I leave my cosy apartment on a mid-morning stroll along the eastern end of this long Parisian street and am rewarded with a fascinating glimpse into the beating heart of this city.
Cafés line both sides of the street and buzz with life. Tables spill out onto terraces and are occupied by three distinct groups of people; the coffee-sipping people watchers who stare vacantly into space, then there’s those who are captivated by the headlines on their morning paper reaching only occasionally for the remnants of a croissant to dip into a large cup of café crème. The final group of café dwellers are the smokers; they huddle at the far end of the terrace, chatting loudly about their day-to-day lives in between puffs of a cigarette.
Several pâtisseries are here, my favourite of which is Hervé. The place is always packed, so you can never expect to pop in and out quickly for a cake or loaf of bread and a cake. As I enter I am struck by the waft of freshly baked pastries and breads, my eyes quickly becoming transfixed on the shelves ahead of neatly arranged comestibles. If, like me, you’re always on a diet, this place sets you up to fail; just as you pay for your goods at one counter you are made to pass by another to exit the shop and discover something equally delectable to take away and find yourself right back in the queue to pay.
With my sweet treats in hand, I continue further, and pass quaint shoebox-sized coffee and croissant shops, thronged by those too busy to sit down and take time to enjoy a drink. A few steps further on are several different ironmongers, each one packed full of DIY essentials and located, ironically, behind a tired façade that could definitely do with a lick of paint.
My stroll ends a little further at the cute fruit and vegetable shops where the produce is piled up high outside for people to inspect. ‘The same again today is it, Madame LeFèvre?,’ grins the shop assistant. Here I quickly sense the strong bond between vendor and customer and look around to see that every other building on this stretch of the street is a greengrocer, each with a slightly different offer of the week.
Walking up and down this street it’s hard to feel that I am in a big city. But that’s just what sets Paris apart – the sense that it’s a collection of villages, all sewn together to make one large quilt. It’s this that makes Paris the city that we all love.