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

   1929  
  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…
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