After checking into a new hotel in a new neighborhood (or a new city) I like to take a walk around the block and see what there is in the immediate vicinity.
I did this after checking in to the Hipotel Paris Belleville at 21 Rue Vicq d’Azir. When I was halfway around the block I came upon this curvy six-storey building on the Place du Colonel Fabien in the 19th arrondissement. It turned out to be the headquarters of the French Communist party, built by the Brazilian architect Oscar Niemeyer (1907-2012), who was the main architect of the new Brazilian capital, Brazilia.
Niemeyer was a communist himself, so when the French Communist Party went into decline and started having financial difficulties, he continued to work on their headquarters building for free. Originally the entire building was used for Communist Party offices, but now out of financial necessity the lower floors are rented out to paying tenants such as an architecture firm and an advertising and animation agency.
The opaque white dome in the front yard forms the roof of a large underground auditorium which is described in architravel.com as “one of the most spectacular auditoriums in all of Europe”. (They must mean spectacular from the inside, since from the outside the dome merely looks odd, at least in my opinion.)
The square Place du Colonel Fabien was originally called Place du Combats because animals fights were held here in the early 19th century, but it was renamed after the Second World War in honor of the French Resistance fighter Pierre Georges (1919-1944), whose code-name was Colonel Fabien.
By the entrance to the Communist Party headquarters, around the corner on Rue Mathurin Moreau, this plaque commemorates the thousands of volunteers, both French and foreigners, who came here from 1936 to 1938 to enroll in the International Brigades to fight for the Spanish Republic against General Franco, who was supported by Hitler and Mussolini. According to the plaque, there were about 35,000 volunteers of 53 nationalities. “This was the first act of international resistance against Fascism.”
One of these volunteers was Pierre Georges, later known as Colonel Fabien.
In 2013 there was an exhibition in the form of a dozen or so text panels mounted on the fence in front of the Communist Party headquarters in Paris. The title of the exhibition was “Choisy, City of Peace” — Choisy being a suburb of Paris, about ten kilometers to the southeast.
The purpose of this exhibition was to commemorate the 40th anniversary of the “Paris Peace Accords”, which were negotiated partly in Choisy. The North Vietnamese and National Liberation Front delegations lived in Choisy for the five years of negotiations, from 1968 to 1973, in accommodations that had apparently been organized for them by local officials of the French Communist Party.
The texts on these panels were in three languages: French, English and Vietnamese.
Here the massive American military force is compared to a pachyderm — which is a large animal such as an elephant or rhinoceros — and the Vietnamese forces are compared to a mouse. The text also says that the American officials believed they had a “miracle weapon” in the form of the thousands of helicopters used by the American forces — to no avail, as it turned out.
In a series of eleven blog posts I have described my own experiences in Vietnam as a member of an American ‘advisory team’ in 1964 and 1965, just before the introduction of American combat troops into the war.
This text panel describes 1965 as the year of “the escalation of massive destructions”, since that was when the American Air Force started bombarding North Vietnam, as well as targets in the south.
This text panel commemorates the French intellectuals who supported the North Vietnamese and National Liberation Front during the war. There is another text panel on Jane Fonda, the American actress who did the same.
There were four parties to these negotiations. The two opposing delegations from South Vietnam, namely the National Liberation Front and the Republic of Vietnam, refused to look at each other or even sit at the same table throughout the five years of negotiations — including the final signing of the agreements. The other two sides, North Vietnam and the United States, did talk with each other (secretly, in some phases) and by the end had even “become partners in peace” according to this text panel.
What the text does not say is that the ‘Paris Peace Accords’ did not end the war in Vietnam. The war continued for another two years until the final victory of the North Vietnamese in 1975.
Two of the negotiators, Henry Kissinger of the United States and Le Duc Tho of North Vietnam, were awarded the 1973 Nobel Peace Prize for their efforts. Kissinger accepted the award but Le Duc Tho turned it down.
The Paris Métro line # 2 goes underground just north of Place du Colonel Fabien and stops here at an underground station.
The Vélib’ station 10038 at 69 rue de la Grange aux Belles, near the Place du Colonel Fabien, is one of those that rarely have bikes available because more people ride them downhill than back up. In my photo a lady is taking the last available bike, which had just been returned by a man a moment before. (As I posted this, the Vélib’ website showed that no bikes were available and all 28 bases were free — “refreshed 16sec ago”.)
Nearby, one of the French Trotskyist parties, the Lutte Ouvrière Union Communiste (Trotskyste), was advertising a meeting at the Mutualité “against the bourgeoisie and its political servants” (referring no doubt to the Socialist Party of then-President Hollande, but perhaps also to the French Communist Party).
Location, aerial view and photo of the French Communist Party headquarters on monumentum.fr.
My photos in this post are from 2013. I revised the text in 2017.
See also: Villa Montmorency