Writing Portfolio


Where the swifts take us

The sound that I am mostly associating with Paris at the moment is that of the swifts that seem to be constantly flying overhead. They are there when I wake up in the morning, and they’re there now in the evening as I’m typing this.

Allison and I are in Paris for a week, not just self-catering but hiring out an apartment in the 12th arondissement from a Parisian student. If you’ve ever seen a movie set in Paris you can imagine what it’s like – up on the top floor of a pre-war block, accessible only by a set of very squeaky wooden stairs with a tiny kitchen, no air-conditioning and a long corridor connecting the bedroom from the lounge. With the windows open all the time, we get to hear all the sounds of the city. If the best way to experience Paris is to live like a Parisian, then we’re on the right track!

Located at the eastern end of the city, the 12th is one of those places that is described as undergoing gentrification. Among other things, it’s home to the Marché d’Aligre, a market widely regarded in the blogosphere as being the sort of place which is frequented by locals and to which tourists hardly ever venture. Naturally, we had to pay a visit.

The market itself is in three parts – a flea-market, an open-air fruit and veg market and the covered market which is home to the butchers and fishmongers. We took many pictures and used Allison’s French skills to purchase some lovely-looking items for dinner. This done, we did what any self-respecting Parisian would do after buying food from the market. We went for a drink.

But not just any drink! Just behind the Marché d’Aligre is Le Baron Rouge, a wine-bar that the Lonely Planet’s Paris City Guide describes as “just about the ultimate Parisian wine bar experience”. Well, with a recommendation like that it would be rude not to visit.

It’s unpretentious to say the least, and what surprised me the most when we walked in was that they had barrels – real, big wine barrels – against the wall. We soon learned that those in the know just bring along their empty bottles and five-litre plastic jugs, and get them filled up with a variety of French wines. Now, if only someone would offer to carry said wine up six flights of stairs for us…

We made our way to the bar at the back and perused a most extensive wine list which, like in all good Parisian establishments, was written on a blackboard rather than typed up on laminated paper. I had three wines that I had never tried before: a red Sancerre, a Pinot Noir d’Alsace and a Côte du Jura from near the Swiss border – the last one looks so thin it could almost be a rosé. Of those, I most liked the Pinot Noir d’Alsace, which was served cold – unusual for a red, but I figured that our host knew what he was doing when it came to serving each of his wines. Allison opted for white, trying a Muscadet-sur-Lie, a Petit Chablis and a Sancerre. None were more than €3.50 a glass. For what it’s worth, I don’t know why a wine bar in Paris would be named after a German war hero.

In the afternoon, our wanderings in the sun took us down to the Seine, where we followed the swifts across the islands to the Left Bank. We waved at the people on the tour boats and went through the park at the back of Notre Dame in order to avoid the crowds. On the Left Bank, we wandered past the picture-sellers before reaching an English-language bookshop.

Shakespeare and Company is not just a bookshop; it’s the most famous English-language bookshop in Paris and has been selling new and second-hand books to the many Anglophones who’ve found themselves in this fair city for as long as anyone can remember. Bookshops are my favourite kind of shop, so I felt that I just had to visit this one while in Paris.

As well as a selection of new books on French themes and an interesting range of used paperbacks, there is a reference library upstairs where anyone can enjoy reading a book while sinking into a sofa and listening to pretentious exchange students discussing the finer points of literature.

Down in the main shop, I browsed and I must have recalled enjoying some wine in an establishment named after the Red Baron, for I came across a book called War & Wine. Written by American couple Don and Petie Kladstrup, a TV news correspondent and a freelance writer specialising in France respectively, the book is about how French wine producers endeavoured to prevent the Germans from stealing their best wine during the Second World War.  I look forward to indulging in a few chapters tonight over a glass or two of Côtes du Rhône.

I wonder where the swifts will take us tomorrow? 


gare aux goûts said...

Lovely to read you my dear. Very refreshing! On en redemande! Where and how did the French hide the wine away?

ken goodings said...

Great blog Nic. I felt as if I was right there, sipping wine along with you and Allison.