Sunday, 15 December 2013

Rue Cler : The Art of Parisian Living

"Walking down rue Cler makes me feel like I must have been a poodle in a previous life. It's a cobbled pedestrian street lined with shops run by people who've found their niche...boys who grew up on quiche. Aproned fruit stall attendants coax doll-like girls into trying their cherries. And ladies, after a lifetime of baguette munching, debate the merits of the street's rival boulangeries.
Surveying Paris from my hotel room's fourth-floor window, only the churches and the Eiffel Tower exceed the six-story code. Buildings fill the city like waffle mix — done just about right. Stately black grillework, frosted with big-city dust, treats humble windows like aristocratic balconies. Below me is village Paris and my market street, rue Cler.

Shopping for groceries is an integral part of everyday life here. Parisians shop almost daily for three good reasons: Refrigerators are small (tiny kitchens), produce must be fresh, and it's an important social event. Shopping is a chance to hear about the butcher's vacation plans, see photos of the florist's new grandchild, relax over un cafĂ©, and kiss the cheeks of friends (the French standard is twice for regular acquaintances, three times for friends you haven't seen in a while).

Rue Cler — traffic-free since 1984 — offers plenty of space for tiny stores and their patrons to spill into the street. It's an ideal environment for this ritual to survive and for you to explore. The street is lined with the essential shops — wine, cheese, chocolate, bread — as well as a bank and a post office. And the shops of this community are run by people who've found their niche: boys who grew up on quiche, girls who know a good wine. The people in uniform you might see are likely from the Ecole Militaire (military school, Napoleon's alma mater, two blocks away).

If you wish to learn the fine art of living Parisian-style, rue Cler provides an excellent classroom. And if you want to assemble the ultimate French picnic, there's no better place. This is the only walking tour in the Rick Steves' Paris guidebook you should start hungry. Do this walk at the start of your Paris visit, as it provides a helpful orientation to the local culture. And visit when the market is open and lively. Remember that these shops are busy serving regular customers. Be polite and careful not to get in the way. Start your walk where the pedestrian section of rue Cler begins, at rue de Grenelle."

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