“Fontenay-aux-Roses”, the Grand Paris of Alice Zeniter

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The Grand Paris of Alice Zeniter,

The Grand Paris of Alice Zeniter, “Fontenay-aux-Roses”.

Exclusively every Saturday, an episode of “Grand Paris for writers”.

Every Saturday, in partnership with the Pavillon de l’Arsenal, Release hosts on its site one of the episodes of the “Grand Paris of writers”. A collection of short documentary films produced by Year Zero and shot by Stefan Cornic from texts by Maylis de Kerangal, Aurélien Bellanger, Alice Zeniter, Joy Sorman, Simon Johannin, Julia Deck, Thomas Clerc, Nina Léger, Régine Robin and Pierre Assouline. After Maylis de Kerangal, and Aurélien Bellanger, discover today the third episode, Fontenay-aux-Roses, by Alice Zeniter.

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Fontenay-aux-Roses, by Alice Zeniter

I was 17, I had just obtained my baccalaureate and I wanted to go to Paris. More precisely, I wanted to go and live in Paris that I had discovered with Boris Vian during my high school readings, that is to say Saint-Germain-des-Prés in the 1950s. The fact that I had more half a century behind did not bother me and I was also able to quickly forget, when renting my studio, that I was ten kilometers too far south, namely rue Ledru-Rollin, in Fontenay-aux -Roses.

The rue Ledru-Rollin descended steeply between houses which had no interest. But it was connected, at its highest point, to the rue Boucicaut – which multiplied the shops that I needed, namely a supermarket, a Chinese restaurant and a pharmacy (the tobacco was further away and was called the Fountain aux roses) – connected to rue Boucicaut, therefore, by a small staircase. I happened to live there, facing the small staircase.

In my memories, it is almost always dark in Fontenay-aux-Roses. I left early in the morning to go to class (I was in hypokhâgne in Lakanal, in the town of Sceaux which appeared close on the maps, closer than Paris, but which nevertheless remained two consecutive bus trips from my studio) and I came home late. Inevitably, between November and March, it must have been dark every time I was at home.

The Chinese restaurant was the only business that stayed open late (even the Fontaine aux roses closed before). I had developed a strategy to push myself to work, which consisted – basically – of starving myself for hours and only allowing myself to eat as a reward for the work done. To be sure to stick to this plan, I did not buy food beforehand, but I often finished an essay too late and found the door closed in front of the Chinese restaurant. When it ended in disappointment, the trip between my studio and the dark window seemed far too long and I therefore tried to distinguish, from the top of the small staircase which connected Boucicaut and Ledru-Rollin, whether the restaurant was open, spotting the light spots on the sidewalk. It was not an easy exercise because a car dealership, crudely lit, splashed this portion of street with a totally useless blue light (since the dealership, of course, had closed for a long time, closed before the Fontaine aux roses for example) . So I was sometimes forced to leave the last step of the stairs to move forward a little. When I came to know for sure whether the restaurant was open or closed, I felt a certain satisfaction that allowed me to forget my lost dinner (if it was a closing night).

I do not think I have known the sequence of windows in a street with more precision than that of rue Boucicaut. When, around the town hall, I passed the plaque which indicated that Huysmans had lived and written Backwards here, I wasn’t trying to imagine what the city had been like in its time, I was listing the shops and services on rue Boucicaut as if I had shared this specific landscape with Joris-Karl, as if I was sure that he too had stood in the small staircase, necessarily in the small staircase, between Boucicaut and Ledru-Rollin, between the Fontaine aux roses and the Chinese restaurant, the small staircase which I had decided was the central point of the city and my foremast, the little staircase of which I have forgotten the number of steps but of which Huysmans could not have missed the importance, I felt it.

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