Would we find the next Van Gogh in Paris’s Belleville?

When most people think of Paris, they picture the arrondisements closest to the Seine, the single-digit, high-rent, beautified haute couture picture-postcard City of Light. But, there are many sides to Paris, and the Belleville neighbourhood around the 19th and 20th arrondisements stands in messy, defiant contrast to the soignée side of Paris.

Belleville Zoo

Welcome to the Belleville Zoo. Massive graffiti covered a big wall bordering an open lot. Jimi wants to know if you're experienced.

Belleville is the immigrant, artist, left-wing, east end, non-conformist part of Paris. It is where the dispossessed, the ones fleeing persecution in their homelands in Africa, the Middle East and Asia come to settle and make a new start. It is the Paris of Edith Piaf before she became famous.

Business Belleville style

Double click this to get all the details. This is business Belleville style.

Belleville café

You won't confuse this with Blvd St Germain. It's the same street and café as the shot above.

Because Belleville was on the fringes of Paris (it was only annexed in 1860) it was spared the Haussmann gentrification. So Belleville’s small crooked streets stayed, its warehouse buildings tucked into back alley ways attracting musicians and artists who set up lofts with cheap rents.

It was the artist side of Belleville that attracted us. We saw posters advertising three days of artist open houses – over 300 studios to tour – and so we had to have a look.

Scuplture in Paris

Another super model in the making. Watching an artist work answers many of the "how do you do that" questions.

Artist wall

All pinned up and ready for sale.

Window shopping for art

Window shopping for art

Would we discover the next Van Gogh, Gauguin or Toulouse Lautrec here in Belleville just east of Montmartre? Well, as you can imagine, seeing so many studios and galleries quickly gets overwhelming. There were many interesting pieces, but we weren’t there to shop or figure out how to get art back to Canada.

The Paris Opera

Off in a courtyard, we heard the sounds of opera. And there in a doorway was the singer. She took turns with another singer. Tucked inside the room was the accompanist on piano.

Paris opera in stereo

Paris opera in stereo...

This was a funky side of Paris that we really enjoyed. Every kind of art you could imagine, from traditional painting to photography, sculpture, electronic and so on. Out in the street, massive graffiti walls, left-wing protest scrawls, casual cafés and street food.

Cracked wall art

I stared at this for a while, wondering how it was created. Was the plaster coming off the wall anyway, and then a piece of art grew around it? Hmm.

It’s interesting to talk to Parisians who live downtown about areas like Belleville. They look at you funny, turn their noses up. Who would want to go there? It’s so far away (it’s seven Metro stops with no changes from the Belleville station to Chatelet, which is the heart of the right bank). You wouldn’t want to live there…. you can figure out the sub-text. Seven stops on the Metro, yet a million miles away. And so it goes.

Paris Zone Libre

In case you wonder how they really feel in Belleville. You could buy a poster of this in some of the shops.

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