Willy Ronis-Views of Belleville Menilmontant in Paris

Looking for china, found photos instead

Carré de Baudouin back of Pavillon Carré Rue des Pyrenees and rue de Menilmontant-Willy Ronis exhibit poster
Carré de Baudouin back of Pavillon Carré Rue des Pyrenees and rue de Menilmontant-Willy Ronis exhibit poster

Sometimes a photo can make us curious, inspire us or wish we could find something…. By the time my sister saw the photos of my vintage chinaware, it was too late. I had already donated the set to Emmaus. I needed it back for her!

The trek to one of the Emmaus stores (Goodwill-style shops founded in 1954 by Abbé Pierre) took me to the north of Paris and the Porte de Menilmontant in the 20th arrondissement. “If I am going to the 20th”, I pondered, “why not check out local art exhibits in the area?” That thought and a quick look at l’Official des spectacles, took me to the Le Pavillon Carré de Baudouin and the photo exhibit “Willy Ronis par Willy Ronis (until January 2, 2019)“.

I never found the China but I found an exhibit that took me some time to view because of the number of images (over 200) and the interesting subject matter (Ronis’s empathy to character in each of Ronis’s images). The exhibit has attracted over 30,000 visitors since it opened four months ago.

Memories of the past

Trees on rue des Pyrenees give that countryside feel

Belleville and Menilomtant are in an area that was long ignored by Parisians, until “Willy Ronis discovered it in 1947”. Some of his images reminded me of times past in my Bastille neighborhood: the cry and image of the vitrier (window repair man) and the bois à charbon café across the street from our apartment building.

Willy Ronis image of the vitrier 1948
Vitrier, who repaired windows, had a mantra crying “Vitrier … vitrier!” The window replacement service is now available on the internet

The vitrier carried his window glass in a frame on his back. Twice a month, he walked down the center of our narrow street. He cried out musically, “vitrier! vitrier!” A recording of his song is long gone. We invited him up once to repair one of our broken panes. Those panes were eventually replaced with double pane windows. His cry was replaced by the traffic noise on our narrow street. The vitrier of today is now on the internet.

Willy Ronis photo of Cafe bois de charbon (for wine, coal, food and coffee,1948
Cafe bois de charbon (for wine, coal, food and coffee

When we moved in to our apartment with its old panes of glass, the four story building across the street was home to a few squatters. A gas explosion in the school had condemned the building and the attached café . Traditionally, the natives of Auvergne (or bougnats) ran all the Parisian charbon (coal) depots, where they sold coal, wine and coffee. Only a homeless man occupied the condemned entry for several years. He is long gone. The condemned school has been replaced by a the school and its modern glass structure. 

Willy Ronis visitor walking up stairs for the exhibit

This types of replacement appear during the exhibition. During one of the exhibition films “Une Journée avec Willy Ronis” (A day with Willy Ronis), Ronis revisits his published images. The fade in-fade out effect takes the viewer from scenes of the 1940s and 1950s to the same place but different view in 1984.

In the second room are some of his first Kodak moments from 1926 (aged 16) to 1936 with his first Kodak camera. Up the stairs the visit continues with self portraits and nudes from 1949 to 2002. Ronis took me around the world of the working population from 1936 to 1950; and showed me the provinces, around France, Europe, more of Paris and introduced me to his family photo moments. (Click on photos to open in larger format.)

What’s for sale

Willy Ronis exhibition Photo album in English and French for sale at exhibition

A small format photo album of the exhibit is available in English and French for 9.90 euros. QR codes on many of the photo labels take you to a website where photos can be purchased. The exhibit itself is free.

Luckily I had my camera with me. I left exhibit inspired to play Willy Ronis. I walked along rue des Pyrenées toward the metro Jourdain. Through the viewfinder I was finding shots and also  found myself waiting for shots and shadows. It was fun to be inspired and turn some of the color photos into black and white and capture scenes that were gone in an instant.

History of the pavilion, its style and use

Le Pavillon Carré de Baudouin
119 Rue de Ménilmontant, 75020 Paris
Open Times: Tuesday to Saturday 1100-1800

Inspired to play Willy Ronis

Meaux, A brie(f) half hour from Paris

Fernand PINAL (1881-1958) Le Pont du Marché à Meaux, 1913, Musée Bossuet, Meaux

You know the typical vacation questions “Got the tee-shirt” or “Got the postcard”!? Well I can say, “Got the Brie (de Meaux)”! Brie de Meaux cheese that is. Meaux is a a 25-minute train ride from Paris.Meaux, A brie(f) half hour from Paris.
One hot August mid-afternoon I took a direct “P” train from Gare de l’Est to Meaux. Many of the Meldois (local residents) within the Gallo-Roman walls had left on vacation. I followed Annabel Simms‘s exact directions past the city hall, the Saint-Etienne of Meaux Cathedral, past the Meaux tourist office and into the Bossuet gardens. The stay was short but gave me a quick overview and a desire to return.

Spectacle Historiques historical shows every summer, Meaux

Shortly after writing a review of Annabel Simms’ book “Half Hour from Paris”, I set out on an afternoon train ride for a Meaux overview from Gare de l’Est to the episcopal city, Meaux. Annabel describes the historical ages (Celtic times to Romans to Middle Ages that jump forward to Paris’ first line of defense in the first World War) and activities of the town (cheese, beer, mustard and carrots), which all intrigued me.

Tip: first stop – tourist office

Meaux Tourist Office entrance

I recommend your first stop be at the tourist office. As a supplement to Annabel’s guide book they have brochures and a Meaux guide in English, “Welcome to the Meaux Region…. moments to share“. The tourist office has maps, open time information, activities and QR codes for audio-guided tours.

La Rose Bossuet “Aigle de Meaux”
La Rose Bossuet “Aigle de Meaux”

The roses were still blooming in Bossuet’s garden laid out in the style of straight French gardens below the windows of the episcopal bishop’s palace. Rows of hundred-year old lime trees led back to the Gallo-Roman ramparts. This is a good moment to join the seated and chatting Meldois residents and read some of the tourist office handouts.

Sculpture below the Gallo-Roman wall of Meaux
Sculpture below the Gallo-Roman wall of Meaux

Later, I read about the garden stairway, which leads to a terrace on the ramparts. This and the cheese factory will be on my next visit. What I did not miss was the hybrid Bossuet Rose (Eagle of Meaux). If the season is right, stoop down and enjoy the delicate fragrance of the bright pink or purple flower that was born in 2004.


Meaux is an 800-year-old city originally inhabited by the Celtic Meldis. Bishop Bossuet, confessor of Louis XIV, lived in the episcopal palace, which dates from the 1100s. Captured in Varennes, King Louis XVI, Marie-Antoinette and their children were escorted to Bossuet’s espiscopal palace for the night before their return to the Tuileries. The palace now houses paintings, some depicting Meaux in its various seasons and activities such as processions, the market and always the River Marne.

Episcopal Palace of the Bishop Bossuet, Meaux in the foreground of the cathedral
Episcopal Palace of the Bishop Bossuet, Meaux in the foreground of the cathedral

The palace dates back to the Cathedral era of the 1100s. Palace extensions and renovations were made in the 1500 Renaissance era, 1600s, 1800s. In 1905 the episcopal palace became government property. In the 1920s, restoration began to convert the palace into a museum. More interesting Wikipedia Meaux history.

Ground floor Bossuet palace 12th century
Ground floor Bossuet palace 12th century

Although it seemed that most inhabitants were on vacation and most of the shops were closed, the air was alive with the sound of music. The organist in the cathedral practiced at full volume and the bells rang to call out the time.

Tip:  additional visits

I would recommend making the visit as a day trip to continue Annabel’s walk along the river, visit the area museums, including an English language tour of the Brie cheese factory, historical quarters and the war museum.

French in English-Theatre in Paris

Publicity photo for Moliere's The Miser or the Scrooge (l'Avare), Ranelagh Theatre, Paris
Moliere’s The Miser or the Scrooge (l’Avare), Ranelagh Theatre

Margot presented a fascinating workshop on Molière the other day. We learned facts, chronological dates, the synopsis of a play and outtakes from the script. She was preparing us for one of the nine Molière plays currently running in Paris.

Molière’s “L’Avare” (The Miser/The Scrooge) is playing at the Ranelagh Théâtre in Paris until May 18, 2019. The language of Molière is spoken (French). For those who wish to coordinate sound with English, supertitles are available with Théâtre in Paris. You pay a bit more for this translation service, ideal seating, and a program in English than you would buying through the theatre booking systems.

Molière has been creeping into my French learning over the years. There is the play that sits only half-read on my bookshelf; the movie of conflicts involving Molière and Louis XIV, Le Roi danse , the one-man show “Molière in Spite of Myself” that Théâtre in Paris translated in 2017. On a Saturday afternoon, I am off to see l’Avare at Ranelagh with Margot’s notes in hand.

More Paris theatre for your visit

Another advantage with Theatre in Paris besides translation is awareness. When you visit a city do you know where to look for entertainment? The Theatre in Paris website is a quick reference to find Parisian French theatre, music, dance, comedy, mime or acrobatics, with or without dialogue.

Currently with Théâtre in Paris, classic and new French plays with supertitles at historic Parisian theatres are Cyrano de Bergerac (Theatre Ranelagh); Le Prénom (Hello My Name Is) at the Edouard VII; and La Légende d’une vie (Legend of a Life) at the Montparnasse).

Who is Molière

In his time, Jean-Baptiste Poquelin was the funny, satirical, confrontational and fearless social critic, creator of modern French comedy; a playwright, actor, director and producer. Molière lived from 1622-1673. Annually, actors vie for the Molière theatre award. The French language is termed “la langue de Molière”. Many of his phrases are still used in current French.

Secret Day Trips Half Hour from Paris

Half an Hour from Paris Annabel Simms' latest release for train trips

Antiquity, countryside and history greet you in Annabel Simms’ book, “Half an Hour from Paris … 10 Secret Daytrips by Train”. First you have to find your way there. Annabel Simms arranges the book like a quality French baguette au levain sandwich: yummy ingredients between the crunchy crusts. This is a book of self-guided walking tours of various lengths.

As I opened this delightful book of colourful land and train maps guided me into tempting synopses of the journey with travel time in minutes and distance. In one sentence, Annabel teased me with one item that would grab my attention at the destination. Cleverly, she tempted me with an option of extending my stay and an alternative return.

How often do you read the preface in a book? Well, you must read this preface and be treated to her gift to you of why this book evolved from “An Hour from Paris” published earlier.

Not only will you learn about the name Ile-de-France, you will pick up French terminology. “How to Use this guide” is really a lesson in using public transportation to reach your secret destinations. That’s the top crust.

More details on getting around and cultural tips are found at the end of the book. You will know the best days to visit the markets, châteaux and museums, have a train traveller’s glossary and chronology of French kings. All of this in “Getting around the Il-de-France” is the bottom of the baguette.

The yummy ingredients are the detailed voyages, including why you want to go into the toilettes of a café/brasserie in Lagny to see the remains of a 13th century church. 

One note: during August be sure to browse the transportation websites for Transilien, SNCF and RATP. Rail work is usually underway in August for the RERs and other lines. I am on my way out the door to Meaux!

Annabel Simms’ website and where to buy the book. Read a review of An Hour from Paris

Foire de Paris-shopping for home fashion

Making the annual pilgrimage to the Paris Home Show (Foire de Paris) is now mission accomplished. However, we are going back for more.

Last year we made contact with the interior architects at the Foire de Paris https://m.foiredeparis.fr/ and chose the style for the new, smaller sofa bed (canapé lit) and chair.

After numerous vacations and conferences we are about to squeeze in and firm up our renovation plans to upgrade the nearly hundred year old electricity to accommodate the 21st century electronics and change the 20-year old wall paper that still seems timeless and get rid of the decades amount of dust and spots on the old, decorated ceiling ….

Each day at the trade show is another animated activity. Friday I arrived in time to hear the Foreign Legionnaires band. On Tuesday the music will be different when I return to the Foire to order the furniture direct from the factory. The factory representative gave me invitations to return with my husband.

Ordering anything at the Foire is the best way to get a good “Foire” price. The price cuts out the third party. We learned this over the years from buying furniture and windows during this trade fair.

Outlets with a view
If you need to recharge your phone, go to the Pavillon 7 with the view of the Eiffel Tower. Along the wall are many outlets.

The Foire runs the last week of April and first week of May. To obtain two-for-one tickets, begin following the Foire’s website or newsletter for their Valentine’s Day special offer. Otherwise, the television magazine Télé7Jours carries a two-for-one flyer on their cover one to two weeks prior to the Foire’s opening.