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.