Archive for May, 2010



TIP: Talk to Strangers (Butte Bergeyre)

Not your typical Paris apartment

A few weeks ago when I was traipsing around the 19th to make sure my favorite places were still my favorite places for a guest post, I stumbled upon a neighborhood I’d never been to before.

Easy to see why. You have to stumble up 100 meters to find it. Butte Bergeyre might just be the most secret hill in Paris.

Luckily I had my walking shoes on and I climbed the many steps to arrive on Rue George Lardennois, the main street of this micro-village. I couldn’t believe what I found: calm, cuteness, and a clear view of the Sacre Coeur.

I passed a community garden, but it was padlocked. I couldn’t tell whether it was still open to the public or not; the sign was so faded it seemed from another era. I wanted to ask the one gardener I saw milling around, but then I noticed he was taking a leak. Hmm. And moving on. (The garden is apparently open from 2:30 to 5:30 PM Wednesdays-Sundays, I later found out).

Community garden of Butte Bergeyre

Right next to the garden stood a small vineyard on a steep hill. Wow! I knew there were vineyards in Montmartre, but not here! There didn’t appear to be any entrance to the vineyard accessible.

Few people were out on the street, giving it that surreal feeling. In due time, however, an older gentleman walking his dog ambled by. Finally! Someone to accost! I just had to know in what magical place I had found myself.

The vineyard and view

“Excuse me, sir, do you know if this is open to the public?” I asked him, waving my arm expansively to encompass all that was before me.

“Ah,” he said, “this vineyard belongs to the City of Paris. They closed it because otherwise it would be overrun with sunbathers.”

No kidding, I thought. A quiet place in the sun overlooking a vineyard with a straight view to the Sacre Coeur. Lots of people would probably be here if this were open.

The kindly gentleman sat down on the bench next to me. I, of course, began peppering him with questions. In turn, he regaled me with a wonderful history.

“See that building?” he said, pointing to a slightly run down square block of a place to the right of the vineyard. “Corbusier’s son designed that.” (Well, that’s what I *thought* he said. Thanks to reader Adam for correcting me. The building is actually the Maison Zilvelli, designed by Jean Welz, who worked with Le Corbusier for a time. Le Corbusier didn’t have any kids!)

The Maison Zilvelli. When I walked to the other side later on, I saw two people working with some sort of sound/video system. Definitely intriguing this neighborhood!

“The most famous designer in the world has a house here, too. [The Australian designer] Newson,” he said.

“And Jean-Paul Goude? You know him?” (Goude is a photographer perhaps best known for his relationship with Grace Jones and a decade-long campaign for Galeries Lafayette).

“Wow, there are a lot of famous people here,” I said.

“Yes, it’s a quartier aussi privilige.”

Who else lives in these houses?

It wasn’t always that way, he assured me. Built in the 1920s, “it used to be a simple neighborhood, but then the Swiss and the Russians started renovating.”

Early in our conversation, he had asked what I did besides wandering around Paris. I told him I was a writer, though wandering around Paris seems as apt a description of what I do as any.

He talked about books. How there were so many out there now. Were they any good? We talked of the difference between New York and Paris. Why do people love that city so much? he wanted to know. I always hear about it, New York this, New York that, but I’ve never been.

“Can you talk to people in New York? People don’t talk to each other any more in Paris,” he said.

“Yes! I know!” I said. “That’s one of the things I miss about New York. The diversity, the energy. I talked to so many different people there. It’s not as easy in Paris.”

Yet here we were, two strangers on a bench, talking.

“You haven’t told me what you do,” I said. Given all he had told me about the neighborhood and its residents, it wasn’t lost on me that he might be renowned, too.

He cupped his hand around his mouth and leaned towards me like he had a secret. “Peintre/sculpteur.”

“I bet you’re famous, too!” I blurted out before I could stop myself.

“Me,” he said, waving me off. “I’m nobody.”

I can’t say I believed him, but I let it go. Did it matter, really? On a bench high above the city, we had given each other a gift. For me, serendipity and good stories. And the friendly anonymous artist? What did I give him? Maybe a reminder of old Paris, where you could stop a stranger on the street then sit talking to them for awhile like there was nothing in the whole world either of us would rather be doing.

My friendly painter/sculptor stranger wouldn't give me his name or let me take his picture. But his dog was willing to pose. Meet Paddy, named for the Irish whisky.

What’s the best conversation you’ve ever had with a stranger? P.S. You know I almost didn’t want to reveal this spot, right?

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paris (im)perfect?

Sion Dayson is paris (im)perfect. Writer, dreamer, I moved to France on – no exaggerating – a romantic whim. As you can imagine, a lot can go wrong (and very right!) with such a (non)plan. These are the (im)perfect stories that result.

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