When I first bought my apartment, I thought I knew Paris. As it turned out, I had barely scratched the surface. An outing with my son John helped me fall in love with neighborhoods that I had barely heard of.
When John made his first visit, several years ago, I expected to explore history, architecture and museums. But John, adventuresome and irrepressible, took a more creative path. First, he curled up on the sofa with his laptop and L’Officiel des Spectacles, the magazine of Paris events. I asked what he was up to. “Studying possibilities,” he said.
Minutes later, he unfolded his long legs and grinned. “I’ve found something that you’ve never done in Paris, and we’re doing it tonight. An indie band I like, Akron/Family, is making its Paris debut. Do you know a club named Point Ephémère, in the Tenth arrondissement?”
Nope. I didn’t. The Tenth arrondissement, the area around the Canal Saint Martin, had a mixed reputation – faded industrial area, low rent district, destination for immigrants and homeless. My only visits had been cruises along the canal – an outdated supply waterway, recently re-discovered by tour companies.
I felt a bit intimidated, outside my comfort zone, but lured by the prospect of a new experience. So, armed with GPS and enthusiasm, we navigated to the Louis Blanc Métro and then to the address, 200 quai de Valmy. But it was a locked door marked Livraisons (Deliveries) on a nondescript street.
We searched further, passing shabby shops and new office buildings, run-down clubs and hip restaurants. Finally, down a graffiti-covered ramp, on the banks of the canal, we found Point Ephémère, a utilitarian brick building decorated with giant murals. Inside three hundred spectators filled its concert hall – actually a cavernous storeroom painted black.
John – taller than most, with curly hair – was easy to follow as he navigated to the bar, past an elderly French couple, a trio of teen-agers in headscarves, and a Chinese-speaking group. Spotlights illuminated the American flag that served as a stage backdrop. Akron/Family’s music, described in the program’s creative French, was an “inimitable kaleidoscope of musical folk rock psychedelic byways”. John yelled in my ear, “Listen to the lyrics!”. Impossible over the band and crowd, but who cared? I was having a blast.
At intermission we sat on the berges (banks), watching street lights, dark water and the reflections of pedestrian bridges. Across the canal were the tents of personnes sans-abri (homeless). Next door was a fire station, and occasionally an ambulance made its way among the café tables.
“Are you glad we came?” John asked. Absolutely I was. I laughed to myself. I had anticipated grand monuments, medieval streets and masterpieces. Instead John had uncovered a multicultural crowd, eclectic music and an emerging neighborhood, on a 19th-century canal. And he had broadened my Paris passions.
Since then, I love exploring the city’s transitional neighborhoods – Belleville, Little Jaffna, Barbès, Goutte d’Or, Château d’Eau, Saint Denis. Some are rich with businesses, markets and art. In some, the challenges of poverty and crime are enormous. But the future of the city is developing there, among African hairdressers, Indian silk vendors, Chinese grocers, Mexican street artists, Moroccan restauranteurs, parents pushing prams and engineers toiling in converted warehouses. I want to get to know it all.
Point Ephémère, 200 quai de Valmy, 75010 Paris, 01 40 34 02 48
http://www.pointephemere.org/ An abandoned 1930 construction materials warehouse found new life in 2004 as an artists’ space. It holds residences, performance areas, an art gallery and a café. It was created by Usines Éphémères, a team that converts unused buildings into art destinations.
Canal Saint Martin. The canal flows from northern Paris, under the Place de la Bastille, to the Seine. One of Napoleon’s modernization projects, it was a highway for goods entering the city. It narrowly missed being filled in in the 1960s and now is the centerpiece for a vibrant neighborhood. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Canal_Saint-Martin
The Tenth arrondissement has become hip and fashionable. Residents range from bohemian students to young families to first-generation immigrants. Fashionable shops and Indo-Pakistani restaurants rub elbows. I love its art shows, creative shops, music festivals and picnics on the canal. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/10th_arrondissement_of_Paris
Akron/Family issued six studio albums between 2007 and 2013, then split up to pursue individual projects, leaving the door open for a reunion. https://www.facebook.com/akronfamily/