Letters from Paris: Marché Parisien de la Création

There are some corners of Paris that never make it to the headlines and are never brought to the attention of the world. They are no more than provincial villages, where genuine Parisians go about their daily business, but, as far as I am concerned, they are often what Paris does the best. One such place is Boulevard Edgar Quinet, where a chunk of the old toll walls of Paris used to run prior to 1860.  Today’s boulevard runs perpendicularly to the naughty sex-filled rue de la Gaîté (then known as rue de la Joie, as it was filled with both prostitution and entertainment) which deserves a chapter of its own, and is largely expanded on in my books Around and About Paris. Boulevard Edgar Quinet also bounds the Montparnasse cemetery to the north, area wise a modest house of eternity compared with Le Père Lachaise, but home to the same kind of celebrities and thereby worth your attention just as much. To the west rises shamelessly the Tour Montparnasse, an eyesore and a white elephant whose only justification is the unique view afforded from its 56th floor. The boulevard is pretty in an unassuming way, shaded by several rows of trees, Parisian style. It also boasts some lovely cobbled alleyways behind the poker-faced portes cochères.  Only the few who know the magic password of their digicode can step into the world of unsuspected enchantment that lies behind them. I am among those lucky ones, because I happen to have a pair of friends from California who have a pied-à-terre at the back of one of those alleys, nestling behind the rambling vegetation.   The other thing that few are aware of is that at no. 31 stood the first and only maison close (bordello) on the Left Bank, the celebrated Sphynx, all magnificent art deco and…. believe it or not…. entirely air-conditioned! Yes, back then, in the 1920s! But the main attraction for all is the boulevard’s open-air market, which explodes with the bounty of France every Wednesday and Saturday morning. As I live in the 14th arrondissement, albeit in a different quartier (each arrondissement is divided into four quarters), I come here occasionally, because it’s truly one of my favorites, even though I couldn’t say exactly why.  What was a new discovery to me, however, is the great Sunday happening, when the food displays make way for art. Le Marché Parisien de la Création, chaperoned by the City of Paris since 1994, is held here throughout the year (including August when the rest of Paris shuts down) between 10:00 am and 7:00 pm, allowing some 150 artists to display and sell their works.   Although paintings and sculpture dominate the scene, you will also see here ceramics, jewelry, photography, spectacular hats…. etc. The idea is to give the artists exposure and at the same time to break down the barriers between the often intimidated public and the artists, which tends to be the case in the established art galleries. When art goes into the streets, it becomes more democratic and more approachable.  And how much more special does this venture become when you find out that it is on this very site that the likes of Soutine, Modigliani and Picasso exhibited their works in the early years on the 20th century, at the dawn of their career. The atmosphere is very French, and the artists come from Paris, the suburbs and the provinces. However, there are many foreigners among them (as has always been the case in Paris)-Hector Toro from Columbia and his amazing surreal/esoteric work, whose symbols you could peal off forever and forever more; Raghad, the beautiful Iraqi sculptor and one-time student of César at the Beaux-Arts school, in whose hands a horse has boundless grace, and boundless soul and love to be read in its affectionate eyes; there was a Polish woman, whose name I can’t remember, but whose lonely birds in Parc de Sceaux made me want to have one in my bedroom and also go back right away to the park, where I haven’t been for years. And then there were the French, Serge Rat who celebrates the achievements of modern women (both his mother and grandmother were active, militant feminists from peasant extraction initially) with such works as ‘La Femme qui marche’, whose assertive foot steps forward against an illuminated, abstract backdrop. Jean Pierre Borderie was all color and joy, with lots of happy scenes of Paris street life. He has other facets to his work, including colorful, airy, flat sculptures of lovers, which are bound to cheer your life. There was Frédérique Marteau, my initial contact via the Internet, whose colors of the blazing earth take you to other lands. There was Peter Eichner who perpetuates the medieval illuminated miniature in his own way, using metro tickets to hold entire worlds: the results are stunning. Nicolas Cotton does very interesting painting on fabrics of different textures, but I was particularly taken by his sculptures, which unfortunately he doesn’t always bring over because he doesn’t live in Paris. I am only mentioning some of those I had time to explore as I have so far visited only twice, the second time with Phyllis Flick who came along to take some pictures. I think we both agreed we shall definitely be back! For you, the visitor, it’s a great destination for a Sunday outing, precisely because the touristy bit of Paris is not all that enjoyable at weekends when filled with day trippers. Boulevard Edgar Quinet never gets spoilt by the crowds and is not hyped, contrary to the Bastille. It’s real. It’s genuine. It’s Paris.   And it has two other assets:  On the corner of rue de la Gaîté, stands the atmospheric café de la Liberté, where Phyllis and I ended our afternoon and where Jean-Paul Sartre liked to have his breakfast (away from the crowds that were looking for him at les Deux Magots….). Then, north of the boulevard, in the continuation of rue de la Gaîté, is rue…
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