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Belleville: A Beautiful and Colorful Town within the City of Light

Nuit Européenne des Musées - Paris, France

Belleville Métro stationBelleville Métro station

The Eiffel Tower from BellevilleThe Eiffel Tower seen from Belleville

Rue DenoyerRue Denoyer graffiti

Portes Ouvertes des Ateliers d'Artistes de Belleville - Paris, France

Patty's special painting purchasePatty’s special painting purchase

rue Denoyer - Paris, France

Rue Denoyer empty lot, reclaimed by the artistsRue Denoyer empty lot, reclaimed by the artists

Rue Denoyer - Belleville Paris, France

Welcome to Summer in Paris. This week is predicted to be sunny and warm all week long. The windows have been opened, the sandals are on my feet and I hope to kiss the scarves and berets good-bye…at least for a few months.

This is one of the best times to come to Paris — from now through the month of June the city is loaded with fun things to do. This past Saturday night was the annual Nuit Européenne des Musées festival when more than 3,000 museums all over France and Europe were open to the public free of charge.

Ashamedly I missed the opportunity to visit a museum in order to have dinner instead at one of my favorite restaurants — Lao Siam — an Asian restaurant in the second largest “China Town” of Paris — Belleville (49, Rue de Belleville, 75019, 01.40.40.09.68). (There are four China Towns in Paris!)

I’d call it an “off night,” considering that first Patty Sadauskas and I made the mistake of taking a table near the door so that each time it opened, the ding of a piercing little bell went off that sent my senses into overload. Secondly, it wasn’t long before two young guys came and sat next to us, one of which was so pungent from sweat, from whatever he had been doing that day, that there was no way to fully enjoy the delicious fare put before us. I had to keep my head turned away, but it did no good because when the door opened and the bell rang testing my nerves, the odor wafted our way and made it all worse.

I won’t hold either of the two unpleasantries against the restaurant, as I’ve been an aficionado for about 25 years, but now I wish we had gone to an exhibit instead. We left as soon as we could and headed down the hill toward the Belleville Métro.

It was the second time in two days to have a reason to be in the immediate vicinity of the Belleville Métro station — the first was just the day before with clients who have made an offer on two-room apartment just steps away. We now await the acceptance by the seller. Coming out of the Métro just as I was entering to leave the area that afternoon, I synchronistically bumped into another client and newly made friend with whom I was to have dinner that night, but who doesn’t live anywhere near the Belleville station. We were both quite surprised to see one another there.

The area is “colorful,” as I might describe its ethnic diversity. Here is where four districts converge: the 10th, 11th, 19th and 20th. From its highest points, one can have a perfect view of the Eiffel Tower, even if miles away. The hill on which it sits vies with Montmartre for being the highest in Paris. Belleville was the home of singer Edith Piaf and always a working-class neighborhood and haven for immigrants. In the first half of the 1900s, German Jews fleeing Hitler’s rise to power settled there, then the Spanish came. Later the Algerian and Tunisian Jews arrived after World War II. The Chinese came in the 1980s. About the same time, artists found inexpensive ateliers and abandoned factories in which to work and started moving in.

Over the weekend and through today, the artists of Belleville have been offering up their works during the annual “Portes Ouvertes des Ateliers d’Artistes de Belleville.” It was Patty’s second time in the neighborhood, too, who made a special effort to be there at the opening on Friday to find herself a special painting…which she did, and at a real bargain.

Belleville drew us in, some for reasons unknown and others quite obvious. Before heading down the stairs of the Métro, we stopped one street away to take a look at what was happening on rue Denoyez, a pedestrian street of note that is covered from top to bottom with graffiti. After much objection by the artists who had to turn over their keys to their workshops, demolition began last October to make space for a new building that will house about 50 units of social housing and 29 rooms for single women, along with a nursery to accommodate about 50 children. At the moment, the lot is open and ready for building, but that didn’t stop the graffiti artists from decorating every spare spot on the walls around the barren earth. The city claims the new building won’t disturb the integrity of the graffiti-laden street, but you can bet that the walls of it will be covered soon enough.

Currently on the buildings, as the art changes constantly and one must make a trip there regularly to see it, is a painting of Lamine Dieng, a 25 year-old Frenchman of Senegalese origin who died on June 17th in 2007 of what was considered to be unwarranted police brutality and later protested.

Belleville is not only a “beautiful town,” but is also a beacon for creativity, youth and global diversity.

A la prochaine…

Adrian Leeds - Paris, France

Adrian Leeds
Adrian Leeds Group

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