A Paris Guide
Alternative Paris

Alternative Paris

Paris, I guess like a lot of other big cities and metropolises, has many different faces to it. As a first timer in Paris it is very easy to see only one side of the coin: 'Romantic Paris', 'Paris: City of lights and wonders'... However, a little further away from these stereotypes resides another Paris which may be less romantic but can be really interesting. If you get bored of visiting museum after museum and feel like you are stuck in some Parisian postcard flip over the coin and checkout another other side of Paris.

Generally, its quite simple to separate Paris geographically into the areas that are interesting for me and those that are not. First of all, the southern part (or left side of the river), that is the 7th, 13th, 14th, 15th arrondissements (or neighborhoods) there isn't much. Mostly rich residential areas with not much activity. Secondly there are the central neighborhoods, the 1st - 6th, where we can find the postcard Paris with all its famous museums, galleries and tourists. Finally, there is north-east Paris or the 10th, 11th, 18th - 20th) where things start to get more interesting and there is quite a lot of local activity, places to go out and just less tourist attractions.

So away from the Eiffel Tower and Moulin Rouge...

Graffiti in Paris

Squats and Associative Art Spaces

Paris, home of the people's revolution against the king and the 'May 1968' student revolts has a long history of political and social uprising. Today in contemporary Paris you can find alternative political and cultural activity in various squats or social centers. These are abandoned buildings (often government owned) that have been occupied and re-appropriated by groups of artists, performers, activists, musicians or just people that need a roof over their head. Paris has seen many years of this squatting tradition and though many of them have been closed down, a lot are opening and some have managed to become legitimate and are supported by local municipalities.

Electron Libre, Paris

For example the very famous squat "Electron Libre Chez Robert" which is situated right in the heart of Paris at 59 rue de Rivoli was once said to be the 4th most visited tourist attraction of Paris and so was closed to the public a couple of years back due to health and safety precautions. However, when walking by rue de Rivoli you can still admire the eccentrically decorated facade of this typical Parisian apartment building.

Les Frigos

Many squats are home to the ateliers and workshops of artists, the "Les Frigos" for example is home to about 100 artist ateliers, although nobody lives there. This 80 year old building (photo) was once a giant refrigerator producing ice hence its name which means 'the fridges'. Now it has been re-appropriated by numerous artists and its facade is filled with some impressive graffiti and mural art. Although the ateliers are usually closed to the public, there is a nice little gallery on the ground floor that has contemporary independent art and also a café. Sometimes, they have punctual events or 'open days' which you can check out on their site www.les-frigos.com, its address is 19 rue des frigos in the 13th (metro Bibliotheque F.Mitterand).

Another well known and quasi officialised squat is "La Générale" , an immense building with around 15 people living permanently and a collective of about 50 people occupying the ateliers and workshops on the three floors. They have a gallery which is very well known and often shows quite avant-garde work of upcoming or even established artists. As well, they often organize what is called a 'fête du quartier' (neighborhood party) which includes concerts, performances, theatre and an "open scene" where anybody can come up and perform! Like other squats, there is a very mixed variety of people ranging from children that go to the school opposite, to students, to young couples with babies. For more information and to check out for events: www.lagenerale.org, its address is 10-14 rue du Générale Lasalle 19th (Metro Pyrennée ou Belleville)

Not far from "La Générale", in the 11th is a squat that was opened several years ago and has been very active in the neighborhood ever since. Installed in an ancient school, "La Petite Rockette" has established a very good name for itself with a variety of open courses ranging from capoiera to IT classes for the elderly. They have a very busy schedule packed with expositions, concerts and theatre. Their impact on the neighborhood is really evident and the fact that everything is run by volunteers makes it all the more impressive. As it is relatively speaking quite a new squat, there is a lot of energy and motivation to keep things active and fresh. The best way to find out what's on is to go by between 14h and 20h, from Tuesday to Saturday and there you can probably speak to someone who can give you a flier and maybe a visit. Its at 6 rue Saint-Maur (Metro St.Maur or Voltaire), you can also have a look at their blog: www.rockette-blog.over-blog.com.

If you decide to visit some squats, just keep in mind that as these are precarious establishments that can be evicted over a certain period of time. As well, there is a lot of variation in squats: between them and between the people that are involved with them. So try not to generalize on first view and try and speak to different people until you find someone that is friendly.

Amarandi Paris Market

Puces and Markets

If you have enough of spending money on the Parisian high streets or don't have much money full stop, the Puces (Flea Market) are a fun alternative that can become something like a treasure hunt when looking through piles of bric-a-brac for that little something you always wanted...
There are two weekly flea markets (Puces) in Paris: "Les Puces de Clignacourt" and "Les Puces de Montreuil". In the guides they usually only talk about the market in Clignancourt which is more upmarket than the one in Montreuil. It has a lot of stands which are just like normal shops selling trendy clothes and shoes with pretty much the same prices as much as I know. What is interesting though is its many antique shops which have some very expensive items like paintings, furniture or jewelry. Even if you are not planning to lug a 2 meter oak cupboard back home with you, its still worth a stroll around these specialized antique shops in between the small alleyways of Clignacourt. Acces to it is easy on the metro, just get off at 'Porte de Clignacourt' on line 4 and then follow the signs to "Puces de Clignacourt". This market is open from Saturday untill Monday, from the early morning till about 5.

Paris Flea market

My personal favorite however is the "Puces de Montreuil" which I find has more character and is more bustling. Here things are cheaper and you can find some good deals but be careful because you can also get ripped off! It is definitely acceptable to bargain and even necessary to get a deal, something quite unusual for french standards. At times, you have the feeling that you are in some sort of oriental bazaar with all that shouting and pushing. You can find both new and second hand, although the new goods tend to be quite cheap made in china quality but it depends on what you are buying. If you take your time and have a good look around you can find some good bargains for second hand clothes, cutlery, or just really random stuff. You can find stuff that you'd find in a vintage shop - just less organized and thus, cheaper. If you walk right to the end of the stands and the 'official' market, you'll find a whole street filled with people selling stuff on the street. Here its almost exclusively second hand goods and you can find people selling anything ranging from a jar of string beans to a lawnmower! Although a lot of the stuff here is junk you can always find the odd item that sticks out in which case you can get a really good deal, just make sure its not a rip off because you'll never be able to find them again. The people here have no license to sell so every now and then, everyone instantly packs up and walks away as a van of police slows down. In order to get to the "Puces" you need to get off at the 'Porte de Montreuil' metro stop on the line 9 and then walk to the other side of the highway over the bridge. They are open from Saturday to Monday from around 8am until 5pm when people start packing up, its worth noting that on Monday some things will be cheaper than Saturday because the sellers want to get rid of their stock.

Barbes Market, Paris

As well as the flea markets, Paris has numerous popular markets everyday in different neighborhoods. They sell mostly fruit and veg but there are fish mongers and butchers as well. Depending of course on the area, these markets can vary from over-priced and bourgeois to really cheap and hectic. Its worth a visit, as these markets are a true Parisian tradition and you could even come out with some tasty French cheeses of better quality and cheaper than the shops. As well its the best way to get your fresh fruit and vegetables if your planning to cook or just need some vitamins. The Barbés market, that extends from the metro Barbés-Rochechouart all the way up to metro La Chapelle underneath the overhead line 2, is one of the biggest and cheapest markets in Paris. This market has an Arabic Medina feeling to it and definitely doesn't adhere to any of the Parisian stereotypes. You can go on a Wednesday and a Friday to get your dose of real Paris before heading up to the postcard Sacré Coeur and Montmartre. Opening times are from 7am untill about 2.30pm and of course later on in the day the fresh produce gets sold for less. There are many other markets on every day, here are a couple more:

In the 1st there is the Saint-Honoré market which is one of those bourgeois,expensive markets I was talking about. Wednesdays from 12h30 to 20h30 and Saturdays from 7h to 15h.Metro Pyramides.

In the 3rd, the oldest closed market of Paris and probably France at 39 rue de Bretagne. From Tuesday to Saturday, from 8h30 to 13h and 16 à 19h30 and Sunday from 8h30 to 14h.Metro Temple ou Filles du Calvaire.

In the 11th, there is the Belleville market which is of similar sorts as the one in Barbés. Tuesdays and Fridays from 7h to 14h30, Metro Belleville.

Finally in the 20th, the Davout Market that is quite small and less hectic than Barbés but quite cheap. It's on Bd Davout between Av. de la Pte de Montreuil and Rue Mendelsson. Tuesdays, Fridays, from 7h to 14h30, Metro Porte de Montreuil.

Stephanos Mangriotis

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