Tuesday 4 September 2012

The Colours of Montreuil

Perhaps it was the warm sunny weather, or perhaps it was the contrast with ghost town that Paris had become in August, but on a recent walk around the suburb of Montreuil, it suddenly felt like the most colourful place in France. Impressions of this atypical town in photos and words.

Parc Jean Moulin les Guilands
In this urban wildnerness that dominates the east and south east of Paris, only one colour stands out; green. The grass was long and thick, the trees - before the attacks of autumn - heavy with foliage, and even the park pond was covered with an olive-tinged viscous algae. Just outside one of the entrances to the park though I was surprised to see that everything else was in similar tones too, from furniture to fences, weeds to graffiti. 

The Marché de la Croix de Chavaux
On the previous day I'd been in Boulogne to the west of Paris, a town that may as well have locked up its doors and pulled down the shutters for the summer. On a Sunday morning at the Marché de la Croix de Chavaux though, suddenly I found people, noise and odours...as well as plenty of colour! As it was the Eid festival at the end of ramadan, there was also an air of light-hearted festivity, with groups relaxing over coffee and sticky cakes, despite the swarms of wasps that these treats had attracted. With their brightly-coloured shutters, even the shops that were closed contributed to the party.

École Nationale de Musique et de Danse de Montreuil
The Croix de Chavaux shopping centre is a pretty standard 1960s concrete development, but at its heart stands the extraordinary École Nationale de Musique et de Danse de Montreuil. Looking at the vintage photos on this website, with its accompanying polychrome air vents and orange plastic benches it was clearly once an even more astonishing experience.

You can find unusual structures throughout Montreuil, a sign of the self-sufficiance and self-confidence of a place that often feels less like a suburban neighbour of a big city, and more like a provincial town.

The Terrain Habibou Sow
I was attracted here by the pitchside graffiti and murals, but also by its proximity to the centre of the town. In fact it's so close that a misplaced pass could easily send the ball through the window of the neighbouring Monoprix. This space used to be a pitch without an identity, but in 2011 it was given the name of a local man who had been murdered on a bus. A sign of the times perhaps that local heroes are the victims of territorial battles, but under the observation of surrounding blocks of flats, it at least gives kids a safe place to kick a ball. 

Rue du Capitaine Dreyfus
The Rue du Capitaine Dreyfus is a pedestrianised street that runs through the heart of Montreuil. Whereas such features have become standard and standardised in towns across the world, this street - taking its name typically for Montreuil from a hero of the French left - is somewhat eccentric and scruffy. There are few chainstores here, but rather tables spilling out of Chinese restaurants, or - as in the photo above - vestiges from another time. 

The Metro
The Metro was extended out to Montreuil in the mid 1930s, and the design and typography of this era can be clearly seen in the signage and furniture in the town such as here at the Marie de Montreuil terminus.

An Ice-Cream Van
Also next the town hall is another unusual sight - an ice-cream van. The lady selling the ice-creams was initially unsure about allowing me to take photos of the van until I explained that I'd never seen one in France before. Of course after taking the pictures I also had to sample the produce, and I'm happy to say that it was delicious - and cheap!

Having said that, I only tried one flavour (I could have had an ice-lolly made from peaches grown in the town), whereas the people in the photo had four scoops each. 'I've come all the way from the 19th arrondissement' said the lady in the wheelchair, 'so I'm going to make the trip worthwhile'.

The producer and ice-cream van operator is a Montreuil family called Martinez who have apparently been selling ice-creams in the town since 1935. Don't bother looking online for them though - if you want to find out more you'll have to head down to the Marie de Montreuil Metro stop.

The Wastelands
Like many other towns around Paris, the landscape still has the scars of a recent industrial past. This factory skeleton looks abandoned, but it is in fact currently home to a community of Roms, and a playground for their children. These people have once again been in the news and subject of debate in France this summer, but Montreuil has done more than most other communities to accommodate them. The families here can hope to find a more salubrious and safe environment soon, rather than being shifted on to another town.


gee said...

did the french send all the roms home

Red_Cardinal said...

Home to where?

France is their home *rolls eyes*

Adam said...

Yes, coming mostly from Romania and Bulgaria, they have complete freedom of movement in the EU. The issue this summer was whether the 'illegal' - and patently unsafe and unhygenic - camps should be demolished or not, but the issue then becomes where to house those that are displaced. As I mentioned, the authorities in Montreuil have been very proactive in finding spaces in the town and trying to ensure that the children follow a school programme. In the medium and long term, integrating such communities will always be better then castigating and excluding them.

Red_Cardinal said...

Adam, I agree absolutely with you. :)

I like very much the air vents of the bÉcole Nationale de Musique et de Danse de Montreuil. - Very sixties.

Also, like you I was surprised by the ice cream van. I've never seen one before in France.

PeterParis said...

I feel that our "home" should be wherever we want it to be!

Montreuil? A closer check may be needed! :-)

Anne said...

During our first weeks in Paris, we made the trek out to les puces at Montreuil. The walk from the metro to the market was an eye opener, as was the market itself. That experience taught me that Paris is not a fairy tale land.

Fun60 said...

What an interesting view of Paris I have not yet seen.The furniture on the street speaks volumes.

Adam said...

Anne: Yes, the 'colour' in this post refers not to the painted shutters and warm glow from the sun you might find in the south, but rather the range of people, places and sights in this town.

I did think about taking photos of the puces, but the people there are generally not happy about being snapped!

jade said...

built in the 1960s and 70s, provide a fascinating frozen-in-time snapshot of another - not so distant - era. privatecarserviceparis

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