On a foggy evening in Paris, my husband and I had lost track of time while wandering the stone streets. Determined to be part of the night, we committed ourselves to street food and mindless walking. Paris is in my opinion, the most romantic city in Europe, and the year before, we actually spent Valentines day in the catacombs.
Nothing says romance like the smell of earth, water and bones.
That night we absorbed the evening's colors and textures, and embraced the city. The homeless wrapped themselves in dark passageways, street-kids drank liquor out of paper-bags, couples made-out at the edge of fountains, while the art and architecture came to the city's forefront. It was ridiculously surreal, as if you were watching a movie, however, what stood out the most was Rivoli 59...
A long climb up the steps but totally worth it!
Just a few blocks from Notre-Dame was 59 Rivoli, an artists' squat. It was exactly what we were hoping to stumble upon: racy art covering the building's walls, live music echoing from one of the galleries inside, and tattooed characters loitering about smoking cigarettes while loudly conversing as they took swigs of liquor out of paper cups.
A intro painted on the walls as you walked in
A little back story: 59 Rivoli started in the 90's as an artist squat house to help support the starving artist while fostering a community. I am assuming this was similar to the young Patti Smith's experience when she moved to NYC (sorry if you did not know this, you should read her book).
Today the lower level hosts concerts on the weekends (starting at 6pm) along with a gallery for guest exhibitions. On the upper levels, you walk through all the permanent studios. What I love most about 59 Rivoli is that you can see art at different stages of creation, while meeting the artists themselves.
As we walked up the spiral staircase of Rivoli 59, we saw wild artwork covering the walls and ceilings; not an inch was left untouched by brushstroke or pen.
Each landing has a personality of its own, a perfect foreshadowing of what is through the doorway...
There were about 8 artists per floor, and each one appeared to have a dedicated corner. It almost reminded me of Sesame Street's The House of Seven Colors, where each room had a theme, in this case, each corner had an interesting character.
Some of the artists were not cool about photos, please make sure you ask.
I would not say the artists are unfriendly, however they are not fans of rude boisterous tourists. Treat this experience as if you are entering a new home every-time you turn the corner. In this case, we walked in on an amazing oil painter finishing up a portrait-I asked before I took this image above.
One amazing part of 59 Rivoli was the empty studios with works-in-progress, left out in their raw state. There were many amazing things out to view. It reminded me of my art studio in college, evidence of intense labor: clay, ink, dangling yarn and even plastic.
My favorite moment at 59 Rivoli was when you turned a corner and had to enter what appeared to be a spider web or "tunnel" of art. The 3-D collage was so massive that you were not able to walk far before you were forced to go left or right, and continue diving deeper into the colorful mass of found objects.
When you exit the tunnel of found objects, warning, you end at a pile of Eiffel Tower dildos..."Eiffel Dick", ha, love it. A perfect way to end the tour and to sum up why Paris is the most romantic city in Europe...
59 Rivoli has live concerts starting at 6pm on Saturday and Sunday. Artists also have wine and live music in their studio corners as well. You can check their website for more information regarding any temporary exhibits, or to follow older artists who have since moved onto more permanent galleries or careers: HERE
TIP: I recommend you go on a Saturday night. Saturdays are when you can see most of the artists drinking, painting and playing instruments with their friends and the galleries are open until 1am. Children are welcome!
You can grab street food from a local vendor, it is usually fresh, affordable and AMAZING. I recommend the cheesy hot dogs with a spicy curry sauce served in a chewy baguette. I usually ask what they recommend (ask in French, S'il vous plaît). If you are unsure of which vendor to go to, find the one with all the local kids around, they know where to get the good cheap stuff.