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Paris: A Taste of Charonne


When you visit a city regularly, it's possible to fall into habits: familiar streets, favorite cafes and markets, and welcoming shops. That's happened to me in Paris.

But visiting again with someone new, who's seen a picture, an article, a hint about somewhere else they'd like to see, took me to a part of Paris new to me, with new sights and scenes, and, in even the short time we had, a lure that will surely take me there again.


Charonne, one of the four 'quartiers' of the 20e Arrondissement, is about as far east as you can go in Paris. It's just south of the Pere Lachaise cemetery, and only became part of the city in 1860, and even after that it lived a fairly quiet life; enough so that many of its streets still resemble the period and have occasionally played that role in films.


Wandering from a Metro station towards Charonne, we encountered a number of interesting artworks.


Eventually, we were on Rue Saint-Blaise, with the church of Saint-Germaine de Charonne a beacon ahead of us. The church's oldest bits date to the 12th century, the tower from the 13th. Inside, it had significant renovations in the 19th century.


Saint-Germain is a simple parish church, not a big showplace, but the different shapes and planes from different angles give it a presence that could be felt, both inside and out. In many ways, the 19th century interior work felt older.


Because it was so far out of town in the early 1800s when Paris was moving all its cemeteries outside the city to such then-suburban areas as Pere Lachaise, Montmartre and Montparnasse, the little church kept its own graveyard. Today, it is one of only two churches in Paris to have its own.


Actual ownership of the still-active cemetery may be in doubt; while legal documents may say otherwise, this immense cat appears to have claimed it in his own right, and to have populated it with a number of his progeny.


The cat, we were told, is 13 years old. We learned this from a middle-aged woman who comes to the cemetery most days, and sits on a bench where she wraps one or another of the cemetery cats (but not Papa!) in a blanket and cuddles it. We didn't ask why, and didn't ask for a picture. I wish we had!


There's a darker side to Charonne's history, too: The sign below honors nine demonstrators against France's Algerian War who were killed by police in the Charonne Metro station, smashed under steel grates, only weeks after police killed several hundred Algerian demonstrators along the Seine in Paris.


At home, reading further about Charonne, I discovered it has much more to be seen, including a square and statue honoring Edith Piaf, several hidden and public gardens and a shop that hand-makes rubber stamps, as well as interesting cafes and galleries. No doubt I'll be back—if only to ask more about the cat!



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The best part of every trip is realizing that it has upset your expectations

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