Are you a fan of famed Parisian songstress Edith Piaf, best known for her throaty, trilling renditions of chansons including "La Vie en Rose", "Je ne regrette rien", or "Je n'en connais pas la fin"?
If so, you might want to get on your walking shoes, and take a little detour into a little-trodden area of Paris. There's a largely ignored, impressionistic memorial dedicated to the songstress, but it's admittedly quite easy to miss. It's located on the Square Edith Piaf in a remote corner of northeast Paris, just outside the Porte de Bagnolet Metro station, and in the heart of the quiet residential neighborhood known to locals as "Gambetta".
The bronze statue was commissioned to Lisbeth Delisle by Paris City Hall in 2003 to commemorate the 40th anniversary of "the little sparrow's" death. It also happens to be in close reach of the Tenon Hospital, where Piaf was either born or given emergency care after coming into the world under a lamp on a street in nearby Belleville, according to contradictory accounts, in 1915.
So far, the status hasn't been very warmly received: critics complain that the statue is lumpy and graceless and doesn't do justice in rendering Piaf, despite attempting to capture her impassioned performance style. This author's feelings are divided: on one hand, the impressionistic style strikes me as befitting of Piaf's iconoclastic personality and approach to life and music; on the other, it doesn't stand out enough, getting routinely overlooked by locals and tourists alike. Nevertheless, it's worth a detour if you're a true fan. Afterwards, you can go visit her grave at the poetic Pere-Lachaise Cemetery, then go traipse around the gritty, arty streets of the Belleville neighborhood, close to the brothel where Piaf allegedly grew up.
Getting There: Square Edith Piaf, Metro Bagnolet or Gambetta
Related Articles and Resources:
- Guide to the 20th Arrondissement (Edith Piaf's birthplace and site of the memorial)
- La Java Nightclub (Piaf gave some early performances here)
- Edith Piaf Museum
- Edith Piaf Profile (at About.com World Music)
- Review of Piaf biopic "La Vie en Rose" (at About.com World/Independent Film)