Monday, September 6, 2010

Le belle Belleville

Tomorrow is the first day of class for me, but the following couple of days are my last days of freedom to walk around and explore Paris to my heart’s delight. Already this weekend was a great introduction to my neighborhood, Belleville. I simply love it here and can’t believe my luck to be able to experience such a different, but equally fascinating Paris compared to intellectual and uppedy-nose St.-Germain-des-Pres. Firstly Place des Fetes – it’s a tiny little park on a rather large square, surrounded by not all too aesthetically pleasing high-rise buildings. But there is a market three times a week – Tuesday, Friday and Sunday mornings – and then you can feel the real Parisian spirit waft through the air together with the delicious smell of fresh baguette. It still makes me excited to see how excited Parisians are about food. Walking up Rue de Belleville yesterday noon, you could tell the best butchers, bakers and fishmongers by the lines that were building on the sidewalk in front of their shop. Little children are taken along to the Sunday morning achats and wait patiently for their parents turn in line, maybe watching the roasting chickens turn on their shashlik. At the cheese makers, the women serving you will ask when you want to eat your camembert – tonight, tomorrow or within the week? – and poke her finger into the different cheeses on display until she finds the right one. At the market, again, the freshest and tastiest veggies – not necessarily the cheapest ones though – are well-marked by the line that forms quickly at their stand, but standing in line (trusting the locals is always a good idea) just gives you enough time to decide whether this week will be zucchini-, eggplant- or pumpkin-week, whether the tomatoes and the basil both look good enough to make insalata caprese, and whether you can afford to get fresh figs this week as well or rather try the fresh dates. Also, wearing a skirt at the market is always a good idea if you want to have free samples of apricots, melon and pineapple, though you might have to deal with a kiss on the cheek from some of the merchants and endless calls of “Mademoiselle! Mademoiselle! Bonjour!”. Finally, I counted yesterday rigorously and seriously, every second person I saw on the street was carrying a baguette. Or flowers. It makes me happy to think about all the happy wives cooking at home when their husband comes from the market with kids crunching fresh carrots and a huge bouquet of wild flowers in his hand.

But Belleville has so much more to offer than the market and typically French stores. Down the street are one after the other a tiny Indian place, two Vietnamese “Pho”-soup places, a Chinese ravioli restaurant, an Arab grocery store that stocks evverything in the tiniest amount of space possible, one or two Thai places (though unfortunately with little vegetarian plates, maybe one should inquire whether they make any), and then at the very bottom you get to one of Paris’ largest China towns where all the shops have labels in Chinese and French, and I explored a huge supermarket with very intriguing products (many of which were not labelled in English, and looked… interesting). To top it all off, East of Rue Belleville there is a beautiful park that overlooks the town and where the city offers free wifi.

Yes. free wifi. In a park with view on the Eiffel tower.

Welcome to my corner of Paris.

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