It’s true, I’ve decided: There is never any end to Paris. I cannot get enough of this city, which is great because, after three visits, I’ve only seen slivers of it. Three hours from Delft by train, I come up right in Gare du Nord and hop on the metro to the 19th arrondissement, where I have now rented the same apartment twice and therefore consider it “my” apartment. At the very least I consider it my bolt-hole, ala Sherlock Holmes. It’s on the sixth floor (no lift) of an old-feeling building and it fulfills all my bohemian dreams. When I am in Paris alone, I write in the mornings and walk in the afternoons.
On this visit I gorged on Montmartre. I’d avoided Montmartre my first two times, thinking it was supposed to be down-and-out; maybe the neighborhood a female traveler wouldn’t go alone; and maybe there wasn’t really an elephant at the Moulin Rouge. Luckily I was willing to have all of my misconceptions melt blissfully away in a haze of flaky pastry.
If there is one lesson I have learned in Paris, it is that you cannot put a pastry in your purse. You buy it; it’s beautiful; and you think, I am going to eat this later in my warm Parisian garret. It is wrapped in paper or maybe a little foldy cardboard and you slip it in your purse. This. is. wrong. French pastry cannot be confined. You wind up with a deflated, messy (albeit delicious) pancake of a thing… and if you’re me, for some reason you repeat this pattern three days in a row.
Montmartre used to be outside the tax walls of the city of Paris, and was hence a good place to live if you were an artist and poor. Van Gogh, Picasso, and others kept studios there on streets today rented by affluent urbanites. The Sacre Coeur Basilica looks down the hill over all of Paris, and to me it felt like a whole other world from the city of the 5th, 6th, 2nd arrondissements. From whatever angle I approached, it seemed odd to encounter those gleaming white towers.
There’s a bargain chain scattered around this area called Sympa. Bins outside the store are loaded three feet deep with piles of garments (often recognizable brands) marked €1,99; €5,99; etc. I’d read about these and been advised that you have to want it—stand your ground, shove an arm in, and see what you find. I was doing just this and feeling creeped out by a guy I thought was watching—until I realized he was security. No big.
On Saturday morning I came up out of Anvers metro and encountered a total swarm outside the Sympa at the base of Rue de Steinkerque. This was a stampede-quality crowd, gathered because a truck had pulled up, and a man was chucking off the back new garments into the giant bins of the store. It looked like puffy vests. Every single item he threw, people were fighting to examine—and then often just drop in the bin. I stayed clear, but it was fun to watch.
I’ll be returning to Paris in December (during my brother’s first trip to Europe!). I intend to investigate (edibly investigate?) the connection between French crepes and Nutella. Nutella is everywhere in Paris, and this processed chocolate paste in a jar—while delicious—seems so un-French. I’m not complaining. I kept my eyes open my last day for a good take-away creperie. You want to look for one where they’re ladling the batter onto the hot plate when you order—not one where they’re whipping out pancakes they made three hours ago and just heating them. I finally chose a spot and asked the girl if it was OK if I took a photo. She was clearly embarrassed but gave me the OK while her colleagues laughed.
I ate two-thirds of the crepe. After that it became too much Nutella-to-dough, and very messy in my hands. Plus, I was concerned about the implications of consuming about a cup of Nutella.
Fear not: I didn’t put the extra third in my purse.