The 'No Title' Non-Mystery

photo: petit ceinture cafe fleche d'or

Home of the Fléche d'Or; one of Paris' hot spots

Clueless On Bagnolet

Paris:- Thursday, 7. October 1999:- For years I have had a vague idea to create a private detective character, who slouches around Paris having improbable adventures. This is as far as the idea has even gotten before I turn over and go back to sleep.

I think it is the plots that get me. I've never thought of one of these, so I've never advanced to even producing an idea for a title. Although not for writing, I do have credentials as an investigator - having once chased stolen bicycles for 20 months a long time ago.

Most of the bicycles weren't 'stolen,' of course; only 'borrowed,' so the dick work was mostly matching up the owners with the 'found' locations. Once in a while, we had to get the police lab to turnphoto: wall mural, coffee shop up readable figures from a destroyed serial number - but in most of those cases, the owners had disappeared further into the past than the numbers had into steel.

Where developers have been discouraged; local artists have stepped in.

When I go around Paris now, from old habit, I still note the parts of bicycles I see securely chained to solid metal railings. Sometimes it is a wheel, which isn't much of a clue - but if it is a frame there will be a number on it.

Probably over a million bicycles, mopeds, and scooters are boosted every year in Paris. The cops recover some of them, but have no idea who they belong to unless a 'stolen report' with a serial number on it has been filed. These are called 'complaints against 'X,' which make up the majority of all casual theft charges.

Anyhow, something along the lines of 'Loulou the Bike Dick' is not going to get me into the Mystery Writer's Club, so I kill the alarm and get another 40 winks.

But it is possible I have been missing something here. Metropole readers often ask me to 'find' things and some even ask mephoto: bar, fleche d'or to 'find' people. Depending on my mood, I do look for 'things' sometimes. I seldom look for people because so many are on the 'Liste Rouge' with an unlisted phone number, or are simply unfindable with the Minitel.

The Fléche d'Or's elegant cocktail bar.

You may think I am pretty lazy, but I have been asked to find people whose last known whereabouts was recorded in 1718, and that was in Alsace. Too much 'past' has happened in Alsace, and it is also far beyond the Paris métro lines.

When I woke up this morning I hadn't been dreaming of this detective business, so a while later I was surprised to find myself looking for 'something' near Gambetta. Luckily it was a building built shortly before WWI - 'for the bourgeois' - and it is still here.

This was an easy job. The Metropole reader will be happy to know it is perfectly okay..

Since I've come from the Place Gambetta I don't want to go back there; so I go down towards Saint-Blaise, with its Saint-Germain de Charonne church and cemetery behind it.

Across the Rue de Bagnolet the Saint-Blaise 'village' is a redeveloped area that hasn't been taken up, so it is a bit sleepy - which probably suits its residents.

Instead of going further, down to the Square de la Salamandré, I simply decide to head down the Rue de Bagnolet because I like the name, I am surprised to be on it today, and it is someplace I haven't been for about ten years.

Almost right away I arrive at the old 'petite ceinture' railway station. I remember it from that other time, when it was closed and abandoned, but it is not either of these now.

But first, about this Bagnolet. It was first mentioned on a map in 1675 and where it went through the village of Charonne it was called the Rue au Vacher. With the name Grande-Rue de Charonne things must have picked up - until Charonne was annexed in 1860; then it became the Rue de Paris up to Saint-Blaise, and Bagnolet beyond because it headed that way - to Bagnolet which is just to the east.

Just when people got used to this, the name changed again to Rue de Bagnolet in 1868, practically modern times. If, in these modern times, you find yourself at the old train station for a late evening of live rock-and-roll over the tracks - or outside in the Rue de Bagnolet because inside is jammed to the high rafters - you might consider that the church just up the road, started its life at the beginning of the Middle Ages.

Oh yes, as your eardrums absorb the concussions of regular drums plus wildly amplified everything else, just try to remember that the church's original chapel - according to legend! - was the location of Saint-Germain's blessing - for the first time! - Sainte-Geneviève de Nanterre, who was six years old in 429.

The reason this is only legend, is because it is doubtful that the road to Auxerre climbed the steep rise to the Charonne plateau. Never mind; the present church was put up in the firstphoto: wall mural, au cochon dingue half of the 15th century - except for the lower part of its tower, which dates to the 13th century.

Saint-Germain de Charonne has been restored, often in the 18th and 19th centuries, but fundamentally it is pretty old. Everything around here is pretty old, and pretty well all disappeared.

More paint replaces developer's bulldozers; at the 'Au Cochon Dingue.' Established: 1998.

For example there were no less than four convents. King Henri IV came out here on a tour of rich properties in the suburbs in August 1601; to visit a place King Robert the Pious gave to the Saint-Magloire abbey in 1008. The abbey controlled Charonne until 1576, when it sold its holdings to Simon de Fiez, who sold them in turn in 1586 to Martin de Bragelongne - who hosted King Henri IV in 1601.

The next owner, Honoré Barentin, had Cardinal Richelieu often as a house-guest, as was noted by the Gazette de France in its 12. July 1636 edition. In 1652 on 5. July, Marazin talked Louis XIV into coming out here to see how the battle of Saint-Antoine was going between the king's army lead by Turenne and the army of the Fronde led by Condé.

There weren't many buildings then between the village of Charonne on its heights and the Boulevard de Charonne in the Faubourg Saint-Antoine, so Louis probably had a pretty good view.

All this history, around the church, and 150 metres down the road here is this old, minor, urban train station with the flash name of Fleche d'Or and its junkshop wreckage of an interior, which is about as irreverent as its rock-and-roll entertainment.

It is evident that serious property developers have been around the area because there is a monster high-rise bunker-like parking garage across the way - looking older and far uglier than the church - which has graffiti on it up to about its fourth floor.

A bit closer, the developers have torn down - but apparently abandoned plans for new and modern edifices - possibly because the operation of the Fleche d'Or is 'ruining' the neighborhood.

On concrete-block walls that have replaced shops, some clever sidewalk artists have added colorful new 'shops' to the walls; restoring life - though 'still' - to the area. This must be quite a sight, when leaving the Fleche d'Or around 03:30, to see a comical pork butchers across the way. The taggers have left these murals alone.

If you keep going down the Rue de Bagnolet you can go all the way to Bastille. The further you go the thicker history gets and the name changes to Rue de Charonne, and it finally gives up after curving to the left and ending up at the Rue du Faubourg Saint-Antoine.

If you do it the other way around, as you go out history gets thinner until the bit around the church, and finally the way gets to Bagnolet, and I suppose it is another story.

Along the way I see the usual bicycle carcasses chained to lamp poles but I've long forgotten about being a detective looking for a plot.

In fact I turn off at the Boulevard Voltaire, to check in with a local informant. The shop's shuttersphoto: scenic view of rails are still down, so I ask the lady in the gallery two doors down. She says the informant has 'been around' and comes out to kick the window shutters with me.

It appears to be closed, locked up and empty.

The unforgettable 'scenic' view from the Fléche d'Or is not as viewable at night.

I cross Voltaire to the nearest café with a terrace and ask the barman there. He doesn't know who I'm talking about. He should; maybe he's being cagey. Maybe he's been paid to 'forget.'

Totally clueless, I head up to Léon Blum, where there are many busloads of CRS riot cops. I no sooner ask one of them what they are doing than alarms go off and the whole convoy of them crashes across the place and disappears with blue lights bubbling and sirens wailing, headed up Voltaire towards République.

The evening's TV-news shows the rowdies - 'les casseurs' - having pitched battles - losing ones - with the riot police, while thousands of student demonstrators scatter to safety.

TV-news says 40 were arrested, while showing all their best video clips of les casseurs demolishing shop windows, looting and turning over lighter cars. There are glimpses of tough-looking guys in leather jackets giving les casseurs heavy whacks.

There is absolutely no plot to it at all.

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