Thursday, October 1, 2009

Outside the Comfort Zone

Yesterday we spent time in a Paris virtually without Parisians, or at least the European, beret-wearing, baguette-carrying stereotypical version of a Parisian.  We joined a friend of a friend who was putting together a walking tour of an area most tourists never see, the western half of the 10th arrondissement. 

The arch above was erected by, or at least for, Louis XIV, the Sun King, at the Porte Saint-Denis, one of the original entrances to the then fortified city.  At the time, anything beyond this point was bridge-and-tunnel territory, not truly Paris.  And now, this quartier is home to Africans, Indians, Pakistanis, Turks, Lebanese, and, let's not exagerate, French of European origin as well, but it feels entirely different than the more central and more touristed parts of Paris.

We had lunch at one of the dozens of Indian restaurant to choose from in the Passage Brady and walked past shops selling entirely to customers of ethnic origin: African wig and clothing stores, Indian spice shops, Turkish DVD stores, restaurants of virtually every country with an average daily temperature of 80 degrees Fahrenheit or more.  It's fascinating.

Because at one time this area had been very fashionable (think late 19th century here), there are remnants of those days still.  Brasserie Julien, now a member of the Flo group of restaurants and not much more than a tourist destination empty at lunch, contains one of the loveliest Art Nouveau interiors open to the public.  As an aside, the original Brasserie Flo, in rue des Petites Ecuries nearby, was full of lunching Parisians.  Presumably they know where the food is better.

Behind a locked street door (the secret is to follow someone who has the code to enter) is the onetime home of Marie-Louise O'Murphy, the daughter of an Irish shoemaker who became a mistress to the king and received this house as her reward.  She didn't last long, being unwise enough to annoy Madame de Pompadour, the official mistress, but the house remains, as does the famously erotic portrait of Marie-Louise at 14 years old by Francois Boucher.

Later in the day we found ourselves having to take the metro and change at République station, which is undergoing extensive renovations.  What this meant was that the usual connecting stairs and tunnels were closed and we were directed by extremely unclear signage up, around, over and under nearly every corner of this huge station.

Having finally reached the correct platform (no leg exercises needed this week, folks) we were taken aback to see a line of tall men of clearly African origin wearing flourescent vests and carrying on their heads piles of flat construction material, balanced on syrofoam pads with little help from their hands, for all the world as if they were still in Dakar or Abidjan. Not a wheelbarrow to be seen.

And for the first time I can remember, we saw a NY style graffiti-covered car on a metro train.  I've so far been amazed that the RATP metro system manages to clean the cars so well, but this one was a beaut.

And here, just because I thought you might want to see it, is a shot of some passengers waiting for the next train.



The Barefaced Poet said...

we went to cafe/brasserie Flo (it's opposite le deux magots isn't it?) or it was nearby if i remember rightly.

The decor was fab but all we could afford to eat was chicken and chips, it was very pricey!

we found a lovely cafe up in mont martre though. near the bakery, the sparrows would fy in thru the window and steal the bread crumbs. We had a 3 course lunch each, really tasty and very reasonable if I remember rightly, do you know it? i can't remember what it was called though.

Carolina deWitte said...

The picture behind the seated men, it looks like quartered hard cooked eggs topped with cheese and a design of pimento stuffed olives. What is it in reality? I couldn't read the inscription below, as the people were in the way.

Shelli said...

Carolina, it is in fact quartered hard cooked eggs and pimento stuffed olives. I don't know what it's advertising but suspect it's a mayonnaise or something like that. The text on the bottom is standard warning language about how to eat healthily. This appears on even the unhealthiest food items.