The Villa des Ternes in Paris’s 17th arrondissement is a neat warren of tree-lined roads and imposing buildings dating back to the 19th century. It was originally situated outside of Paris, in the grounds of a chateau that once stood nearby, but little by little the city has crept up around its edges. Nevertheless, it remains private, and the gates at its limits are still firmly locked to outsiders.
Once inside, you also have to accept that everyone will look at you suspiciously. People know each other here and can easily spot an intruder. Nevertheless, no-one asks what I am doing, even when I stand on a wall and pull out my camera. I also get a surprisingly pleasant ‘bonjour’ from a mature fur-clad lady.
It has to be said that housing here is desirable, even if I am fundamentally uncomfortable in such locations. Yes, these houses and apartment blocks are attractive, the streets quiet, clean and leafy, but it all smells of privilege and fear. Is the rest of the 17th arrondissement really so bad that you have to lock yourself away from it? And what is the point of building such showy houses if no-one is able to see them?
The first conundrum is therefore how to get inside. Unless you know the codes or have an invitation from somebody there is only one solution; arrive at the gate just as someone is leaving and behave like a person with a reason for being there. The best place for this is the principal entrance on the Avenue des Ternes, and at lunchtimes footfall and vehicle movement are reliably frequent.