Sunday, May 5, 2013

Paris 11th Arrondissement

They Have Everything You Need!
There are, in my mind, three basic types of Americans.  The first type is an American who lives their whole life in the same town, city or state, never venturing outside the limits of their horizons.  The second type is an American who travels within the USA and takes the time to visit other states, gaining a wider view of different lifestyles and cultures.  Even though there are accents which reflect the diversity of our heritage, this visitor can rely on speaking English to communicate.  The third type of American is the one who leaves this country and travels to foreign countries.  This requires a bit of physical stamina, a willingness to learn other languages and taste sometimes strange food, and an open mind.

My advice is to travel while you are young.  Too many wait until they retire and then are physically limited in the scope of travel available to them.  I first went to Europe when I was 18 and travelled for three months on a bicycle, visiting 7 countries.  It was the most important decision I have ever made, and I still reflect on the events of that summer, as if they were yesterday.  Later, when I was in my early 40's I lived in Paris for a few years while I was a student at ecole Boulle, living most of that time in the 11th arrondissement.  The city of Paris is divided into districts, called "arrondissement" which are numbered and start in the center, rotating like a spiral out to the limits of the city.

The 11th district is the historic furniture making district in Paris.  It is a district which is not often visited by tourists, as it is mainly full of furniture stores, workshops and the different speciality supply shops which furnish the materials to the trade.  It generally starts from the Bastille and goes to Nation, where ecole Boulle is located.  I walked those streets literally thousands of times, and it became my "neighborhood."

Years ago there was a series on TV called "Barging Through France" with the host, Richard Goodwin.  I just found a copy of an episode on YouTube where he explores the 11th.  A highlight of this video is a visit with my dear friend, Patrick George, who supplies the most exotic materials in France for woodworkers.  This is a special video, where George, in his distinctive beard, speaks English, although with a heavy accent.  I think you will immediately appreciate his personality and passion for the trade which he pursues, and with the understanding that he is the 5th generation of his family to keep the business open.

Enjoy:Paris 11th Tour

Mr. Goodwin ends this segment with a prophetic wish, "Let's hope the developers don't move in too soon and rip out the heart of Paris."  In fact, each time I return to this district, I find fewer and fewer actual ateliers and more and more condos and upscale gift shops.  Paris is changing, and modern lifestyles have little interest in ancient trades.


Renewable Community Power said...

I remember a movie from probably 15 years ago about a girl who loses her cat (unfortunately have no idea what the title of the film is). The backdrop to the story is endless construction work going on in Paris; tearing down and gentrifying the old cityscape.

Was sad to see way back then; but at least the last time I was there in 2001 the centre of Paris still looked beautiful.

W. Patrick Edwards said...

Paris will always be one of the most beautiful cities in the world.

However, the small courtyards and business facades in many parts are changing dramatically.

For example, in marquetry we use a special small nail. It has a head and a very sharp point, and is about 15mm long and quite thin. It is a particular softness of steel which allows us to rivet it in place to hold the veneer packets together.

Years ago the nails were made by an ancient machine in a small building on the East edge of the 11th arrondissement. I would stop in and buy a kilo and bring it back on the plane.

The last time I went there, the building was completely gutted and there was a sign advertising new condos for sale.

It is now normal to see a storefront on Faubourg St. Antoine with "Bronzes" in gold leaf over the door, and purses and shoes in the window.

Most of the artisans and fabricators have relocated to the "zone industrial" some 20 miles outside the city.

W. Patrick Edwards said...

Thanks for the feedback on the bad link. I have fixed it.

Chuck said...

A remarkable video giving an insight to an older and apparently disappearing way of life. Too bad in a way yet I suppose inevitable especially as changing economic forces drive the demand for specialty items. One hopes that in some way the critical things will remain somehow preserved and available to future artistes.

It caught my ear that a very fine music box was playing in the background in the scene at the feather jewelry shop. The noteur gent punching music books for street organs has not gone yet. There are a number of people in Belgium, Netherlands, and France as well as the U.S. who do this.

I believe the series by Richard Goodwin is about 23 or so years old. Was Patrick George's shop then in the 11th arondissement and now is a bit east of there? Or am I map challenged? Was the nail making machine saved and in operation somewhere so you can still obtain these necessary fasteners? Are there any others?

Thanks for posting this most interesting link and a glimpse of what has been.

Chuck Walker

Craig Thibodeau said...

Great video Patrick, thanks for the link. He has quite a few other video of his travels through France that are also interesting, though not woodworking related.

W. Patrick Edwards said...

In fact, Patrick George has his family business in Bagnolet, a city on the edge of Paris. You take Metro 3 to the end terminus which is Galleni. At that point you walk a few hundred yards South on Avenue Galleni to his establishment.

To be precise, the "furniture making" district includes most of the 11th and a bit of the 12th.

The nail company closed. At this point, the only surviving nail company which will make these particular nails is in Lyon, and has a minimum order, which we need to make soon. I am trying to get enough interest in other workers using veneer nails to put together an order. Let me know if you are interested and I can add you to that list.

I agree that this series captures the essence of what it feels like to walk the streets and alleys of that great city. It brings back some great memories.

Chuck said...

Patrick, at some point I shall need some more packet nails. My needs as you might imagine are well below the kilo range but a reasonable amount on the small side could be received.

I had a bit of entertainment by going to Bagnolet via Google maps and looking down via satellite view. Then from street view you can see the sign for the Patrick George concern. Also the entryway and a door just off the Av. Gallieni. At 360 deg. the view was the side of a trash truck which happened to be northbound at the moment the Google photography vehicle passed by. A vicarious trek returning with alas, no "placages".

Anonymous said...

I loved this. Thanks