from whence it had been extracted.

There are several independant networks but the biggest stretches beneath much of the left bank. A small portion of it is open to the public and can be access from 1 avenue du Colonel Henri Rol-Tanguy - 75014 Paris.

In the book Ben goes into the tunnels under the east of the city in Belleville. I have no idea if any of these tunnels are still accessible but many of them were filled in or reinforced to prevent the erosion of the neighbourhood.

Where I took this photo was in a 3km section which has been blocked off and renovated by a secret association of enthusiasts (or Catophiles as they are sometimes know). I managed to get them to let me go down and explore on a couple of occasions and got hideously lost and had a wonderful day. I took this photo with a tripod in the almost dark and had no idea what was behing me until I looked at the image on the camera screen.

I did some Photoshop trickery to bring out the figure in the background but it was quite genuinely there. It is a shop maniquin dressed as a monk holding a candle - I went and checked.

Tomomi Ishikawa's School

Tomomi Ishikawa and Beatrice both went to Saint Michael's Academy at 425 West 23rd Street just near Penn Station. The school closed in 2010. I've no idea why, but it certainly wasn't related to any fictional teacher pupil scandle I may have created. I chose the school because it was already closed and I didn't want to tar anybody's name.

According to Google Maps the building now houses the 'Clinton School for Writers and Artists', which is nice. But there is still the word 'Girls' carved in the masonary over the door (like a stoneage strip club). Last I saw there was an empty flower pot just to the left of the door which makes me think that had anybody planted treasure there it would have already been found.

Tompkins Square Park

Tomkins Square Park Tompkins Square Park, as the name suggests, is square in shape and if you look at a map of New York you will notice that it is the most square park in the lower part of Manhattan (or possibly any place in the world!).

The Umbrella shop

Passage des Panoramas

There is in fact no umbrella shop in Passage Panoramas, as suggested int he book. That, sadly was transported from another location for the sake of making the story work.

The shop I was thinking of is called Pep's and is situated in the Passage de l'Ancre in Paris 3rd Arrondissement.

Tomomi Ishikawa's Apartment

Tomomi Ishikawa's apartment

I imagined Tomomi Ishikawa's apartment to be on Place Maurice Chevalier in the 20th Arrondissement of Paris, perhaps on one of the higher floors with a view over the square and facing the church, although in this photograph the trees are covered in leaves and I expect you wouldn't be able to see the church at all.



King Kong


sunflower seeds










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