Running free across Paris in lockdown


Between pavement and stars: freerunner Simon Nogueira flits across the roof tops of Paris. (Photo: AFP)

Agile and astute, Simon Nogueira wanders over the rooftops of Paris.

The city might be in lockdown but Nogueira, a professional freerunner, is revelling in the dazzling panoramas over an urban landscape that, free of traffic, has become more than ever the City of Light.

With a black hat on his head, socks adorned with smileys and an official certificate valid for a one-hour escapade, a relaxed Nogueira rolls up on his skateboard in front of an eight-storey Parisian apartment block in the traditional Haussmann style.

He slips inside. At the end of a seventh-floor corridor, a glass door gives onto a black ladder anchored in a wall. Climbing silently, he scoots up to his rooftop playground.

Across the roofscape he can see the Eiffel Tower and the modern hulk of the Montparnasse tower. To his right the hilltop domes of Sacre-Coeur loom over Paris.

"It's a crazy thing about the rooftops, I can see far away," he said.

"Usually, there's this luminous pollution, which obscures your vision quite a bit. I have the impression that the view is clear. There's less of this opaque curtain, which can sometimes fill the 360-degree Parisian panorama.

"I even have the impression that I see more stars," he added, happily.

Nogueira climbs above his beloved Paris day and night to practice his sport across the roofs and sills that are often galvanised with zinc.

Freerun is the urban art, sprinting and spinning across the skyline, leaping obstacles and gaps and flirting with gravity by performing acrobatic moves above an eight-storey void.

 'I'm living like a cat' 

Nogueira makes a living from freerun. He is one of its stars and part of the French Freerun Family, a team who took part in the promotional video for the video game Assassin's Creed and who also have their own line of branded clothing.

"I don't always have to wander very far, it depends on the mood of the moment. If the light is not bad, I settle down, leaning against zinc. I feel as if I'm living like a cat. I don't plan."

"For me, this lockdown isn't so bad," said Nogueira, who is used to finding fresh air by climbing out of the window of his seventh-floor flat.

"I let myself be guided by the beauty of what I find here or there. If I go to the right, I might find something beautiful. There's a big ray of sunshine over there, I'll go there. Then suddenly I find a facade that is scalable," he says, sitting on small chimney pots.

At the beginning of the confinement, he found Paris silent as never before.

 'Very special energy' 

Now, with the weather improving and the quarantine discipline wearing thin, the noise is returning.

On the streets, Parisians are venturing out more and the warm sun is drawing people onto the balconies and terraces of their flats.

Nogueira passes a party on the flat roof of a large building, singing and cheering as they welcome the sun.

From below, an amplified voice from a police-car loud-speaker chides passers-by in this residential neighbourhood in the 19th arrondissement in the northeast of Paris.

Nogueira smiles.

It's time to go home after feeding off the "very special energy" he finds on the rooftops.

He is waiting for the restrictions, limiting trips outside to one kilometre and one hour, to end so he can roam the top of the city for longer in search of discoveries.

"What I want to do is to go far away, to escape. All the more so because I'm confined," he said. "I can't wait to be around humans again. I want to live and to leave."

Not far away, across the rooftops, another member of the French Freerun Family is waiting to return to his acrobatics.

In his living room, Johan Tonnoir, injured training for his death-defying sport, can only perch on his window sill like a house cat and look out at the surrounding buildings.