Monday, September 26, 2011

Another side of Paris

For almost our entire sojourn in Paris, Mr. Oil has been talking about wanting to explore the 19th arrondissement.  I've never understood where this yearning came from, but after the day we spent there this weekend, I am very happy that he came up with this idea.

The 19eme is on the eastern edge of Paris.  It is a heavily immigrant neighborhood, as well as home to a sizeable Orthodox Jewish community.  Of course there are "regular" Parisians there as well. 

Our first stop was the Parc des Buttes Chaumont.  Unlike really anywhere else in Paris, this park is hilly. Seriously hilly. Huff-and-puff hilly. But also beautifully hilly, with a fantastic view of Sacre Coeur in the distance. It felt different than other parks - less manicured, perhaps, than Parc Monceau.  A little more wild, a little more natural.
Sacre Coeur

Of course, no exploration of any arrondissement is complete without a patisserie to visit.  So we left the park and headed to Veronique.  This charmingly tiny patisserie is home to one of only four remaining wood-burning ovens still in use in Paris.  It's possible that we went a little nuts in there, leaving with several pastries and a baguette.  Mr. Oil had the best pick of the morning with a round pastry (think cinnamon roll shape) filled with figs and pistachios. Yum.
That's the oven

We headed back to the park to eat our treats, managing to pick a scenic spot right next to a silent, contemplative group of people doing Tai Chi - so we're sure they really appreciated Baby Oil's ongoing monologue (something like this: "Ba ba ba, da da da, ah ah ah, gurgle gurgle gurgle.")
Where we ate our pastries

Our next stop was Centquatre, which means one hundred and four - also the address of this very cool art space that holds performance venues, several cafes, an incredible bookstore, and several exhibitions.  The current exhibition is called "In_Perception" and the centerpiece is this absolutely incredible interactive piece called "Batiment".  Essentially, you get to experience life outside the laws of gravity, such as:
Baby Oil climbs up a building
Me, chilling on a window ledge

This is a very photo-heavy entry, which could be because I'm a little preoccupied trying to plan and execute my cooking for Rosh Hashanah (the Jewish New Year).  We are hosting several expat families for lunch on Thursday and I've pretty much gone to every grocery store in the 17th searching for brown sugar (they don't use this in France, it turns out, which my American recipes really appreciate), baking soda, and egg noodles.  The good news is that when I went to the boucherie, both the butcher and his assistant looked at me and said, "Ah, L'americaine!" This was after I got to the butcher at about 2:45pm last Friday, needing to buy chicken to cook for that evening. They were already closing up shop, and had put all the meat away.  The butcher was telling me how he loves American spontaneity, so I explained in my halting French that that American spontaneity was the reason why I arrived at this time to buy meat for Shabbat, and could he please sell me some chicken?  Which he did. So I'm definitely feeling like I'm in with the butcher.

Back to the 19th - our day ended with the walk back to the metro through a heavily African immigrant neighborhood.  African women were walking down the street in intensely bright fabrics of yellow, blue, pink, you name it.  Definitely a nice scenery change from all the subdued colors worn by Parisians!  And if you're looking for exotic fruit in Paris, come no further. We bought a delicious mango from this place, and passed many more like it.

The 19th was definitely another side of Paris.  A little grittier, a little more exotic, a little less Parisian.  We will definitely be heading that way again.