The ‘hood

Massive apologies for deserting you all so soon into my visit.  But I have a good reason.

As you may know, I had a slight accident last week.  It actually happened on my quest for blog material, but more on that next time. I banged myself up pretty well and lost heart a little while I was recovering.

But no permanent damage was done, I am almost recovered and time to carry on where I left off…

Around the neighborhood

The day prior to being a complete idiot and falling down some steps, I went for a good long wander around my neighborhood. I am living in “The Marais” district of Paris.   I gave a pre-arrival low-down of the area in this post, but for a quick recap it is:

  • central
  • historical (well, duh, it is Paris)
  • gay (as in “the men don’t undress me with their eyes” gay)
  • Chinese/Jewish
  • possibly hot and sticky

So I started out, eager beaver, camera in hand to snap some morsels for you, my faithful reader.

Outside my door - looks a bit grim, eh?

The first thing that strikes me, every time I exit my courtyard onto the main street, is the quiet. Many of the shops are shuttered (maybe 80% of the street), most covered in graffiti and the seemingly permanent fixture of garbage cans all long the street give it a very desolate feel.  Strange for somewhere right in the center of Paris.

With the recent riots in the UK, there are a seemingly endless number of journalists who want to liken the situation to the widespread UK riots of 1981 and a few have mentioned the Specials’ “Ghost Town,”  a song whose lyrics reflected the UK’s plunging economy and widespread poverty that pre-empted those riots.  Hardly the same situation in my own space right now, but as I walk up and down these shuttered streets that song plays endlessly in my head. My block could be straight out of Jerry Dammer song about urban decay.

My block....

BUT!!! I have to keep reminding myself, this is not an area in decline. Au contraire. Most Parisians save up their pennies all year, and in August can afford to completely shut their businesses and head out-of-town for the whole month!

According to one blogger, this baker, located opposite my front door, has the best croissants in the city. They are closed for the whole of August! Devastated!

So I put depression and riots out of my mind and hit the streets.

The first corner I come to:

The corner of my block

The corner of my block - pretty impressive

As I wander, I notice quite stark changes just going from street to street. There are really quite distinct areas…..

My Block

Weirdly, all there the only shops seem to be jewellery shops and leather handbag shops. One after another.  Plus the odd “support” shops, maybe selling jewellery parts, leather, or buttons.  At first I thought the gold and leather were down to the Jewish community, but they’re not.  They are all run by the local Chinese population who got into textiles in a big way.

The Sustenance Street

I love this street, just around the corner…

All in a neat row there is one each of

The Butcher

  • The Butcher
  • The Baker
  • The  Candlestick Maker
    (sorry, that’s a lie, there is no candlestick shop, which is a big shame, but I did get some candles next door at Franprix  Supermarché )
  • The Cheesemonger
  • The Grocer
  • The Fishmonger
  • The Cake shop
  • The Wine shop
  • The Flower shop
  • The Chocolatier
And a few brasseries thrown in for good measure if you fancy a mid-afternoon vino to help with the shopping.

But if this is all sounding a bit much, you can just nip to the supermarket next door and get it all in one go.  But why would you do that?  (Except maybe to avoid speaking French and looking like an idiot…)

Falafel Road

These 2 block are absolutely cram-packed with falafel shops.  There must be 10-20 different places within a 2 minute walk.

A dozen or more falafel shops crammed into one small block

Part of "Falafel Road." Most of the shops are tiny little places; this was one of the most popular.

The Hacidic Area

The Hacidic Jew Block. This photo didn't come out as planned as I was trying to be stealthy, but there is a huddle of young-uns on the RHS of the photo.

Adjacent to Falafel Road. One block with plenty of Hacidic Jews in full regalia (must be hot…)   and shop after shop stocked with  Hanukkah menorahs and Stars of David.

The Gay Bar Area

Well, what can I say. Being (virtually) a native San Franciscan, I am no stranger to this scene and it brought a big smile to my face.  Bars overflowing with gorgeous young studs and not so gorgeous older men sporting shaved heads, goatees and leather waistcoats. And lots of little dogs wearing tiny bandanas and sparkly collars.

The Tourist Area

You know what I mean. They are the same everywhere.

The Verdict

That brings me onto the one overwhelming feature of my walk-around, the thing that remains constant wherever I look, without fail so far:  the beautiful architecture. It is everywhere.

I grew up in Europe and moved to America when I was 21. For my first few years I was quite scathing of Americans and their amazement when they saw a building over 100 years old. But having lived out of Europe for 20 years now, I now know how they feel.

I wander around Paris like an idiot, mouth wide open, usually in a big grin, staring up at the buildings all around me. Parisian buildings have this beautiful creamy- peachy color to them, especially at the time I seem to do most of my wandering – late afternoon. It is wonderful calming color and the combination with wrought iron balconies and slate rooftops is just beautiful.

Random castles on random street corners....

The local parfumerie - how fab!

I love this area, it was a good choice. I’m not so sure of my actual street, but it is near to shops, a park, monuments. And I suspect it might look like a very different place a week from now when everyone pours back into Paris en masse and all the shops will open – for me – for the first time.  Including the best croissant-erie in Paris!

More photos to come soon I hope!

The park on the next block

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