Wednesday, March 23, 2011

the 2e arrondissement—la bouse

The name of the second arrondissement was slightly forboding—La Bouse. The stock exchange. For me, this conjured images of stone facades, of corruption, of steel and glass and stoney-faced men in expensive suits. Perhaps that is why I held off on the exploration #2 for so very, very long.

When I sat down to write my commentary, I had to restrain myself from using a certain word in every one of my sentences. However, this word was not “pretentious”, nor was it “austere” nor “postmodern”. It it was “charming”. Contrary to my expectations, the second arrondissement was overwhelmingly charming. Granted, my experience may have been skewed by my early morning start, the bright blue sky, or my delectable purchase at Regis Colin. Nevertheless, I was completely taken with the neighborhood and many of the sites won venerable positions on the list of places to revisit.

When I emerged from the metro station Etienne Marcel, the early morning air tinged with birdsongs and the sweet smell of baking bread. Mondays are similar to Sundays in Paris; many stores are still closed which leaves the streets quiet and tranquil. Upon reflection, I never really asked myself why this is the case—I have learned to never truly count on stores being open. Businesses seem to be impulsive, entitled, bound to no rules. This makes hours of operation are a very fluid concept.
In any case, the streets were vacant except for a few shopkeepers unlocking doors and a smattering of customers lounging outside cafes, sipping espresso and soaking in the first rays of sunlight. I rounded in the corner and stepped into the first of many passages of the day.

It is important, first, to know a bit about the history of passages in Paris. As we learned in our Paris by Site course, the passages were created beginning at the end of the 1700s and beginning of the 1800s and used to be the mansions of the aristocracy. For one reason or another, these mansions were turned into covered aracades connecting one road to another. Storefronts in theses passages were desirable because there were no taxes, and the covered passage allowed people to step out of the crowds and the dirtiness of the street and enjoy the new, leisurely activity of shopping for pleasure.

The 2nd arrondissement is absolutely teeming with of passages. As I scanned my map of Paris before starting off this morning, I slowly began to realize that the majority of roads I had planned to follow were not, in fact, roads, but covered passages. On foot, this was more of a curiosity than an issue, but if you travel Paris by vehicle, attention aux passages. But honestly, when driving in Paris, I suppose this would be the least of your worries.

The first passage I wandered through was le Passage du Grand Cerf. It was only vaguely interesting, but I couldn't tell if shops were boarded up permanently or due to the case of the M. Perhaps it merits another visit on a busier day. Moving down Rue Tiquetonne, I came upon two fantastic epiceries. The first was called l'Epicerie de Bruno and was at 30 Rue Tiquetonne. It sold a fascinating variety of spices and teas, both of which made me nostalgic for the herb-filled mason jars at Lester House. Its a great place to go for cooking inspiration, or just for enjoying the delicate and exotic smells.
The second store was just a bit farther down the same street and is called G. Detou. It sells wonderful, high quality ingrediants for baking along with a interesting variety of fine foods. Of particlar interest were the enormous bags of Valrona chocolate chips (!!!) of varying intensities, a selection of delicious-looking dried friuts, and bizarre oils such as avocado oil, pistachio oil, and infused white truffle grapeseed oil. Just in case you need them. According to a salesperson, the shop opened in the 60s particularly to sell ingrediants for baking things from scratch. It is a fantastic store. Go check it out. On a side-note, next-door is a cool clothing store called Espace Kiliwatch. It was closed for an inventory day, but it seemed to have a lot of great stuff and crazily patterned scarves

Next, I made my way to a bakery called Regis Colin. Tiny and unassuming, it is squished between two bigger shopfronts and easy to miss. However, it is imperative that this bakery is not missed. I knew beforehand that Regis Colin has won multiple noteworthy prizes for its pastries and that the boulangerie's croissant is considered by many as the best croissant in Paris. Therefore, I went right ahead and ordered a croissant, but not without glancing at the other beautiful pastries first. They all look fantastic, and I was surprised to note that they were pretty fantastically priced as well. After receiving the croissant and a very cheery “bonne journée” from the baker, I settled down on the steps of Notre Dame des Victoires to enjoy. Words fail to do justice to the light, buttery flakiness of this masterpiece. It was way too delicious, and as I slowly pulled off piece after piece, the bells of the chuch burst into song to celebrate the moment. I don't know what else to say about it, but please go try one.

Notre Dame des Victoires is a very different and curious church. It was a stational bascilica along the pilgrimage route to Compostela, which resulted in over 37,000 ex voto offerings to be left behind. These are offerings to a saint or divinity in the form of plaques, silver and gold hearts, or decorations. The countless adornments made the overall effect a bit overwhelming, but that may have also be because of the pastry daze I was still recovering from.

I passed the national library but didn't go inside. It is currently under renovation, but they do currently have an exhibition going on called “Visions of Egypt” that seems to be worth a visit. I also strolled down Rue Montorgueil which is a trendy street open only to pedestrian traffic. It features great specialized food stores like fromageries and olive oil shops.

Finally, I walked up through more passages to the Grands Boulevards area, paused by an interesting bar called Cafe Noir which was full of colorful decorations and hipster students smoking on the terrace, and made my way to the Passage des Panoramas. We visited this passage earlier as it was built in 1799 and was the first real trial of gas lighting. What drew me today, however, was a place called Gocce Cafe which is known for its great Italian espresso. This is where I finished my morning, curled up with a book and a macchiato in the strange covered sidewalk in Paris.

In summary: The second arrondissement equals great food shopping, great clothing shopping, winding streets and passages to explore, and the king of all croissants. It really isn't just the stock exchange, so make sure to pay it a visit!

Bisous, et à bientôt