October 4, 2011
Parisian shops devoted entirely to a single specialty (like olive oil, honey, or communist literature) are considered obvious fixtures in an urban landscape where commercial efficiency is, if anything, an afterthought. So, when my roommate Winnie showed me a place on our street specializing in piñatas, of all things, my only thought was, “Of course. Naturally.” It was, incidentally, just across the street from our radical left-wing bookstore.
Winnie, a journalist, was covering the shop in a story with an unusual social twist. The piñatas, it turns out, are made by prisoners.
The story behind La Piñata, located at 25, rue des Vinaigriers and within view of Canal St. Martin, is a series of fortunate and curious accidents. The Columbian-born owner, Elena Farah, discovered piñata-making while searching for useful employment as a newcomer to Paris in the 80s. Thinking she could bake cakes for children’s birthday parties, she approached a few party shops only to find that while cakes were readily available, piñatas were not. So she set to work.
With the help of a how-to book, Elena began experimenting with the colorful ornaments at home, selling them to a few shops around the city. In 2002, she won a business plan competition and was able to open her atelier at rue des Vinaigriers, where today she keeps shop with one assistant.
Five years ago, inspired by a story on a radio program, Elena began her prison workshop with the help of a business student who was apprenticing with her at the time. As demand for piñatas is limited in Paris, only a few inmates can work with her each year. They spend the better part of the workweek building their piñatas independently, and she visits the prisons every week to deliver materials and check progress. These visits, she says, are very special to her.
Through the workshops, the inmates are able to experience once again (or for the first time) the act of creation, as Elena says, something that makes the apprenticeships so valuable to them.
I find it both strange and beautiful that the feathery strawberries, lions, and Easter eggs floating beneath the ceilings of La Piñata were born in the confines of a prison cell. As a current law student, I am reminded on a daily basis how dehumanizing criminal justice systems can be and how difficult they are to change. When I see a splash of real progress brought by something as seemingly inconsequential as a piñata shop, I am amazed and encouraged.
When I see this happen in Paris, my only thought is, “Of course. Naturally.”
La Piñata is open Tuesday to Saturday from 11h to 19h and Sundays from 15h to 19h. Piñatas are priced starting at 40 Euros.
- While in the neighborhood, why not check out Le Verre Volé or Petit Usagi?
- The Do It In Paris guide to the Canal St Martin
- Vintage Shopping by the Canal St Martin
Written by Sara Rahman for the HiP Paris Blog. All photos by Julien Hausherr; Contact:[email protected]. Looking for a fabulous vacation rental in Paris, Provence, or Tuscany? Check out Haven in Paris.
Written by Sara Rahman
Sara Rahman studied history as an undergraduate at Yale University and contemporary feminism as a graduate fellow at Sciences Po. She spent the past academic year writing a paper on family planning and making friends in Paris. She will be attending law school in the fall of 2011, where she hopes to join a folk singing group, write a book, and learn to be a good student in her spare time.
Website: Haven in Paris