When visiting Paris a few years ago I was jaded by the theme-park existence of the central areas. Rather than being the land of Sartre, Picasso and Matisse that I imagined, I found it more sanitised than a wet one. So, armed with my carte orange, I began many days by looking at the metro map and choosing a station as far away from the centre as possible, in attempt to find the real Paris, whatever that means.
Balard station revealed the marvelous Parc Andre Citroen, a green oasis surrounded by fantastic modernist architecture by Le Corbusier and others. Boulogne-Pont du Saint-Cloud felt like the very definition of suburban bourgeois. And the ominously-named Stalingrad station put me in the middle of the gritty .
As I walked the dirty streets amidst the rumble of overhead trains and the roar of trucks on their way to the banlieues, I saw things I hadn’t seen in three weeks staying on the left bank. Graffiti. Children. Immigrants. Beggars. All foreign sights in central Paris, but more a reality of this cosmopolitan city than baguettes and bronze souveniers. The region had such raw honesty and life. I knew I had found what I was looking for.
104, or centquatre, is a new contemporary art venue in the . Housed in a former funeral parlour – a building so huge it must have handled every death Paris, if not all of France – it has been transformed to house studio spaces, offices, cafes and creative services. The centre aims to provide affordable, accessible space for artists, and to transform this lesser-known area of Paris into a centre of innovation.
When I’m next in Paris I’ll definitely be jumping back on the rails to Stalingrad, just to see what all the fuss is about. Once again I’ll experience Paris at its most spectacular. I know it will be better than ever.