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", and "Je n'en connais pas la fin"?
Perhaps you saw the biopic starring Marion Cotillard and were inspired to acquaint yourself further with Piaf's legendary songs, and learn more about her formative years and rise to fame in the French capital.
Or perhaps you're a fan of French chanson and want nothing more than to retrace the steps of "the little sparrow" in the French capital, learning more about her formative years in the city.
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 Memorial and Its Artist
The bronze statue was commissioned to artist and sculptor 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.
Read related: 10 Strange (and Slightly Disturbing) Facts About Paris
Reactions to the Statue: Fans Aren't All Pleased
So far, the memorial 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.
Others have come to the dense of Delisle's work, arguing that Piaf herself was a complex figure whose beauty was atypical, and whose often tragic life had left her scarred. The statue, they say, embodies the brilliant singer-songwriter's suffering, and her search for redemption through the medium of music.
This author's feelings are divided: on one hand, the impressionistic work strikes me as befitting of Piaf's iconoclastic personality and approach to life and music. But on the other, it doesn't stand out enough, fades into the background, and is routinely overlooked by locals and tourists alike.
These critiques aside, I still think it's worth a detour if you're a true Piaf fan. Afterwards, you can go visit the musician's nearby 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. A real "Piaf pilgrimage" is a possibility, if you're motivated to climb some steep streets in the hilly neighborhood!
Getting There: Square Edith Piaf (Metro Line 3: Porte de Bagnolet or Gambetta Station)
Related Articles and Resources:
- Guide to the 20th Arrondissement (Edith Piaf's birthplace and site of the memorial)