Having a penchant for cemeteries does not make me unique.
However, perhaps getting excited about exploring the city’s undertakers may appear like a strange way to spend a Sunday afternoon.
Feeling slightly guilty that I had slept in this morning, with this being one of my final two full days that I have left in Paris before I leave, had me feeling a little anxious.
After arriving at Stalingrad metro, the circular building, which once served as a tax gate into Paris and has now transformed into a bar and cafe, was not difficult to miss.
A couple of nights beforehand Julien and I enjoyed a post dinner drink here, bopping away to good music.
Today the area had a different feel about it, a relaxed casual Sunday afternoon feel.
It suited my mood, my anxiousness lifted and a gentle calm fell over me as I strolled amongst the Parisians. This was the perfect setting for me, tired, yet enjoying the balmy sunny winter’s day strolling by Bassin de la Villette, I could not have chosen a better place to be.
Groups of older men, sitting around engaging in conversation, a lone woman, sitting by the canal reading a book, children racing ahead of their parents, scooting along as fast as they could on tiny bikes with trainer wheels.
Dogs of all shapes and sizes, sniffing up interesting smells, interacting with other dogs, checking behind them to ensure their owners were not too far behind.
Lovers kissing, adult children strolling slowly as they chatted with their elderly parents, a child fishing, movie goers deciding which movie to watch and laughter rising up out of the surrounding cafes.
Julien The Tour Guide had invited me to join him at Musée Carnavalet, the museum dedicated to the history of Paris. He was meeting a friend there to research an upcoming tour.
However, I decided to decline the offer and head back out to the 19th arrondissement where Julien and I had had such a pleasant evening, a couple of nights beforehand. I was keen to explore the area and the canal in the daylight.
I was also looking forward to visiting the nearby Le Centquatre.
LE CENTQUATRE is located in a building which was once the city of Paris’ former Municipal Funeral Services.
Back in 1874, a specially designed building was commissioned by the Archbishop of Paris, where all of the city’s undertakers would work for the next 120 years.
Taking on the popular industrial design, similar to the large railway stations of the time and spread out over a colossal 39,000 m², with a cast iron structure, brick walls and glass ceilings over the two main halls, it was here, that a bee-hive of activity took place.
With over 1,000 employees, 300 horses tended to in the 28 stables, 80 hearses, 100 funeral chariots and 6,000 coffins were stored and prepared for the 150 funerals that took place each day, although it was never a mortuary.
AFTER WWII, the funeral procession was motorised and with this the building evolved, housing over 200 vehicles and mechanics to maintain them.
The city of Paris had a monopoly on the city’s funerals right up until 1993 and in 1998, the building was finally closed down.
In 2008, the now protected building became known as Le Cent Quatre, named after it’s address, at number 104 and transformed into an arts and cultural centre. With over 200 artists in residence, the centre nurtures and aids budding artists of all disciplines and cultural enterprises.
Quite overwhelmed when I first arrived and not quite sure what I would encounter, the large arched entry screamed out ‘open’.
That was a good sign to start with.
Sorry for the pun!
The space that can accommodate up to 5000 visitors at anyone time, was a height of activity. A crowd had gathered around a group of youths, with a ghetto blaster nearby, they were shaking out some groovy moves.
I moved further in, bypassing a long line of parents with their children lining up to see the current exhibition and encountered alley ways with unselfconscious youths, spinning around on their heads on polished concrete floors, practicing their break dancing moves.
A lone girl, on stilts, checking her reflection in the massive glass windows as she moved to music and juggled at the same time.
Nearby another girl chatting on her mobile phone, whilst she expertly spun a bright pink hoola hoop with her free hand.
Beside a pretty pink van, adorned with long eyelashes on it’s headlights, which offers beauty treatments, was a young man, juggling balls.
What I spied next was simply amazing, a private function was in creation.
Elaborate chandeliers hung under the enormous glass roof, people were scurrying about, setting long tables with white napery and a multitude of wine glasses, and men hauling stacks of golden chairs on their backs.
I don’t know what or who it was for but I wished I could have been a part of it and I know that a friend of mine would have been excited, simply by the site of the enormous amount of cartons of Louis Roederer Champagne, waiting to be unpacked!
Wow! There was so much going on in every nook and cranny of this vast space, the place was a buzz with activity. Perhaps not unlike the same way it did over 100 years ago, when it was a funeral home.
I found a cafe. Of course there would be a cafe, and I indulged in a croque-monsieur and a coffee. A croque-monsieur, for the uninitiated, is basically a ham and cheese toasted sandwich, except there is nothing ‘basic’ about it.
Walking back through the exciting and invigorating space, peering through the temporary dining room which was almost ready to receive it’s guests, the chefs had been called in for their instructions for the evening.
Clearly the head chef, standing on a platform was giving orders to around 70-100 white hatted chefs, ready to embark on what looked like was going to be quite a grand occasion.
The mystified onlookers ask a security guard what the event was for, I moved in a little closer, in the hope I would find out what this spectacular setting was in aid of but all we got out of him was that it was a private event, end of conversation.
Making my way back to the canal, observing a couple playing shuttle cock and a group engaged in a competitive game of boules, it didn’t seem to bother them that the sun was going down.
Strolling back along the canal, with the twin cinema complexes bouncing the neon lights off the water, I realised that I was very happy to have spent my last Sunday amongst Parisians, doing what they do best, leisurely appreciating their surrounds.
The day was slipping away and I needed to head down to the other side of Paris, it was Sunday, which meant my last dinner at Jim’s for this visit.
Before reaching Jims I had not one but two rendezvous’. One with Julien the Tour Guide and later with The French Historian.
It makes me sound popular but that is not true. Julien the Tour Guide was in the area, teaching Spanish and The French Historian and I were going to venture off to Jim’s together.
It was so nice to catch up with Julien once again and have an aperitif with him before he headed home and nicer still that I could introduce my two friends.
THE FRENCH HISTORIAN and I were privée to something extra special at Jim’s tonight. We were invited to view a spectacular art display.
What I didn’t realise, is that the elegant and talented Iris, a long standing friend of Jim’s, who entertained us with her dulcet tones in a jazz bar on New Years Eve, is also an equally talented artist.
Making use of junk and pieces of metal she gleans from the streets, combined with fabric and paint, she pulls together on canvas, a remarkable heart felt work of art.
Listening to her softly spoken voice as she unpretentiously conveys the inspiration, thoughts, emotions, current events and her feelings about the world around her and how they transformed into her pieces of art on display added more to the experience.
Privileged to be invited into her gorgeous studio, and view her magnificent, eclectic pieces of art was a show stopper for the evening and before we knew it; by the time we returned to Jims, his home was void of people and it was time to leave.
After yet another wonderful night at Jim Hayne’s Sunday Night Dinners, The French Historian and I headed towards the metro station, but as always in Paris, another surprise was around the corner.
The French Historian’s father was to pick him up and finally I would have the pleasure and honour of meeting him. A journalist, an avid photographer and motorcyclist, we shared a lot in common.
I could have spent the entire night in the cafe where we met, but the night was over and it was now slipping into tomorrow and I had a metro to catch.
It is always sad to say goodbye, perhaps hurried goodbyes are easier than long drawn out ones.
Taking flight underground only to discover the metro was closed, I took a cab.
One more goodbye was in order, I arrived late to my favourite, yet empty bar which enabled my good friend and I to have a nice uninterrupted chat, warm hugs and promises of seeing one another next year.
The night had finally come to a close.
I walked the quiet Sunday streets of Paris, with a feeling of elation from my wonderful and varied day and night but at the same time a sense of sadness that the goodbyes had already began.Basin de la Villette – MAP Le Centquatre – official website in English 5 rue Curial 75019 Paris – MAP Jim Haynes Sunday Night Dinners – official website in English Iris Alter – Artist – official facebook page If you are interested in Iris’ art, you can contact her via her facebook page Musée Carnavalet -for more information see Paris Adele Link 36, rue Sévigné
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