When I was in Paris in May, my friend Virginia Pattie Kerovpyan invited me to join her on the Peniche Anako for a jazz concert. The Peniche Anako is a canal barge docked on the West Bank of the La Villette Basin in the 19th arrondissement. The basin, which is the largest artificial lake in Paris, was filled with water in December 1808 and is part of the 130-kilometer (80.7-mile) Parisian Canal Network that is operated by the municipality. Canal barges have access to about 22 kilometers of the network.
Peniche Anako opened its doors in the fall of 2008 under the direction of Patrick Bernard, an ethnologist whose work focused on the oral traditions of indigenous peoples. In January 2009, the barge was purchased by the Armenian Red Cross Association (in French, le Comité de secours de la Croix Rouge Arménienne, or CSRA), which was founded in the 1920’s by doctors, lawyers, and other professionals to provide aid to Armenian Genocide survivors and refugees. In purchasing the boat, the CSRA intended to continue with multi-cultural programming, while creating a space where Armenian culture could also be showcased.
Virginia Pattie Kerovpyan took over as director of creative programming starting in 2010, and a close-knit circle of friends and family keeps the project running. When I visited the boat on my recent trip to Paris, her husband Aram was working behind the bar, a friend was collecting tickets at the door, her son was handling the soundboard, and her daughter’s boyfriend was the chef for the evening. The excellent jazz trio concert that night, billed as “Anne Pacéo a Carte Blanche,” was performed by the aforementioned Anne Pacéo on percussion, along with Maxime Bender on bass and Olivier Lutz on saxophone. The space is not large—the bar area can comfortably accommodate around 20 people, and the performance space has a capacity of 100—which adds to the intimacy and warmth of the atmosphere.
In addition to the musical performances, ranging from classical, to folk, to jazz, Kerovpyan schedules visits by artists and storytellers, as well as film screenings, lectures, and dramatic readings. Each month the programming is focused on a different theme: for example, this past spring, March was devoted to the cultures of Spain and Portugal; in April the theme was Solidarity Encounters and France; the Near East and the Fertile Crescent were the focus in May; and World Diasporas in June. Annually the month of October is dedicated to Armenian culture, with a broad array of events featuring Armenian musicians, artists, photographers, and lecturers. Local school children have twice been invited onto the barge for activities—once for an Armenian calligraphy workshop, and the second time for a lesson in Armenian song and dance.
Kerovpyan says, “The Peniche is a space where we aim to provide a warm welcome to all people. We also hope that Armenians from around the world who are passing through Paris will think of this as a home away from home.”
La Peniche Anako (http://penicheanako.info)
Bassin de la Villette
Across from 61, quai de la Seine
Métro: Riquet, Stalingrad ou Jaurès