The weather was freezing and the wind was bitter but I was determined to act out my plans.
Staying in the Marais, with it’s funky shops, residents and shoppers, surfacing from the metro at Porte de Montreiul is a bit of a slap in the face.
The streets are littered with rubbish, pots holes on the sidewalk, people peeing where ever they seem to find fit.
The street approaching the markets from the metro, is seedy, lined with illegal sellers, their wares set upon the footpath, people pushing past, offering hot mobile phones and fake copy watches.
However, this is one of my favourite markets, here they sell anything and I really do mean anything.
You will find dozens of people rummaging through piles of second hand clothing at a couple of euros a piece, fur coats by the dozens, car accessories, underwear, army surplus, fabric, suitcases, books and general brick a brac.
The picture I have painted is accurate, it definitely has a seedy feel about it, but it is not dangerous and if you have the time, well worth a visit to see another side of Paris you don’t see in the centre.
Normally I don’t just point and shoot without asking but when I spied a woman cooking up some sort of bread in a massive vat of oil, I couldn’t resist, she caught me and yelled no photos. I tried to explain she wasn’t in the shot, it was just the food but she wouldn’t have any of it.
However, as I walked away, tail between my legs, I heard her say … demander.
She was right, so I put the camera around my neck and took her advise – ask.
It was absolutely freezing deciding whether to leave the gloves on and simply observe or leave them off and try to capture some shots on film was a tough one. My hands were stinging with the cold.
Happening upon a stall with some interesting junk, I asked did it bother him if I took some photos, I think in retrospect it wasn’t his stall, he told me to ask the Madame on the chair – she had no problem and was very pleasant about it.
Breathing on my hands to try to bring some warmth into them, so I could operate the camera, the man calls me back, pointing at a toaster, why on earth would I want to take a photo of a second hand toaster.
He insists I come back, so I do and try to understand. He slid down the control, which turned the toaster on, at first I thought it was silly and he was making fun of me – but it was connected to a power point. He was genuinely offering the heat.
Offer accepted, there I stood, in the 20th arrondissement, in the middle of Marche aux Puces de Montreuil, in the freezing cold, warming my hands over a second hand toaster for sale!
I contemplated buying it, as there isn’t one in the apartment but decided to take the opportunity to grab some shots whilst I was allowed and my fingers had come back to life.
With warmed fingers, I snapped away.
Not long after I noticed a food stall selling Halal food, an elderly woman making up fresh bread, which looked like kebab bread with the finest of dough.
Bonjour they threw around and I ordered a kefta, instead, I got a short black coffee.
They noticed the confusion on my face, as they were about to whip it away, I thought it was probably a good idea anyway to have a hot coffee. I tried again, kefta, I thought this was universal and it was on the menu. So I ended up with both.
Assuming it would arrive in the wonderful, freshly made bread, I was surprised when I was handed kefta in a baguette with french fries.
Now I was wishing I had bought a crepe and worst still, I had to eat it in front of them. I thought maybe because I am a tourist, they thought this is what I may want. No, this is how they blend the cultures, kefta, fries and a baguette .
There was no way I was going to get my mouth around this giant ‘sandwich’ so I decided to pull out the fries and put them to the side, one of the stall holders approached me.
A – mer – i – can ? he asks. No Australie, I reply – well that got a good response, someone pulled away the chips I had placed to the side and I was presented with a giant bowl of bean soup, that was to die for – for free!
They wanted to know, was it good, yes I replied, it was very good, in fact I preferred it to the roll.
They topped up my bowl of soup, against my protests, it was the funniest and lovely experience.
With my tummy bursting with hot soup and good hearted attempts at trying to communicate, on both sides, photos and well wishes, they sent me on my way with an unwanted doggy bag.
After lunch, everything changed, rather than asking permission to take photos, stall holders were asking me to take their photos! Maybe I should wear my camera around my neck more often.
The stall owner of the old books I was rummaging through approached me, telling me the prices. He wanted to know where I was from. Oh! Australie! he sang out. Then he wanted to know, was I married, did I have children. No, no children and the husband was bad, so it is finished.
His face dropped, and exclaimed, I should take a photo of him. I took his email address with the promise of emailing the photo to him later. As I was about to leave with many goodbyes and well wishes, he called me back, held me by the shoulders and kissed me on both cheeks, saying au revior babee! au revoir!
Apart from buying a couple of old keys, lunch and resisting a very cheap fur coat. I left the markets, empty handed, a few photos, slightly confused, shaking my head but with a big smile on my face.
The freezing conditions was starting to its toll and the thought of spending a few hours climing up stairs and hills in a huge open space, that is Parc des Buttes Chaumont just didn’t seem appealing. Instead, I decided to head back, with a slight detour to my old stomping ground of last year – Bastille – I really do like this area, or is it just that it feels familiar. Maybe a mixture of both.
Later in Bastille, I came upon a homeless woman and her young child, sitting on the street, with a note written on a piece of cardboard; j’ai faim – I am hungry – I offered my doggy bag of soup and baguette, which she gratefully took and thanked me.
Instead of walking back as I had intended, the rain forced me to take a metro, I had left my umbrella at Jim’s.
As I stood on the platform at Bastille, waiting for the train to arrive, the homeless woman walked down the platform, baby in her arms and with, what I assumed, her partner, with another younger child in a stroller. The child was eating a baguette with kefta, less the french fries.