Hora fugit - Un peu de Paris
In the past, Charonne was a village in the middle of vineyards until it was included within Paris boundaries in 1860. It is today very much like a village, even though it has evidently experienced the construction of new streets and avenues as well as the replacement of its old houses by new buildings.
In his reveries of a solitary walker, Jean-Jacques Rousseau has described it when it was still a country village:
On Thursday, the twenty-fourth of October, 1776, I walked after dinner through the Boulevards, as far as the rue du Chemin-Vert; from whence I gained the heights of Ménilmontant, and, pasting through the vineyards and meadows, crossed, as far as Charonne, the lovely manor that separates those two villages; after which, I took a circle, designing to cross the same meadows by another path. While walking through them, I felt that pleasure and interest which agreeable prospects ever give me, frequently stopping to examine plants which I saw among the grass. I perceived two which are seldom found near Paris, though common enough in this place.
These two plants are the hawkweed oxtongue and sickle hare's ear. May be we will see them in the Jardin Naturel (Natural Garden) at the beginning of the stroll. Nearly two hundred plant varieties specific to the Basin of Paris grow naturally in this garden.
hawkweed oxtongue and sickle hare's ear
TWe will walk up to rue Saint-Blaise, which was the main street of the old Charonne village where we will enjoy an other quiet and bucolic public garden located in the middle of old houses.
We will stop at the Pavillon de l'Ermitage, the only remnant of the Château de Bagnolet built in 1727.
The stroll will end at a place called la Campagne à Paris (Countryside in Paris).
Along the rue de Bagnolet, going from an undergrowth ...
to small streets lined with lilac trees.
You can either arrive at metro station Alexandre Dumas or at bus stop Charonne Bagnolet (line 76). Take rue de Bagnolet up to rue de la Réunion on the left to reach the Jardin Naturel Pierre Emmanuel.
Meanwhile on the way, have a look at Villa Riberolle, 35, rue de Bagnolet, which still has many old factories.
A little bit further at 49, rue de Bagnolet, there is an old sign of a factory referring to a Franco-American partnership. It was specialised in the preparation of hare and rabbit hair used in felt to produce hats. You can read more about it in this blog related to the factories in Paris. In the US, same wise, there was the American factory in Brooklyn referring to the French one – Pelissier Jeunes & Rivet – Cutters of hatter’s furs in Paris!
On the way before rue de la Réunion, two interesting bookstores, 51 and 61, rue de Bagnolet ...
The public Garden located below the PèreLachaise cemetery is protecting wild flora and fauna of the Parisian area. These wild plants are the ones that grew naturally here when the area was still a countryside; The songs of blackbirds and chickadees can be heard, as well as the song of the wren, which I recognised with my smartphone app. In this 6000 m2 eco-friendly garden created in 1996, there is a natural meadow, a pond and an undergrowth. It is a very quiet space, kids having their play area across rue de Lesseps.
In his book L'arbre et le vent - Feuilles volantes (The Tree and the Wind) 1980-1981, Pierre Emmanuel observes with acuity and insight our western world, in which our ordinary space is nothing but noise enclosed in a wall of images. Nature itself is polluted by noise. Noise kills inner silence, and makes judgement difficult. Our depth, like those of the seas, becomes unfit for life.
This public garden named Pierre Emmanuel is a unique place in Paris where one can enjoy nature and a precious silence simply festooned with birdsongs. The view of some tombs behind the northern wall of the garden giving a spiritual dimension can also take us into a contemplative state so much pursued by the journalist, poet and academician Pierre Emmanuel.
Let’s exit the garden on rue de Lesseps to go back rue de Bagnolet.
At the end of the 19th century, Paris was circled by a railway (hence its name of Little Belt-Petite Ceinture) built between 1852 and 1867 by eight different companies. People living in the new districts annexed to Paris in 1860, like the villages of Charonne and Belleville were taking this train to reach the center of the city when the Paris Metro did not exist yet. It is indeed the development of the Metro which stopped in 1934 the passengers traffic of the Petite Ceinture. Being near destruction, the Petite Ceinture is now protected by an association and the official owner, the SNCF (the French Railway Network) is supposed to provide a regular maintenance. Some sections of the Petite Centure is even now developed by the city of Paris are open to the public.
The little Charonne railway station was opened in 1856 for the transport of goods and six years later was extended to the passengers traffic.
In May 1995, ten students from the Ecole des Beaux-Arts transformed the abandoned railway station into a café and concert hall (Rock and Electro), named La Flèche d'Or (in reference to the Golden Arrow Railway train). IOne of the most popular place of the Parisian night life in the 2000s, it was shut down in December 2016. It is now owned by the City of Paris since July 2021.
We are now at the corner of rue des Pyrénées, which is leading North to Belleville. In the stroll in Belleville, we walk rue des Cascades, in front of the house where the filmmaker Jacques Becker shot several scenes of the movie Casque d'Or (Golden Helmet), based on the true story of Amélie Elie. In 1902, Amélie, a teenage prostitute, met Manda, a young gang leader who she cheated with Leca, thus generating a war between the two gangs. Shot twice in the arm and the thigh, Leca was taken to the Tenon Hospital (where later Edith Piaf was born) rue de la Chine in Belleville. As Leca was leaving the hospital on 6th of March, 1902, he was assaulted again by Manda's gang here at the corner with rue des Pyrénées. The story made the front page of the newspapers giving rise to the legend of Golden Helmet.
The word Apache used in a newspaper was then invented to name the gang members: "These are the customs of the Apaches of the Far West, and a disgrace of our civilization. In the middle of Paris, at high noon, two rival gangs battled for a girl, a blonde with her hair piled on her head like a prize poodle."
We continue on rue de Bagnolet, up to rue Florian, then rue Pierre Bonnard on the left and ahead passage des Deux Portes, leading to rue Saint-Blaise. On the left, one can have a nice view on the church Saint-Germain de Charonne with its old tower bell rising above the provincial rue Saint-Blaise. But first, let's turn on the right onto rue Saint-Blaise to reach the nice public garden Square des Grès, almost hidden behind the place des Grès. It is a little garden, taking us to the time when it was still the country side. At the entrance there is a backyard with a table, two garden chairs, trees, some grace preserved from the real estate developers.
It provides a very quiet and green atmosphere with glycine, honeysuckle and roses over pergolas in the middle of old houses, in contrast with the high modern buildings taking us back to the reality of urban Paris.
There are always some cats within the shaded pergolas where it is so nice to have a rest.
The street looks like the main street of a country village. In the past the quiet Charonnes village was not only inhabited by workers and craftsmen, it was also highly appreciated by noble families. Like Camus de Mézières, a 18th century architect who was living at 5, rue Saint-Blaise. He was the architect of the Corn Exchange (Halle au Blé) today Bourse de Commerce Pinault Collection in les Halles, and of the Hôtel de Beauvau, headquarters of the Ministry of the Interior. Though listed as cultural heritage, his house was destroyed in 1929 to be replaced in 1935 by the church of the Saint-Cyrille and Saint-Méthode just in front of the church of Saint-Germain de Charonne.
Cour d’une maison
5, rue Saint-Blaise
Atget took a great photo of Saint-Germain de Charonne, which could have been taken somewhere in the country, a village church with its cemetery. Together with Saint-Pierre de Montmartre, there are the only ones in Paris having kept their parish cemetery. All the other Parisian parish cemeteries were shut down and replaced in the 18th and 19th century by the new Père-Lachaise and Montparnasse cemeteries, still outside Paris at that time, with their human remains transferred to the Catacombs in Denfer-Rochereau.
If the 12thcentury squat bell tower seems a little bit oversized, it is because a fire destroyed a significant portion of the nave in the 18thcentury reducing the church almost by half. Rue de Bagnolet was very steep, too steep for the horses pulling heavy carts transporting stones for the construction of the Paris walls (fortifications); this is why the street was leveled in the 19thcentury making necessary to add steps to the church.
Eglise Saint-Germain de Charonne
rue de Bagnolet
For the lovers of the French movies, the final scene of Les Tontons Flingueurs (Crooks in Clover) directed by Georges Lautner, is the wedding in this church. A French actor Pierre Blanchar who played his last role in the Black Monocle (Le Monocle Noir), also directed byGeorges Lautner, lies in Charonne cemetery. Very small, there are about 650 graves, its main attraction is the statue of a man with a bicorne hat, François-Eloy Bègue, known as Magloire. As a mythomaniac, this citizen who planned for himself this life-size statue was claiming to be the secretary to Robespierre, the French Revolution figure; As a bon vivant too, enjoying the good things of life, he would have required to be buried with a bottle of wine.
The Hermitage, a former folly built in the 18th century, is generally open in the afternoon from Thursday to Sunday. It was part of the Bagnolet estate, owned by the Regent of France in 1719 and the favorite residence of his wife, the Duchess of Orléans, daughter of Louis XIV and Madame de Montespan. After her death, it was inherited by her son Louis d'Orléans (Louis the Pious), then to Louis-Philippe d'Orléans (the Fat) who sold the estate. The Hermitage is the only building remaining from the Château. It would have got its name Hermitage from Neo-Classical murals, three of them still exist, representing Holy Hermits.
In the stroll of Sentier neighborhood, more especially corner rue Beauregard, Cléry and Chénier), there is reference to Baron de Batz who tried to save the life of king Louis XVI when taken from the jail in the Temple to the scaffold. Baron de Batz was the owner of the Hermitage ideally located out of Paris for his secret meetings to prepare the escape of the king. Having more luck than his mistress who was arrested in the house and later executed, he managed to save his life during the Revolution.
In 1887, the house was sold to the Debrousse hospital, located next. Restored in 1987, it is now open to public since 2005; the association Les amis de l'Ermitage, is organizing visits and exhibitions.
Let's now continue on rue de Bagnolet up to rue de la Py that we take on the left. Then, take rue Martin Garat on the right and rue Géo Chavez on the right and climb the stairs of rue du Père Prosper-Enfantin leading to a small neighborhood, known as la Campagne à Paris.
The hill is over a former gypsum quarry buried under mountains of debris collected from the construction of the Haussmannian avenues de la République and Gambetta.
Quite an unsteady ground, it was a major challenge for Pierre Botrel, one of the architects selected by the 1907 cooperative society of La Campagne à Paris, a project of one hundred houses for workers and employees.
The project requirements were very strict, rather modern for that time and for a “popular area": on top of the usual kitchen, diner room and several bedrooms, each house had to be equipped with toilets, a bathroom, running water and sewage services.
The first houses were built in 1914 and the last ones delayed up to 1928 due to world war and the economical crisis. Each member of the cooperative had a capital share used to purchase the land and the houses were financed by a government loan permitted by new laws promoting social housing. Paul Strauss and Jules Siegfried, senators very much engaged in providing support to the most destitutes, initiated the social housing laws. In recognition to them, the main streets of the block have their names. Today, the population has changed, not everyone can enjoy a house with a garden in Paris even though they are by no means luxurious.
Georges Perec, a French novelist who was loving Paris, word play and games created several alphabetical wanderings in Paris with specific constraints as for example the names of the streets had to begin with the same letter. May be he would have appreciated that the small staired street with his name is the shortest way from rue Paul Strauss to rue Jules Siegfried. Several of his games together with twenty rather difficult cross-words, one for each of the Paris districts, have been grouped in a book called Perec/rinations.
Our peregrination is ending here. If you go back rue Géo Chavez, you will find the metro station Porte de Bagnolet or the bus lines 102-76-57.