Real Belleville

Sunday, I saw a completely other side of Belleville at the Parc de Belleville belvedere.  I went because there is always something going on there on Sundays.  What I saw was the tale end of a festival called “Belleville en Vrai” (Real Belleville).  It’s the tenth year of this three-day festival which includes, I discovered, sports tournaments, such as a basketball tournament, lectures and debates, such as a debate on whether it’s possible to be feminist without being anti-racist, music, such as a hip-hop concert taking place at the end.

What I saw were the usual belvedere vendors selling pretty little things but also some other vendors.  There were some African women selling clothing, purses and other items.

There was a boxing ring in which kids could put on gloves and headgear and go a round–such as these two girls trying it out.

There was a place for a free haircut.  Pretty neat, right?  A haircut with a view of the Eiffel Tower–not that this kid seems to be paying any attention to the view.

There were competitive games for kids.

There were moms raising funds for their group against violence among the young in Belleville. I told her I like Belleville and she said she lives in Belleville and has all her life.  She says the organization has been successful in bringing hundreds of kids together.

There were people learning to make block prints–of the tenth anniversary Belleville en Vrai.

And there were people coming in with their families or friends for the concert.

There’s a lot of political activity going on in Belleville.  A lot of the activity has to do with keeping Belleville from becoming Bobo–that is, gentrified.  “Belleville en Vrai” means, I imagine, not the Belleville of the developers and real estate people who pitch it as the fine life.  I feel a lot of sympathy with that.  Keep Belleville vrai, man.  Keep it vrai.  It doesn’t mean new people can’t come in.  It means developers should not determine the nature of the life there.  When the woman said to me, I grew up in Belleville, I believe she meant that she was not someone coming in for cheap rents and a fine life but someone with history and family in the neighborhood.  There’s Belleville en Vrai, Gilets Jaunes de Belleville, Droit de la Belleville, the moms group against youth violence–all working to keep the right to a livable neighborhood not just for the rich.

Can they win?  Well, you never know.  Things can get pretty radical in France.  Maybe the time for radical resistance has come.

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