Afternoon walk in Paris

February 3, 2007 at 10:39 am (Uncategorized)

To find the best food in a city, you have to walk, and have faith in your walk to deliver you to the finest eaterie. A friend of mine, an interior designer, has a shop in a North African area, near Gare du Nord in Paris. As soon as I got here I made a beeline for her shop, in the vicinity of which I was sure I would find the city’s answer, with wings, to the Moroccan burger van I often go to, off Portobello Road, in London. Around the corner from her street I bumped into a veritable carpet of Muslim men on their knees bowing towards Mecca, a tribute from the rather ramshackle mosque on the corner, with a corrugated iron roof. Matts were laid down on the road. The faces, squeezed tight together in rows, old young, black, a few white, were largely North African, and the silence of their oneness swept out all noise except the clack of my leather soles on the pavement, walking in the opposite direction. Even in the Muslim trinket shop, people were huddled in to respond to the prayer leader’s loudspeaker prompts.The adjoining street was also carpeted by rows of the devout, their shoes left on the pavement. Before I had time to wonder whether I should join them or risk offending a thousand-odd people, it was over. Bearded collectors shook donation buckets and wailed pleas, and I was able to resume my search for food. Another corner, another trinket shop, the sort that sell incense call-to-prayer mosque alarm clocks. Great gifts for your Muslim friends and sure to get your Jewish ones out of bed sharpish. I came across another road where another mosque had ended its street session. I walked, saw one or two marvellous working class Arab cafes, and then what I was looking for: a whole in the wall, with a line of men, and a lone French woman, lining up for meat, in magnificent baguettes. My French ain’t hot, but the brother understood when I said: “Je suis d’Angleterre. Je voudrais viande.” What happened next needs no explaining. Then, I strolled around the block wondering whether I should have for another sandwich. Where there is a queue like that, you cannot go wrong. The guy who was serving was very friendly — it’s important to check the vibe around where you eat. And if the people, for they know, are lining up, then that is what you must do. 

Back on the main street, I bumped into a procession of Parisians, chanting “solidarite avec sans papier“. It was a march against the deportation of illegal immigrants and I stayed with it for a good hour or so. There were far more children than you might expect on a March in London, and fewer uniformed cops. Apparently, such marches, of a few hundred, are very common Paris. What interests me on a march is the faces of passers-by who stop to gawp. They tend to look befuddled, or empowered, and sometimes giggle. The uncharitable smile smugly, as if to say “how quaint”.

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