Convention-Vaugirard: Paris condensed

Tired of the crowds and traffic when visiting Paris? Looking for a change of pace and a taste of Parisian life that does not involve lining up at a major museum or landmark? Bienvenue to the 15th arrondissement, one of the largest and most densely populated areas in the French capital. A favorite section of mine is Convention-Vaugirard. Parisians have known this area as one of the best-kept secrets in town since the 19th century, when they started moving here, attracted by the peaceful life in the Vaugirard hamlet. They built small houses with pretty gardens in quiet residential neighborhoods. Soon, des commerces de proximité (convenience stores) appeared, and the neighborhood thrived.

Convention-Vaugirard: Paris condensed.

I always thought that if a visitor only had a couple of hours to spend in Paris, and wanted to understand what daily life is like for the average Parisian, they should hop on Métro line 12, and step off at Convention. As soon as you arrive, what makes Parisian – and French – life so special, surrounds you. On the Geneviève De Gaulle-Anthonioz square (a De Gaulle family member always seems to be mentioned in French town centers,) around the recognizable Métro entrance, several iconic landmarks in the Parisian cityscape are displayed in strategic locations, and the small square feels instantly familiar. Illustration:

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La fontaine Wallace, Charles Auguste Lebourg, 1872.
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La colonne Morris
Le kiosque à journaux (newsstand)

Across the street, more familiar sights greet you:

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la boulangerie
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la pâtisserie
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le manège, popular with neighborhood kids on the way home from school

This idyllic scene would not be complete without a market, and a café terrace (or two.)

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Le Marché. Rue de la Convention, (runs on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Sundays)

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Let’s stroll!

I am sure of it: Only Asterix and Obelix (and a handful of hobbits?) enjoyed a more peaceful village life than les Parisiens who have chosen Convention-Vaugirard as their home base. Since there aren’t major museums to visit here, we are left with one option: strolling. If you walk east from le Métro Convention, and head towards nearby 14th arrondissement (Métro Plaisance,) there is much to explore along the way.

La Rûche (the beehive) 

Artists have elected to live in this neighborhood early on. La Rûche, (Passage Dantzig,) was once a thriving artist community created in 1902 by French painter and sculptor Alfred Boucher, where the likes of Apollinaire, Modigliani or Marc Chagall lived and worked. It’s evolved and survived until today. I have stopped by several times but have never been able to sneak in. Still, the view from the street is pretty special, even on a cold day.

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La Rûche, main entrance
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Minou, minou, please let me in!”

Square Georges Brassens:

The Convention-Vaugirard neighborhood is anchored by a park often overshadowed by the expansive Parc André-Citroën, located further west in the 15th arrondissement. Fans of the late singer/songwriter Georges Brassens, (and outdoors enthusiasts) love spending time at quaint square Georges Brassens. He lived nearby for many years. This is one Parisian garden where I guarantee you will not meet many tourists! There is a vineyard there; and it’s a far cry from the former Périchot vineyard in the old Vaugirard hamlet. Still, grapes are harvested every year. There is a beehive, and a vegetable garden where local school children get their hands dirty, a merry-go-round, and marionnette (puppet) shows. On weekends, visitors browse used books at the Marché du Livre Ancien. It is quite unique in Europe and sits under old pavilions built in the 19th century in the Baltard style (that was also used to house the former wholesale food market in les Halles, 1st arrondissement.)

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Square Georges Brassens, on a cold winter day
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Marché du Livre Ancien, where the old horse slaughterhouses used to stand
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The old pavilions

You are getting hungry. It is goûter time. Cross the street and browse the pastry selection at Max Poilâne. Everything looks good, yet to me, un flan parisien often looks better.

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Along the tracks

It’s still cold outside. More strolling is de rigueur. How about a walk along a section of la petite ceinture, the old railroad tracks inaugurated during the Second Empire that used to surround Paris, transporting passengers until the 1930s? You’d need to leave Convention-Vaugirard and head west, to 101 rue Olivier de Serres to find the entrance. I’ve done it, it’s great fun.

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La Petite Ceinture beckons
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Your walk, if you decide to go…

Convention-Vaugirard: {truly} secret Paris

Let’s stay around Convention-Vaugirard, where a couple more discoveries await. Who’s in to visit hidden passageways? Check out tiny Impasse du Labrador (a dead-end street.) Time has stopped there.

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Impasse du Labrador, Paris
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Who lives there?

We have one last stop: la Villa Santos-Dumont, without a doubt the prettiest, quaintest and most bucolic dead-end street in the 15th arrondissement. Built in 1926, it harbors a community of happy-fews who have won big at the Paris real estate lottery. Colorful façades covered in Boston ivy, lofts, private gardens tucked away behind heavy gates, cobbled stones: It’s hard to not envy those who live here, just a few streets away from lively rue de la Convention.

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Villa Santos-Dumont
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Villa Santos-Dumont
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Ville ou campagne?

Do you remember singer/songwriter Georges Brassens, the local park is named after? Originally from Sète, southern France, he lived here from the late 1960s to his death. It seems fitting to let him wrap up this story. A toi, Georges ! (Take it away!)

A bientôt.

Georges Brassens, “Les Copains d’Abord” (Friends first.)

 

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Georges Brassens, Square Georges Brassens, Paris

 

 

 

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