17

Les Batignolles

Intro B

 

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.

Let’s stroll…

 

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.

 

one must get the correct shoes made for driving la Citroën 2 CV

one must get the correct shoes made for driving la Citroën 2 CV

 

 

 

flowers and bread - nothing's changed for 100 years

flowers and bread - nothing's changed for 100 years

 

 

 

Christina, today, and in a former life

Christina, today, and in a former life

 

 

 

the all important scarf

the all important scarf

 

 

 

Chantelle wished she could buy those 1950s lights but she was just a poor mannequin

Chantelle wished she could buy those 1950s lights but she was just a poor mannequin

 

 

 

no monsieur, I won't forgive you

no monsieur, I won't forgive you

 

 

 

Paulette liked to ride her Vespa to Le Tout Petit

Paulette liked to ride her Vespa to Le Tout Petit

 

 

 

une grande sausage at Le Tout Petit

une grande sausage at Le Tout Petit

 

 

 

chisel and vin rouge, a dangerous mix

chisel and vin rouge, a dangerous mix :: 1

 

 

 

chisel and vin rouge, a dangerous mix :: 2

chisel and vin rouge, a dangerous mix :: 2

 

 

 

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.

 

Marcuse at Batignolles Square

Marcuse runs round Square des Batignolles

 

 

 

busy boy

busy boy

 

 

 

three walk, one sits

three walk, one sits

 

 

 

kid's world

kid's world

 

 

 

Andrea and Bruno

Andrea and Bruno

 

 

 

Bruno and his Hasselblad outside the church

Bruno and his Hasselblad outside the church

 

 

 

Alice in wisteria wonderland

Alice in wisteria wonderland

 

 

 

Soraya and Stephen at the organic market

Soraya and Stephen at the organic market

 

 

 

magically she was transformed into Saraswati, goddess of wisdom, to help her parents buy the best fruit & veg

magically she was transformed into Saraswati, goddess of wisdom, to help her parents buy the best fruit & veg

 

 

 

even the dogs are babies - 8 weeks old Hermes

even the dogs are babies - 8 weeks old Hermes

 

 

 

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.

 

doing the crossword

doing the crossword in the square

 

 

 

90 year old Micheline and 8 year old Ludivine

90 year old Micheline and 8 year old Ludivine

 

 

 

a marriage made in heaven - Claudia and Jean, married 50 years

a marriage made in heaven - Claudia and Jean, married 50 years

 

 

 

purple and blue all over

purple and blue all over

 

 

 

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.

 

all eyes on the boule

all eyes on the boule

 

 

 

how you can tell whose boule is whose

how you can tell whose boule is whose

 

 

 

clearly mine is closer

clearly mine is closer

 

 

 

the dispute

the dispute

 

 

 

boule boys - Patrick, Raymond, Giles, Jacques

boule boys - Patrick, Raymond, Giles, Jacques

 

 

 

tree baubles

tree baubles

 

 

 

one's boules are kept under lock and key

one's boules are kept under lock and key

 

 

 

After watching so much petanque…

 

I see boules everywhere

I see boules everywhere

 

 

 

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.

 

the discussion

the discussion

 

 

 

the watcher :: 1

the watcher :: 1

 

 

 

the watcher :: 2

the watcher :: 2

 

 

 

watching every move

he may be deaf but he doesn't miss a move

 

 

 

Just outside the petanque courts is another spectator sport – cards. Unlike the boule boys, this was serious business, not to be photographed madame.

 

the card game

the card game

 

 

 

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.

 

right next to the petanque courts, a new part of les Batignolles is rising out of the ground

right next to the petanque courts, a new part of les Batignolles is rising out of the ground

 

 

 

ironwork, old and new

ironwork, old and new

 

 

 

the new park - Georgette in the rain

the new parklands - Georgette in the rain

 

 

 

Georgette and her rosy scarf

Georgette and her rosy scarf

 

 

 

the building's colour scheme, 'wisteria'

the building's colour scheme, 'wisteria'

 

 

 

bright

bright

 

 

 

But no matter how much the Batignolles are transformed, one thing is sacrosanct…

 

wouldn't dare mess with the petanque courts

hands off the petanque courts

 

 

 

The Wrap

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.

 

 

fun

fun and games

 

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.

 

16

Le Marais

M intro

 

Yeah, yeah, I know. The Marais? Tourist trap extraordinaire? 

Well, it’s a choice I made by accident really. Due to my sudden decision to stay longer in Paris, we’ve had to find new accommodation. Our next apartment wasn’t available for a week so I needed something quickly to fill in the gap. When I spotted a tiny pied-à-terre in the Marais for a good price it got me thinking – was the Marais as souless as it seemed?

At a quick glance the area, which straddles the 3rd and 4th arrondissement, seemed to be just shops, cafes and a handful of historic mansions converted into museums. Did anyone actually live there? On a previous whip through the place some weeks ago I hadn’t seen a single boulangerie or boucherie. Just shiny shops and smart cafes. Was that it?

I decided to rent the apartment for the week and explore the place. And so here we are, ‘Suburb’ No 16… Le Marais.

The history of the place in warp speed… From the 13th-17th century, French nobles built their grand Hôtels, urban mansions, here. When they left the Jews moved in. By the 1950s, it was working class and the place was a mess; the mansions were crumbling and by the 1960s there was talk of it being demolished. In the decades following the Hôtels were restored and turned into museums, the area scrubbed up. Today, it’s a mix of Jewish, gay, cafes and restaurants, fashion labels and museums.

But a soul? Did it have one of them?

 

Part 1: Rained out

The Marais started out in life as a swampy marsh – and this week it very nearly returned to one. La pluie has not stopped falling. Well, that’s not entirely true. It was sparkling sunshine on the day we arrived. Then the next day it rained. Only it would rain and then stop. Rain and stop. Rain and stop. And that’s how it continued. Every day, all day long, for the entire time we were there. (Hence the late post by the way.)

 

before la pluie

before la pluie

 

 

 

one moment, le soleil, the next, la pluie

one moment, sun, the next, rain

 

 

 

cold and wet - perfect Spring weather - if you're a duck

cold and wet - perfect Spring weather - if you're a duck :: 1

 

 

 

cold and wet - perfect Spring weather - if you're a duck ::  2

cold and wet - perfect Spring weather - if you're a duck :: 2

 

 

 

what rain?

what rain?

 

 

 

wet weather activites in the Marais :: 1

wet weather activities in the Marais :: 1

 

 

 

best to sit inside madame

best to sit inside madame

 

 

 

wet weather activities in the Marais :: 2

wet weather activities in the Marais :: 2

 

 

 

a few tourits still braved the wet

a few tourists still braved the wet

 

 

 

please sun, come back again

please sun, come back again

 

 

 

Part 2: The mix in the Marais

At first the rain was just irritating. Water on the lens. Coco complaining about her umbrella. Wet shoes. But as the days passed, I started to like it. Most importantly, it meant hardly any tourists; when we’d arrived on that sunny Sunday it was so packed with bodies that I literally couldn’t get a sense of the place let alone take any pictures.

Now virtually empty, I started to see another Marais than the one I’d first encountered. Instead of packs of tourists, anonymous clothes shops and fashionable eateries, I saw medieval winding streets lined with magnificent former mansions and beautiful gardens. I suddenly got how amazing it was that Haussman hadn’t done his thing here, leaving the maze of narrow streets intact instead of creating grand boulevards as he had in much of Paris.

 

inside a pied-à-terre, outside a mansion

inside a pied-à-terre, outside a mansion

 

 

 

after the purple rain

after the purple rain

 

 

 

What also intrigued me was the mix of Jewish and gay. One here for centuries, the other a more recent arrival.

 

star and studs - living side by side

star and studs side by side

 

 

 

With the tourists gone, we met people who either lived, worked or played in the Marais. For example, Gregoire, a lovely French guy who was heading to an interesting book-bar called La Belle Hortense. He invited us to join him for a drink and to meet a friend of his, Nikolai, and the woman behind the bar, Caroline.

 

so I said, where are you going, and Gregoire said, to La Belle Hortense, come with me

so I said, where are you going, and Gregoire said, to La Belle Hortense, come with me

 

 

 

Caroline at La Belle Hortense

Caroline at La Belle Hortense

 

 

 

maybe he's writing A History of Paris at La Belle Hortense

maybe he's writing A History of Paris at La Belle Hortense

 

 

 

Leaving La Belle Hortense to its merry business we met…

 

Marceau

Marceau

 

 

 

what is it exactly, Jean Louis?

what is it exactly, Jean Louis?

 

 

 

Then there’s the Jewish side of the neighbourhood. In the 13th century and then again in the 19th, Jewish people moved in to the Marais around rue des Rosiers, or Pletzl as they call it, Yiddish for ‘small square’. Although gentrification has transformed the Marais into le chic, it’s still very Jewish with kosher restaurants, boulangeries, charcuteries, bookshops plus synagogues and shtiebels.

 

The Jewish side of the Marais

the Jewish quarter of Paris

 

 

 

Sacha

Sacha

 

 

 

James

James

 

 

 

On the day we arrived I spotted a tiny blue Fiat 500 sitting on a street corner. Suddenly a family of four appeared and poured into it. In response to my look of surprise they said, there’s only four of us today, normally there’s five.

 

normally there's five of us, this is our weekend car

normally there's five of us, this is our weekend car

 

 

 

Aside from the gay and Jewish side of the Marais, there are also the young lovers, taking advantage of a handful of beautiful gardens to look deep into each other’s eyes. Well, until I butt in with my camera that is.

 

there are gardens to admire and gardens for amour - Hannah and Ederim

there are gardens to admire and gardens for amour - Hannah and Ederim

 

 

 

love struck - Fabien and Rebecca

love struck - Fabien and Rebecca

 

 

 

And while the Marais is filled with cutting edge fashion labels, it also has a couple of second hand shops and a library that houses fashion mags from the 50s and 60s.

 

retro vs classic - Claudia

retro vs classic - Claudia

 

 

 

window shopping

old fashion

 

 

 

 

Part 3: Manger in the Marais

While the rain helped transform the Marais from tourist trap to moody ghost town, it was also incredibly frustrating as much of the week was just too wet and windy to shoot. Some days there was nothing for it but another visit to Meert, a pastry-sweet shop that has been ruining French teeth since 1761. Their speciality is a gaufre (waffle) filled with sugar, butter and vanilla. Nice (apparently – I couldn’t try) but what we found totally addictive were the fruit jellies and caramels.

 

how to brighten up a rainy day in the Marais

how to brighten up a rainy day in the Marais

 

 

 

tangerine dreams

tangerine dreams

 

 

 

waffles

gaufres

 

 

 

Place de Vosges residents have eaten Meert's waffles for 200+ years

Place de Vosges residents have eaten Meert's waffles for 200+ years

 

 

 

Aside from waffles, there’s the Yiddish/Eastern European specialties in the Jewish quarter, from the baked goods to the famous falafel.

 

they come from all over Paris for the pastrami

they come from all over Paris for the pastrami

 

 

 

bread and butcher, Jewish style

baker and butcher, Jewish style

 

 

 

There are of course myriad cafes and elegant restaurants in the neighbourhood too. We eschewed the lot of them for our weekly ‘treat’ meal by revisiting the classic Le Bistro Paul Bert, just around the corner from the Marais. We’d had lunch there with Audrey, a lovely blog follower, the week before and I was keen to go back to snap the place. Very reasonable (18 euros for a three course lunch), plenty of atmosphere and yes, le bon gout.

 

18 Euros for 3 courses equals happy customers

18 euros for 3 courses equals happy customers

 

 

 

lamb and celery puree

lamb with celery puree

 

 

 

mmm, is that Emincée de pomme au caramel et beurre salé?

mmm, is that Emincée de pomme au caramel et beurre salé?

 

 

 

Part 4: The other creatures who inhabit the Marais

They live out their days on handsome doors or in quiet corners down narrow streets away from the tourist packs.

 

wild Marais

wild Marais

 

 

 

mieow!

mieow!

 

 

 

once a mansion, today a museum

once a mansion, today a museum

 

 

 

The Wrap

If we’d never rented that apartment and spent a week hanging around in the Marais, I would’ve probably written it off as touristy and shallow. But wandering those empty streets in the half light, rain dripping down its proud stone walls, without its adoring fans, I felt like I had a glimpse into its aristocratic past and saw a little of what lies behind its present shiny veneer. It’s not an ordinary neighbourhood anymore and the people I spoke to who’ve lived there for more than 20 years are not fans of the way it’s changed. But despite all its faults – expensive, tourist-oriented, and in need of a few more boulangeries and boucheries – I do think the Marais has a soul. But you can only see it in the rain.

 

 

look at the sky Coco!

look at the sky Coco!

 

 

On the ‘home front’

As I explained, we’re between ‘homes’ at the moment. After this week in the pied-à-terre – tiny, old and eccentric with a bathroom in a cupboard – we’re off tomorrow to our next place for two and a half weeks, then it’ll be onto another one for a month. Luckily Coco is not a child who craves consistency and like me, is excited by the prospect of new.

And the home schooling? Not good. We barely do any and when we do, Coco tells me I’m the worst teacher ever. How bad is that? But then she has learned at least five new French words in the last few weeks. That’s got to count for something right?

(Actually, it is worrying me. If anyone knows of someone in Paris who wears a beret and can home school a child, please get in contact with me. Okay, the beret is negotiable.)

 —

This suburb has been brought to you by Jen Robinson

See you next Friday. So long as la pluie stays away.

 

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