La Rue - Paris' Life

Sunshine in the rue Montorgueil

Paris:- Wednesday, 28. May 1996:- What a surprise to wake up this morning and find France Meteo's weather predictions dead wrong again! What a disappointment to be back at work after the three-day windy rainy gloomy Pentecôte weekend, after the whole washed-out holiday-strewn month of May and find true blue sky wide-angled edge-to-edge over the Ile-de-France sky, with a light breeze blowing away the morning chill. Just marvelous!

I will not be skulking into gloomy museums today; I can go looking for - okay kids, off to bed now - short skirts and long legs. Yes.

Get this, the first thing I do is put on a short-sleeved shirt! Not for the first time this year, but certainly for the first time in over six weeks. I'm getting into it fast. On the train platform, there is this... exposure, and the birds have gone nuts, and why not stay here all day? But I have gotten a ticket to ride, so ride I do.

After the long ride underground I emerge out of the pits of the métro at Etienne Marcel and going up the stairs I can still see blue sky before I can see anything else. I uncross my fingers. I take the sunlit side of the fairly ordinary rue Etienne Marcel and head west two blocks.

The first thing I notice at the rue Montorgueil is a car trying to leave it. There are some short stout metal posts blocking the exit to Etienne Marcel, and as I watch, two of them slide down into the pavement, and the car departs, and they rise up again. These metal posts should stop a medium tank.

The rue Montorgueil, running north from the west edge of Pavilion des Arts at les Halles, up to where it turns into the rue des Petits Carreaux, sort of finishes at the crossroad of rue Réaumur, where there is another set of posts - barricade - that prevents traffic from entering. So except for some private cars, delivery trucks and service vehicles, the street is reserved for pedestrians, their dogs and all cats.

ruemarche.jpg (19k) This street is busy. It is close to Les Halles and it has a lot of food marché left in it. There are the open-fronted market-like shops for vegetables and fruits, for meats, for dairy and cheeses; there are special shops for cheeses, wines and chocolates and hardware and all sorts of other things. Between almost all of these shops there are bars, cafés and restaurants - you can buy what you need to eat, or you can eat it on the spot.

And that is exactly what a lot of people are doing. It looks like a convention of blind white mice, all these people with sunglasses, come out from their caves, now that the rain is gone and the roi soleil is whacking straight down the street which its huge glare.

The cleaning guys, with their new-age brooms with the green plastic fake twigs as bristles, in their Paris' green service costumes are herding a green garbage truck that has sprinklers squirting left and right and whirly brushes on both sides of the front. It is following by one of the mini sanitary vans as sort of the baby elephant following mom, seemingly redundant.

The pavement is not wide and the curbs are low so the sidewalk is getting its fair swipe at the same time as the empty food crates and cartons are being swept up and into the hopper - or am I imagining this? and this whole pell-mell operation is reaching almost from wall to wall, so pedestrians are playing a little game of dodge-it. Meanwhile, somewhere unseen, all the gutter-level sluices are being opened and clean water is gushing out over the white tiles and drifting almost to the middle of the street, behind the truck - the idea being, you dodge the truck to stumble into the water. Well yes, the marché is over so they sluice the place off; don't leave anything for the rats - been doing this thousands of years - probably started with Roman water systems.

ruecafe.jpg (13k) I am not paying enough attention because the cafés behind the green team have all their outside tables and chairs full of people eating lunch, drinking, smoking and talking and taking in the amazing sunshine - for which the rue Montorgueil is correctly angled to catch it all around lunchtime.

Upstreet, looking down, the back of everything is in deep shadow and the street itself is almost reflecting the sky, especially where it is wet. The other way around, as I said, there are all these white people and their black sunglasses - except for Africans of course, although they have sunglasses too - are the stage lights too bright? No, of course not.

This is what it's supposed to be; this is why Paris is this pastel cream-grey color, this is the why of all the louvered shutters on the windows as if the town is on the edge of the Mediterranean Sea instead of being closer to the North Pole - this is the sort of fiction which can be cruelly bitter in winter when it is obvious that Paris has no mild near-the-sea climate - the fiction which is conveniently forgotten after a day like this.
awning.jpg (13k) And the rue Montorgueil, it is the basic Paris street, devoted almost entirely to the basic instincts of hunger and thirst, consume it here or take it away - but in no way modern. No marketing-designed fast-food franchises, clean your own tray, thank you and have a nice day - here's a plastic toy for the kids from Archie MacStarchy and no dogs allowed, smoking section for the anti-socials over there and, above all, pay up-front, cash, no plastic.

All this is laid out near Les Halles and was one part of it - but it has escaped the fate of many other similar streets around here. The rue Montorgueil is pretty much as it has always been, except it is probably a bit cleaner than it was ten years ago and it is accepting its renewed grace without putting on many airs.

If you want to see real food in the open air and sit in the open air to eat it, I recommend this Paris street. If you don't like those metal racks with all their postcards and don't mind dodging the green garbage trucks, the rue Montorgueil is for you. Not recommended for bare feet.

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