Friday 10 January 2014

Map Hacking and Murder in the Villa des Ternes

A private community where it is forbidden to wander? That sounds like an invitation for a stroll, especially when it contains places to investigate!

The Villa des Ternes in Paris's 17th arrondissement is a neat warren of tree-lined roads and imposing buildings dating back to the 19th century. It was originally situated outside of Paris, in the grounds of a chateau that once stood nearby, but little by little the city has crept up around its edges. Nevertheless, it remains private, and the gates at its limits are still firmly locked to outsiders.

The first conundrum is therefore how to get inside. Unless you know the codes or have an invitation from somebody there is only one solution; arrive at the gate just as someone is leaving and behave like a person with a reason for being there. The best place for this is the principal entrance on the Avenue des Ternes, and at lunchtimes footfall and vehicle movement are reliably frequent.

Once inside, you also have to accept that everyone will look at you suspiciously. People know each other here and can easily spot an intruder. Nevertheless, no-one asks what I am doing, even when I stand on a wall and pull out my camera. I also get a surprisingly pleasant ‘bonjour’ from a mature fur-clad lady.

It has to be said that housing here is desirable, even if I am fundamentally uncomfortable in such locations. Yes, these houses and apartment blocks are attractive, the streets quiet, clean and leafy, but it all smells of privilege and fear. Is the rest of the 17th arrondissement really so bad that you have to lock yourself away from it? And what is the point of building such showy houses if no-one is able to see them? 

The return of Urgus Tabarovitch
The houses are undoubtedly pleasant to look at (particularly a wonderful curvaceous art nouveau apartment block, lined with polychrome tiles), but the real reason I’ve come here is to investigate a Google Maps curiosity. Hovering over the 17th arrondissement, I’d spotted my old friend, Urgus Tabarovitch, labelled here as a park on one edge of the community. It couldn’t really be a park - just as Urgus Tabarovitch couldn’t really be a Ukranian poet - but what was there in this location? 

The park turns out to be the back garden of a large private house. Hidden behind bushes and shrubs, it is nevertheless possible to spot a couple of sun-loungers (rather impressively in January) and a well-trimmed lawn. During my previous research into Tabarovitch I had managed to get into contact with his creators, but they never mentioned this particular prank. Was this small green square on the map chosen at random, or was there a more explicit reason for choosing this location?

It is tempting to imagine it as a situationist strike on private-property, the digital transformation of a walled garden in a walled estate into a public park. If this were true it would also be a flashback to a previous use of the land. During the Bourbon restoration at the beginning of the 19th century (and before any houses were built here), the gardens of the château des Ternes were initially transformed into a public garden, with rides and attractions.

A cycle of crime
High walls do not protect you from electronic mischief making, and they do not protect you from crime either, especially when we consider that most crimes are committed by people known to us. This was certainly the case at number 9 Avenue Verzy in the Villa des Ternes on April 27th, 1895.

Paul Médinger, the victim on this particular occasion, was a well-known champion cyclist. His successful career had enabled him to buy a small house in the Villa des Ternes development, but it seems he had less luck with his marriage. That said, judging from news reports at the time it does not sound like he was entirely without blame. Le Petit Parisien describes his wife as being cold and unsuited to the cyclist (as well as pointing out that she was two years older than him), and it was therefore understandable that Médinger should seek out a mistress.

By now you can probably imagine where this story is going. Paul Médinger became more and more brazen about his relationship with the other woman (a certain Suzanne X who lived nearby), and spent almost all of his evenings at her apartment. Things came to a head (literally) one afternoon during a heated argument between the couple at their home. Le Petit Parisien details the dispute word for word, then describes how Mrs Médinger shot first her husband through the temple, then herself after having laid down on top of him and entwined her hand in his.

Beyond wondering how the journalist could have gathered together all of these details less than 24 hours after the crime took place (interestingly, the Petit Journal gives another name for the mistress and a slightly different version of events), it also offers a message to all gated communities. Although you might try to lock crime outside, you may in fact be locking it inside with you!


Phil said...

Nice stroll through the 17eme. Love this neighbourhood to be honest even though it gets me weird looks for admitting that.
Thanks for the good read.

Thérèse said...

Such a nice investigation!

T.R. Clark said...

Wonderful read! Thanks. Zee

Tim said...

Urgus Tabarovitch is becoming a bit of a recurring subject then, isn't "he"! Tempted now to head over to Googlemaps and give a formal name to my back garden!

Marc Piel said...

The Chateau des Ternes still exists or what is left of it; try goinfg for a walk along rue Bayen and you will walk through it.

I live in this area, and have seen it completely transformed in the past 30 years. Also had a friend that lived Villa des Ternes for 3 years.

Marc Piel said...

I also had my office very close to the Chateau and my cellar was in fact part of the cellars of the Chateau.

Someone told e that they used to shoot rabits from the first floor windows of the Chateau in the early 1900's.

This was the edge of Paris. I can remember crossing Porte Maillot which was then a no-man's land!

Adam said...

Tim: I like the fact that Googlemaps are both universally used today and apparently easy to hack. It allows us to create a kind of alternative city on top of the real one, and to celebrate imaginary Ukranian poets in people's back gardens.

Adam said...

Marc: Thanks for your comments. I know the building you are referring to, but for some reason hadn't made the link. I think I'll go back and investigate! I may also contact you for more anecdotes about life in the 17th arrondissement if that's ok!

Anonymous said...

Great article, thanks.

Emmanuel said...

Si je ne me trompe pas, le jardin a maintenant disparu de Google Maps.

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