The Paris the Tour Guides Avoid


Paris’s 15th probably carries the distinction of being the city’s least loved arrondissement. Though there isn’t much to distinguish it from, say, the 14th arrondissement just to the west, or the 12th crosstown, the 15th languishes in oubli. Tourists eschew it, locals kick it around in jokes, and the most famous attraction anywhere nearby, the Eiffel Tower, is actually about three blocks outside. I once had a tour book that advised its readers to avoid the area altogether.

It’s clear when you enter this arrondissement that you’re still inside Paris; but still, you can’t shake the feeling that maybe, just maybe, you’ve been dropped somewhere else. The famous blue and green street signs are still there, but often the Metro is far away; gone are the hordes of tourists, gone is the whole notion of monumentality, gone are Haussmann’s huge boulevards. Instead, the 15th arrondissement has subtler points of interest: its tucked away little residential streets, its out-of-the-norm commercial throughfares, the contrasts of late 1800s-vintage structures against modernist apartment buildings. Every question Paris has faced in the last 150 years as a city, whether implicitly or explicitly, is there to be seen: functionalism or mixité? Cars or pedestrians? Bulldoze or leave be?

I hadn’t even thought to bring a map with me before setting off for this pocket of town. Generally there’s no use: in Paris, it usually takes no more than five minutes to arrive at a large boulevard, from where it’s usually easy to find either a metro station or a map on the backside of an advertisement. But no less than 15 minutes after stepping off the new Tramway that stretches out along the Boulevards des Maréchaux near the city’s southern border, I found myself entirely lost. Soon after, my state worsened: it began to rain. Then pour. I was saved by the garage entry of a 1960s-vintage compound that faced out toward the entrance to a villa from at least fifty years before, an intimate, tree-lined dead end. It was only too appropriate.

I’m no photographer, but I hope you’ll enjoy this series of photos documenting the afternoon.









This entry was written by Sam Imberman , posted on Sunday June 24 2007at 01:06 am , filed under Europe and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink . Post a comment below or leave a trackback: Trackback URL.

2 Responses to “The Paris the Tour Guides Avoid”

  • Siqi says:

    I may not have remembered it correctly, but the 15th arrondissement is the only segment missing from the film Paris je t’aime. Metaphor much?

  • AJ says:

    Not to overdraw comparisons here, but wow, doesn’t it seem like Montreal is one big 15ieme arrondissement? some of those shots – barring the 6-story greystones which are obviously Parisian – could be anywhere in the Plateau, Villeray or Chabanel, even.