This week, we arrived in Paris for a year.
Our apartment is the same one that we rented nearly two years ago on the heels of my retirement. It’s small. No… It’s tiny. But I love its twelve-foot high ceilings, dark wooden beams, windows as tall as me, views over grey rooftops dotted with hundreds of orange chimney tops.
I watch the man across the way as he leans out of his window and smokes. He’s still there.
But it’s the neighborhood I love the most. The eleventh. A district summarized by an expat I met who has lived in the 7th for 30 years, “Ah the 11th,” she sighed, “That is the real Paris.”
I agree. Coffee shops where I am welcomed to linger all morning. Four boulangeries within 50 yards of our apartment. One city block that holds three wine shops, a fish store, two butchers, three cheese shops, a florist and a trifecta of take-away delis: Japanese, Sicilian and Greek.
In our favourite restaurant our first night, the owner remembered us and brought over two glasses of champagne, “To welcome you back.”
It’s a place where people do not switch to English when I speak to them in French.
And it’s a diverse community. The restaurant next to our apartment advertises the food of Bangladesh. Around the corner are a cluster of restaurants that serve the dishes of Senegal. I have no idea what any of this means, but in this world of culinary mysteries I can’t wait to play Sherlock Holmes.
At last, I am reunited with my favorite Senegalese immigrant, my butcher, Bouba. It turns out Bouba was back home for an extended holiday when we left Paris eighteen months ago. I was relieved to find him back, and safe.
Around the corner from our apartment a twice weekly market sells a hundred varieties of cheese, known and unknown types of produce, meat—including horse, yikes! —and fish–so many species of fish. When coupled with the market slightly further down Richard Lenoir at the Bastille, there are four days every week when I can buy our meals directly from the vendors.
I can also pick up pajamas, cooking gadgets, Edith Piaf CDs or a thousand other random items that I wonder now how I ever lived without.
Across the street from the market is the Bataclan Theater. This was one of the scenes of carnage last November when extremists went on a rampage. I am reminded of this each day when the gendarmes stride past me, four across with three-foot-long automatic weapons clasped at their chest.
But I refuse to dwell on this. Those extremists do not define this neighborhood any more than a crazed young man who murdered twenty elementary-school children in a small Connecticut town defines the United States.
You see, I don’t love this neighborhood in spite of its diversity. I love it because of its diversity. It reminds me of home. It reminds me of the best of what it means to be an American.
Our first day back, I stopped by the butcher to see Bouba and pick up a rotisserie chicken for dinner, along with a tray of decadent potatoes which were cooked under the sizzling drip of the chicken juices.
Bouba looked at me. Paused. “I know you,” he said, “Your husband is…” and he placed his hand in the air to indicated tall.
He laughed that I remembered his name. I went on to explain that we used to live nearby, and that we are back, “For an entire year.”
“Julie, I will always have a chicken for you,” he laughed, “Please, never leave us again!” Then he handed me my package; I thanked him; he nodded.
In every sense of the word, Bouba gives me sustenance. And this neighborhood is a better place because he lives here.
Categories: A year in Paris