petite anglaise

October 11, 2004

resistant to change

Filed under: city of light — petiteanglaiseparis @ 3:24 pm

My neighbourhood is changing and not for the better.

Two years ago when we arrived in the 19th arrondissement we loved the cosy, ‘villagey’ atmosphere of our stretch of tree-lined avenue, with its traditional butcher’s, baker’s, delicatessen, greengrocer’s, flower shop and old fashioned café in a cobbled square with its zinc bar . The shops looked like they had been there since the appartment buildings were built, circa 1900, and had a shabby sort of old world charm. Sadly some of this character now seems to be ebbing away.

When our local baker’s re-opened in September after several weeks of refurbishment work, I was saddened to see that the art nouveau shop front had given way to red wood and plastic to mark the baker’s official allegiance to the Banette franchise. The marble counters inside have been replaced with shiny new glass and metal display cabinets. It is now devoid of all character. I still shop there – it’s the only decent bakery in the area – but I can barely restrain myself from chastising the owners for selling out.

The latest development is the arrival Sushi Nina, where previously there was a lovely traditional Charcuterie – Volailles – Fromagerie. It’s one of a small Jewish chain selling kosher sushi and bagels: the sushi is mediocre; our area, which is close to the Belleville Chinatown, was hardly suffering from a lack of Asian food in the first place. And it is just plain ugly: a hideous eyesore in red and black plastic with garish red lights, grafted onto a lovely old building.

What I have always loved about France, is that unlike the UK, although there are some chain stores you find in every town, there have always been plenty of independent artisans plying their wares too. Butcher’s shops with a cows head and pigs’ trotters in the window; the kind of place where there is a label on the meat telling you which farm the animal came from, and possibly its name. Nice piece of prime Ermintrude steak anyone? A cheese shop displaying mature, non-refrigerated cheeses in various stages of decomposition, accompanied by a stench of sweaty socks. A greengrocer’s with pyramids of painstakingly arranged fruit and vegetables. France would not be France without them.

Of course, having said all this, hypocrite that I am, I don’t actually patronise most of my local shops. Well, would you pay € 20 a roast chicken from the local butchers when it costs € 8 in the supermarket? But I know I should, lest they die out altogether.


  1. I do. I don’t mind paying more because: 1) I see it as a way of defending a certain way of life, the one you describe so well, so it’s a good investment 2) The products are normally far superior and 3) My mum is an épicière and would kill me if I only shopped in supermarkets.

    Comment by céline — October 11, 2004 @ 5:29 pm

  2. I do know what you mean. I shop at Tesco mostly, because it’s easy, but I love my local Turkish shop, because you can buy fabulous vegetables with creatively spelt labels, one of a million different types of olives out of buckets from the olive counter, and any kind of offal, including lungs (I don’t, but it’s nice to know you can), accompanied by Turkish pop music. Funnily enough though, Tesco is loads more expensive.

    Comment by Rachie — October 11, 2004 @ 6:03 pm

  3. Some things just can’t be replaced. :wink:

    Comment by Adrian — October 11, 2004 @ 11:56 pm

  4. It’s so sad when this happens isn’t it? In my uni days my mates and I used to hang out at this old pub which had a real working men’s social club feel to it. The place had fake wood panelled walls, darts, pool, fruit machines and table football. The pints were brilliant. We loved it in there.The landlord loved our little motley crew and always offered to feed us roast potatoes on sundays too.

    I was gutted when I went back a few years ago only to find that it had been sold and turned into one of those ‘sports bars’ with big screen tellys and resident rugger buggers. I couldn’t even bring myself to go in.

    So sad.:cry:

    Comment by PPQ — October 12, 2004 @ 12:23 am

  5. hey…you’re not talking about that crap place near the Buttes Chaumont, are you? That’s a scary notion that might work in NY or Toronto, but nowhere else, jewish sushi, or japanese bagels, take your pick.

    anyways, I go to the Belleville market, when I can…on the other side of Menilmontant, nearer to pere lachaise, is a fabulous little boucherie stand, run by an old coule. They’ll sell you a yellow farmer’s chicken for 7Eu.

    and you can’t get 1kg of girolles for 3eu at the supermarket.

    Comment by nardac — October 12, 2004 @ 5:03 am

  6. nardac – you know where I live? Are you my first stalker?

    Actually the little 7bis over on the right probably gives that away…

    Comment by petite anglaise — October 12, 2004 @ 8:39 am

  7. It’s funny, but we’re almost going the other way now in the UK, with smaller shops and farmers markets becoming more and more popular. However, it’s hard to “go back” from the convenience of the supermarket…

    Comment by witho — October 12, 2004 @ 9:13 am

  8. “The only constant is change” it’s just so darn agrivating it has to happen in our lifetime!

    Comment by jim — October 12, 2004 @ 11:02 am

  9. silly. I live in paris, in the 20th arrondissement and one of my best friends is on Simon Bolivar, right next to the that stupid restaurant.

    Comment by nardac — October 12, 2004 @ 11:42 am

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