Welcome to the ninth episode of our There’s Only One Paris participatory short story series! For this week’s story we journey to a lesser known place in Paris, the Promenade Plantée and the Viaduc des Arts. If you’re new to the project you can read more about these participatory stories here and at the end is a link to all the stories thus far.
A number of you enthusiastically added comments to the posts put up this week! A first thank you to Terry Harrell, who had originally suggested the Promenade Plantée as a venue. A big thank you to Jeanie Meyer who once again sent in some really nice commentary which is included in the descriptions. Other mercis go Georgina Weavers, Pandora Boudrahem and Mats Haglund who helped inspire the plot and who also named the characters and to Amy Lynn of @worldtravelenthusiasts and Ray Harris who shared some of the lovely photos included in the post. And lastly, other mercis go to Tana Titre Tornquist, Cheryl Frink Matzker, Kathleen Ann Terry, Susan Bush, Lyn Barry who all shared their enthusiasm for this unique place on this week’s posts. This is a fun story, I hope you like it!
Stay tuned for next week which will be the (sniff) last in the weekly publications, but NOT the last of the stories. I’ll be keeping them going, with your help, more on with next week’s story….
Speaking of next week… we’ll be wrapping up this phase of the story project with a dazzling site… the Opera Garnier! And a mystery!! Tune in from Sunday May 31st!
There’s Only One Paris #9: Rata-toile at the Promenade Plantée & Viaduc des Arts
“I’m so glad you like them.”
“I can’t wait to see them in person.”
“Oh, yes. You’ll love them even more when you see them at the gallery.”
“The exhibit opening is on Thursday, right?”
“Yes, from 6 pm.”
“I’ll be there right at 6 pm!”
“Excellent! I look forward to seeing you then!”
“A jeudi! See you Thursday!”
Yannick hung up the phone and did a little happy dance. Since representing Yoshi Karakami, he’d been wooing Lady de Bourg, perhaps the most influential private collector of contemporary paper sculpture in France.
It had been a gamble when Yannick had accepted to represent Yoshi, however, the innovative artist had been gradually making headway and a recent critique in Art News stoked interest in his work. Selling a few pieces to Lady de Bourg would certainly elevate his status in the art world.
Yannick was relieved. He loved his gallery and would hate to give it up if he didn’t make some big sales—and fast. He looked up at its soaring arched ceiling and thanked God for the luck he’d had in landing the unique space.
Yannick had put in his time. After completing his art history degree, he went on to do a second Master’s in art management after which he’d landed an internship at one of the Upper Marais’ top contemporary art galleries. He’d risen in the ranks at the large gallery, going from photocopying minion to assistant manager. But after ten years at the gallery, he knew he couldn’t rise any higher, there. Despite being a ripe age for retirement, it would take a true apocalypse for the owner of the renowned gallery to give it up. She would be puffing away on her Gauloises and ordering around her staff until she was 100—unless her lungs gave up on her before.
Over the course of his time at the gallery, Yannick had been very smart. He’d carefully fostered relationships with the gallery’s clients, art critics and artists. Sure, it was risky, but Yannick was confident he could make it on his own.
As soon as he arrived at the address provided by the real estate agent, he knew it was perfect. In front of him was a towering wall of glass set within a colossal brick archway. He was at the Viaduc des Arts. In the mid-19th century a vast network of rail lines was created in and around Paris. Some were built for long distance travel, others to transport suburban commuters in and out of the city. Some of the latter are still in use, however, when suburban trains went underground in the 1960s, with the arrival of the RER train system, much of the above ground suburban railway within the city was phased out. In recent times, sections of this have been rehabilitated, starting with an impressive 1.5 km long viaduct extending east from Place de la Bastille.
In the late 1980s a walkway was created atop its 64 vaults and the spaces beneath the arches were encased in glass, resulting in attractive venues mostly used for art galleries, artisanal workshops and design boutiques. A beautiful example of architectural preservation or repurposing, it was the inspiration for many other projects like this around the world, like the High Line in New York. These spaces at the viaduct rarely came up for rent, so it was perfect timing that Yannick was ready to break free from the clutches of the chain-smoking gallerist and open one in his own name.
Or was the timing all that perfect? Within months of opening, Yannick had to contend with a two-month long transit strike which virtually paralized the city. This prevented people from attending a much anticipated show in December and brought him only a small trickle of visitors throughout January. He was very eager to bounce back from this lag and had an excellent exhibit lined up for April, which ever so unfortunately had to be canceled because of the virus. A lot was riding on this new show. The exhibit would not just launch the new season, it would make or break his whole career.
Yannick slid his cell phone into his pocket and went back to installing the exhibit. It was Tuesday so he had three full days to finish up. That was plenty of time. Plus he’d already hung the most difficult work so the rest should be a walk in the park.
He gazed up at Yoshi’s marvels. Suspended from the ceiling was a collection of delicate paper sculptures. In between cloud and leaf, the sculptures were all made of natural materials and pigments created by ingredients the artist had foraged himself in the forests around Paris.
Hey wait a second, thought Yannick as he observed the hanging artwork. What’s that? What are those spots?
He could have sworn that there weren’t any dark marks in the works when he’d installed them yesterday. He’d been very careful, but some dust may have fallen on them overnight.
He got out his big ladder and climbed up to have a look. He squinted to scrutinize the works. His eyes immediately widened. No. It wasn’t dust. There were small holes in the sculptures which strongly reassembled tiny bite marks. His eyes followed the meandering path of holes all the way to the farthest hanging sculpture. Just then it shook. Yannick’s eyes widened even further and his mouth dropped as a small creature hopped off the sculpture and onto an industrial looking air vent.
“Hey you!” he shouted. The creature’s small head turned to look at him, its beady pupils locking with Yannick’s hazel ones. It then darted along the vent, long thin tail trailing behind. A mouse!
Yannick watched, horrified, as it zoomed to the end of the vent and into a slot of its evacuation grate. Yannick scrambled down the ladder and raced to the back door of the gallery. Luckily there was a stairwell nearby which led to the upper level. He bounded up it two steps at a time, arriving at the top just as the little rodent popped through the exit grate. It bolted for some greenery.
Yannick chased after it, diving heroically into the bushes. Alas, he was no Zorro. He didn’t have a sword to cut through the thick bamboo he suddenly found himself in. He attempted to rifle through the shoots as best he could, but the minuscule menace was nowhere in sight. Defeated, Yannick cleared a path through the thicket, trying to find his way out.
“Ahhh! What are you doing in here?” hollered a woman who was crouching down at the base of the thicket.
“What are you doing here?” Yannick spit out in return.
“I work here!” She yelled at him.
“So do I!” He shouted back. “Well, I mean downstairs.”
“Oh, well isn’t that nice,” she said, mockingly. “By the looks of your clothing, at one of the fancy smancy art galleries, huh? Well, I work right here and this area is normally off limits.”
The woman stood up and brushed the dirt off her green uniform.
“Um, ah…” Yannick was flustered. She was obviously a gardener… and was obviously right. “I was chasing a mouse.”
“Chasing a mouse?” She questioned. “Are you sure it was a mouse?”
“What do you mean?” he asked.
“Well it might have been a rat,” she replied. “I don’t think there are any mice up here. Some breeds of rats look like mice. But that’s totally besides the point. Why were you chasing it?”
“It was damaging some very valuable artwork.”
The gardener sighed. “I’m not sure that’s a valid reason to harm it.”
“But, but…” Yannick started.
“Come with me,” she cut him off, clearing the way through the bamboo.
“But, but…” Yannick tried again.
“Let’s go to my office, I’ve got a booklet of all the flora and fauna found here. We can verify, what exactly it was that you saw.”
Yannick obeyed, mainly because he wanted to get out of the greenery and back to the gallery.
“Look, that’s nice of you and all, but I don’t know if that’s really necessary,” he said a little arrogantly.
“If you want to prevent it from ‘damaging’ any more of your precious artwork, it is,” she replied in an equally smug tone.
The gardener indeed knew the way out of the tall shoots and soon they were on the La Promenade Plantée. Officially called the Coulée Verte René Dumont, this was the walkway found above the viaduct. It was like a secret garden that Paris was hiding….in plain sight.
High above the street and protected from the noise of the traffic, the promenade was a lovely green space filled with trees, budding bushes, hedges, and a profusion of different varieties of flowers, some hung on green metal trellises. In some places there was bamboo which lined the walkway, tilting over to make an archway you walked through, like where Yannick currently found himself.
Ignoring whether Yannick was following or not, the gardener turned right. Yannick, brushed off his suit pants, readjusted his slim fitting dress shirt and marched after her.
“Thank you for helping me,” he said, deciding it was in his better interest to change his tune a little.
“No problem,” she replied, also softening her stance. “I’ve had some issues with these rodents and I think you might have spotted a foreign one that’s been invading the promenade. It would be useful for our statistics to know what exactly you saw.”
“Ah I see, Madame….” Yannick said, fishing for her name.
“Sandrine and you?” she answered, opting to go straight for a first name basis since they seemed about the same age.
“Yannick, nice to meet you, Sandrine,” he said, extending his hand.
“Same, but you don’t want to shake these hands,” she said, holding up her dirty fingers. They both smiled.
At the end of the bamboo shoots they reached a section which had an elongated water pool and a water fountain. Beyond this, Sandrine led Yannick over a small footbridge and past a grassy area where a few people were reading the newspaper over a takeaway coffee. The promenade is so welcoming and beautiful, too. This tranquil place was quite popular with the locals of eastern Paris. As Yannick scuttled after Sandrine, he noticed all kinds of people: walkers, joggers, kids with ice creams in hand, little old ladies strolling very slowly, huddling lovers, bird watchers and a group of singing kids in uniform.
“It’s really pretty up here,” said Yannick, taking in their surroundings. “I don’t come up to the promenade enough.”
“It’s a great place to work,” she replied. “It really feels like a completely different world up here. Like it’s been touched by a more celestial or heavenly spirit.”
“I guess that’s thanks to you and the other gardeners,” Yannick complimented sweetly.
“It’s all nature’s doing,” said Sandrine modestly. “We just give it a small helping hand.”
The walkway’s route took them through building complexes and even through a couple of tunnels. From up here you get to see Paris buildings, their rooftops and chimneys, from a different angle, a unique vantage point.
This part of the promenade would be perfect for a romantic stroll, thought Yannick, sneaking a peek at Sandrine out of the corner of his eye. No! No! his mind scolded. He had to concentrate on the issue at hand: that troublesome rodent!
They arrived at one of the stairwells that led down to the street. Next to this was a door to which Sandrine produced a key and opened. A cross between an office and a garden shed, the room was filled with all kinds of gardening equipment. On the left were two desks and a bookcase. Sandrine scanned the collection of books until she found a thin soft-covered booklet. She set it down on her desk and flipped through its pages.
“Ah ha, here’s the right section,” she said. “Can you identify which of these creatures it might have been?”
Yannick examined the ‘lineup’ of potential suspects. Indeed, there were subtle differences between the array of rodents. Different tones of fur, smaller or bigger noses, pointy or rounded ears and shorter or longer tails.
“I think it could have been this one,” he determined, finger stabbing one of the images.
“Just as I thought,” she declared. “The Marsh Rice Rat. Since they are small and more brownish than grey, they resemble what we ‘think’ a mouse should look like. They are native to the Florida Keys and the Gulf Coast, but we believe someone here in Paris had one as a pet, but set it free. They are now breeding like crazy here because they like the swampy sections of the promenade.”
“Ah, I see,” said Yannick, completely lost on the details of this rat-mouse.
“If it comes back to your gallery could you call me?” she asked. “We’re trying to catch one so we can put a tracker on it. That way we could be led to their main nest.”
“Sure, of course,” he replied. “I’ll do anything to help get rid of them.”
“Great,” she said, handing him her card. “I gotta get back to work, I have a lot to finish before nightfall.”
“Oh, of course, I have a lot to do to finish installing our next art exhibit.” he countered. “You might actually like it, it’s very nature oriented.”
“Oh really?” she said. “Maybe I’ll stop by some day.”
“That’d be great,” he said, perhaps a little too keenly. “In the meantime, I’ll let you know if I have another sighting.”
“Parfait. Perfect, have a nice day!” she said.
Yannick hurried back to the gallery. He really did have a lot to do. Slipped in through the back door, he saw that there was someone peering into the expansive front window.
Merde! It was Lady de Bourg! What was she doing here?!
The elegant fifty-something knocked on the window. Darn! She’d seen him. There was no hiding in the gallery due to these humongous windows. He had no choice but to go over and open the door.
“Madame de Bourg, how nice…”
“Yannnniccckkk…. I just couldn’t resist,” she screeched, barging past the stunned helpless Yannick and into the gallery. “I was in the neighborhood and I just had to come by to get a sneak peek. I’m dying to see Yoshi’s new work.”
“Um, ahhh… but I haven’t finished installing it yet!” he yelped.
“Ohhhh, incroyable!” She gushed, looking up at the works. “J’adore! J’adore! J’adore! I see that he’s incorporated something new. Those holes… magnifique! Simply magnifique!”
Double Merde! thought Yannick. What was he going to do now? Lady de Bourg had fallen in love with the mouse’s, no, the rat’s, handiwork.
“I hope he has many, many more of those!” she cooed. “I will want to buy them all! Don’t let anyone else lay claims on them! I’ll be here on Thursday at 6 pm, sharp!”
And with that she turned around and sauntered in her impeccable Chanel suit back out the front door and into her awaiting chauffeured sleek black sedan.
Yannick stared at the door, then looked back up to the artwork. He had to get the rat-iste back.
Yannick pondered over how to lure back the rodent. Cheese. Don’t rats like cheese? No, that was mice. But then again, maybe rats like cheese too. Maybe it wasn’t even a rat… maybe it was really a mouse like he’d originally thought.
He headed out the gallery’s back door. This time he didn’t take the stairs up, but instead the street perpendicular to the viaduct. He walked with purpose through the back streets of the 12th district until he reached his target destination, the Place d’Aligre, which was home to one of Paris’ historic covered market halls, le Marché Beauvau. Although part of the building was damaged by fire a few years ago, it still retained its character. In the mornings the market spilled out over some of the neighboring streets with open air vendors, however, in the afternoons only the covered section was opened. That’s all he needed. Inside was a fromagerie.
What kind of cheese would a rat-mouse like? Yannick wondered as he entered the food temple, instantly hit by an intense melange of aromas and colors. Gruyère, of course! The holy cheese was usually associated with its small furry fans. Yannick went over to the cheese counter and ordered some gruyère, then added in two other hard cheeses, some beaufort and some comté, for good measure. Maybe an art gallery rat-mouse had a more refined palate. Carefully wrapped cheeses in hand, before leaving it struck Yannick that since he was already at the market, he might as well pick up a few supplies for Thursday’s opening. He quickly went over to get some olives, a variety of nuts and some chic Italian breadsticks. He then nipped into the wine shop for a case of Bordeaux.
Arms loaded down with supplies, Yannick teetered back to the gallery and set about his important task: Mission Rata-toile. Toile was the French word for canvas. Yoshi’s creations were like small gently flowing canvases… which now needed to be dotted with chew marks.
He began by unpacking the other sculptures. He would place them strategically to attract le petit rat-iste. Just then he had a brainwave and picked up his phone.
“Oui, allô, Sandrine?”
“Oui. Yes, this is Sandrine.”
“It’s Yannick, from earlier today. The art gallery owner.”
“Oh yes, has the rat returned?” she asked excitedly.
“Well, not exactly,” he started. “I was hoping I could get your help with something. A way to get it to come back. Would you mind stopping by later?”
“Ummm, okay, I guess,” she replied. “I usually finish around 6 pm, would that be okay?”
“Perfect!” he said. “Do you know where the gallery is?”
“Just under the bamboo grove, right?”
“Okay, see you later!”
He had just over an hour before Sandrine would arrive, so Yannick returned to his unpacking. Once finished, he unwrapped the three cheeses and meticulously cut them up into rat-mouse bite-sized little pieces.
Yannick put down his cheese knife. It was 6:10 pm. On the other side of the door was smiling Sandrine, who’d changed out of her work clothes and was in a pair of jeans and T-shirt with the words ‘We Love Green’ in caps, a souvenir she must have purchased from the eco-friendly festival which took place annually in Paris in June. Sandrine was proving to be a staunch environmentalist through and through.
“Bonsoir!” greeted Yannick as he swung open the door.
“Salut!” she cheered. “Wow, nice space!”
“Thank you!” he said, with a hint of pride. “I’ve been here for a year.”
“Ouch, tough first year I imagine,” she replied thoughtfully.
Yannick gave her a brief overview of the gallery’s backstory, its current woes, what the rat-iste had done and why it was so important for it to come back and get to work on the other pieces.
“So I’ve prepared all this cheese to lure…”
“Stop right there, Yannick,” she ordered. “Rats and mice don’t actually like cheese. It’s just a myth!”
“Oh yes! But don’t worry, because I know what they do like, especially this particular breed,” she said. “I’ll be back in a few minutes.”
Before he could say anything she fled the gallery. Nevertheless, as promised she was back in a flash, clutching something green.
“What’s that?” asked Yannick.
“Very special marsh grass,” she answered.
“Marsh grass??” He said, confused.
“Yes, remember I said the culprit is likely a Marsh Rice Rat?”
“Well, we think they are attracted to the promenade because it has this specific mash grass which they adore. If something is going to bait your glutinous rat, it’s this.”
“Wow, that’s genius!” he beamed. “And that explains it! I know the artist uses all natural ingredients… I thought he got them from the forests outside Paris. Maybe instead he was sneakily picking them from up on the promenade!”
“I did notice patches of this grass going missing a few months ago. There was no evidence of chew marks, which really had me puzzled!”
“Then we’ve solved two mysteries!”
“Now let’s solve a third! I think I know just how to lure in the rat.”
Over the next hour Yannick assisted Sandrine as she carefully rigged the marsh grass to tempt the rat-iste into the gallery and over the works.
“That should do it!” she said.
“Great! Now what?” he asked.
“We wait,” she answered. “After he’s done his handiwork on the art, I want to try to catch it so I can put on that tracker I mentioned. Plus, it might not like cheese, but I certainly do!”
“Sounds like a plan, do you like wine too? I have some Bordeaux.”
“I’m more of a Côtes du Rhône fan, but Bordeaux will do,” she teased.
Yannick got two glasses from his kitchen area and opened up the wine.
“Maybe we should dim the lights and hide over on the other side of the gallery, behind those empty boxes,” she suggested. “So it doesn’t see us.”
“Yes, good idea.” Yannick replied.
Hiding behind the large cardboard boxes, which had previously contained the sculptures, in hushed voices Yannick and Sandrine exchanged life stories while nibbling on le fromage and sipping le vin rouge. Sandrine told Yannick how she’d discovered her calling during the endless hours of playing in the Palais-Royal as a child and how she’d disregarded her parents wishes and pursued a career as a gardener. Yannick told her how his art history thesis supervisor, Professor Conroy, cried at the inauguration of his art gallery, bittersweet as she’d lost her protégé to the contemporary art world years before, but was proud of all he’d achieved.
They each took turns ‘on watch’ for the rat-iste, but after a while they were so engrossed in conversation, they’d almost forgotten about their original mission. Sandrine was just telling Yannick about a clever crow who had figured out how to turn on the fizzy water dispenser, which was located on the promenade, and now came every day for a drink, when they heard some scratching noises.
“That must be it!” Yannick hissed.
The two peered over the box.
Uh oh… it seemed like they were too late. High up on the other side of the gallery, all they could see was the shadow of a small creature zooming along the vent and sneaking out through the grate. They hopped up to go and examine the artwork.
“That little pest!” admonished Yannick. “He’s gone and eaten just the marsh grass and hasn’t touched the artwork at all!”
“Rats!” exclaimed Sandrine. They turned to each other and laughed. “Well, there’s always tomorrow.” she added.
“Yes, as long as you come and help me again,” said Yannick.
“I will, as long as you pick up some more cheese… and a bottle of Côtes du Rhône,” she said with a sly smile. “I’ve got some vegetables from the community garden I participate in. I’ll make some ratatouille to go with our rata-toile.”
“Sounds perfect!” concluded Yannick, with a twinkle in his eye.On the surface it might seem like Mission Rata-toile hadn’t been successful, however, the rat-iste had created an entirely different canvas, one bringing together art, nature, and possibly a bit of romance, at the Promenade Plantée and the Viaduc des Arts.
There’s Only One Paris Episodes
Did you like this story? If you missed the others, you can catch up on them at these links:
Explore the area around the Promenade Plantée via our mini-guide to the most romantic places of the 12th district here.