Category Archives: Paris

One thing you will NOT find in your Paris guide book: the Belleville graffiti tour

Parental Warning: The following article may encourage your child to vandalize public property in the name of art. 

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Is it possible to adore graffiti without promoting illegal activities? Is this like the square and the rectangle, or am I required to admit to one if I want to have the other? So be it then—I think graffiti, masterfully done and tastefully placed, enriches our society. Take Paris, for instance, with its once-marble-white walls, stained by centuries of dirt and decapitations. A splash of color and a slew of provocative phrases make the place much more interesting and far less dreary. At least that’s what I discovered last weekend.

La Horde UrbaineEnjoy the silenceRue Dénoyez

My friend Matt (merci des centaines fois!) took a group of us on a graffiti tour of one of Paris’s coolest neighborhoods, Belleville. Hip. Edgy. Cheap. Happening. Belleville is the hub of this city’s eccentric, grungy underground.

Whispy Blue Matt and Flora snap a photoWritten on the wall

There is graffiti all over this neighborhood, so naturally there is no set route. However, if you’re going to go on a tour yourself, you should make sure to hit these key spots:

  • Le MUR: This is an ever-changing mural on the corner of rue St. Maur and rue Oberkampf that is supported by the Association Modulable, Urbain, Réactif. The association invites a different street artist to come paint a new mural every month or so. It’s a true example of living art.
  • Rue Dénoyez (pictured above): This is perhaps the most graffitied street in Paris. Full of artists’ studios, restaurants and cafés, Rue Dénoyez is an entire museum in and of itself.
  • La Petite Ceinture: “The Little Belt” (pictured below) is an abandoned railway that runs around the periphery of Paris. It was used back in the 1800s, but was later abandoned in the 1930s as the city evolved. Now, it’s a canvas.

Paint BartHappiness is too shortTunnel

If you’re hoping to see a side of Paris you’ve yet to discover, a graffiti tour of Belleville is sure to deliver. In only a couple of hours you can escape the classic Parisian ambiance and enter the city’s edgy alternative universe.

Now go out there and be a hipster.

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Lessons from Paris: On Privilege and Perspective

On the south end of rue de Rennes, one of Paris’s busiest shopping boulevards, the same middle-aged man sits everyday on the same span of sidewalk holding the same cardboard sign: J’ai faim. Aidez-moi s’il vous plaît. I am hungry. Please help me.

His face is round and tan, his eyes are dark and gentle. Scruff lines his jaw. Dirt covers his hands. He wears a black beanie on his head. He has been sitting near the Rennes-St. Placide bus stop every day for about a month now, and I pass him each morning as I walk to class. Up until a few days ago, our only interaction had been a small smile and a polite nod of the head—and a wink on his part—to kindly greet one another.

This routine suddenly changed at the beginning of this week, when the weather switched abruptly from winter to just-about-summer. It was the kind of day that demands a cute dress and sandals, and that’s exactly what I wore.

Practically skipping down rue de Rennes, I caught the man’s eye. But this time, instead of exchanging our usual greeting, he spoke to me. Ca va? he asked with a sly smile. Oui! Ca va, toi? I replied with the same hint of flirtatiousness. Our “how-you-doin” dialogue was ultimately harmless, but it broke the barrier between us and changed our relationship from formal to familiar.

Perhaps too familiar. Now that we were on speaking terms, I felt it would be nice to show this man the same politesse I show others, like my neighbors and the caretaker of my apartment building. Hence, when I passed him Friday morning, I smiled and asked, Vous allez bien? You’re doing well?

He raised his eyebrows and shook his head—non.

Seconds later I heard the following words ringing in my head like a fire alarm: Check your privilege.

The ability to respond to simple questions like “How are you?” or “Having a nice day?” with a positive answer is a privilege I have always taken for granted. So much so that I figured everybody is “alright,” “not bad,” or “great, thanks! How are you?” I didn’t stop to think about the fact that the man before me, pleading for something to satisfy his hunger, would answer with a resounding “no.” Now, for the first time in my life, I wish I could take that question back.

Poverty is omnipresent worldwide and omni-visible here in Paris. I wrote about the harsh reality of this city’s streets in this post at the beginning of the year. As I said then, Paris is no fairytale. But it is one heck of a classroom.

Here in Paris I’ve learned about not only the severity of poverty, but about the importance of relativity, too. It is only through recognizing the relativity of situations, issues and events that we can recognize our privilege and change how we interact with the world around us. This week I was reminded that although I may be a “poor” student, I am quite wealthy relative to the man who begs on my street, and extremely wealthy relative to the majority of the world’s population.

In fact, based solely on the income I receive from my academic scholarship each year, I am among the top 13 percent richest people in the world, according to this calculator. Perhaps if I calculated my status based upon my material wealth as opposed to my income, I would end up at a lower percentage (considering my “wealth” includes my laptop, my iPod, a vintage cracker-jack tin, The Great Gatsby and an “Ace Ventura: Pet Detective” DVD set). Still, according to the site, it would take the average worker in Zimbabwe 11 years to earn what I receive in one. My monthly income could pay the monthly salaries of 52 doctors in Azerbaijan. That puts things into perspective, doesn’t it?

Next time you feel like griping, take a moment to consider not what you lack, but what you have, whether it be a roof over your head, a loving family, or an education. Take note of how your situation looks relative to that of others, and consider what you can do to share your wealth—material or abstract—with those who have less. What seems like poverty to you may be luxury for someone else. What appears in your eyes to be a tragedy may very well be another’s everyday experience.

Check your privilege. Use it meaningfully.

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One day in April…

Stroll with me through the Luxembourg Gardens, on a Sunday afternoon, in April.

The trees are blooming,

the bees are buzzing from blossom to blossom to leaf.

blossoms Jardin du Lux bee

Bracelets tied on branches to remind the careful eye of summer

waited the winter out and now they bounce in the breeze.

bracelet 2

Boats bobble in the pond,

sailing to the shores of children’s springtime dreams.

Les Bateauxbateaux 2

Le Printemps, est-ce qu’il arrive? 

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I snapped these photos on Sunday. The sun was shining and the people of Paris had come out of their winter hiding places to soak up the warmth. There was a hesitation in the air, as if we all wanted to tear off our coats and brush our bare toes against the grass, but no one dared because we were afraid to declare it Spring too hastily.

We may have kept our coats on this time. But they’ll be off soon.

Smiles and all the best,

Savannah

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We Sleep Until the Sun Goes Down

If you have the chance to see Of Monsters and Men in concert, do it. Don’t hesitate. Don’t check your bank account first. Just do it.

OMAM 3

The folk pop group from Iceland played at Le Trianon on Tuesday night to a full house. As the concert began, the seven musicians materialized out of the darkness in a halo of purple light, the melancholic melodie of “Dirty Paws” echoing in the background. They hit the chorus and the entire amphitheater came alive with a flash of light and a crash of hands. From that moment on, the band, the audience, we were all electrified.

Drummer

Of Monsters and Men gave one of the most genuine, passionate, energetic performances I’ve ever seen. The cracking of Nanna’s voice in “Love, Love, Love,” the ceaseless pounding of the bass drum, the playful laughing between songs—it was obvious that their hearts were in the music, and that they’d captured our hearts with the music, too.

They finished with “Yellow Light,” an eery, yet hopeful song. It seemed every person in the theatre was singing along as the drums beat and beat and beat. We didn’t want to let go of the experience, to lose sight of the yellow light.

Green

Leaving Le Trianon, I felt like I’d just returned from a distant fantasy land filled with magical creatures and surrounded by treacherous seas, inhabited by daydreamers searching for love and clutching at wounded hearts. When I stepped out into the snowy Parisian streets, I realized that perhaps Of Monsters and Men had not transported me to foreign world, but had, instead, merely revealed to me reality.

Funny, what music can do.

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One Last Hurrah (I hope)

OK. I’ll admit it. Paris is beautiful in the snow, and Paris is beautiful when it is adorned in icicles. Never mind the fact that it’s, eh hem, the middle of March.

Here is Paris lately—make sure to wear your snow shoes.

rooftopsFontaine 1 Fontaine 2 Fontaine 3Blvd Montparnasse

Apparently, I chose the best year to move to Paris. According to le Parisien, this winter has been the worst France has seen in several decades. Snow, ice, record-breaking temperatures. Will spring ever come?

Death of a Cactus

Naturally I blame this worst-winter-ever for killing Luz, my darling cactus. She started out so happy and plump and green. Now she is withered and buried in snow.

Rue de Rennes

No matter! Spring must surely be on its way now, and if not, I have posts from my trip to Italy and my Of Monsters and Men concert to share with you (eventually). And if that isn’t enough to make you—and me— smile, then I don’t know what is.

Stay tuned! It’s been busy around here, but I’ll get back to the blog soon enough!

Smiles and all the best,

Savannah

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