Week five in Paris, I thought it was time to break out of the east and head north-west to a neighbourhood in the 17th arrondissement called the Batignolles.
I also chose it because I’d heard that it was a regular neighbourhood, one that tourists wouldn’t think to visit because it was too far, too quiet and there was ‘nothing to see’. After last week’s close encounter with those that carry maps, it sounded ideal.
Quick history lesson… The name comes from bastillole or bastidiole, meaning small cottage, or the Latin batagliona, little war. Like Belleville, it used to be country and only became part of Paris in 1860. Haunt of the painter Edouard Manet and his mates. Once working class, it’s now a mix of elderly and families with young kids. Oh, and while most of the neighbourhood is sleepy quiet, the northern bit is all go; had Paris won this year’s Olympic bid it would’ve been transformed into the Olympic Village. Instead it’s now an enormous redevelopment site with sprawling parklands and zillions of homes and offices set to shoot up in the near future.
Part 1: The quiet life
As with so many places in Paris, the neighbourhood is distinctly different from those around it. One moment you’re on Avenue de Clichy with its shady bars and discount shops, the next you’re in bohemian, arty Batignolles.
Only it seems to me to be more bourgeois than bohemian. Sure, we did wander past a sculpture class (chisel in one hand, vin rouge in the other) and a café full of singers, and the area definitely has an earthy feel. But the Batignolles is too expensive nowadays for the average bohemian.
Aside from the real estate prices, nothing much seems to have changed over the last 100 years in the main part of the Batignolles. It still feels like a small village where life revolves around the cafes surrounding the church, and the ‘square’ that’s actually a small, English-style park behind it, complete with ducks and a merry-go-round.
In fact, there are enough remnants of a bygone era to make you feel like time has stopped altogether in les Batignolles.
Part 2: Les enfants
If you live here, it’s highly probable you’re pregnant; this must surely be the baby boom centre of Paris. And you can see why. Aside from one intriguing street of old mansions and gardens (La Cité des Fleurs) it’s still apartment living. But there are plenty of places to burn off kid energy, from the area around the church to the old square with the ducks, and the sprawling new park.
Aside from the high proportion of whipper snappers, there’s also a large population of elderly in the Batignolles, something we’ve so far not really encountered in Paris.
Part 3: La pétanque – the players
The two petanque courts are sandwiched between the old square and the new development, currently a massive building site. But if you stand with your back to the cranes and concrete you could be somewhere in the country.
After watching so much petanque…
Part 4: La pétanque – as a spectator sport
Petanque may be a very simple game – the person who gets closest to the jack wins – but it’s quite addictive. Once you start watching, it’s hard to stop. When we visited another time there were quite a few old fellas chatting amongst themselves while they watched the various games in play. But one lovely old man stood on his own. He held on to the fence like a kid, glued to the proceedings, not moving a muscle.
Just outside the petanque courts is another spectator sport – cards. Unlike the boule boys, this was serious business, not to be photographed madame.
Part 5: New Batignolles
As country-esque as the petanque courts are, they are in fact just across the road from a massive redevelopment, the Clichy-Batignolles project. As I mentioned before, if Paris had got the nod for this year’s Olympics, the area – old railway sheds – would have been transformed into the Olympic Village. Instead, they moved on to Plan B; by 2015 there will be parklands, 3,400 new homes, shops – and the law courts, which are moving from the centre of Paris.
While the law fraternity are apparently not thrilled, the families of the Batignolles are; the old square as lovely as it is was built in 1876, well before the current baby boom. So the new parklands, which are already installed, are a welcome addition, offering play areas for everyone from small bubs to teens.
The edge of the Batignolles Cemetery a little further north has also undergone an extreme makeover. On one side, mossy old gravestones, on the other, along rue Rebière, a set of 10 buildings, all architect designed.
So much for sleepy old Batignolles.
But no matter how much the Batignolles are transformed, one thing is sacrosanct…
While there may not be any ‘sights’ to see in the Batignolles, I enjoyed the walk back in time – and into the future too. It’s unlike any of the neighbourhoods we’ve visited so far don’t you think? Not ethnically diverse or chic or urban. More like an old French village, albeit a village with a major development on its doorstep. And I did love photographing the petanque. Nothing like asking a group of French men to show me their boules.
On the ‘home front’
No luck so far with finding a beret wearing, English speaking helper for Coco. But she and I are both trying harder with the home schooling challenge. And she’s going back to the Montessori school for a few days a week until we leave Paris – I love my daughter dearly but good lord I need a break. Aside from that, we’ve been enjoying the lead up to the French Presidential elections; by the time you read this, France may well have a new top dog.
This suburb has been brought to you by Iain & Llyn
Rain again this week meant another late post. But it’s meant to fine up this week so hopefully I’ll see you next Friday.