This morning we were woken by voices outside our window. It turned out that there was a communal garage sale (known here as “attic sale”) going on. So we walked up and down the street surveying the French junk, not much different from the American junk. Then we decided to continue our off-the beaten-track Parisian tour and walk from our very residential and nondescript area toward the old town. We headed for Marais, it is being a Jewish neighborhood, open on Sunday. The walk was long and non-eventful. We passed nothing exciting to report. It turned out much farther than I anticipated and some hours later we finally crossed the Seine and walked into le Marais. Boy oh boy! The neighborhood has changed since I last visited. Where it was dull and sleepy then, today it is full of life. It was totally hopping. Mobs of people were walking the beautiful streets, sitting in luxury cafes and walking in and out of boutiques. The mood and feel was that of the Village and the look unmistakably Parisian. We walked to Place des Vosges that years ago was a remnant of its former grandeur – an empty square amidst a perfect architectural ensemble of dilapidated buildings with fading and peeling paint. I remember rueing about this amazing piece of real estate having gone to seed along with the neighborhood. Not today. The square and the whole surrounding area are restored to their former glory. The buildings boast fresh paint, the covered arcade at their base hosts cafes and shops, and the park in the middle is full of beautiful people hanging out to see and be seen. We walked the restored streets to the heart of the Jewish Marais, Rue des Rosiers. Another surprise – the street is not the sleepy provincial street of yore. Still very Jewish, its restaurants reflecting that, it was bustling with young people, the store widows were amazing, and the falafel we sampled was the best. So was the pastry from a local patisserie. This neighborhood once was home to an Ashkenazi community most of which perished in the Holocaust. It was repopulated in the 1950’s with Sephardic Jews fleeing the wrath of Arabs in Algeria, Morocco, and Tunisia. The restaurants and bakeries therefore are mostly Middle Eastern. Unfortunately, we had to leave this wonderful neighborhood and run to the Latin Quarter where we had reserved tickets for a classical guitar concert at the Syrian Orthodox church of St. Ephrem.
Something about the people: once again I found the French very nice and hospitable. I never had problems with any of them and feel that they did not deserve their bad reputation. As a matter of fact, they are very accepting. Yesterday, when we sat in a restaurant at lunch, a gypsy women strolled in and walked around offering to read the patrons’ palms, nobody objected. Then, an elderly African man walked in and tried to sell a tribal necklace. Lo and behold, a couple next to us engaged in a lively conversation with him and ended up buying the necklace. Not to mention the fact that they let dogs in the restaurants. As to the eating habits, we all know that the French live to eat. Yesterday, at the antique flea market, where American merchants would grab a sandwich on the run, the French set up folding tables and chairs COVERED WITH table clothes and laid out Babette’s feasts of steaming platters and the obligatory wine.
Yes, the French like their basic comforts. Today in Marais we passed a homeless man’s lair – a mattress with pillows, blankets, sheets, and a tied up cat.
So we had had enough of the alternative Paris and as of tomorrow we are going to revisit all touristy neighborhoods because, my dear friends, they are touristy for a reason.