I moved to Paris one and a half months ago in order to improve my French and enjoy the Parisian atmosphere. I plan to stay another two and a half months, and hope to add a bit to my blog, because Paris is truly worth writing about.
It seems an endless city of old houses and secret corners, and in four months I will only be able to scratch the surface of what Paris is and means. Thus, I decided to focus on those secret corners which I frequent on a daily basis, and for the first 8 weeks those are the 18e and 19e arrondissements.
I live in the 18e on the non-tourist part of the Montmartre hill. – that is, if you walk further uphill, you’ll run into Swedish families, Spanish students, middle-aged Americans and the strange little white train that drives up to Sacré-Cœur. But down here, everyone speaks French.
The street I live on has everything, and it seems to be a microcosm from which it is not necessary to leave except to buy particular building supplies or other items not commonly used in the daily life of a Parisien (and then you still don’t have to go that far).
The pharmacie is on the other side of the street next to the banque and the boulangerie, which off course is Artisan – whatever that means in the world of bread.
On my side you find the boucherie, the papeterie, the flower store, the fruits and vegetable store, the tabac and the brownish sunshades belonging to the local corner bistro.
There is also a café, a school, a laundromat, a one hour photoshop around the corner, another papeterie, and in the proximity you’ll find several bars, bistros, brasseries including Chez Lucette and Bande A Bon’Eau. And then off course; Franprix, Monoprix, Championnet and Lidl. – A very lively place indeed and taken right out of the pages about direction in any ‘Learn French’ book.
The 18e is in many ways an extremely diverse area, and a few streets apart very different segments of the population are living. My street seems to be full of very old Parisien ladies, made of porcelain, meeting and greeting on the pedestrian paths. In nearby streets are HLM apartments (social housing) and the further North and North East of the Montmartre hill the more it changes into neighbourhoods of mainly immigrants and people descended from French Africa.
You might say that I live at a crossroad in between tourists, old ladies and immigrants. Thus, depending on my direction I will end up in completely different areas, each beautiful and in its own way distinctly Parisian.
One of my favourite destinations is Rue Ordener as it runs from Championnet and all the way to Marcadet Poissonniers, across the train tracks and lands at Marx Dormoy.
It is such a busy street, with so much going on, and once again it seems a crossroad of so many different Parisiens. The best thing is to hit the street on a day of wide-grenier (flea market), where the entire one side of the street is filled with stands selling all sorts of things, including a large variety of plastic horses.
Where Ordener meets Damremont, there is a small square. Here lies Bande a Bon’Eau which I try to frequent every Saturday when the place is filled with locals enjoying lunch and talking to each other on a first name basis.
Out on the small square are two benches. One of them is often filled with old men talking and enjoying the sun (when it comes out), and the other is the residence of the neighbourhoods homeless woman. I think she has decided rather than been forced to live on the bench, and she doesn’t seem to be your ordinary homeless.
Rather, she reads and writes all day long, always wearing her faded red cap. Whatever her reasons for leading the life she does, she is an accepted part of the area. Moreover, it is often possible to distinguish newcomers as they tend to stare while the neighbourhood residents don’t really notice her anymore.
There is so much going on in this small corner of Paris, and I feel lucky to have the chance of becoming a part of it for four months.