March 6, 2012

Exploring the 20ème arrondissement

We did it again. We managed to vist a purely French exhibition. Admitteldy we went off the beaten tourist track and headed out to the 20th arronsissment. Normally foreigners would visit the Père Lachaise cemetary to pay hommage to Edith Piaf, Jim Hendricks, Molière or Maris Callas. Not wanting to go the obvious path, I felt we needed to explore the 20th arrondissement, if we want to discover it. After a bit of research it seems to me that this was the out and down artist corner of the city and therefore was to be lived rather than visited.

Apart from the cemetary Père Lachaise three other landmarks seems to be:
Eglise Saint Jean Bosco
Philippe Starck's hotel Mama Shelter
Le pavillon Carré de Baudouin

We were not disappointed. What is the best-preserved art deco building in Paris? Surprisingly, the answer may well be a little-known neighbourhood church in the 20th arrondissement. Spotlight on a fascinating structure that merits greater recognition.

The Don Bosco church dated from 1933 and was an art deco bijoux hidden in the middle of nowhere. What is most striking is the coherency of the ensemble. This is largely due to the fact that the Maumejean brothers were responsible for the design and construction of the majority of the church's works. Not only did they produce most of the stained-glass windows, but they also worked on the mosaics and the marble fonts and alters. The play of light and colour inside the building is almost theatrical, thanks in large part to a zenithal band of stained-glass windows around the edge of the ceiling. This light sets off the mosaics perfectly.

Pondering around the outside of Père Lachaise we came across more space invaders in half a day than we had seen the past six months! Yes, one of my friends is an invaders collector!!!  Invader is a French urban artist who pastes up characters from and inspired by the Space Invaders game, made up of small coloured square mosaic tiles that form a space invader character mural.

I have never just walked into a hotel to LOOK at it but then again how often does Philippe Starck design a hotel in your neighbourhood? In we went, pretending to be the foreign tourists that we were and...WOW! At the heart of this hotel you can feel the passion and enthusiasm for top quality design and Philippe Starck’s attention to detail is amazing.

Since it was too early for lunch eventhough some of us were considering it (at 11:20!?!) we continued our route towards the Pavillon Carré Baudouin, a building from the 18th century in the style of an Italian villa.

Entering into the building what seemed like a back entrance with our coats and wet umbrellas we walked into yet another free exhibition and were pleasantly surprised by an urban universe of towering churches and skyscrapers in rose-pink and orange, with touches of green or yellow or somber green by Marcel Storr. Little is known about Storr (1911-1976), apparently, illiterate and deaf. He was a humble groundskeeper at the Bois de Boulougne and various other parks and gardens of Paris. He considered himself a genius and hated Picasso, whom he claimed could not draw. Interesting statement, don't you think?!?

Our expedition was topped off by a well deserved, scrumptious lunch at Afrik'N'Fusion with grilled yassa chicken & pineapple ginger juice.

If anybody tells you that all there is to see in the 20ème arrondissement is the Père Lachaise cemetary, hunting for murals and invaders alone will keep you busy all day.

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