Thursday, May 16, 2013

Africa In Paris - Black, White & Brown

Bienvenue à l'Afrique à Paris - Black Blanc Beur*

I’ve witnessed the African district of Paris morph and evolve over the fifteen years I’ve occasionally strolled through it.  It’s vibrant, it’s edgy; it is culture shock to anyone who has spent most of their time in the 'other' Parisian landscape. 

To the mainstream media, the area of Barbès/La Goutte d'Or is labelled ‘problematic’. To the residents though, they are a diverse community surviving through tolerance and a good dose of humor.

Street Mural. The Marianne figure (in red hat)  is the national emblem of France and represents Liberty and Reason.

This corner of the 18th arrondissement remains very much a mystery to outsiders. It’s long been the landing spot for Black and North African new arrivals yet maintains a strong backbone of traditional Catholic French.

Its narrow streets are chock busy with small businesses offering products from ‘home’. It gets even busier on Saturdays when those who have migrated out to the suburbs return to visit relatives and get news from their villages.   

Trying to wind a way through the open air Déjean market is an obstacle course through fresh produce stands and the sidewalk vendors whose quickly-dismounted cardboard displays spill out onto the adjoining streets.

Déjean Market - when you get there early.

Spill off from Marché Déjean

Dust from new construction blows everywhere. The City has been investing heavily in new subsidized housing for 20 years, their goal is to get rid of the unsafe and unsanitary ‘foyers’ rooming houses. Speculation abounds.   

Community services are plentiful, which gives the district a sense of being a town unto itself, taking care of the health, education, integration and leisure of its own.

Employment, Computer Learning Center

Lessons available for learning to read Arabic - the easiest way!

The Arabic and African mosques, the Saint-Bernard church and the Church of the Nazareen all attract their own. 

Funeral services at Eglise Saint-Bernard for world renown Haitian storyteller and local patron Mimi Barthélémy, May 2, 2013.

Fashion designers, locals, and the stylish flock here to have their African-inspired clothes custom made. With pictures torn from magazines, women head for ‘tailors row’ on Rue Myrrha where talented all-purpose tailors turn 6-foot lengths of wax cloth into beautiful, unique pieces. Or they can buy it ready-made, or browse the City-supported Young Designers shops on Rue des Gardes. 

Giving an African touch to an existing design

Works in progress

City subsidized Young Creators workshops and retail space on Rue des Gardes.

I’ve noticed fewer Magrebin businesses this time, which was confirmed by local Jean-Luc Bombeau. As manager of the EcoMusée art gallery and a 20-year neighborhood resident, he says there are fewer artists, too. The area remains however one of the most affordable in the city so artists still gravitate here. Their work is shown at EcoMusée.

EcoMusée gallery with Eglise Saint-Bernard in back.

You can stroll through the district on your own, or you can get a whole other level of understanding with a guide. Here's Thierry, one of our guides, a Fulbright scholar living in the neighborhood for a year.

And, expect the unexpected..... this hidden residential enclave is in the neighborhood, too.

If you would like to discover this neighborhood with us, contact us.

* Black Blanc Beur was a street expression popularized in the 90s to symbolize multiethnic France, a comparison to the national flag which is referred to as the Red, White and Blue. Beur is the slang for Arabic.

Upcoming Events

Open Door - L’Echo Musée de la Goutte d’Or
Art gallery that showcases the works of the many neighborhood artists.
Includes film screenings, workshops, concerts.
May 24-25
For all ages!

Paroles de Nègres - A Poetry Walk with Amadou Gaye
A very personal and moving interpretation of texts of Aime Césaire, Leopold Senghor,
Leon-Gontran Damas (the fathers of Negritude), Birago Diop, Langston Hughes ... to name a few.
Poems that are sung out, shouted out, personalized.  In French.
June 27
La Reine Blanche, Metro La Chapelle.

28th Annual La Goutte’ Or En Fete - La Goutte D’Or Celebrates
Join in the community-wide activities around the Theme: The Voyage and the Elsewhere
June 28 - 30
Includes - a percussion-based parade, arts exhibits, 5-village display in the park, cooking
Workshops, evening dances.