The last village in Paris - Charonne

In the past, this district was a village isolated in the middle of vineyards until 1860 when the city of Paris extended its boundaries by annexing several surrounding communities. Charonne district has truly kept the soul of a country village even though of course new streets and avenues were created and many of its old houses have been replaced by new buildings.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.

Will it be possible to find the two plants seen by the philosopher in the Jardin Naturel (Natural Garden) to be visited at the beginning of our stroll ?  

  

hawkweed oxtongue    and    sickle hare's ear ...

Hence this public garden is protecting near two hundreds of wild plant species growing in the Paris region.
Then, we will walk up to rue Saint-Blaise, which was the main street of the old village centered around its church and cemetery. We will discover another quiet and bucolic public garden in the middle of old houses, where a nice rest can be enjoyed under the green shading of a pergola.
We will visit the Hermitage (Pavillon de l'Ermitage), a former small pavilion built in 1727 belonging to a large estate of 200 acres, and today the only structure from the Château de Bagnolet.
We will end with a place quite emblematic of our walk  today, called la Campagne à Paris (Countryside in Paris).
Usually, my walks in Paris are very much centered around the places photographed by Eugene Atget, but for Charonne, unfortunately I have found very few. Indeed, as the theme is more the country side in Paris, we will start from an undergrowth …

Jardin Naturel - 120, rue de la Réunion

and end in streets lined with lilac trees.

La Campagne à Paris - Charonne

We start from metro station Alexandre Dumas or from bus stop Charonne Bagnolet (line 76) and take rue de Bagnolet up to rue de la Réunion on our left to go to the public garden  Pierre Emmanuel Jardin Naturel.
Meanwhile on our way, we can have a look at n°35, rue de Bagnolet, Villa Riberolle which still has many old buildings, former factories.
Have a look at this old sign above the entrance of n° 49, rue de Bagnolet, quite emblematic of the industrial times in Charonne at the end of the 19th century. Quite unusual, the sign is referring to a Franco-American partnership. Its business was the preparation of hare and rabbit hair used in felt to produce hats. I have found its story in a blog related to the factories in Paris. And same wise, the American factory located in Brooklyn was referring to the French one – Pelissier Jeunes & Rivet – Cutters of hatter’s furs in Paris!   

On our way before rue de la Réunion, two interesting bookstores, 51 and 61, rue de Bagnolet, quite deserving a stop …

 

  • Villa Riberolle
    35, rue de Bagnolet

  • Villa Riberolle

  • 49, rue de Bagnolet

Le Jardin Naturel Pierre Emmanuel

This public Garden located below Père Lachaise cemetery is quite special as it protects wild flora and fauna of the Parisian area. The wild plants are the ones growing naturally when the countryside was still around Paris and birds like the blackbird, the tit can be heard (the app on my smartphone did even recognize the song of the winter wren ...). Within an area of 6000m2, a meadow, a pond and an undergrowth can be seen in this eco-friendly garden, created in 1996. It is a very quiet space, kids having their play area across rue de Lesseps.

In his book, the tree and the wind – loose sheets 1980-1981, the journalist Pierre Emmanuel was making quite relevant and visionary observations about the western society,  where our ordinary space is merely noise caught within an image wall. Nature itself is polluted by noise. Noise is killing inner silence and is preventing capacity of discernment. Our fundamental depth, like the depth of the seas, is becoming unsuitable to sustain life.   
The public garden Pierre Emmanuel Jardin Naturel is a unique wild place to offer the city dweller with this precious silence only punctuated with bird songs. The discreet presence of tombs behind the northern wall of the garden can even enhance the silence with some spiritual dimension taking the soul of the walker into a contemplative state so much pursued by the journalist, poet and academician Pierre Emmanuel.        

La Petite Ceinture - 102bis, rue de Bagnolet

Let’s take the exit on rue de Lesseps and let’s go back rue de Bagnolet. We walk by Villa Godin, n°85, rue de Bagnolet, protecting its green environment behind a gate.

At the end of the 19th century, Paris was circled by a railway (hence its name of Little Belt- Petite Ceinture) built by eight different companies between 1852 and 1867. 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 forced the passengers traffic of the Petite Ceinture to be stopped in 1934. Being near destruction, the Petite Ceinture is now back and is cared for by its association and by the SNCF (the French Railway Network) supposed to provide maintenance as official owner. Some sections of the belt developed by the city of Paris are open to the public.
Firstly open to the goods in 1856, the small Charonne railway station opened six years later to passengers traffic.
In May 1995, ten students from the Ecole des Beaux-Arts transformed the abandoned railway station into La Flèche d'Or (the Paris to London train Golden Arrow), a café and concert hall (rock, electro). One of the most popular place of Parisian night life in the 2000s, it was shut down in December 2016. Still in its original condition, although its transformation into a concert hall, the place would have been bought by an Irish pub owner.

  • Petite Ceinture
    Rue de Bagnolet

  • Former Charonne railway station

Place des Grès

Let's now cross rue des Pyrénées,  which is leading North to Belleville (see the page in my blog). During our walk in Belleville, we stopped 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 crossroad with rue des Pyrénées. As this was instantly reported by the newspapers, the legend around the Golden Helmet was born; and the word Apache created from an article by the journalist Dupin: "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."

Let's go 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 our left, we have a nice view on church Saint-Germain de Charonne and its old tower bell rising above the provincial rue Saint-Blaise. First, let's turn on our right in rue Saint-Blaise to make a detour by the public garden Square des Grès, almost hidden behind the place des Grès. It is a little garden, which has the nice smell of the old Parisian country, at the entrance there is a backyard with a table, two garden chairs, trees, a grace preserved from the real estate developers.

This public garden, almost invisible from Place des Grès (Sandstone Square - in the past there was here a storage of sandstone paving stones) provides a very quiet and green atmosphere and offers a countryside landscape with glycine, honeysuckle and roses climbers over pergolas.

Being updated ... More to come