Welcome to another edition of “I Love My Neighborhood”, where I ask expats from across the globe to share the joys of local life they’ve found in their corner of the world.
If you’re just joining in now, check out the other cities that have been covered so far here.
This week’s guest post comes from Daisy, who originally hails from NYC but has lived in Paris for nearly a decade. We originally met when I participated in one of her treasure hunts at the Louvre, and since then she has become a dear friend; our weekly lunches are one of the few things that keep me sane when this city is driving me crazy. She is also one of the most knowledgeable people I know when it comes to culture and history, which is why I love reading her blog. Married to an Argentinian, she is now raising the most adorable tri-lingual baby in her vibrant neighborhood of Faubourg Saint-Denis.
Daisy: Why I Love Faubourg St Denis
I love my neighbourhood because it’s loud and gritty, colourful and lively. The Paris that I know by day leans towards subdued, elegant, spoken with a discreet modulated voice. Coming home is the exact opposite. Faubourg St Denis (FSD) is a market street, with fruit vendors screaming their strawberry sales, competing for attention from the veggie salesman across the road shouting his own sale of the day. It’s something that Storsh, my 18-month old, won’t hear when he’s 8 or 18, probably. That “Ventre de Paris” (belly of Paris), as Honoré de Balzac referred to Les Halles (back when it was the site of a meat-market smack dab in the center of town), is moving farther and farther afield and Paris’s gentrified bits are nestling their nose into more and more corners.
I used to live off of rue Montorguiel (another nearby street-market down in the 2eme) which is still technically a market street, but now it’s paved and fancy with restaurants and cafes and even a Kiehls shop from New York. FSD is still vibrant and functioning (though town hall is talking about pedestrianising it, and there are boutique ‘gourmand’ shops and cafes appearing daily). But for now it’s still a little UN of sorts popular with Asians, Arabs, Africans and Bobos alike (Bobos being the Bohemian Bourgeois, over-educated socialists who “feel for” underdeveloped countries, and like to claim poverty but wear 800 euro leather shoes and read Le Monde Diplomatique). So it’s for the shouts, grit and variety that I love my neighbourhood (plus our flat is removed from the street, so we can recede into silence).
The open-aired, tree-lined Passage Petites Ecuries is constantly sprouting new restaurants, bars and cafes with an angle (plus every Tuesday at 7 pm it’s one of the meeting points for Organic Farmers to deliver their fresh veg in crates to the environmentally-caring cooperative who subscribe). At night Petites Ecuries is buzzing with slightly older bobos at places like Lucky Luciano (a sophisticated Pizzeria with exposed brick walls, tricking one into believing they’re in Williamsburg, Brooklyn) or the classic 1901 Alsatian Brasserie, Flo (with adorable old murals, suitably woody walls, formal but pleasant life-long waiters and most importantly fois gras, oysters and choucroute to die for). Just across FSD there’s Passage Brady, a 19th century glass covered passage which serves as Paris’s India town, rich with the smells and colours and textures belying India itself. And then there’s Passage Prado, an L-shaped passage, which is the most run-down and the prettiest of them all, with art nouveau details running along the glassed-in roof.
I heard recently that the Right Bank was commercial and the Left Bank was artistic, which is why there are only Passages (19th century covered shopping malls, essentially) on the Right Bank. Sadly even these are dying out, being semi-privatized or closed up entirely, along with the shouts of the veggie vendors. Americans have a term they claim to be French “nostalgie de la boue” (nostalgia for mud, literally, or an appreciation of the grit and grime of the old). I guess I suffer from this muddy nostalgia.
Chez Jeannette is one of Paris’s meccas of hipster nightlife. I feel my age (and 8-year tenure in Paris) when I say I knew Chez Jeannette before the hipsters arrived, but I did. It was still filled with the same retro formica tables, red chandeliers and that wonderful wall of 19th century mirrors in the back, but it was family-owned, with a 50-year old waiter ordering the “café” or “Rose” from his ancient papa behind the bar, his mother serving food and comfort. I’d come up to Chez Jeannette to feel at home while I wrote home with the dusty old folk who were my fellow regulars. That said, it’s great fun now, has good food, and is wonderful for Eurotrash watching.
The Mauri 7 across the road is a rival without food, but with wonderful old LP covers on the walls and more media/fashion/magazine/advertising/graphic design Bobos drinking outside or in, within the Passage Brady where Mauri 7 also has tables. L\Inconnu, at 17 rue Mazagrin, also has a good scene going on with its cool green tile walls and graffiti artwork; and a little wine bar on rue d’Enghein has a warm glow to it, but doesn’t get half so much attention it should: Tombé du Ciel (falling from the sky). My fave though is a tiny place at the back of Passage des Petites Ecuries called Au Passage, which is a tiny hole in the wall, nestled between a chic graphic design office. The area is not short on hipster hotspots.
I have a full-time job, a treasure hunt company and an 18-month old. But in my heart of hearts I’m really just whiling away the time, rotting my liver further and emptying my wallet at any one of these cafés, as I did for most of my life up until five or six years ago when I married and decided it was time to grow up. Watching the cool kids cop attitude as they flit their afternoons and evenings away always makes me happy. If I’m not doing it, someone has to!
The word Faubourg means “False Berg” or “Sham Town”, pointing to the fact that any street which bears this ‘Faubourg’ word was on the outside of the city walls at one point. There are two “Portes” (arches, or literally ‘doors to town’) within 50 meters of one another on the Grands Boulevards (the Grands Boulevards themselves having once been the walls, stitching in Louis XIV’s 17th century Paris). The Arch of St Denis, built in 1671-74, bookends Faubourg St Denis in the 10eme from rue St Denis, the red-light district in the 2eme. Likewise, the Arch of St Martin (1674), distinguishes rue du Faubourg St Martin in the 10eme from rue St Martin down in the 3eme. Both arches commemorate Louis XIV’s military victories and were far grander replacements of Charles V’s medieval toll-entrances.
The street of St Denis is ancient, leading directly to the Basilica of St Denis (which is outside the current walls of Paris, the “Péripherique”). The patron saint of France and first bishop of Paris, St Denis was beheaded in 250 AD and buried in a Gallo-Roman cemetery which is where the Gothic basilica now lies. If you’re interested in French history the Basilica of St Denis is the single most important place in France for you to visit, as nearly every monarch was interred there since Dagobert in the 7th century. It’s also of tremendous importance art historically, because it heralded the difference between Romanesque and Gothic architecture under the supervision of the Abbot Suger (1081-1151).
I’m in central Paris, which means only 15 minutes by metro to my office in the 8eme, or a 30-minute walk home when I’m not picking Storsh up from the creche (daycare – which is right by the metro in the 2eme, five minutes away). Of course being on a market street, we’re never short on food, flowers, dry cleaning, newspaper stores, banks and convenient amenities. Most importantly it’s a 20-minute walk to the Louvre, and a 5-minute walk to four different parks for Storsh. Who could ask for more?
Well, OK, if I had my druthers THATLou, my treasure hunt company, would be earning gazillions and I’d have a flat in Palais Royal facing the Louvre, and with a park just downstairs for Storsh… But then where would my mud be?
About the author: Daisy de Plume is a native New Yorker who’s lived in Paris for eight years. She’s the Founder + Creative Director of THATLou, which runs themed Treasure Hunts At The Louvre. With a background in Art History and a past in print magazine editing and writing (Vanity Fair and Condé Nast Traveler, respectively) THATLou somehow makes sense for Daisy de Plume. You can read all about past Treasure Hunts as well as various pieces in various museums, museum politics + purchases, and soon, museum personalities in her blog, www.thatlou.com. She’s also on Twitter, Facebook, and Pinterest.
All photos courtesy of the author.