Why I Love my Neighborhood “La Chapelle” in the 18th

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In Paris, each
neighborhood has its own rhythm and unique personality. I’d like to
take you on a tour of my Parisian neighborhood.

I
would be the first to admit it’s not pretty. Too poor for that. Believe
me, we’re real far from the elegant center of Paris. Around me flow
currents of all and sundry ethnic groups, including, but not limited
to: Africans (mostly from Senegal and the Cameroon but also including a
few Congolese), North Africans, Sri Lankans, Chinese, Vietnamese,
Rumanian gypsies, and even a few Russians. Oh yes, there are also some
French people! My neighborhood has among the cheapest real estate in
Paris, so young French couples move here because they can afford it
rather than moving to the suburbs. Let’s put it this way, “It’s not
lovely, but it’s lively.”

As I
leave my apartment building on the Rue de Torcy and turn right, I pass
by the neighborhood pharmacy. This is a stand-by in the neighborhood.
The owner is a middle-aged Frenchman who is polite, upstanding,
understanding, knowledgeable and efficient. What more could you ask?
When I moved into my apartment here, I decided to choose the best
merchants in the area and then frequent them, and them alone, in order
to establish a relationship. I was right on about this pharmacy, as I
have even found some great doctors in the area from the handwritten
list in their little black book. The kicker was the time I didn’t have
exact change for a purchase. They didn’t have change either. “Just pay
us the next time you come in.” Now that’s what I call customer service!

Around
the corner on the Rue de L’Evangile, is the Paris Store, proudly
displaying its sign “Hyper Asiatique.” This oh-so-clever play on words
uses the double meaning of “hyper,” meaning “super” (as in super good)
as opposed to “big” (like hypermarket). Do you know what it means to
have a Chinese supermarket in your neighborhood in Paris? Open all day
Sunday—that’s what it means! While most Parisians are scrambling to get
all their shopping done by Saturday evening or, at best, Sunday
morning, I’ve got all day Sunday. Oh, the luxury. Plus, they have a
great selection of Chinese and Indian spices, tofu and other delicacies
such as freshly made Vietnamese soft eggrolls. In addition, they’ve got
all the normal stuff you expect in a supermarket. Heaven.

Back
down the street and across the block is one of the covered markets of
Paris. These markets are a treasure. (I put a whole chapter about them
in my shopping guide,
Best Buys and Bargains in Paris.)
Under one roof are housed stands with an enormous selection of fresh
fruits and vegetables, cheese, fish, poultry, meat and gourmet take-out
food. I refuse to buy my fruits and veggies anywhere else but from my
favorite Chinese-owned stand in the market. You just can’t beat the
quality. (Their tomatoes even made it onto the cover of my shopping
guide.) I also adore the two fresh cheese stands. There’s something
exceptional about choosing exactly the piece you want (“no, just a bit
more”) and then watching them carefully cut and wrap it just for you.
And let’s not forget the poultry stand where I flirt madly with one of
the men behind the counter. Makes my day.

The
covered market runs along the pedestrian shopping street Rue l’Olive.
When I moved into the neighborhood, it was dead. It has now come to
life. We’ve got gadgets, toys, bedding, make-up, clothes and leather
goods, among other things. There are also several cafés crowded at
lunchtime and where you can relax in the afternoon with an espresso or
mint tea. At the far end is a large fruit and vegetable stand owned and
run by The Five Tunisian Brothers and Their Cousin. When I first moved
in, it was owned by a Frenchman. He sold the business to The Five
Tunisian Brothers and Their Cousin who then turned their stand into a
brilliant success, and proceeded to buy the fruit and vegetable stand
just across the Rue. I still remember the glazed eyes of the former
owner of the second stand when customers actually began buying his
fruits and veggies! I think by now he has recovered from the shock. I
also recently made the acquaintance of one of their workers who comes
from Sri Lanka and who likes to practice his English with me.

Now—on
to Bob and Max. Another success story is the café in the middle of the
Rue. It originally was a beauty supply store, suddenly and mysteriously
transformed into a café. The manager is Max who comes from Senegal.
When he heard me speaking French with my American accent, he
immediately asked me “Where you from?” It turns out that Max lived for
awhile in the U.S. and loves to show off his English. And flirt. Word
travels fast in our neighborhood. In the middle of our café, my friend
and I were approached by a tall man who stated, “I hear you’re
American. Hi, I’m Bob.” I can only assume this is an example of the
Bob-Max connection. Now, about once a week (or more) I run into either
Bob or Max somewhere in the neighborhood and share a big “Hi, how ya’
doin’?”

Turn left at the end of
the Rue L’Olive and walk down the busy but drab Rue Riquet to the Rue
Pajol. On the corner is what appears to be an enormous abandoned
warehouse. Look again. Just inside the fence sits a knight in armor on
a horse, rearing up toward the sky. Welcome to the workshop and studio
of artist Carlos Regazzoni, known as “El Gato Viejo.”(I was intrigued
by the mixture of Spanish and Italian and found out later that Carlos
is Argentinean.) I had noticed Mr. Knight for some time, having sighted
him on my walks around the neighborhood. One evening, after dinner with
a friend, I took her over to see Mr. Knight. Lo and behold—the gates
were open! It was a Friday evening, and Carlos was having an open
house. It was magic. The entire warehouse, the size of several football
fields, was positively stuffed with fantastic figures of welded scrap
metal. There were animals, people, the Virgin Mary, birds, frogs,
airplanes, insects, you name it. It was another world.

There
it is. Just a poor Parisian neighborhood on the outskirts of the city.
If for any reason in the future I decide to move to another place, my
first question will certainly be, “Yes, this is all very nice, but how
is the neighborhood?”


Jeanne
Feldman is an intercultural specialist working with English speaking
expatriates to help them integrate into french life, both
professionally and personally. In addition she works with French
executives who need to communicate internationally.

Jeanne has also written a shopping guide, Best Buys and Bargains in Paris.

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