The Beautiful And Bizarre Of Paris
I’VE always had a special place in my heart for the abandoned and unloved of this world, particularly those hidden within the romantic and bustling parameters of Paris. Having toured Paris more than once in my time I have searched for the hidden gems within this city and its suburban hinterland. Little research was required before the internet began spitting out numerous hidden gems. Brothels, nightclubs, zoos, time capsules and entire townlands all waiting to be uncovered and investigated by curious minds. Don’t get me wrong, tourism isn’t too ‘mainstream’ for me, rather I have been-there-done-that-bought-the-t-shirt, literally. Now I yearn for the more exotic and less rose-tinted view of my beloved Paris and that’s just what I found.
I’ll begin in the centre of the city, where time capsules of one kind or another can be found waiting around every corner. Take for example, Madame De Florian’s apartment. With an undisclosed address, it is a very exclusive sight, one which requires local knowledge and approval in order to gain access. This is due to the delicate nature of the apartment’s remaining contents. Madame De Florian died in the South of France aged 91. When her descendants and heirs met with solicitors to discuss her will they discovered an apartment she had been paying rent for for nearly 70 years. Having fled to the south of her native France during the outbreak of World War II, this apartment was left untouched for almost all those years. When her heirs finally managed to gain access they unlocked a Pandora’s Box of undiscovered secrets and wealth. A portrait of a mysterious lady in pink was sold for over three million euro. All other objects were left untouched by the family and now reside in the centre of the city, somewhere, as a representation of a life left unloved – the Belle Époque lifestyle. Legend has it a mysterious wealthy lover had paid her rent in the hope of her return, others maintain Madame De Florian did in the hope of never being discovered as an absent Jew.
Nonetheless, this beautiful apartment remains a hidden gem waiting to invade and obsess your imagination. If you prefer time capsules with some heartbeat, why not try Le P’tit Bar. Situated in the 11em arrondisemment of Paris it is literally the smallest bar in the city measuring a minute 9 metres squared. Upon entering you are met by the welcoming gaze of Madame Polo through thick black framed glasses. The 92-year-old hostess and her companion, a very old but agile grey cat who prances along the bar marking his/her territory intermittently offer a range of beverages, the most expensive of which approximately three euro (a Belgian beer if anyone’s curious). Cages containing canaries, dusty books and old bottles serve as the décor which hasn’t been altered since 1965. A quiet spot, one can enjoy the cuckoo recommendations and life lessons of Madame Polo before continuing on your journey. Be warned: Madame Polo’s age changes daily. Do not question this lightly.
If one wishes to escape the hubbub of the city in search of curiosities and the unusual, one need not travel far. Located within a 30-minute drive of Notre Dame Cathedral is the mysterious ghost town, Goussainville-Vieux Pays. It was once a highly-populated farming village centred around a bourgeois home owned by the descendants of Monsieur Théodore Frapart, who was mayor of this village in the 1800s. However, now it lies desolate. Why, you ask? Charles De Gaulle and his namesake airport. Noise levels tormented residents and forced them to vacate their homes. The town was left to rot and shudder in the shadow of the aircrafts overhead. As the years went on, residents passed away and relatives came in to possession of these decaying abodes who contacted the French government on the status of their inheritance. Upon further investigation it was realised that these buildings were listed due to their architecture and location and there they remain. Untouched and unaffected by society since the 1970s, it is a haven for lovers of the curious and unusual.
Saving the worst and most haunting for last, is the ‘Human Zoo’. In 1907, the French opened a ‘Human Zoo’ for their colonial ‘inferiors’. Creating ‘natural habitats’ reflecting the villages, towns and countries the spectacles or people came to this zoo, known to people of the time as le Jardin d’Agronomie Tropicale; from their homelands knowing their fate. From its grand opening in 1907 until the 1930s, millions crossed the now-haunting threshold of this manifestation of power to marvel at people they considered animal-like and entertaining. This incredibly racist and degrading tourist attraction now lies obsolete on the outskirts of Vincennes woods of Paris. The intricate features of each exotic pavilion, now a thing of the past, remain padlocked, surrounded by signs warning of danger and discarded paraphernalia despite being opened to the public in 2006. The French people, are for obvious reasons, not exactly proud of this blemish on their past, proclaiming freedom and equality. Ergo, it remains untouched and disturbingly like the set of a bad horror movie. You know that shiver you get walking through a graveyard or passing an old asylum? Something similar happens upon this jardin of human cruelty and greed. The remnants of mosaic tiles remain on the floor of the Moroccan pavilion as do the gateways to African pavilions where men and women leered at topless women and chatted about their racial superiority. This haunting destination for the curious requires a strong stomach and shoes as you climb from exhibit to exhibit just over an hour from the city outskirts.
With a taste for exploring and insatiable curiosity it’s amazing what you can find in a city that appears so metropolitan and glamorous. If you, like me, are bored by the usual sights, or have been there, and already have the t-shirt that once seemed a good style choice; yearn for something a little more off the beaten track why not try Le P’tit Bar or the dreaded ‘Human Zoo’. I promise they won’t disappoint!
Photos c/o decoratorsnotebook.co.uk, parismatch.com, messynessychic.com