meta name="p:domain_verify" content="8b08da541f8a920e6 Marie Z Johnston: My village in the 15th Arrondisment of Paris

Sunday, February 23, 2014

My village in the 15th Arrondisment of Paris

Daydreaming has been a big pastime for me these days. It's springtime in central California - the weather is gorgeous - and I am homesick. So I daydream about shopping on Rue de Commerce. I daydream of a Steak Tartare at the friendly Café du 15eme  around the corner. I daydream about the Farmer's Market on Sunday mornings underneath the metro line at La Motte Piquet-GrenelleI daydream because it makes me feel at home.  "Home" is our uncommon Parisian quartier that has managed to maintain it's original village charm while the rest of Paris was busy changing.

Cafe La Tour Eiffel is on the corner of Entrepreneurs and Commerce, across from the church
My three children pretty much grew up here too. Spending summer vacations with my mom and dad, going to marchés and the 'Puces' with their Mamie and Bapa.  We know this place - the streets, the shops, the cafes, the bakers and cheese afineurs.  In the earlier days it was a back water quartier of little interest or charm.  Now it's a desirable family neighborhood with restored old buildings, wide streets, great shopping and at least 3 parks and 3 marchés within a stones throw of the Eiffel Tower.

The Sunday Marché at La Motte Piquet-Grenelle
Delicious cepes (only in the fall) at my Sunday marché
Olives, pistachios, semolina, olive oil...
My grandfather and his brother (Leon et Eugene) purchased the building in which we live on the rue des Entrepreneurs shortly after the war.  Most of the apartments had no kitchens to speak of, and certainly no bathrooms - only a wc and sink. The building itself had a certain ‘Haussmanian’ charm though situated in a neglected area just a heartbeat from central Paris.  Much has changed since my early memories - when we would scurry to the metro toward culture, beauty and a decent meal.

77bis, looking much the same as when it was built in the early 1900's
There is always a good meal to be found at Le Commerce (decorated for New Years Eve)
More than one boulangerie has won or placed among the top 4 baguettes of Paris
Annexed into the City of Paris in 1860, the Quartier Grenelle was a small village complete with vineyards and farms.  Little by little all of that has disappeared, but the heart of the village remains in evidence up and down the streets.

The village city hall is now a community center in the Place du Commerce park
Old buildings from another era sandwiched between Haussmanians
An old store front from the village days is barely restored and very much in use
At a whopping 2,100 acres, the 15th is the largest Arrondissement of the Paris 20, both in sheer size as well as number of inhabitants. In addition to 7 lively farmers markets, the 15th also boasts more public gardens than other Arrondissements.  These parks are filled with young families and men of all ages "bonding" over a game of petanque

The Place du Commerce with it's gazebo - see the musicians playing?
The Metro Commerce right at the edge of the park
Just 2 blocks away you will find the Square Saint Lambert
Allée des Cygnes (Alley of the Swans) and the Statue of Liberty
We live on the Rue des Entrepreneurs - which is somewhat ironique given that entrepreneurship has been a way of life in my family for generations.  Recently, my cousin Alain (in a half whisper) shared that “nos enfants sont que trois generations de la terre” / "Our children are but three generations from the earth".  A fact I am rather proud of (while romantically wishing we were closer to it). 

The Place du Commerce in a snow storm is still charming!
The snow covered gazebo
The Rue des Entrepreneurs and the Rue du Commerce intersect in front of our local church.  Take a left at the corner and the quartier comes alive!  Everything you might need is there:  Butcher, baker, patisserie, greengrocer, wine shops, gelato, cheese shop, cafes... even Chineese take out and Sushi for that day you can not imagine another French meal!

Our local Catholic Church, where my cousins were baptized
Cafe La Tour Eiffel, on the corner of Entrepreneurs & Commerce, across from the church
Rue de Commerce facing toward the church at Christmas

My favorite cheese shop, right next door to the Cafe Tour Eiffel
You'll find the best rotisserie chicken here, and great olive oil right next door
We do appreciate Eric Kyser (across from the park Commerce)
We have our favorite places to shop and eat of course, still, we are so very grateful (especially after 8pm when everything else is closed) for the Monop that recently opened virtually next door to our building.

Tables in the summer sun in front of our local Monop
Tucked in beside the church is a purely local's place we enjoy: Le Minzinque. It was once an amazing bouillabaisse bistro that my family frequented.  As the years went by and children lost interest in running such a place, it changed hands and spent many uninspired years half empty. Now Jean Louis along with his wife and son welcome locals for lunch and dinner at their cozy wine bar.  Be sure to 1) let Jean Louis pick your wine (he won't steer you wrong or expensively) 2) order one of the plats du jours from the chalk board and 3) look up at the ceiling, a mesmerizing sea-green/blue enamel and pretty much (along with the tables and chairs) all that remains from it's former incarnation.  Tell them l'Americaine sent you... they'll know.

Before the locals arrive to enjoy the evening specials and Jean Louis' hospitality
Looking toward the Rue des Entrepreneurs
Jean (Jean Louis son) and the fabulous ceiling
perfect sauteed potatoes, pepper sauce and a marrow bone served with steak
If you happen to be a chocolate lover (and really, who isn't?) you'll really appreciate Jacara Chocolate on the Rue des Entrepreneurs,  just steps away from our front door.  Thierry runs the shop, sometimes assisted by his sister or a cousin. The chocolates are made is the suburbs of Paris by his Aunt and Uncle. Don't miss this place or the dark chocolate Orangettes

You will be delighted by the chocolates found here
Every box, every decoration is made from Chocolate!
Chocolate dipped ginger, candied orange zest and more in little bags to bring home
Bite size chocolates in a chocolate box decorated with a chocolate corkscrew, cork and napkin

As you can see, there is much to be homesick for - and this is even before venturing out to the rest of what Paris has to offer. Metro lines 8 and 10 service my "village", both lines are straight shots to where everything is happening. The 8 line passes under the Seine to the Right-bank with stops at Concorde, Madelaine, Opera, Bastille and Republic.  The 10 line stays on the Left-bank, taking you to the Latin Quarter and (my favorite) the Bon Marche (Paris's oldest, truly marvelous department store).

While there are many places a person can stay in Paris, I'd like to encourage you to give the 15th a try.  You will discover an old school Paris, a Paris not over run with tourists and merely visited by those who work there. To make that easier, here are the links to my two vacation apartments (yes, they are in my building)

The living room of Bis 2

Living room and open kitchen of Bis4

And just for fun, here's a link to a google map of my quartier.  Here you will find the locations of all the places (enlarge it to see everything) we shop, cafes we enjoy, the parks, where to safely get Euros, the metro stops, pharmacies... pretty much everything you'll need to know to feel right at home!

I hope you enjoyed my daydreams, and that we will soon share
a glass of wine, a cup of tea or a piece of Jakara chocolate
in my little corner of Paris!

A bientot,

See what yummyness Clotilde (of Chocolate & Zuchinni) has to share about the 15th HERE


Elissa said...

Your quartier makes me daydream too about all the memories we've made there... beef tartare around the corner, a drink or two at cafe commerce, Mexican fiesta night for your birthday, and a last minute run to Monop for crème fraîche and Twinings thé vanille to compliment your fig tart. And we must not forget the planning of many Chasing adventures in bis2! Soon enough your daydreams will become reality. You'll be reunited with the quartier you hold so dear.

Marie Z Johnston said...

Your lips to God's ears!
Merci Elissa! xoxo

I.W Mitchell (mr le marquis) said...

Paris in original can be charming as these pictures show. Tourists must be avoided and the tourist places too.....I recall in Montmartre going down some stairs and found a whole buzzing area full of restaurants, small shops and wine bars, one of them 'the smallest wine bar in France' - I made myself well known and got myself taken down to the cellar - almost postage size!

Lori Ann said...

Oh my, what a delight to come upon your email this morning! And, I take it as no coincidence as I had the most vivid dreams of Paris this past night! Albeit far too many years since my last visit, I too, subscribe to venturing out to the Paris of days past, avoiding tourists, and subjecting yourself to the tastes, wit, and sometimes cruel discretion of the local countrymen, especially when they hear your french! I pride myself on a very decent accent, and horrible grammar! But it works in a pinch. Tell me if you will, in which arrondisment is the restaurant La Coupole? Also, my first visit to Paris over 30 (ouch!) yrs. ago, I stayed with most gracious friends in Colombes. I remember it to be an easy commute into the city. Has it changed much? Je vous merci pour la consideration. Lori Ann Also, when can you return? Not that California is all that hard to take! Still, I empathize with your nostalgia.

Marie Z Johnston said...

Hello Lori Ann!
Thank you so very much for the wonderful comment, it makes such a difference to me to hear from readers - and of course, it's glorious when a reader likes what I've written!
La Coupole is in the 14th, right next door to my quartier and easy to get to by the 88 bus. Paris has changed a great deal over the years, like any city I suppose. I am not familiar with Colombes so can't tell you about that town. I hope to be back in France by mid summer with a project underway I can't wait to share here... so, stay tuned!