19

Montreuil

M intro

 

I hate to break it to you but we’re done with Paris. However, before you pack your beret away and dust that last crumb of salted caramel macaron from your bouche, we have one last Paris to explore – the eastern suburb of Montreuil.

While one side of the suburb hugs Paris proper and is just 6.6 km from the city center, Montreuil extends a long way east. In fact, it’s the first place that I really needed a car to explore properly; apologies to any Montreuillois for ignoring large chunks of your neighbourhood.

Quick history: Named after a small monastery that the town was built around way back when. A peach growing, market gardening area until 1818 when the first factory sprouted. At the end of the nineteenth century, the film industry grew – and continues to flourish to this day. Now a mix of all sorts, including bobos who want space to have a garden or bring up a family, artists and film makers who don’t want to pay Paris rents, and Mali immigrants.

Okay, for the last time, on y va!

 

Part 1: Viewed from above

Day one I met Marie. Ex-foreign consulate, now school teacher, she kindly filled me in on the place as she wrangled a bike covered with shopping bags back to her home. As luck would have it, her home happened to be on the highest point for miles around – on the 30th floor of an apartment block, just over the border in neighbouring Bagnolet. Would I like to see the view over both Montreuil and Paris from there? Mais oui!

Much like Sydney’s Greenway Flats in Kirribilli, Marie lives with her daughter, Nour, in public housing that happens to have a million dollar view. With Nour’s solar system swirling around in the apartment and the whole of Paris behind it, I felt like I’d ascended into the heavens.

 

 

cheap housing with expensive views

cheap housing with expensive views :: 1

 

 

 

 

Nour's solar system

Nour's solar system

 

 

 

 

Planet Nour

Planet Nour

 

 

 

 

Paris-scape

Paris-scape

 

 

 

 

towering over Paris

towering over Paris

 

 

 

 

The next time we visited, the grey had lifted, allowing an even better view.

 

 

Haussmann-free zone - Montreuil

Haussmann-free zone - Montreuil

 

 

 

 

cheap housing with expensive views :: 2

cheap housing with expensive views :: 2

 

 

 

 

night falls over planet Paris

night falls over planet Paris

 

 

 

 

all lit up - the boundary between Paris and the 'burbs, the offramp of the peripherique

all lit up - the boundary between Paris and the 'burbs, the off-ramp of the périphérique

 

 

 

 

Part 2: The gardeners of Montreuil

As you might have noticed from the images above, Montreuil is rich in green space. For starters, there are three huge sprawling parks, only one of which – Parc Jean Moulin – we had time to explore.

Aside from that many of the homes have gardens, much coveted no doubt by day tripping Parisians.

And if you don’t have your own house like Marie, you can always apply for a patch of your own in the community garden – after all, if you’re a Montreuillois, you gotta garden.

 

the veggie garden

the veggie garden

 

 

 

 

from beginning to end

from beginning to end

 

 

 

 

where the wild things grow

where the wild things grow

 

 

 

 

ready for a day in the garden

ready for a day in the garden

 

 

 

In fact, the Montreuillois take gardening so seriously, there’s an annual event dedicated to making your life as la jardiniere or le jardinier that much more enriching. Started by locals Dorothée and Yann 12 years ago, Troc Vert closes off one of the streets and invites people to swing past and exchange their plants. Bored of your marigolds? Swap it for someone else’s rosemary. Everyone’s happy.

 

 

exchange your plants

exchange your plants

 

 

 

 

By the time Coco and I got there, most of the exchanging had been done. But there were still some of the potted shoes available for purchase.

 

 

the surprising gardens of Montreuil

the surprising gardens of Montreuil

 

 

 

 

potted shoes

potted shoes

 

 

 

 

they're all green thumbs

they're all green thumbs

 

 

 

 

It was clearly a green day but I couldn’t help noticing how much French Blue there was too, especially so on the females wandering around…

 

 

Sarah

Sarah

 

 

 

 

Paloma and Mia

Paloma and Mia

 

 

 

 

that look

that look

 

 

 

 

lady in blue

lady in blue

 

 

 

 

Mariko, naturopath

Mariko, naturopath

 

 

 

 

a rockin' mum-to-be - DJ Eva with David

a rockin' mum-to-be - DJ Eva with David

 

 

 

 

Part 3: Pink

Aside from green/French Blue Troc Vert, there was another colourful event going on that day called Les Manufactories, by a Collectif d’artistes et d’artsians. I only found out about it as it was winding up but as far as I could make out, various studios and shops of artists and artisans around the neighbourhood had opened their doors to the public for the day.

All you had to do was follow the pink line and keep an eye out for pink balloons – or garlands – or people…

 

the day Montreuil turned pink

the day Montreuil turned pink

 

 

 

 

Zoe, dressed for both green and pink days

Zoe, supporting both green and pink

 

 

 

 

poppy love

poppy love

 

 

 

 

mascara and violet eyes - Monique

mascara and violet eyes - Monique

 

 

 

 

As I said, we were too late to the party so I can’t show you any of the art or craft. But I did stick my head into Dorothee and Yann’s house towards the end of the day to see what a family house in Montreuil might look like.

 

 

greenery, outside and in

greenery, outside and in

 

 

 

 

inside Dorothee and Yann's house

inside Dorothée and Yann's house

 

 

 

 

pink and green won the day

pink and green won the day

 

 

 

 

It was only 7pm when we left but by that time I was absolutely exhausted, having stayed up stupidly late the night before working on last week’s post. I had just enough energy to take a few snaps of the band that was now entertaining the happy gardeners before Coco and I slipped away, back to the muted tones of Paris.

 

 

where even the music is green

where even the music is green

 

 

 

 

shadow dancing

shadow dancing

 

 

 

 

kicking on into the night

kicking on into the night

 

 

 

 

Part 4: More space

Aside from the green spaces, Montreuil also has an abundance of sports fields and tracks. On one of our visits we met a group of school kids doing soccer practice. Different ages but all from the same school. As I looked through my camera lens I forgot where I was for a moment – Paris? Non!

 

 

airborn

airborn

 

 

 

 

France vs Africa?

France vs Africa?

 

 

 

 

hey

hey

 

 

 

 

the smile

the smile

 

 

 

 

colours of Africa

colours of Africa

 

 

 

 

enough

enough

 

 

 

On another visit we caught the tail end of a soccer game being played on another field just around the corner. So different to Paris where petanque was the most energetic sport we’d watched.

 

 

sunset soccer

sunset soccer

 

 

 

 

Part 5: A few bits and pieces

As I mentioned before, I really only explored a small slice of Montreuil and probably the most affluent – I was told that the further east you went, the poorer it gets.

But even with my narrow focus, I didn’t take many shots of the buildings; aside from one newly sprouted number, nothing really caught my eye. As a local resident said, the houses may cost a whole lot more than they did 10 years ago, but they’re by and large pretty unremarkable. Fairly ordinary houses made expensive by virtue of the fact that “Paris is full” and people need housing.

 

 

modern vs traditional

modern vs traditional

 

 

 

 

spots and stripes

spots and stripes

 

 

 

 

what the?

what the?

 

 

 

 

signs of an industrial past

signs of an industrial past

 

 

 

 

Part 6: To finish with, some people we met while meandering through Montreuil

Beginning with Anar, a Montreuillois who started out in life as a Mongolian.

 

 

Anar, from Mongolia to Montreuil

Anar, from Mongolia to Montreuil

 

 

 

 

Ficel and Pascale

Ficel and Pascale

 

 

 

 

is that the old shoe I used to chew?

is that the old shoe I used to chew?

 

 

 

 

at the bobo cafe

at the bobo cafe

 

 

 

 

Dominique in a past life

Dominique in a past life

 

 

 

 

brothers

brothers

 

 

 

 

touselled

touselled

 

 

 

 

In our last hour in our last suburb of Paris, Coco and I met Lorent and François. Twin brothers who have just signed with Warner Music to share their version of “rockelectrohiphopslam” with the world. It was a good way to finish things – out in the suburbs with two young men who’ve obviously got bucket loads of talent, drive and optimism about the future. Bon chance Lorent and François! May your whacky 80s inspired stars shine brightly.

 

 

rockelectrohiphopslam - Lorent and François :: 1

rockelectrohiphopslam - Lorent and François :: 1

 

 

 

 

so 80s - Lorent

so 80s - Lorent

 

 

 

 

rockelectrohiphopslam - Lorent and François :: 2

rockelectrohiphopslam - Lorent and François :: 2

 

 

 

 

The Wrap

Used to scouring every inch of a neighbourhood, I probably only covered a quarter of this super-sized suburb. But what I did manage to see I found intriguing and hard to pin down, almost enigmatic. For one thing, it’s a stone’s throw from Paris but nothing like it. No charming buildings but the most beautiful parks. And while the place can appear super quiet, even boring, beneath the surface there’s a whole lot going on, bubbling away – film, art, music, dance. Potted pointy shoes. But it ain’t no paradise; I know it can happen anywhere but Montreuil is where I was almost ‘relieved’ of my camera, in full daylight. A reminder that for many these are desperate times.

 

 

 

exhibition of 52 Suburbs, my first project, at the Museum of Sydney

exhibition of 52 Suburbs, my first project, at the Museum of Sydney in 2010

 

 

On the ‘home front’

Some big news this week.

First up, I’m thrilled to announce that the Museum of Sydney will hold a major exhibition of images from this entire project next year for four months from July – November. MOS is where I had my first exhibition of my first Sydney-based project, 52 Suburbs.

I feel incredibly lucky and grateful – MOS is one of Sydney’s best and I’m hugely honoured to be asked to exhibit there. If you don’t live in Sydney I hope you can somehow swing a trip down there to coincide with the exhibition. (Come for the opening so I can meet you!)

The other news is that instead of departing for Berlin next we are off to Rome! I was trying to ignore the fact that if I stuck to the original plan it meant we’d hit Rome in late July/August when it’s apparently melting hot and devoid of Romans. But a few Italian blog followers insisted it was madness. So I decided to switch the cities around. Apologies to those all geed up to see Berlin next but we’ll be there before you know it – in early July to be precise.

Coco and I leave Paris this week but the first post from Rome will be in two weeks time – I’m skipping a week to get some work done on my camera and to spend a few days in Rome before I start shooting to orient myself and catch my breath.

So get your espadrilles ready and we’ll see you on Monday June 4, in Roma!

Aside from all that – adieu Paris! I’m so glad I got to know you better. All these years I thought you were just all hype. Mais non! You’re a delight, warts and all.

This suburb has been brought to you by Simon Bassett

(For those who noticed, there hasn’t yet been a Coco ‘Paris shot’ like the ones we took in the other cities. We’ll do it this week before we go and include it in the next post.)

18

Chateau Rouge

CR intro

 

For the past few weeks Paris has had me in its picturesque, seductive clutches. It was fun but looking back at my images I did wonder, where was the challenge? Normally my thing is to seek out the beauty in the ‘unbeautiful’. And ‘unbeautiful’ ain’t Le Marais nor Les Batignolles.

It was time to get back to my mission brief.

My choice for this week was also influenced by the recent election here. All the talk about immigration leading up to the big day was a stark reminder that for many, Paris is a crowded 25sqm room shared with a handful of other people, and no prospect of a job any time soon.

Nowhere could this be more true than in the 18th arrondissement, around a neighbourhood called Chateau Rouge. Also referred to as la Goutte d’Or, this is the Little Africa of Paris. Exotic foods, tick, but also a slew of problems that can’t be fixed overnight, even if there is a new government in power.

Quickest ‘history’ ever – the hood is named after a red castle that no longer exists. Done.

Okay, iPhones away (will explain later), cameras away (ditto), let’s swagger…

 

Part 1: F-f-f-fashion

Amazingly, Chateau Rouge is just minutes away from tourist-crazed Montmartre and its top drawcard, the Sacre Coeur. One minute it’s all pretty pretty, then suddenly you’re wondering, what happened? Where did Paris go?

Unlike Faubourg Saint Denis, where there are really just a few streets dedicated to African hair and where there’s a strong bobo presence, this neighbourhood seems to be entirely African and Arab. Markets here offer gombo not oysters or foie gras, and you have to elbow your way through or be elbowed. Shops are filled with colourful African materials not trendy western gear. Butchers are halal. Welcome to Little Africa.

But at the end of the main open-air market a police car is almost permanently parked – along with the colourful exoticism are serious drug and crime problems. Add illegal immigration into the mix and you start to understand why the locals were incredibly unhappy about me and my camera pitching up. One woman explained that some Africans would even be afraid I might use their photos to do, er, black magic.

Up against it, I very quickly realised that any sort of in-depth photographic exploration of the area wasn’t going to be possible. No one was about to invite me into their lives and share.

At one point I almost abandoned ship. Then I’d get some kind soul to agree to a photo (even if they did give me no more than five seconds to take the shot) and I’d think, okay, maybe this will work.

Since I wasn’t going to be able to do anything too deep, I decided to explore one particular facet of Little Africa – its fashion.

The neighbourhood is filled with men and women who continue to dress as they would if they still lived in Africa – only now they’re in Paris, amongst the berets and trench-coats. The shock of hot, vivid colour against a sea of western blah and sombre tones is just fantastic.

Then there are the Africans who take their colourful heritage and apply it to a more contemporary look. I especially loved the men who wear suits, but in a playful, inventive way. I’d actually go so far to say that it was in Chateau Rouge that I saw the most interesting fashion that I’ve seen so far in all of Paris (not that I hang with the fashionistas of course).

Fashion, as an expression of one’s culture… très intéressant!

 

Little Africa, 'Lowest Prices'

Little Africa, 'Lowest Prices'

 

 

 

Chateau Rouge is right next door to the Sacre Coeur

Chateau Rouge is right next door to the Sacre Coeur

 

 

 

First up, the men…

 

 

Sayra

Sayra

 

 

 

Zongo, fashion designer

Zongo, fashion designer

 

 

 

The man below was very reluctant to be snapped. I explained I just wanted to take a shot of his inventive tie and not his face. “But it’s my creation” he said. Eventually after minutes of discussion he caved – and I had precisely three seconds to take the shot.

 

 

 

when worlds collide

when worlds collide

 

 

 

Next was Jean, interior designer. Different story entirely. He was one of the few who was quite happy to be photographed – and why not? Just look at that suit.

 

 

for one thing, Jean is wearing Burberry with a purple tie and tartan cap. Dangerous!

for one thing, Jean is wearing Burberry with a purple tie and tartan cap. Dangerous!

 

 

 

I ran into Jean again a few days later. He was wearing the same suit but with a different hat, tie and shoes. Could I please take another shot…

 

 

 

and he did!

and he did!

 

 

 

even Obama gives Jean's style the thumbs up

even Obama gives Jean's style the thumbs up

 

 

 

Then there were these guys…

 

 

 

check me out!

check me out!

 

 

 

religious bling

religious bling

 

 

 

after a trip to the Hammam he felt cleaner and brighter all over

after a trip to the Hammam he felt cleaner and brighter all over

 

 

 

Part 2: Senghor from Senegal

Okay, so this dude in his voluminous boubou deserves a section all of his own. I know nothing more about him other than his name and where he comes from, but my imagination rushed into the vacuum of information and filled it right up. To me he’s a witch-doctor-ish, magic man who appears out of nowhere and travels not by metro but by forces unknown. You could have knocked me over with a chicken feather when he said, yes, you can photograph me.

 

 

Senghor from Senegal

Senghor from Senegal

 

 

 

with one wave of my magic wand, I can make 1000 volts shoot through the air

with one wave of my magic wand, I can make 1000 volts shoot through the air

 

 

 

where'd you get those D&G sunnies from?

where'd you get those D&G sunnies from?

 

 

 

off to make magic with his gombo

off to make magic with his gombo

 

 

 

And while we’re on the subject of magical things…

 

 

and the note on the bottle said, Alice, EAT ME

the note on the bottle said, Alice, EAT ME

 

 

 

Part 3: The women

Like my experience of observing the sari clad Indians of Sydney’s Harris Park, I loved watching the African women in traditional dress glide down the streets, so unFrench and yet so much a part of modern day Paris.

 

 

and Chateau Rouge

and Chateau Rouge

 

 

 

wild prints

wild prints

 

 

 

she buys her flowers from Barbes Market to match her hair

she buys her flowers from Barbes Market to match her hair

 

 

 

waiting

waiting

 

 

 

Then there’s the modern look…

 

 

 

Doris, with Jennifer in her hair

Doris, with Jennifer in her hair

 

 

 

Henna girl

Henna girl

 

 

 

French stripes

French stripes

 

 

 

Of course, an African woman’s hair is a big deal. Braided, shaved, extended, coloured, whatever. You gotta do something to your hair.

 

 

now and then

now and then

 

 

 

Part 4: Beyond the fashion

I would have liked to have explored the Arab, Muslim side of the area more – but couldn’t. I lost count of how many Arab men I asked to photograph – in my best French and as respectfully as possible. They were just not into it.

Anyway, the deal is that the neighbourhood has mosque problems. I think there might be two but I only visited one – and from the outside only. You’d miss it if you didn’t notice the small sign, or the collection box sitting on the street outside, raising money I assume to improve the current one or maybe build a new one.

It wasn’t long ago that space problems meant that Muslims in the area were allowed to pray on the streets in front of the mosque. There was all sorts of hoo ha over that and the practice was banned late last year.

There is, however, a major development happening soon – a new, very modern looking Islamic centre is being built nearby and as far as I understand, the mosques might have prayer rooms inside.

 

 

they have their iphones, he has his Islam

they have their iphones, he has his Islam

 

 

 

they must be green with envy of other grander mosques

they must be green with envy of other grander mosques

 

 

 

things are looking up - a new Islamic centre and a new government

things are looking up - a new Islamic centre and a new government

 

 

 

The Wrap

I am fascinated by the African presence in Paris. I understand the reason – France needed labour post-war so they invited all of Africa in – but I just find the contrast between the two cultures so incredibly striking.

It was therefore quite exhilarating to hang out in Little Africa this week. And as frustrating as it was to not be able to photograph more and different facets of the area, I did enjoy the challenge.

So what did I find beautiful in this decidedly unbeautiful neighbourhood? The vibrant colour and the ‘fashion’ for sure, but also the energy of the place. It’s hard to describe but it feels excitable, edgy, as if any minute it will reach a crescendo and… pop!, the whole place will implode.

Oh, and the warning to put away your iPhone and camera? Just passing on what I was told. Apparently if you wander around chatting on your iPhone, you’re very likely to have it plucked out of your hand. And one guy told me his friend was carrying a DSLR camera with the strap around his neck and had his arm broken when someone wrenched it so hard to get the camera off him.

 

 

 

Chateau Rouge, and bleu, orange, vert, rose

Chateau Rouge, and bleu, orange, vert, rose

 

 

 

On the ‘home front’

A lovely Australian blog follower living in Paris for a little while took Coco off this week for some home schooling followed by cartwheels in the park. Coco loved it so hopefully, if the budget holds out, there’ll be a little more of it. On my side, I’d just like the dreary grey stuff to disappear so I can have fun with the sun again, in a photographic sense. And I’d like more sleep too. But who doesn’t?

And to all those in Australia, Happy Mother’s Day!

This suburb has been brought to you by Zoe Thompson

I’ve decided to change my post date to Sunday or Monday by the way. It’s only taken me five months to work out that I’m probably missing a lot of good stuff that happens on the weekend by making my post day Friday and my so-called ‘day off’ on Saturday.

Which would suit you better by the way – Sunday or Monday?

See you next week.

 

52 Suburbs Around the World Book

52 Suburbs Around the World Book

The 52 Suburbs Around the World Book has arrived! Click here to buy it!

Order my first book online

Buy the 52 Suburbs Book online

Find out more about the Sydney book here

Sponsors

Momento_180x150 copy

Advertisers