01/28/2011 01:05 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Letter From Paris: Graffiti No. 2

What do we see when we open our eyes and mind?

Last fall, when my Lone Wolf husband and I moved from the stunning Place des Victoires to the 20th Arrondissement of Paris, it took us some time to adjust. We had been surrounded by the fairy tale Paris -- the Paris that catches your breath and doesn't give it back until you exhale her beauty back to her. Until you reckon your relationship with her on an intellectually substantial plane as well as the one of pure delight.

Our first six months in the 20th compelled us to dig deeper in our views of Paris--and to see our new neighborhood in a fresh way. The mix of some handsome old but many more ugly block-ish new buildings (than we'd had in the center of Paris) and the lack of iconic monuments created a gap in our experience that needed to be filled with urban landscape appreciation of an alternative sort. In my opinion, the way one sees and experiences any place the most thoroughly and best is to walk through it.

Within a few weeks, we'd taken a promenade that spit us out on rue de Ménilmontant ...


This was one of the first street scenes that not only got my attention but excited me. I later discovered it is the work of a famous Parisian street artist name Jerôme MESNAGER.


His whimsical mural caught my fancy and lifted my spirits.


I loved the airy freedom of the kites, balloons, and flamingos sailing through the sky -- and of the Skeletor-ish body flying with them -- while the wild African animals somehow grounded them at the same time. Mesnager is noted for his muscle-y skeleton figures.


Some people feel that graffiti desecrates a city, and sometimes it does. Graffiti can be an urban blight, and there are some places in the City of Light where this is definitely true. The square below the Palais de Tokyo (in the 16th Arrondissement) is one of them. It has become an eyesore and trashy, and I hope the city will reclaim and restore this space.


But graffiti is also street art that enhances a piece of the cityscape, that can present an artistic vision that delights and enthralls, as well as allowing an artist a canvas on which to express himself. Street art -- graffiti -- can make a nondescript or unsightly wall come alive and actually improve the neighborhood.

And this is what I've found to be true in the 20th, and graffiti is a feature that constantly changes. You have to walk the streets to see what has come and gone, and sometimes if you're lucky, to actually watch the artist creating.


The move to our new neighborhood was a catalyst for us to reinvent our vision of Paris, and the street art is but one example of the creator energy that's flowing in this culture that does not like to change.


The result? I see my streets in a fresh way, and I love the fact that artists are creating their visions.

And what about you? Is there something in your life that you need to see in a new way?


Photos by Beth Arnold.

Beth Arnold lives and writes in Paris. To see more of her work, go to To read more about her and her husband's journey in uprooting their lives in America, moving to France, and learning to see themselves and the world in a new way, click here. The series is called Jours of Our Lives.