Wednesday, 15 October 2008

The Battle of Who Could Care Less

(Rue des Haies, 75020)
I’m starting to accept the belief that photographs can steal a soul. For me though, this doesn’t apply to people, but rather to buildings and places. For the second time since starting this blog I was told to stop taking photos, not this time to protect the integrity of a restaurant’s customers, but rather the soul of a bar. And this time I felt as intrusive as I would have done had I been taking photos of a funeral ceremony in a church.

The bar is a tiny splash of colour in a condemned building, and is named simply Buvette. In a working class district, it would previously have been a vital chain in the area’s life and economy. Workers at nearby factories would have popped in for a coffee before a morning shift, then perhaps for a drink at break or at shift’s end. Operating as a general store too, it would also have provided essential produce for the evening’s supper. Today though, people only stop to take photos, and with each shutter click the life slowly drains from the establishment.

It is situated on the Rue des Haies in the 20th arrondissement of Paris, a street which is a fascinating microcosm of Paris as a whole. The name of the street itself clearly refers back to a bucolic past (hedges or hedgerows), when this street would have been an integral part of the village of Charronne on the outskirts of Paris, but I can't help thinking that it is also the second person singular conjugation of the verb to hate.

This is a street living a modern revolution, on the edge of a part of a city that is not sure in which direction to grow. Should we begin now to build upwards, like the buildings in Square Vitruve? Should we pave over the péripherique and embrace neighbouring towns like at the Porte des Lilas? Should we encourage modern construction and innovation or should we preserve the city’s heritage? And just what place is there today for the working classes in Paris?

The street snakes along a medieval path, but is a construction in work along almost its entirety. A new business centre and student hall of residence are soon to open, and there are also units of whitewashed social housing that wouldn’t look out of place in a Greek village as well as many more bourgeois develoments. In the 1960s when the ‘Buvette’ bar and shop was in its prime, it was apparently one of as many as 71 bars in this street, but all the others have since closed or moved on.

The owner of the Buvette wants to sell up, and is thoroughly tired of prying photographers, but is there a future for anyone in being stuck in the past? Clearly I represent a 21st century intruder, a ‘tourist’ from another time and place who could never understand his establishment. The building that houses the bar is primed for redevlopment, and this should include a unit of commerce, but who or what could replace the Buvette today?

It remains though a beautiful snapshot of the 1960s, with not a single fitting being from the 21st century. In the Ville Musée, perhaps we should also make place for relics from more modern eras, places that still have a soul.

Additional Information:
The Rue 89 web-based news and information agency is now based in the Rue des Haies and has produced a very interesting slideshow on the street and bar (in French).

1 comment:

Peter said...

I was in the area recently (took some photos)and saw what's going on... but I missed the Buvette!

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