Courbevoie Found

The maze of towers
Straight ahead to Courbevoie, somehow, somewhere.

Almost, But Not Quite,
Disappeared Under La Défence

Paris:- Friday, 16. May 1997:- The SNCF ticket controllers are on strike today so it's not certain that trains will be running. But strikes are seldom 'total' and even if I go up to the station and wait around for a while, the fresh air won't hurt.

Today is the eve of a long weekend, with Pentecôte on Monday. Schools seem to be closed next Tuesday for I don't know what reason, and for a lot of kids there is no school on Wednesdays. So it could mean a five-day weekend for some - and if trains do run, will anybody check the tickets?

My train leaves on time and I have a good ticket, just in case. It must be the weather - made me punch the ticket - and now I'm rolling, I don't feel like going downtown.

I have to change at La Défense anyway and I get off the train here as usual. While drowsily riding, I remembered an article in Le Parisien some time ago - something about an inhabitant of Courbevoie whose home was erased.

At one time, across the Seine from Neuilly and Levallvois, there were the communes of Puteaux and Corbevoie. This gent had grown up on the south side of Courbevoie.

After President Pompidou died, all the Little house, under the towers plans to put highrise office buildings within Paris were altered, to locate them all in one place: on top of Puteaux and Courbevoie, and that's how our man lost his childhood neighborhood. It is underneath what is now called 'Paris-La Défense.'

The modest houses soldier bravely on; the first watched over by its pet ceramic stork on the roof.

This was before my time so I do not know if local residents were consulted; whether they were compensated, whether they formed barricades against the bulldozers - or whether they were paid ten centimes on the franc and told to buzz off. I also don't know if the Department of Hauts-de-Seine liked having part of it - beyond its Neuilly and Levallvois parts - ripped off by Paris; but I suppose it has been compensated in some way.

Whatever happened, some local residents can't go home. The way I remember it from the newspaper article, an idyllic corner of the earth was laid under concrete.

I had a friend who once lived in Courbevoie and the only time I visited was at night. Otherwise, if I didn't change to the métro at La Défense, the train would travel on through Courbevoie, to Saint-Lazare - so I've seen parts of it from the train windows. Right beside the tracks isn't all that great anywhere, but Courbevoie didn't look all that down at heels.

On the concrete desert at La Défense, I decide my mission today is to 'find' Courbevoie. There are a lot of directional signs - to Monster Tower, to Monster Tower 2 - and at the very bottom I see one for 'Annexe Mairie.' Sub-City Hall of what, I wonder?

Near it, there is an 'Info Centre' for La Défense. Basically, La Défense is like six aircraft carriers Ordinary houses parked two abreast in line, surrounded by dozens of very high bridge structures. Below decks, there are autoroutes and busstations and way down deep, the heating plants as well as the métro, train and RER lines. Nobody has dreamed up a good map of this, so the place needs the few 'Info Centres' it has.

Carefully-framed views in certain directions, obscure what looms overhead.

There is a map of La Défense. It is a very swish affair with a 3-D effect - to show how high the buildings are, I suppose. To the north there is a blank area, identified in very small type as 'Courbevoie' and there is a similar blank spot in the south for Puteaux.

If you ever get an address that you have to go to in Puteaux, and you are told 'it is right beside La Défense,' do not expect to get there at any agreed time. First off, you will be afraid to leave La Défense because if you've seen the map, Puteaux is blank.

Once on the way there, you cannot tell when you've left La Défense and entered Puteaux; and if you do as I have done, you'll wander back and forth between one and the other, feeling like you are at the bottom of a very deep canyon, surrounded by speedways. You'll meet other people wandering back and forth too, and I strongly advise anyone in this situation to talk to all strangers, to exchange notes and survival tips.

Everything I've written here applies equally to Courbevoie. At the 'Annexe Mairie' in La Défense I was greatly surprised - that it was open - and that it is the annex of the Mairie of - Courbevoie!

So I asked for the direction to the Courbevoie tourist bureau. The lady said there was none. I asked for a brochure about the city. The lady said there was none. So we discussed my excursion for a little bit and I set off in the direction she indicated, sort of north.

Once I got past Monster Tower 39, mall number 14 and Monster Tower 17, I accidently found a stairway that seemed to lead to earth. Five paces beyond it and there was a normal street sign which also had 'Courbevoie' on it.

A few steps further on and I was surrounded by 25 five-year-olds, who were being shepherded from some place to another some place. One little girl was intent to know if I were English and a big argument broke out when another claimed I was German.

I pass the hospital, but I do not see the main City Hall. I see where the SNCF line runs through, but I did not see Apartment building the pizzeria that I see from the train. I see a few bars and cafés and some small shops and some ateliers in courtyards, and a tiny and sad weekly hotel, and everywhere I look, I can see that Monster Tower 39 or 41 is looking down at Courbevoie.

The residents on high floors of this building once had a good view of empty sky.

Side streets reveal bits of original Courbevoie architecture, and as in this kind of suburb, some of these bits are charming - so long as you focus on them and do not look up too much. There is a small house with a ceramic stork on its roof; there are tiny gardens and some private trees. The streets are quiet and there is not much traffic, even on the wider ones.

Judging from the street posters, the only activity coming up is dog racing. I've never heard of it in France before, so I guess it is appropriate that Courbevoie is where you go if you want to see it.

I don't feel like walking all the way back in the direction I came, so I just point myself at Black Monster Tower 11 and head that way. Courbevoie does not say goodbye to this visitor who came on purpose.

If that fellow who the newspaper talked to ever comes back, he should wear a baseball cap with the inscription, 'Don't Look Up.'

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