Paris Récit: Square des Batignolles (Barbara 'Perlimpinin' & Malik Djoudi 'Sous garantie')

'Let’s go visit the ducks,’ this used to be one of my most common weekend statements with my son when he was younger, and then I’d put him in his pram and we’d set out. Either up through Abbesses, that is currently ‘between seasons’, still selling thick jumpers and scarves (marginally discounted), or if he were still little and at that not-noticing age, down through Pigalle past the sex shops and revues to arrive at Place de Clichy.

When we first came to Paris, we (my son’s father, my son and I) stayed in a minuscule studio rental, first at Place de Clichy up the street from a transvestites/transsexual revue. Very early in the morning, when our little boy woke up, crying – still jet-lagged – his father would take him out to the all-night cafés and feed him some croissant in small pieces. 

We then moved to another short-term rental, just around the corner from the Square des Batignolles (one night our son woke up, making sounds that sounded like a barking seal, we called a doctor who gave him an injection to calm his lungs, I think that was what it was, and give him some peace and allow him to sleep).

The Square des Batignolles - an immaculate public park in the 17th arrondissement - is forever associated with the French chanson, ‘Perlimpinpin’ by the much-loved singer Barbara; there is a pathway, close to the water where the ducks are named after her ...

The video includes footage of children, filmed at Square des Batignolles in the 70s. This song was selected by the government as the symbolic tribute for the victims of the 13th November terrorist attacks during an official performance, it begins with these words: 

Pour qui, comment quand et pourquoi? Contre qui? Comment? Contre quoi?/ C’en est assez de vos violences./D’où venez-vous?/Où allez-vous? Qui êtes-vous?Qui priez-vous?/ Je vous prie de faire silence./ Pour qui, comment, quand et pourquoi? S’il faut absolument qu’on soit/ Contre quelqu’un ou quelque chose/

Je suis pour le soleil couchant/ En haut des collines désertes. Je suis pour les forêts profondes,/ Car un enfant qui pleure,/ Qu’il soit de n’importe où,/ Est un enfant qui pleure,/ Car un enfant qui meurt/ Au bout de vos fusils/ Est un enfant qui meurt./ 

The song ends with declaration of resistance, for want of a better word, and affirmation of life:

Vivre, Vivre/  Avec tendresse, Vivre/  Et donner Avec ivresse!

Today, then, I sit on the grass, bare feet, at the Square des Batignolles – listening to music, the radio (while circling exhibitions of interest in the weekly guide).

French composer Malik Djoudi ‘Sous Garantie’ (2017) described as the young hope of French synthesiser pop and dance of the ‘new romantic’ (in English, in the original text). 

I can’t make out the words, I don’t understand them, but I like the sound and the muted intensity. I’m in-between here. I try to find the lyrics when I come home, but they are not yet released. I’m surprised we can sit on the grass, normally an attendant comes and tells us not to; sometimes blowing a whistle at us, or running after people (again blowing the whistle) who go onto the grass, or when it is time for the park to close.

This is the sweetness of Paris for me, in essence, the way the locals make the most of the sunshine, trying to get some contact with nature in the public spaces. 

In front of me there is a father with a little girl aged around 18 months or less, she steps all over his chest, step step step step; all over his body, his legs. He doesn’t make a sound of any complaint. He picks her up and throws her gently in the air. This little girl is very quiet in her matching pink outfit and lime-green-rimmed sunglasses – that are perfect circles, protecting her eyes from the late afternoon sunlight.