As I stepped through the wall, one of the gentlemen inside handed me a leaflet, explained where I was and invited me to take as many photos as I wished, before sitting down for lunch with the other gentleman seated at the table.
There I stood. Facing Dante.
After fumbling with my camera, I took a step back and realized no amount of photos could capture what was ahead of me. I turned right hoping for an angle when a shelf stacked with several dozen colorful cans appeared before me.
Butterflies danced in my stomach, and I became possessed to connect.
I used what little French I had to begin a conversation noting the differences in art I noticed among the neighborhoods I had been: Belleville, Le Marais, and the Left Bank. Belleville was my favorite, I said— not just for the art, but for the diversity of people and what seemed to be a place of tolerance and acceptance.
After more polite conversation that included lots of pauses and “Je ne sais pas comment dire” on my end, G offered to speak in English, saying they both spoke and understood it. I was humbled and embarrassed by the kind gesture, an accommodation to my obvious weakness. However in doing so, the thoughtful act created a bridge that lead to a tête-à-tête that has stuck with me since we parted.
“Do you know about rue Denoyez?” He asked.
I replied yes and recalled the sadness of V, and responded with another question, “What do you think of the gentrification of Belleville, and what is happening there?”
Without pause he replied, “I do not hold onto anything.”
He told me the space we were in was a squat, although he didn’t really believe squatting was what they were doing. And if they lost their space? They would simply go elsewhere. He then mentioned that they had put artwork inside one of the buildings that was coming down on Denoyez. He was excited at the thought of being there to witness the walls come down, and see how the art expressed itself in the rubble. I was disappointed I would not be around to experience this for myself, as I was leaving in a couple of days.
As I reflected on what he had just shared with me, my thoughts returned to V. It began to dawn upon me that ephemerality and impermanence applied to all things, not just street art, streets, and buildings.
Impermanence is the way of life.
I was grateful for the conversation and decided it was time to go. I thanked them for their hospitality, introduced myself by name, and in return learned the names of my gracious hosts, G and Marco la Mouche.
As I said goodbye, I was encouraged to return the next time I was in Paris, because the art at Le Mur des 3 Couronnes would be different.
I committed to returning, but next time, I promised…my French would be better.