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Where We Live in Paris
People invariably ask us where we live in Paris. It's a question we dread, because no one is ever happy with the answer.
“Near the Moulin Rouge,” is about the best we can do to appease them, but those who know even a little about Paris know that's not where guide books tell you it's nice.
We don't have the guts to say things like, “We live next to an excellent tattoo parlor. Have you heard to Tin-Tin Tatouage? Tin-Tin is a genius.” or “Are you familiar with Paris' sex district? We're really close by in case you need a poupée gonflable – that's French for blow-up doll!”
This is not the answer they want. They want to hear what they've been told in the past, that Americans live on the left bank. That like Adam Gopnik in Paris to the Moon, Americans live within steps of the Jardin de Luxembourg. That like Susan Spano in her ongoing Los Angeles Times Paris series, Americans should spend $2,500 per month on a Paris rental apartment after an extensive search for a “good deal.” On the left bank.
My mother is coming to visit. “Can we go to the left bank?” she asks in advance.
Well I'm here to tell you people that we can't afford the left bank. Hemingway drove up the real estate prices ages ago, and it's never been the same since.
When we bought our little studio in Paris three years ago, we were willing to live anywhere. As it is, we were lucky to get a place in the 9th arrondissement, on the edge of the 18th, which is where the movie Amelie Poulain was filmed. She's fictional and she managed to drive up real estate prices, too.
Imagine the glamour of living just one metro stop from Pigalle. Who wouldn't want to tell their friends that the six-story Sexodrome is just a short walk away? Or that the nearby Musée de l'Erotisme (Eroticism Museum) has a very intriguing and historical chair in the window with a...how shall I put this?...a Ferris wheel of tongues circling at the edge of the seat? (No, you can't try out the chair. At least as far as I'm aware.)
And don't even ask about the clothing boutiques in the area.
So, our little piece of Paris is near some stuff not everyone is interested in. Well that's what's great about this city. You can walk out our door in about 10 other directions and miss the entire show. Frankly, those of us Americans who live around here – and there are several of us – don't find it shocking. It sort of makes us giggle. The whole strip of stores/clubs is just trying a little too hard to make everyone nervous.
And the upside of living in a 24-hour neighborhood? It's filled with 24-hour, 7-days-a-week services that Americans are used to but often find impossible to come by in Paris. Two French chain restaurants around the corner are open until 3 and 5 a.m. everyday. I'm not saying they are Michelin-starred restaurants, but they're a heck of a lot better than Waffle House or Denny's. Last time I checked, I couldn't get a warm goat cheese salad at IHOP.
We have little grocery stores that stay open until the middle of the night, long after the normal supermarkets have closed at 9 p.m. (The 24-hour grocery is not even a concept yet here as far as I can tell.) On French national holidays, when everything is supposed to be closed, our neighborhood is bustling.
And you're never alone on the street. It feels like a city at nearly any hour of the day. It feels the way I want a city to feel, surging with life and energy.
And of course, we still have all the regular features of a typical Parisian neighborhood. The boulangeries, the patisseries, the produce guys, the butcher, the antique stores, the corner cafés and bistros with their neighborhood regulars, puffing away on their cigarettes and discussing world issues over a drink. Men and women walking their poodles and Westies and pugs – and rarely picking up after them. There's a small park at the end of our block where you'll find parents with their kiddos on a sunny afternoon, playing in the sandbox or hanging from the monkey bars.
Don't worry: It's still Paris.
Just with the occasional tattoo.
C. Paula Caballero