Ode to Aligre

I was so fortunate to live most of my year in Paris around the corner from the Marché d’Aligre, one of Paris’ many outdoor produce markets but one of the (by my estimates) cheapest and most diverse, as well as one of the few that still runs everyday (except Monday). To get there from Bastille, walk East on the Rue du Faubourg St-Antoine for about ten minutes, and then turn right onto Rue de Cotte (my old street, incidentally). An immediate left, and you can’t miss it.

I knew it would be virtually impossible to capture the spirit of this market that I frequented so often with a camera but I finally decided to try anyway. I had that familiar experience that comes with suddenly feeling like a stranger in one’s own home–the way people treat you when you have a camera around your neck is utterly different than when you don’t. Some vendors recognized me as I’d been there many times, but one who was yelling “bienvenu!” to passersby yelled “les TOURISTES, bienvenu!” with an edge of sarcasm as he saw me. I turned and yelled sheepishly, “I live here!” but felt a bit stupid. So much for small victories.

I had been disappointed that the weather looked so gloomy on the day I took pictures, but at the same time I know that’s a more accurate reflection of Paris. (Whenever Paris has sunny clear skies, something just doesn’t feel quite right.) It didn’t reflect the mood of the people, though. Parisians get the stereotype of being unfriendly–not so here. The mostly North African vendors laugh and joke with each other in between cries of “Yellah yellah yellah! Toute la table un euro!” The cheese shop vendors also have quite the sense of humor. Groups of friends congregate out in the Place and chat animatedly. The cafés in the area (especially Le Penty) are generally void of stereotypical snarky waiters. Smiles are not rare around here.

The marché might be my favorite Parisian institution–knowing where my food comes from and having a wide range of local or at least nearby options (like when I “settle” for Spanish avocados), and buying directly from farmers and producers without the supermarket-conglomerate middle man. And the Place d’Aligre represents much of what I loved about my neighborhood–namely, the sense of community. Besides a number of local shops and businesses (from Algerian to Portuguese to Chinese) on top of the daily market, toward the end of the Rue d’Aligre is the Commune d’Aligre–a community organization that organizes communal meals, hosts lectures and film screenings, and oversees the functioning of a nearby community garden. On one warm night, a visiting friend and I stumbled upon some kind of Russian dance party taking place after an outdoor dinner. It was around 11pm but young people, families, and children alike were dancing around on the Place d’Aligre. Of course, we joined in for a joyous ten minutes or so. Paris a cold, impersonal, big city? Nah, not if you know where to look.

A chaque jour, son marché – Paris markets by arrondissement: http://marches.equipements.paris.fr/
(Other favorites include Marché de Belleville and Marché Barbès)

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