14 January 2019

A Market, A Canal, A Church And A Fountain

My bike ride today took me to alternative universes in Paris.  That's what they seemed to be, anyway.

I encountered the first one after riding some side streets near the Place de Clichy, I wandered up some cobblestoned streets (that were really more like lanes) and found myself at the Porte de St. Ouen.

If you are cycling, walking, driving or taking any other kind of ground transportation, you enter or leave the city through those "portes", which are usually passages under the Peripherique, a highway that rings the City of Light. The location of the "portes" are said to approximate the location of openings in the walls that surrounded the city itself and those outlying towns in earlier times.

Anyway, just after passing through the "porte", I saw a sign for "puces".  No, the French highway folks aren't telling you where to find fleas.  Rather, it's shorthand for "flea market" (marche de puces).  So, of course, I followed it.

I hadn't been to the St. Ouen-Paris flea markets in some time. The hyphenated designation isn't just marketing hype:  Although most of the market's stalls are indeed in St.Ouen, a whole section of stalls lies within the Paris city limits.

Notice that I used the plural:  "flea markets".  That's because there are in fact over a dozen different markets, each of them arranged along different streets of the city.  Or, you might say that the markets are like a city of open-air malls.   The only shopping experience that even remotely reminded me of St. Ouen is the Grand Bazaar in Istanbul.  Of course, they are very different because the GB is covered and, of course, because of the disparate cultures (even if some of the sellers at St. Ouen are Turkish). I don't know which is bigger, but they both dwarf any flea market I've seen elsewhere.

In both places, it's possible to buy just about anything, though there are certainly more antique and vintage-item sellers in St. Ouen than I recall seeing in Istanbul.  But St. Ouen made me think about the term "flea market", which is a direct translation of "marche aux puces". (The French usually call the markets "puces" for short.)  The term is said to have originated because the sellers in the original markets were often homeless, and covered with fleas.  According to what I've read, their practice began in the latter decades of the 19th Century, when much of the city was rebuilt under Baron Haussmann.  (He's the one who replaced the serpentine medieval streets with straight thoroughfares that radiated out from plazas and parks:  Think of the "Etoile" in which the Arc de Triomphe is located.)  As a result of this realignment, many old buildings were torn down, and their contents were left lying  in the streets--where they were scavenged.

Now, I must admit, some things indeed looked as if they were brought in by people (or even dogs or cats) with fleas.  But some other things certainly didn't.

And, while many of the structures that became stalls were old industrial facilites, others looked like they might have given a bourgeois lady or gentleman quite a view.

There are also some interesting contrasts, such as this:

I like it a lot, but it's kind of funny to see the kind of graffiti art you might see in Bushwick or Mott Haven on a building in which old paintings and prints are sold.

Speaking of structures, later in the day, at the other end of town, I encountered a church unlike any I've seen in this city--or anywhere else.

All right, from the outside you might think it's just another late-19th (or early-20th) Century church built in the Romanesque style.  And, in fact,it is, deliberately so:  It was built to replace another church similar in style--on the outside.

Once you get inside, the church still shares some characteristics with other Romanesque churches, including the high, vaulted ceilings--which, of course, are designed to get parishoners to look upward and be reminded of the vast power of God.  But then there's something you've never seen in any other Romanesque church--or, probably, any other church:

Steel girders!  If someone were to build a Romanesque church in Manhattan's Meatpacking District (when meat was indeed a district where meat was packed) or Soho (when it was still industrial), I might expect something like this--maybe.

The girders were taken from the Palais d'Industrie constructed for the 1855 Universal Exposition and torn down in 1891.  And the stone on the outside was taken from an earlier church that had become too small for the community it was serving.

Even though the city made a rather detailed historical marker for it, and the church offers pamphlets and other materials explaining the church's history, I guess they don't expect tourists to visit, as it is on the far southern end of the city, far from better-known sites.  Thus, the marker and the printed materials are only in French--which, fortunately, I can read, so I was able to write about the church (however sketchily) here. 

Along the way, I made other stops at interesting spots--and for a picnic lunch on the Quai de Jemmapes, by the Canal St. Martin.  And near the end of my ride, I stopped at Place Felix Eboue to hydrate:

Well, if I were my iPhone or laptop, I guess I could have hydrated there.  I enjoyed it nonetheless.  It's different and it's Paris, after all! 

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