Saturday, February 02, 2008

Things I will miss about Paris

As I prepare to depart for an eight month assignment in Kinshasa this evening, I wanted to take a moment and pause to remember some of the good things about the Paris, the place I am leaving, a place I have often had something of a love-hate relationship with and which has served as my home since March 2007. So, in no particular order, having stepped off the metro and strolled down Avenue Barbès to my flat in Château Rouge for the last time, here are a few of the city’s most redeeming qualities.

Canal Saint-Martin

The lovely waterway that ambles through the 10ème, with its bridges and homeless encampments and trendy restaurants such as L'atmosphère and Chez Prune somehow, in its juxtaposition of elegance and squalor, its impassive gray building facades (sometimes relieved by a dash of color) and its lively summer street life, will always remind me of my time in Paris.

Bassin de la Villette

Just north of the Canal Saint-Martin in the 19ème, this waterside amalgam of restaurants and two movie theaters serves as a nice farewell to Paris before, beyond the Parc de la Villette, it begins its long stagger into suburbs of the neuf trois, as the department of Seine-Saint-Denis is known.

Getting lost in the Abbesses

Emerging from a métro station 100 feet below ground, one could be forgiven for forgetting the proximity to the fleshpots of the Pigalle red light district and Algerian transvestite sex workers plying their trade are only steps away. This area of Montmartre feels in many ways like a mountain village, with narrow, twisting streets climbing up the western side of the hill that form’s the neighborhood’s main geographic feature. The children’s merry-go-round and the wintertime decorations on the Square Jehan-Rictus are quite charming, as is, in more grown-up way, the neighborhood’s penchant for staying up late. As pleasant to stroll through at a meditative 7 in the morning as it is on a busy Friday night.


Pricey but worth every penny, as I have mentioned on this blog before, L'Harmattan bookstore is simply the most impressive repository of books of Africa and Africana in any language that I have yet found. The section on the Democratic Republic of Congo alone that goes on for a dozen shelves, more than many bookstores entire Africa sections A hint of Africa in the 6e arrondissement.

Ave Maria

A delightful, bustling Franco-Latin fusion restaurant tucked away on a remarkably little-visited corner of the busy Oberkampf neighborhood, Specializing in caipirinhas, mojitos and suggestively-named dishes such as the Woman on Top (chicken, in case you were wondering), Ave Maria is a spicy alternative when you tire of steak frites, bœuf bourguignon, carpaccio or, heaven forbid, the ubiquitous sandwich grec.


A particularly exquisite kind of apple brandy from Normandy, I was first introduced to calvados by a Norman neighbor, and then came to appreciate its full majesty on a trip to Bayeux with my friend Claire in September. Marinating in oak barrels housed inside dusty storehouses on obscure country roads, I became a fan of Aux Vergers de Romilly brand of calvados in particular. One of the world’s great digestifs.

Going to the cinema

There is something about going to see a film in the French capital that seems at once more conspiratorial and more of an event than anywhere else I’ve ever lived. Maybe it’s that the custom is to buy tickets substantially before the film starts, or the queues that form outside of a theater in advance of a screening that give it an added feeling of ceremony, but, whatever it is, I very much like the effect.

Pain au chocolat

There is no finer breakfast .


My down-at-the-heels though getting-more-trendy immigrant neighborhood in northeastern Paris has been a warmer and more welcoming place to call home than any other part of the city. I will always remember the twilight skies, alternatively subtle pink and moody gray, that could be seen from between the buildings, the African vendors who clogged the are around the Marché Dejean most days and the little restos where I would buy couscous, poulet yassa and the occasional pizza.

Adieu, for now, Paris.


Mira Kamdar said...

I'll miss you being in Paris Michael! Glad my 'hood was one of your favorite spots. You may be back, who knows. In any case, stay safe.

Anonymous said...


Best pain au chocolat in Kinshasa can be found in patisserie nouvelle, in front of citymarket. you can get the mini or the gros. hmm maybe i should have posted this in the Kin la (pou) belle story... But when you're in kin, grab a pain au chocolat at the patisserie = never mind the price though.

From joyg.