Our second day in Paris, a Sunday, began early, with a Facetime with the crazies from the other side of the world. We gave them a virtual tour of our tiny, cozy hotel room. Caroline and Jamon giggled at the painting of the naked angel that hung on the wall with the window. I was missing them so much, I tried to smell them through the iPAD. We said goodbye, I took photos of our room, and then it was time for a hotel breakfast of coffee, croissants, and soft-boiled eggs. Outside the weather was perfect. No rain in the forecast. We were heading to the market, and it was just about to open.
There’s a market in almost every neighborhood in Paris. Whether it’s food, fashion or art you seek, there’s a Paris market just for that. I didn’t want to miss the opportunity to visit at least one, even if the plan was to simply soak in the atmosphere.
That morning we headed to Marche d’Aligre, a permanent market located just a short train ride from our hotel in the 12th. After emerging from the Metro, we asked for directions. “Go to the place with a lot of babies. The market is next,” said an amiable woman with her kid. And so Cliche number two, or should I say myth debunked—Parisians are not rude. I was hoping to run into one, just for the sake of it. That didn’t happen. Every random person in the street, waiter or waitress, shop owner or taxi driver I ran into was friendly and forgiving of me and my lousy French. Warm even. And so happily we headed to the place with a lot of babies.
She meant the Square Armand Trousseau, and indeed it was filled with parents and their children. Marche d’Aligre was just around the corner, but first there was Marche Beauvau right beside it. A covered market in a historic building built in the mid-19th century.
Marche Beauvau is the perfect size, just a dozen or so shops, each bursting with wild game, charcuterie, cheese, foie gras, vegetables and fruit. Also pastries, bread and craft beer. Some shops had lines longer than others. One stall was roasting suckling pigs in a rotisserie made just for that. There was the fishmonger’s stall La Maree Beauvau, groaning with smoked salmon, cold seafood salads, and these oysters from Normandy (below). The wine bar Le Baron Rouge is close to the market, and they were shucking oysters in the street for a couple of happy customers.
We stepped outside to the open market, where the brisk morning air carried the scent of flowers, spices and fruit. In the flea market, stalls sold leather jackets, candelabras, old books and other storied things. The yells of fruit vendors rose above the market crowd’s shuffling feet. And Cliche number three—there’s always a musician with her instrument performing an old French song in the street. C’est Si Bon I think this was.
On our way out, we passed by Fromagerie Au Coeur Du Marche, a small cheese shop where I found this.
Some very moldy, eat-at-your-own-risk cheese, probably only the bravest of gourmands would appreciate. Obviously, this wasn’t the only thing they were selling. France produces hundreds of different cheeses, and good fromageries like this one will happily vaccum pack yours for the journey home. Beside the cheese shop, the Italian deli Autentico, where this guy set up a table of goodies for tasting in front. “Is that good?”, I asked, pointing at what turned out to be a mild feta wrapped in some delicate carpaccio. And he said emphatically, “Crazy, CRAZY, crazy!” It was.
We left Marche d’Aligre, and had a coffee break at Le Square Trousseau, a brassirie serving traditional French food. It was nice inside, with the sun seeping through the restaurant’s large windows, bathing the entire room in a gentle light. Only one other table was taken. Two suits having espressos, speaking in hushed French. More people sat outside, lazily eating breakfast or brunch. The sun warming their legs.
Later we wandered into the Marais—one of the city’s oldest and most stunning neighborhoods. We walked through the arches bordering the Place des Vosge, with its art galleries and restaurants, and elegant diners. Our next stop was the Carnavalet Museum, but suddenly hungry, we grabbed a quick lunch at the bakery and cafe Miss Manon along Rue Saint-Antoine. The line was long but swift. Soon we were seated and wolfing down our baguettes with sausiccon and butter. Writing this I am reminded of how simple yet amazing that sandwich was.
This wasn’t the route we planned to the museum. But I willingly followed Gabby, my travel partner, fluent in maps. And I loved that we went this way instead. After lunch we passed the Saint-Paul-Saint-Louis Church, and turned the corner down Rue de Sevigne, in the heart of the Marais. Passing the Hotel Saint Paul Le Marais, the clothing stores Loft design by and Alice a Paris, and the florist Vertige—with its artful arrangements spilling over to the street.
A minute later, we were in front of the Musee Carnavalet, amidst a sea of tourists. But we didn’t have to wait long to get in.
This gem of a museum, one of the oldest in Paris, houses a permanent collection of archaeological and architectural remains, portraits and mementos, that tell the history of Paris. And, it’s free. Basically, the people at the door just wave you in.
The building itself is a work of art, with its walls lush with wood paneling, its ornate chandeliers, and its painted ceilings. It used to be the home of the Marquise de Sevigne, a French aristocrat remembered for her prolific, soulful and witty letter writing. Most of them she wrote especially to her beloved daughter Francoise. Some excerpts:
“I assure you, my dear child, I am continually thinking of you…This is my case: for there is not a place in the house which does not give a stab to my heart when I see it; but your room especially deals a deadly blow from every part of it.”
“I am going to entertain you today, my dear child, with what is called rain and fine weather…I begin then with the rain, for fair weather is out of the question. For this week past it has rained incessantly; I say incessantly – for the rain has only been interrupted by storms.”
But my favorite part of the museum has to be the inner courtyard garden, the Court of Victory. For months I had been longing to sit there, beneath the winged statue of Victory in its midst. Built in 1807 by Simon Boizot, the statue is commanding. And it prompts a sort of inner searching, the likes of which are only possible when you find yourself in the presence of something so beautiful and so old.
It was mid-afternoon when we headed home. The tourists were gone, and the Marais was suddenly quiet. We walked past historic mansions, and old apartment buildings, some with small gardens in front. I looked up at one of them, the top floor, at a light in the window. And the slender shadow of a woman milling around what I imagined to be a study or a bedroom. And I wondered what her life must be like in a place such as this. If we met, would we want to trade places?
Later at the hotel, sleep didn’t come as easily as it did the first night. I lay in the dark, haunted by the shadow, and a moment’s longing for another life. But I slept eventually. And I dreamt of Victory. She said, “Sleep now, dear child. Tomorrow, you’re going to eat foie gras.”
As always, thanks for reading.
*My thoughts and prayers are with the people of Paris. #Jesuischarlie.