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PARIS — Some might call it the Way East Village.
In the shadow of the National Library, a new cultural frontier is budding in the French capital, and the flow of hipsters to the area is moving from a mere dribble to an outright wave.
The eastern reaches of Paris started coming to life a few years ago with the development of the Bercy district, which boasts a sports and entertainment complex where Madonna has performed, and a residential and shopping area in the Cour Saint-Emilion, once the platform of the wine business in France.
A jolt of cool followed when the contemporary art world discovered a once-characterless street, Louis Weiss. It was dubbed “Little Chelsea” after the famous New York district. These days, the number of curiosity seekers is growing fast and space is getting tight. “Our street is legendary,” boasts Emmanuel Perrotin, who opened an eponymous gallery here six years ago exhibiting the likes of Japanese artist Takashi Murakami. “We see more and more people and it is time to expand to be able to exhibit our artists’ work.”
But buzz really started growing around the 13th arrondissement when Marin Karmitz opened its MK2 cinema complex last February. Designed by Jean-Michel Wilmotte, the center boasts 14 screens, three restaurants, a nightclub, a DVD and music store and exhibition spaces. “This was the last space where you could still build in Paris,” explains Nathanael Karmitz, the movie director Marin Karmitz’s son. “This is Paris’s emerging area. It will be the New Wave Latin Quarter and a new cultural border.”
That prediction is shared by many Parisians, including Christophé Girard, director of fashion strategy at LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton and the deputy mayor of Paris for culture. He’s a big fan of the neighborhood. “If I had to move tomorrow, I would move there,” he says. “I like the energy. I like the spirit. Paris is not only about Pigalle, Montmartre and the Marais. Paris is also about modern space and that’s what the 13th represents.”
At the moment, the area relies on cool-seekers from other parts of the city, many of whom take the high-speed, driverless Meteor subway line to whisk to the city’s edge.
But with major office and housing space slated for completion next year — and some 20,000 students moving to the area when the Paris VII University opens in 2004 — a local crowd should fill streets that can still be desolate.
“Starting in June, we’ll really see things moving here, and we’ll have a neighborhood clientele show up,” predicts Véronique Boyer, events organizer for Batofar, a lighthouse boat that’s been converted into a temple of electronic music. On summer weekends, the crowds next to the boat will soak up the sun, the skyline and the beats. Who says 13 is an unlucky number?