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Little corners of paradise and historical tragedies with Marie-Claire



Marie-Claire, our guide, takes us through the secret alleys of the twentieth arrondissement. It's a place where authentic Paris flourishes, far from the artifice of the high streets. "La Campagne à Paris", this little corner of paradise, reveals itself to us. An unexpected oasis, a haven of tranquillity in this tumultuous metropolis.
The houses with their lush gardens are like unspoilt jewels. 
This is where Paris becomes a tale, where urbanity gives way to harmony, where hidden charms burst forth.
"Here, the cobblestones breathe," says Marie-Claire, pointing to the grass that finds a way into their joints, and the wisteria blossoms in defiance of the urban bustle.




In these secret backstreets in the Paris countryside, eclectic architecture weaves an astonishing patchwork, where the houses each tell their own story. Modest working-class houses with simple facades, but proud of their industrial heritage, stand side by side with middle-class residences, adorned with refined details, testifying to the diversity of lives that have evolved here over the decades.



It was here, in this discreet corner of the twentieth arrondissement, that our former head of state, François Hollande, chose to moor up, away from prying eyes, in the company of Julie Gayet. The address is, of course, carefully kept secret, but sometimes the President slips away from protocol to melt into the urban warmth of Place Edith Piaf. There, as the hours go by, he sits on a café terrace watching the city go by, perhaps overhung by the gentle echo of the voice of the Piaf girl, and he simply becomes François, a man in the street.


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The architects' houses, with their avant-garde lines and daring creativity, blend into this heterogeneous whole. It's an urban mosaic, where the differences create a living chronicle of Paris, where every street corner is a fragment of history, every brick a memory, and every window an opening to an unknown inner world.



The metal curtains of shops, guardians of commercial dreams, become the guardians of artistic dreams, a testament to effervescent creativity.



Mural celebrating local celebrities.



The metal curtains of shops, usually frozen in their role as guardians of commercial slumber, become blank canvases for the underground poets of the street... Unleashing their imaginations on these cold, industrial surfaces, spray cans are transformed into wands of magic, breathing life and soul into these steel screens. Each spray becomes a cry for freedom, a silent manifesto, an escape from the ordinary.



The water towers on rue du Télégraphe.
1919 marked the start of a quiet but crucial transformation in the Saint-Fargeau district. Two majestic water towers rose up on the horizon, close to the peaceful Belleville cemetery. This metamorphosis was dictated by the need to keep pace with the rising buildings that are climbing ever higher into the Paris skyline. To guarantee a continuous supply of water to homes in this district, it was imperative to raise these tanks. A challenge that symbolises human perseverance in the face of urban progress. Here we are at the highest point in Paris, 128 metres above sea level.




Marie-Claire is determined to show us a monument in the Belleville cemetery, and we pass the tomb of Léon Gaumont, a French industrialist whose passion for the seventh art left an indelible mark. It was thanks to him that the world's oldest film studios came into being, a cradle of innovation that shaped the history of cinema. The first echoes of talking pictures resounded under his stewardship as early as 1902, followed by the first experiments in colour cinema in 1912, defying the limits of the imagination. The Gaumont brand logo, as immutable as a memory, evokes a simple daisy, a delicate tribute to Léon's maternal first name.



So here we are in front of this sober stele, a memorial marking the sad event of the rue Haxo massacre. In those tormented times, the Paris Commune, in a tragic act, decided to shoot fifty hostages, an act perpetrated under the responsibility of Colonel Émile Gois.
On Friday 26 May 1871, at around 3pm, shaken by the bloody executions of the previous days, a group led by colonel Émile Gois headed for the La Roquette prison. There were around sixty of them. Their sinister request: the delivery of fifty hostages. These unfortunate convicts, led by the federates, were forced to march to the town hall of the 20th arrondissement, where the mayor, Gabriel Ranvier, refused to cooperate in their execution. Along the way, the crowd grew denser and the implacable cry of "Death! Even members of the Central Committee tried in vain to stop the massacre, which was carried out in indescribable chaos. That day, ten priests and religious, thirty-five Paris guards and gendarmes, and four former Second Empire informers met a tragic end.




When we arrived in front of the crèche, Marie-Claire gave us a terrible picture of living conditions in the heart of the 19th century, with women toiling away, babies left in the care of 10-year-old older sisters or entrusted to nannies overwhelmed by the numbers, and many cases of infanticide... It was imperative to combat the tragic infant mortality rate. A glimmer of hope emerged in the district with the creation of the very first crèche. The new crèches emphasised rigorous hygienic care, supported by a medicalised approach to childcare.




Low-cost housing in the Saint-Fargeau district, 28, rue du télégraphe



Villa du Borrégo



A house that seems abandoned in the Villa du Borrégo


"On 3 June, Doctor Levrat, called in to assess the number and nature of the wounds received by Abbé Sabattier, counted no less than eight bullet holes. The lower jaw had been shattered by three shots, one bullet had entered through the left eye and exited, shattering the skull and splattering the brain. Two shots pierced the chest, and two bullet holes can be seen in the middle of the stomach. But, alas! the wretches who had struck him had not been content with this simple assassination; when the victim was removed from the coffin and transferred to his last lead coffin, we saw that the murderers had used unheard-of violence on the unfortunate priest, who had ceased to live. They struck him with the butts of their rifles and with their heels, and broke his limbs one after the other; it seemed to them that the dead man had not suffered enough, and they took revenge for his short agony with useless and horrible mutilations".


Église Notre-Dame-des-Otages

In May 1871, at the height of Bloody Week, the fate of fifty hostages, including ten clergymen, was tragically sealed in the rue Haxo. The Communards, seething with vengeful fury, condemned them to be shot. In 1894, on the very site of their martyrdom, the Jesuits erected a humble chapel dedicated to the Sacred Heart. Gradually, however, the area, once adorned with gardens and meadows, was swallowed up by rapid urbanisation. The original chapel had to give way to a larger church, built between 1936 and 1938 by the architect Julien Barbier. The destiny of this building remained closely linked to the Jesuits, who were in charge of it until 1974. In the courtyard behind the church, a commemorative monument stands in tribute to the martyrs of 1871. A door from the cell of the sinister Roquette prison, once occupied by three Jesuit fathers, has also been preserved, as has a fragment of wall that witnessed the last moments of the condemned prisoners.


Philippe Rebuffet's fresco, which saw the light of day in 2000, stands proudly on a blind gable, emerging between two disparate buildings. Like a clever visual deception, it weaves a vibrant tribute to the valiant firefighters of the Ménilmontant barracks, unfurling majestically on the wall that shelters them. The artist, assisted by Peter Rodgers and the masters of the Ateliers Saint-Jacques, presents us with a captivating scene: a firefighting operation with a large ladder, the rescue of a cat perched on a bridge that irresistibly evokes the romanticism of the Bridge of Sighs in Venice. The subtle interplay of depths, optical illusions and a touch of naturalist inspiration give this work a unique dynamism. At its feet, an antique horse-drawn fire engine, like a relic from days gone by, recalls the glorious past and the enduring importance of the Ménilmontant fire station.


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On rue Saint-Fargeau, we walk alongside the Paule Minck garden, next to the peaceful immensity of the plain of the Ménilmontant reservoir.



In a shared garden, a small fresco evokes a passage from Manouchian's letter to his wife.



In February and March 2012, the artist Popof set about creating a vast fresco, a flamboyant work of art erected in tribute to the legendary Manouchian Group, near the peaceful Surmelin Passage. His father, Alexandr Ginzburg, a dissident writer in the USSR, embodied a lifelong struggle for cultural freedom in the midst of the torments of the totalitarian regime. He endured years in the gulag and forced exile, but persevered in his journalistic mission once in France. 

And it is here, in the Saint-Fargeau district, that this journey alongside Marie-Claire comes to an end. She chose to share with us the last letter Manouchian wrote to his beloved on 21 February 1944, from the dark prison at Fresnes, just a few hours before his execution at Mont Valérien. 
"Get out your handkerchiefs", she warns, as past and present merge in a poignant embrace.


"My dear Mélinée, my beloved little orphan, In a few hours, I will no longer be of this world. We're going to be shot this afternoon at 3 o'clock. It's happening to me like an accident in my life, I don't believe it, but I know I'll never see you again. What can I write to you? Everything is so confusing and yet so clear at the same time. I joined the Liberation Army as a volunteer soldier and I'm dying on the brink of Victory and of my goal. Good luck to those who will survive us and taste the sweetness of tomorrow's Freedom and Peace. I am sure that the French people and all freedom fighters will honour our memory with dignity. As I die, I proclaim that I have no hatred against the German people or against anyone else. Everyone will get what they deserve in punishment and reward. The German people and all other peoples will live in peace and brotherhood after the war, which will not last much longer. Happiness to all... I deeply regret not having made you happy. I would have liked to have had a child with you, as you always wanted. I therefore beg you to marry after the war, without fail, and to have a child for my happiness, and to fulfil my last wish, marry someone who can make you happy. I bequeath all my possessions to you, your sister and my nephews. After the war you will be able to claim your war pension as my wife, because I died a regular soldier in the French Liberation Army. With the help of friends who will honour me, you will publish my poems and my writings, which are worth reading. If possible, you will take my memories to my parents in Armenia. I will die with my 23 comrades shortly with the courage and serenity of a man with a clear conscience, because personally, I have done no harm to anyone and if I have, I have done it without hatred. Today, it's sunny. It is by looking at the sun and the beautiful nature that I have loved so much that I will say goodbye to life and to all of you, my dear wife and my dear friends. I forgive all those who have hurt me or wanted to hurt me, except the one who betrayed us to buy his own skin and those who sold us out. I give you a big hug, as well as your sister and all the friends who know me from far and near, I hold you all close to my heart. Farewell. Your friend, your comrade, your husband. Manouchian Michel P.S. I have fifteen thousand francs in the suitcase in rue de Plaisance. If you can take them, repay my debts and give the rest to Armène."

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