Montreuil



This weekend, we went to Montreuil for Portes ouvertes des ateliers d'artistes. We visit a few times a year, since friends live at Métro Robespierre, and my husband likes the growlers at Deck & Donohue. North of Paris, just past Vincennes, Montreuil was once famous for its peaches, espaliered by plaster solar walls. Alexandre Dumas immortalized the retired King's Musketeer who first brought a basket of Montreuil peaches to Versailles. Prized by European royalty, the cultivars- reputedly the best in the world- were the inspiration behind Escoffier's peach melba.

 

In the 1970s, Montreuil was home to La Main Bleue, a Philippe Starck-designed discotheque in the middle of a mall. Subsequent decades saw the city devolve into a hotbed of social unrest, organized crime, and drug dealing. The famous murs à pêches went untended and abandoned. Walking around Montreuil, there are glimpses of Paris before Haussmann; a recently launched urban renewal program saw the construction of new, eco-friendly housing units in the impoverished suburb. Fields and community gardens cropped up in the center of commercial districts, where cats nap amidst fallen peaches. Former industrial warehouses were converted to mosques and ateliers. Once a destination for Parisians fleeing small spaces and high rent prices, Montreuil is now home to artists, teachers, refugees, and entrepreneurs. 



The concept of portes ouvertes is this: artists invite visitors into their homes, explain their work, and serve tea, cookies, and juice. It's a great way to buy original pieces direct from the creators, but the fun mostly stems from peeking into converted industrial loft spaces. Everyone covers up their belongings with sheets and curtains, so you'd think you were in a gallery if the oven and dishwasher didn't give them away.

We saw wooden cubist sculptures spanning three stories, canvases embroidered with human hair, naturalist paintings, comic books, and light installations. Some things were too pretentious for me. I think esoteric art is a cop-out and an attempt to conceal limited or nonexistent talent; I also think Taylor Swift is the voice of a generation, so what do I know. Two artists I loved were Daniela Capaccioli and Valeria Polsinelli. Daniela does intricate, transparent wire sculptures, suspended from skylights in her pristine, minimalist loft. We want to buy jellyfish and raindrop sculptures from her, the only problem is how to hang them out of the cats' reach. Valeria just returned from a trip to South Korea with her husband, a beekeeper, which immediately endeared her to me. She came to Paris from Italy thirty years ago and began experimenting with mishima, a traditional Korean slip-inlay technique. We bought a set of her beautiful celadon sake cups- they remind me of teacups my grandmother used. The glaze is non-toxic and food-safe, and all the materials can be re-used infinitely. You can throw pots and take classes at her ceramic studio, Graines de Terre. Another highlight was Le 116, a contemporary art center in a former hotel particulier on Rue de Paris. It is friendly, unpretentious, and showcases the beauty and value of restraint, with an expertly curated collection, thoughtful lighting, and friendly staff.

 
 
 

We bought a nice drawing of Space Invaders attacking a broccoli forest from a 16-year-old boy, who displayed more talent, technical skill, and imagination than any drug-addled poser in a black turtleneck and horn-rimmed glasses. His mom told us they lived in Montreuil for two decades because they couldn't afford Paris. Developers displaced their neighbors to build a "bar for bobos" next door. There's no good English translation for her reaction, but the basic sentiment was longtime residents now find themselves in a douchecanoe with a vintage forklift for a paddle, a sentiment many Montreuillois echoed.

Everywhere you see signs of gentrification gone too far. There are men at Le Rendez-vous des Chauffeurs waiting decades for visa papers; kids rapping to protest the bulldozing of ancient trees; young Malienne mothers unable to buy food because affordable shops were replaced by organic epiceries. I'm oversimplifying, but Montreuil reminds me of Detroit or Cleveland, with the population density of Beijing. It's worth a visit if you're going to be in Paris for a long time, to see the restored murs à pêches, pick up a growler of zero-waste beer, and sample the work of some of France's best new artists. Photos by me, Emmanuel, Kanika, and my husband.

Paris to Go

2 comments:

  1. Love the way you weave a unique story with each post. Is that you in the pictures? I would love to see more of your outfits the way you actually wear and style them. You are always inspiring!

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    1. Hi Tamara! You are so sweet. Thank you so much! That is me in the pictures, as you can see I'm terrible at posing :(

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