Canal Life

Our neighbourhood in Paris runs along the Canal Saint-Martin, a stretch of water that runs off the Seine at Place de la Bastille and runs along a north-easterly path, joining the Canal Saint-Denis north of the Basin de la Villette to become the Canal de l’Ourcq. The canal’s greenish waters, flagstone quays, families of ducks, iron pedestrian bridges, and bubbling locks, provide an atmospheric backdrop to the life of neighbourhood, and is a sight many tourists never set eyes on.

The canal was originally built in the 19th century to supply water to parts of the city and for transport of grain and other goods to Paris. There are amazing old pictures of women washing clothes at purpose-built laundry stations along the canal at the turn of the century.  One of the canal’s most interesting features is that a large section of it runs underground along vaulted tunnels pierced by large skylights. Up above, on the ground level, there is a long stretch of park where people play pétanque or walk their dogs, one section of which, along Avenue Richard-Lenoir, is home to our favourite Sunday market.

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Women washing clothes along the canal.

Some tour companies offer boat rides up and down the canal, so you can glide along under the atmospheric vaults yourself, see the charming 10e arrondissement from a different point of view, and get splashed by the locks as they fill up rather dramatically (if you make your way up the canal from Port de l’Arsenal to the Bassin de la Villette–some of the tours go down the canal instead up). You’ll have to be patient, however, as the locks and swinging bridges make for a long and very slow cruise along the canal.

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Under the vault.

For most inhabitants, however, the canal is mostly a perfect place to relax with a picnic and some wine or beer. During the week, people who work nearby love to sit along the quay and enjoy some sunshine during their break for déjeuner, while far into the night the area is alive with groups of young people enjoying themselves in the open air.

Every few years, authorities drain the canal in order to clean out the rubbish that inevitably falls (or is thrown) into it and remains at the bottom: bicycles, cameras, bottles… Even cars, and–yes–guns. There’s a great article about it over at The Guardian.

I’ll leave you with an excerpt of Le Fabuleux destin d’Amélie Poulain, in which Amélie takes part in one of her favourite activities: standing on one of the lock gates and skipping stones on the canal.

 

 

Village Saint-Martin

A new (school) year, a new adventure!

Back at the start of the summer, G. and I left Egypt behind, and after a couple of months spent gallivanting around Quebec (and a short trip to England for a friend’s wedding), here we are in Paris, a city we’ve each been to a few times as tourists but never had the chance to live in… until now.

I’m sure that our time here will abound in many culinary, cultural, and literary adventures as we get settled in and start exploring. In the meantime, here’s a short introduction to our new neighbourhood near the Canal Saint-Martin, in the 10e arrondissement.

In fact we came upon this neighbourhood entirely by chance–we had never visited it before. Within a few minutes of arriving, however, we knew that it was a perfect place for us. It’s a very young, vibrant neighbourhood with lots of shops, boutiques, grocery stores, cafés, and restaurants. Our street features a school, a lively terrace, and an amazing bakery. The entire street often smells of freshly baked brioche.

We’ve already fallen in love with the Parisian lifestyle–enjoying a drink on a sunny terrace, stopping at multiple shops and markets to buy our groceries–and we’re working hard to adapt our North American eating schedule to that of France, where diner isn’t served before 8pm, and often much later, and shops close for the afternoon.

Many people have told us that the 10e hasn’t always been as charming as it is now; twenty or thirty years ago, it was a lot less attractive. As with gentrification in so many other Western cities, the advent of “bobos” has brought with it third wave coffee shops, coworking spaces, and ridiculously niche boutiques, but it’s also pushed out diversity. However the neighbourhood still feels scruffy around the edges, and it’s a joy to see so many young people crowding along the canal to share some charcuterie, bread, and a bottle of wine at any time of day or night.

One thing that immediately made us fall in love with the tenth’s communal spirit is a local newspaper called Le Journal du Village Saint-Martin, which is published every season and has charming articles about local residents and businesses. For example, the most recent issue for the summer had an article about Chez Prune, one of the neighbourhood’s emblematic bistro’s, which is celebrating its 20th anniversary this summer.

The team behind the journal also publishes a yearly Village Saint-Marting guidebook, which is beautifully illustrated by local artists and available for purchase in local shops. This handy little guide has already supplied us with many great addresses, and is a perfect starting point to begin exploring the neighbourhood and, eventually, make it really feel like home.