The light in Paris may be legendary but, for a lot of the year, it can be elusive. That’s why no one wanted to waste the recent Indian summer.
Officially, it was art week – with three big-ticket events. Both the Picasso Museum and La Monnaie, the Paris Mint were re-opening, not to mention Frank Gehry’s Fondation Louis Vuitton.
Yet the autumn sun was enough to soften the bleakest site. So most Parisians stuck to their special, local places – those haunts they are about to lose come the winter weather.
Such favourite spaces include parks and quais but also something called la Petite Ceinture. This, the ‘Little Belt’, is a now-abandoned railway. Built in the 1850s to ferry travellers between bigger train stops, la Ceinture was finally closed in 1993. But parts of it provide a high-up view of the city and many of its tunnels plunge beneath Parisian streets.
Because the Little Belt encircled the city’s edge, much of it is overgrown and simply sits derelict. But other paths and stations have been renovated – either by the city or by local communities. Much of the track which traverses the 15th arrondissement, for instance, has become an elevated parkway. Pleasant and wide, it ends (a bit suddenly) in the Parc George Brassens.
Its creation was inspired by the Coulée Verte, a walkway built in 1993 atop another disused railway. Famously visible in Richard Linklater’s film “Before Sunset”, the Coulée was the site that inspired Manhattan to build its High Line.
One of the Ceinture‘s old stops is yards away from the métro exit at Porte de Clignancourt. In an area without a lot of public assets, locals have turned the tracks here into a complex. The railway’s onetime station (Boulevard Ornano) has become a pretty café called La REcyclerie. Outside, there are shared gardens and a farm.
Bleaker stretches of these old rails remain wild and dodgy. But, given the right light, many have something precious: the rare combination of Parisian views and solitude.
• The Association Sauvegarde Petite Ceinture has spent two decades fighting for the lines to be rehabilitated. Also worth checking: the site Lieux-étranges (Strange Sites).
• La Recyclerie is open seven days a week. The Friends of the Jardins du Ruisseau hold numerous events in and around their communal gardens. Un peit pois sur dix has a great piece on them both (in French).