The act of reading ... begins on a flat surface, counter or page, and then gets stirred and chopped and blended until what we make, in the end, is a dish, or story, all our own.
— Adam Gopnik

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July 29, 2017

The Only Street in Paris: life on the Rue des Martyrs

     I can never be sad on the rue des Martyrs. There are espressos to drink, baguettes to sniff, corners to discover, people to meet. There's a showman who's been running a transvestite cabaret for more than half a century, a woman who repairs eighteenth-century mercury barometers, and an owner of a century-old bookstore with a passion for left-wing philosophers. There are merchants who seduce me with their gastronomic passions:  artichokes so young they can be served raw, a Cotes du Rhone so smooth it could be a fine Burgundy, a Mont D'Or cheese so creamy it is best eaten with a spoon. The small food shops on the lower end have no doors. That makes them cold in winter, hot in summer, damp when it rains, and inviting no matter what the weather.
    The shopkeepers enforce a culinary camaraderie that has helped me discover my inner Julia Child. What Child wrote in My Life in France resonates here as in no other place:  'The Parisian grocers insisted that I interact with them personally. If I wasn't willing to take the time to get to know them and their wares, then I would not go home with the freshest legumes or cuts of meat in my basket. They certainly made me work for my suppers -- but, oh, what suppers!'
      Like Julia, I interact personally, I work for my supper. I caress tomatoes, inspect veal chops, sniff ripe Camembert, sample wild boar charcuterie, and go wobbly over buttery brioche. The food sellers watch, bemused. I have been been introduced to a sweet turnip with yellow stripes called 'Ball of Gold'; I have been taught to liberate a raw almond from its shell by slamming it into a wall. Sometimes I even pretend to be Julia, who, like me, spoke strongly American-accented French. (I never, ever try to imitate her voice -- an odd blend of shrillness and warmth --- or her chortling laugh. That I leave to Meryl Streep.)

I remembered just in time that I had another book that I could read for Paris in July -- this one -- and it was a perfect way to spend a little more time there. The author, a New York Times journalist, comes to live on a street just off the rue des Martyrs, which winds uphill toward Montmartre, and sets out to get to know the street's history and its unofficial historians, its shops and merchants, and how the street is changing, for better or worse.  The people she meets, and the stories that she finds, are wide-ranging, from the best way to catch a mouse {with aged Gouda, the cheesemonger insists} to the story of St. Denis, the patron saint of France, and from a beautiful private street set behind tall gates, to the decaying church at the bottom of  the hill. Reading it is a wonderful way to explore a more everyday, less romanticized, less well-known Paris..

{40 Rue des Martyrs, found here}

{and rather dreamy apartment for rent, found here}

The Only Street in Paris: life on the Rue des Martyrs, by Elaine Sciolino
W.W. Norton & Company, 2014
On my shelves


Lisa said...

That sounds so lovely, both the book and the neighborhood. Though I don't think I could waste good Gouda on a mouse.

Mel u said...

This sounds like a wonderful book about a great experience. Thanks for this posting.

JoAnn said...

Now you've totally planned my Paris in July line-up for next year ;-)

Thank you for visiting!

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