Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Gardens and Graffiti in Belleville

Belleville in the 20th arrondissement used to be a village outside Paris until 1860. Rising to a hill, one of the highest points now in the city, it holds a reservoir and the best views.  I took a walking tour sponsored by Alternative Urbain, an association who employ SDF - sans domicile fixe or homeless - as guides who give these tours. You can find Alternative Urbain on FB.  What better way to visit the streets of Paris than with people who have lived in them, literally.  The programme was launched a year ago by Alternative Urbaine, a four-member start-up that aims to bring homeless back from the fringes of society.Its motto: tourism "should have a positive effect on society".
Homelessness has long been a problem in the city, but the situation today is very different than it was for the old-time vagrants or colourful characters immortalised in Orwell's 1933 classic, Down and Out in London and Paris.
People begging, living in tents, on sleeping bags or under cardboard sheets is now a common sight after homeless numbers spiked dramatically, a situation blamed on the economic crisis and a sharp rise in housing prices.
 The latest figures from 2012 say more than 28,000 people have no fixed residence -- with a big increase in women and entire families -- while shelters or emergency accommodation can't cope with demand.
This is a great walking tour and even if you only speak English there's an intern who will translate for you. And the price - a donation of one euro. But of course I'd encourage you to slip more in the donation box. Our guide, a Socialist, had lived here and spiced her commentary with how it was and contrasting it to now.
 This street artist, I forget his name, is famous and this little boy is one of his first paintings.
 There are so many well known graffiti artists and here's some samples Sorry, I didn't write down their names but their art speaks.
 Belleville still has a village charm.
 Here's the showers for the sewer workers.
 Because Belleville was a village, on a rising hill they had vineyards, still some vines remain today and they harvest and bottle still. But it's not known for it's elegant taste.
 I loved this artist's work.
 Notice the fish?
 Ancien Jussieu Menilmontant is the manhole over the old stream (Menilmontant is the next village) to Belleville.
 Maurice Chevalier was born down the street.
 We were invited into a narrow walkway with worker housing and gardens now of course the workers have left.
There's even a fig tree.

Let me know if you're going to Paris and I will put you in touch with these folks for a walking tour!
Cara - Tuesday


  1. Brilliant, Cara. The blogpost AND Alternative Urbain's work. I am in love with the painting of the little boy.

  2. Exactly what I was going to say, AmA. Thanks, Cara!

  3. thank you Annamaria and Everett! Check them out on FB
    at L'alternative Urbain. Next week I'll post more about the walk.

  4. Fascinating - I'll be there next May and am interested in their tour.

  5. What an extraordinary idea to involve the homeless in their community. I know about the Coalition for the Homeless in NYC, but never heard of anything quite like L'alternative Urbain. Thanks, Cara.

  6. We stayed in Belleville when we visited Paris in October and loved its villagey, gritty, real atmosphere. What a shame I didn't know about these tours - that's a great idea!

  7. Wonderful pictures, Cara. Has Banksy's work spread to Paris?