Flâneries in Paris: The Parc de la Villette

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Flâneries in Paris: The Parc de la Villette
This is the 21st in a series of walking tours highlighting the sites and stories of diverse districts of Paris. I’d long been intrigued by the idea of La Villette. This former abattoir and cattle market, where 12,000 butchers once plied their trade, was transformed in the 1980s into a leisure park, a 55-hectare space to escape the city and do ….. well, what  exactly?  The Porte de la Villette metro station on Line 7 is right opposite the main gate and entrance is free, so it would be easy to go and investigate and a flânerie very different from any other would surely result. I’d leave the cobbled streets, squares and boulevards behind and head into lesser-known territory.  The canal de l’Ourcq and Parc de la Villette. Photo credit: Pline / Wikimedia commons I’d read about the Parcours Jardins et Nature, a route through La Villette taking in a series of little gardens with enticing names: the Mirror Garden, the Dragon Garden, the Shadows Garden. They would, said my source, encourage reflection. Also, there are 26 folies dotted through the park, large red constructions intended – and it was this word which sold it to me! – to egayer, or brighten things up. Unfortunately, I’d picked a rather chilly, dull day and my first impression of the huge, red metal objects was that they were trying a little too hard to enliven the grey of their surroundings.  The large area inside the entrance was thinly peopled, understandable given the not very cheerful weather. I knew that Bernard Tschumi, the original architect of this urban redevelopment project, had been influenced by the philosopher Jacques Derrida’s theory of deconstructionism. I searched for more details on the architecture website dezeen.com and found ideas about disrupting expectations, about fragmenting and reassembling things to enhance, as they put it, “the sense of imperfection and disorder that gives the park its distinctive personality.” So perhaps it was ok to feel discombobulated.    One of the folies in the Parc de la Villette. © Marian Jones Outside the Petite Hall near the entrance, was a large expanse of polished wooden flooring, where a young woman was moving expressionlessly through various yoga positions and a group of teenagers were strutting dance moves to their enormous portable music player. All seemed quite oblivious to onlookers. Passers-by took little notice of them. A nearby folie was a tangle of metal – red, as promised, but also a mass of steel-grey rails and wires – and a signpost indicated a host of venues to explore. I was yet to discover what Vill’Up or Zénith might be, but it was reassuring to note that even in a deconstructed park, someone wanted me to know what was where.
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Lead photo credit : Parc de la Villette. Photo credit: Jean-Marie Hullot / Wikimedia Commons

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Recently retired from teaching Modern Languages (French and German), Marian now has time to develop her interests in travel and European culture and history. She will be in Paris as often as she can, visiting places old and new, finding out their stories and writing it all up as soon as she gets home. Marian also runs the weekly podcast series, City Breaks, offering in-depth coverage of popular city break destinations, with lots of background history and cultural information. She has covered Paris in 22 episodes but looks forward to updating the series every now and then with some Paris Extra episodes.