Saturday, February 9, 2019

Paris - New Again

Paris in February is usually a study in grey with rain that can dampen the spirits of even the city's most ardent admirers.  And then comes one of those perfect, rare winter days when the sun shines brightly and you feel there is no place you would rather be. Today is such a day.

We arrived in Paris recently for a two-month stay We left behind an arctic midwest, covered with snow and blinding in its sunny intensity. We're living in a new neighborhood, abandoning for this year the apartment we usually rent in the Marais.  Instead, we are in a  studio apartment in the 9th arrondissement, away from the Paris center that most tourists know. We love the Marais and the spacious apartment we rent, but we've been feeling a bit of wanderlust recently.  So when a friend offered us the use of his studio apartment, we jumped at the chance.

Compact is probably the best word to describe our new home.  Everything, including a very serviceable kitchen, a dining, sitting and sleeping area are all in one room. The bathroom is modern and as big as the one in our Marais apartment, which is another way of saying pretty small. The apartment is bright and cheery.  It's in a back courtyard so it's ultra quiet and it can be cleaned in under an hour, leaving a lot more time for exploring our new neighborhood. And today was a perfect day to begin.

I started out our front door on avenue Trudaine. It's a wide, tree-lined street with a spectacular view up the hill to Montmartre and the Basilica of Sacre Coeur. 

Across the street from us is a high school and the garden of the Square d'Anvers. From 1810 to 1867, the site was home to the slaughterhouse of Montmartre. In 1810, in response to complaints from many Parisians, Napoleon ordered that the five abattoir located in central Paris be moved outside the city. At the time, avenue Trudaine was a country road and Montmartre was a small village with stone quarries and gypsum mines. 

I walked down avenue Trudaine to the rue des Martyrs, famous since the 5th century when according to legend, St. Denis was beheaded there for preaching the Christian gospel.  He promptly picked up his head and walked uphill, expiring many miles away at what is now the site of the Basilica St. Denis. 

I did not follow in St. Denis footsteps, but rather walked downhill past the carousel on the Place Lino Ventura. On this sunny day, it was filled with young children and their delighted cries added to the pleasure of the morning.  But who, I wondered, was Lino Ventura? In the interest of knowledge, I detoured to a nearby cafe for an internet search. Turns out Ventura was a well-known and very popular actor who appeared (mostly as a heavy) in dozens of French films. Ventura grew up in France, but he was born in  Italy - most fittingly on Bastille Day, France's national day. I've noticed over the years that no matter how long I spend in France, there are always these cultural lapses, facts that I should know, but don't.  But at least now, if Lino ever comes up in conversation, I'll be ready. 

In the last few years, there has been a lot of gentrification on the rue des Martyrs and the adjacent area of South Pigalle. Well on its way to becoming one of the hippest areas of Paris, the area even has a new name - SoPi. The change has been happening gradually since 2004, when  concept hotels, trendy new restaurants and natural food stores began replacing many of the former adult film stores or rent-by-the-hour hotels.  

The same change is evident on the rue des Martyrs, where several of the old stores have been replaced by more upscale cousins. The most recent demise is Le Bouquinaire, a pleasant jumble of a bookstore that has been in business for 33 years.  Now a sign on the window announces: "Everything must go." In spite of the changes, the street retains much of its small town charm. Many of the stores still cater to everyday needs, including shoe repair, a lock store and an hardware store.  There are several fish, vegetable and meat markets, although the shops selling horse meat and tripe have been replaced with others selling olive oil, jam or chocolate. I browsed in dozens of small stores, restaurants, bakeries and cafes whiling away the day.  Ive decided to try out a cafe a day until I find my favorite. 

A lot of the fun of being in a new neighborhood is not knowing what is around the next corner. You can wander about, going where your fancy takes you.  Inevitably you get lost, but that is part of the pleasure. You see a restaurant or a cafe or a bakery and realize you are hungry or thirsty or just need a rest.  You choose one and go in. 

A la prochaine,

Photos by Geraldine Calisti Kaylor