Friday, June 23, 2006


One thing guaranteed to put the kibosh on any flanerie is that my right leg is well and truly kaput. My poor legs, I have driven them in to the ground with my relentless crisscrossing of Paris on foot. This obsessive need to join the dots, to explore every nook and cranny of the city so far unknown to me means that I have been walking all day, every day. Do I have sensible walking shoes? In my world, ballet flats and sandals with paper thin soles are sensible walking shoes. I mean, they’re not heels are they?! I dream of my crusty old Birkenstocks and Havaina flip flops languishing in the cupboard at home.

For tired legs and feet I can highly recommend ‘Nuxe Spa Tonific Gel Jambes et Pieds’ to any foot weary traveller. You can buy it at any pharmacy and unlike in the U.K, Nuxe products do not cost an arm and a leg (boomboom).

No amount of soothing gel can put my leg back together again, so I read, curled up with Lulu (ironically I am reading ‘The Flaneur’) and once in a while I shuffle to the bakery, or to sit in the nearby park. Poooooor me.

Pssst! F.Y.I – I quickly discovered that although the Paris sales don’t officially start until next week most shops have already started theirs, it’s just all a bit hush hush as the government strictly regulates when the sales are allowed to take place. So no signs or mark downs, but you’ll know which stores have started because you see boxes of shoes stacked up and all the stock out. And if miracle of miracles you find a human working in one of these places instead of a lemon sucking vampire then they might tell you it's all 50% off.

But I am done with Paris sale shopping. I have some gorgeous things, but hanging around in expensive shoe shops and the like does nothing to dispel the burgeoning realisation that:


I could never understand when anyone said they hated Paris. As far as I was concerned how could you not like such a beautiful, interesting, magical place? Now I understand, what they meant was that they didn’t like Parisians. I suppose if you are a visitor and your only interaction with the locals is with shop assistants and waiters, then yes, you could be forgiven for not wanting to go back - EVER. I try to laugh at my constant humiliations; the shop assistant who hassles me into a shirt (the last one) that we both know is three sizes too big, then fusses around rolling up the cuffs, going on about how divine it looks, it’s supposed to be like that. Then there’s the woman in her late fifties who comments loudly to her colleague (pegging me as a non French speaking foreigner) that I look pregnant in my dress (yes that dress again!) I affect a slight waddle, holding my hand protectively over my non existent bump and stare at her directly for a good thirty seconds. She starts to fidget. Ha – a small triumph! The owner of a shop I wont name is initially shockingly, breathtakingly rude, but when I try on some shoes and she thinks she has a sale on her hands she becomes a fawning sycophant. “Magnifique!” “Oui, vraiment magnifique” purrs her colleague in agreement. I feel as if I’m in a badly scripted film full of stereotypes about French people. This vacuous, two faced world is one I can’t stay in for too long. All I wanted was a pair of Pierre Hardy shoes!

This experience is partly due to my very basic comprehension of French I’m sure. It is also to do with travelling alone. I always thought I travelled well on my own, but this evening when I bumped into a (Japanese) acquaintance from waaay back in London it was so nice to have a chat and pass the time of day, I wonder if I would even notice or care about all the hostility if I’d brought a friend along. One thing’s for sure – my half formed plans to move here are well and truly buried, unless I had a partner in crime to empathise with at the end of an exasperating day.

Belleville is about a million miles away from all that. I go on Tuesday, market day, ascending the Rue du Faubourg du Temple slowly as I note the changing surroundings. This is a real working neighbourhood, not a chichi quartier. I see yams and plantain on sale for the first time here. The further I get up the hill the more I seem to be leaving the Paris I know. When I reach the market and step under the covered central passage it’s as if I’ve literally dived in to another world as one would dive into a swimming pool. I am in Morocco, Algeria, China, Madagascar or….Deptford market! “Pasteque, pasteque, un’euro, un’euro” the traders’ shout, competing against and bantering amongst themselves. I am fully immersed in the scent of mint and peaches. My senses are overwhelmed, and I am so happy in this heightened state. I stick out like a sore thumb with my blue eyes and ipod headphones, but happily so. “N’ecoutez pas la musique mademoiselle, achetez des belles cerises!” (“Don’t listen to music, buy some lovely cherries!”) teases a stall holder. I see Tunisian almonds, those strange segmented tomatoes, crates of fresh sardines, stalls that only sell eggs, onions or spices. I want to sink my hand into a huge sack of lentils like Amelie Poulain. They shout “belles cerises, un’euro”, and as I make my way slowly through the crowd I am greeted by all with that sweet phrase, “Bonjour Mademoiselle!” Just clinging on to being addressed as Mademoiselle by my fingertips! I had resigned myself to being officially relegated – or promoted, depending on how you look at it to Madame. Madaaaame. Madame makes me feel old, as if I should behave respectably, wear 15 denier tights and sensible skirt suits.
Mademoiselle is how I feel, even if they’re only saying it to increase their chances of selling some onions.

I wish I could freeze the scene and take close up pictures of all the stall holders.
Their faces are so full of character and life. I wouldn’t dare, it feels disrespectful. In any case when I take out my camera to photograph the produce they all say, “Pas moi, pas moi” and move out of shot.
As I reach the end nearest Menilmontant I begin to see a few more European faces, the crowd thins out and I become aware that the man behind me is a little too close for comfort. He stops when I stop then continues to shuffle along behind me.
He is stalking me in a ridiculously obvious manner, probably interested in the contents of my bag. I shake him off easily, scurry down into the metro and hop on a train back to France.


Bombay Beauty said...

I've really been enjoying your Lola-unplugged (not sure what that means, but it sounds right) Paris posts. This is a delicate question: a lovely city, a difficult people. Escaping to a less glamorous part of Paris (or of any city one is visiting) is a fine idea, but also not without paradox. Paris is lovely precisely because of all those beautiful streets, shops, and cafes filled with irritable locals. Yet one needs to escape that environment as well. What is the answer? One answer is short frequent visits: often enough to have fun, but short enough to laugh off anything that isn't pleasant. Another, which I favor myself, is to find the residential soul of a city and see if that appeals to you. The tourist part of most cities (London, NY, Paris...) becomes oppressive for one reason or another. Here in NY it's not because people are unpleasant or have a condescending attitude, instead it's because the intensity, the crowds, noise, and pollution all become a bit much. So when I visit a city I always try to have the "if I lived here, then this is where I would stay" scenario. If that appeals to me (in London it certainly does, not sure I've figure it out for Paris), then you've found a city you could actually live in.

Must end this post before my Parisian visitor notices what I'm saying about Paris and Parisians...



Lentilsoop said...

I think you have been experiencing blogosphere withdrawal...and unfortunately the summer presented 'Parisian Ass-Hool'in full bloom, hopefully they will disappear up themselves by the fall leaving lanvin free to be pursued and uninterrupted.Welcome home xx

Lola is Beauty said...

thank you, it's true - so nice to be home catching up on blogs!