Thursday, July 25, 2013
An Aussie in Paris
An Australian in Paris
My Parisian second life! How it began and 6 ‘Petite’ years on how things have changed in my adopted neighbourhood!
(BEWARE: it's LOOOONG! hehe)
Christophe the Crepe Man
There is an old crepe chef who lives above his rustic crepe café on the corner of my apartment block in Montmartre, Paris. He is quirky and peculiar with a small fluff of hair remaining on his crown. He is a typical example that life in Montmartre is as it was, and always will be - simple, slow, routine and tradition reigning supreme, yet with so much richness and depth that can only come from a steep sense of tradition, purpose, quality, hard work and character. He strolls into his shop at the same time every morning, performs the same tasks in the same way, at the same time, to serve the old regulars and return home at the same time to no-doubt perform the same nightly routine of dinner, rest and bed. The same path he takes, the same gestures he makes and the few words he speaks are gruff, abrupt and matter-of-fact. Speaking only when necessary, everything is a statement without explanations and he asks no questions. He prompts no one to order. But in truth he is secretly a sweet man, character-ful, paradoxically full of life.
Christophe used to look at me with disinterest but over the years I’ve become a familiar face and I suppose I have been ‘accepted’. It takes a long time to be accepted or even recognized as part of the village face in any area of Paris since all are so diverse, populated and changing; but I love that when I walk past on any day now he (along with other locals) will give me a simple quick nod of familiar acquaintance, before turning to his next customer in annoyance. I smile knowing they are about to be taste the best crepes in Paris and wont care one bit about his demeanor – and like Christophe and his Montmartre life, the Crepes never change one bit!
J’arrive (I arrive):
One December afternoon in 2007 I arrived in Paris for the first time. A friend recommended I stay in Montmartre knowing how idealistic and romantic I am about the quaint and typically old world feel of small European villages. I made my way to a B&B apartment that I found by chance online on an unassuming, slightly ‘dodgy’ looking website that normally I would avoid but I followed my first deeper instinct and booked for 1 month. That apartment has now become my regular little abode in Paris and the owner is my B&B Partner. Since that first year Montmartre village and I have become very close. Returning each Winter for 6 years, observing changes and non-changes in life in each other it’s a beautiful affair. I fell in love with Montmartre that first winter and I keep falling each year.
My first impression was simply one of ‘awe’. Beyond my imaginings and expectations it was and still is the quintessential old-world charming, moody, quaint, inspiring and utterly picturesque Paris neighbourhood. What struck me most was that the neighbourhood seemed to offer a haven of peace within such a bustling city, even though still very touristic, the quiet corners and hidden streets offered solace and escape. It’s another world.
My ‘Artist’ Comes Out
There is bohemian spirit in the air. The neighbourhood was an artists inspiration back in the day with many of the French impressionists residing there (one of the Petite Paris apartments is actually the old home of French Impressionist Pissaro) it was when I first arrived and today still very much an artists abode with local painters, who for centuries, have been filling the centre of the ‘Place du Tertre’ offering landscape and self-portraits, as well as the odd rugged artist painting on various corners and laneways around the neighbourhood. Add multiple art galleries, the most famous cabaret venues in Paris and it’s an artistic and cultural feast. These are the images I loved and still love today. Locals exaggerate the artists scene at times but much to the delight of the visitors who only want to see Montmartre in its old artists glory and this is something that I don’t think will ever change, nor would I want it!
Traditional trumps Trendy
Parisians hold fast to their customs, traditions and ideals. This is one of the beauties that I have observed over the years of Montmartre and Paris itself and it only deepens the appreciation I have for the culture, the devotion to art and way of life.
I am continually impressed with the same reliable ambience, way of life and lifestyle (the attitude of the French) that has not changed one bit, but mostly it’s the strength of the people, the resistance and resilience to remain and retain the same way of life; still going about their village life performing the old rituals and customs as though no time has passed.
I love the fresh markets and the local epiceries (independent grocery shops) though sadly the number of these have significantly reduced as the chain supermarkets make it harder for the ‘little fish’ to survive.
But the characters of Montmartre are rowdy and tough and resistant to modern day changes. They are survivors and will stick out tradition to the death. And I doubt that traditional epiceries and other types will ever completely die out. The old brasseries and tabacs shops remain the same, as do traditional tea rooms and cafes with their dark wood red leather chair interiors; thankfully!
Each year I’m always surprised to discover more and new nooks and crannies I had not yet discovered in Montmartre. It’s mind-boggling to think but true after all these years I’m still getting to know my neighbourhood. I can easily spend entire days and weeks in this neck of the Parisian woods and admittedly, I often do. Everything you need is there – some of the best restaurants, cafes, bakeries, cinemas, live music venues, clubs, the quaintest and idyllic wine bars, theatres and shows, shopping, museums, parks, secret laneways, secret gardens, the beautiful Montmartre Cemetery, organic fresh markets and more. Im always intrigued to see what new shops, cafes and restaurants open up while I’m away and its fun to try them out, but secretly I am happy that the old traditional and best ‘oldies’ always remain. Such as (GO TO): Creperie Broceliande - go to crepe heaven at this well known creperie place, with it's very quirky owner!
A Food Affair
The best boulangeries/bakeries live in Montmartre. No one knows why, or maybe they do, but the award winners for best baguette, croissant etc each year is always given to the Bakers of Montmartre hill. There must be a village secret. Winning stickers are strung across windows displays and Parisians line up and out the door, down the road to the next corner. Patience is a virtue, it promises the best service when you finally get to the front where staff will treat you as though there is no one else waiting; (another inscribed characteristic of the French folk) and it will get you the best bread. GO TO: Gontran Cherrier, Au Levain D'Anton and Grenier!
A healthy handful of Biologique Natural health food stores open up around Paris in General and again especially in Montmartre. There are a number of organic supermarkets, fresh fruit market and multiple organic bakeries and patisseries. The French have definitely caught on to the health food movement offering new-age’ made baked options as well as traditional. Coquelicot Cafe is an all time and favourite famous sunny cafe/boulangerie using organic wheat.
For a gastronomic capital, Paris surprisingly had a notorious reputation for serving coffee that was burnt bitter and basically uncared for. But you accepted it as part of the café experience. Interestingly it is Australia’s coffee influence that has lifted Paris out of its slump. Australian owned, operated or bean imported cafes are taking the city by storm. 3 of which are located in Montmartre. Coffee lovers GO TO Black Market, le Bal and Kooka Boora. Paris, meet good coffee, finally!
Le Vrais Paris is an iconic café on the main drag on rue Abbesses. Le ‘Vrais’ meaning ‘the true’ (i.e real) Paris. Always rowdy and full of trendy locals, it’s a typical Parisian brasserie, wooden interior, red leather banquets, and in the most centralized location of Montmartre. It’s a meeting point for Parisians and my regular morning or afternoon coffee.
Pepone - The Butcher on the corner of rue Lepic and rue Abbesses. In fact this corner itself is an iconic spot in Paris connecting everything from the Moulin Rouge district to the Place du Terte and Sacre Coeur. The butcher on the corner spills out onto the footpath and always has a huge swarm of Parisians surrounding, purchasing their meat products. It’s a festive, social and rowdy scene everyday, Parisians at their best. I am always curious to see what the days/weeks specialties are.
The Windmills of Montmartre - only 2 traditional Parisian windmills remain and they are both in Montmartre – one of which is located at the famous ‘Le Moulin de la Galette’ restaurant - a beautiful corner of the neighbourhood that captures the essence of Montmartre perfectly. Clos Montmartre is the secret last remaining vineyard Paris.