“Embrace the bohemian experience,” Lief urged as we made our way down boulevard Sebastopol.
Indeed, we are. We’re staying these two weeks in Paris in a rented apartment between the 9th and 10th arrondissements. Or, as Kaitlin explained to a French friend on the phone last night, “My parents are in an apartment near St. Denis of all places!”
Prostitution is legal in France, and rue St. Denis is one of the places where the industry thrives. I’ve never walked the business blocks of the street myself, but I’m told they’re lined at all hours with ladies of every description and to accommodate every budget.
The big business on the street where we’re staying is food. Within a two- or three-minute walk in any direction are vegetable stands and butchers, spice stalls and bakeries, glass-encased rotisseries on the street offering fresh-roasted chickens and restaurants serving up specialties from Vietnam or Thailand, Morocco or Pakistan, China or India. The air is alive early ’til late with the smells of good and exotic things to eat.
Food…and hair. There are 27 hair salons, spas, and shops in the blocks surrounding us. We’ve counted.
This is a neighborhood of Paris short on cute and long on urban. Particular stretches are known as “Little Bombay” or “Little Jaffna” (for its Sri Lankan community).
These rues and boulevards are certainly ethnic and sometimes gritty, but they’re not unsafe or even unclean. The area is charming in its way.
In fact, it’s being called “up-and-coming”…like the Marais a decade ago. The city’s former marshland, former Jewish district is today one of its trendiest, with the art galleries, studios, young, eclectic population, and, as well, prices to prove it. If you can no longer afford the Marais…look over here in the workingman’s Paris instead.
Here in the 10th, beneath the grit, especially around the Canal Saint-Martin, you catch glimpses of belle époque. During our walk around the neighborhood this morning, we noticed, mixed in among the vegetable stands and the hairdressers, a Baccarat crystal shop and a high-end furrier. The nearby Gare de l’Est train station is undergoing a 60-million-euro refurbishment, and the area around Boulevard Magenta, which runs past the station and south to République, is said to be the place to shop for an investment.
P.S. Our two-week stay in Paris is the second leg of our Christmas Vacation, which began last week in Monte Carlo.
Tiny Monaco is a place of superlatives. It’s described as the most beautiful place on earth. It is also the world’s second-smallest country (after Vatican City), the world’s most densely populated country, and the world’s smallest French-speaking country.
Its 2 square kilometers are home to more people per city block than anyplace else on earth…and also more money. This speck of a country on the side of a cliff overlooking the Mediterranean Sea is awash in the stuff.
The whole place is a playground for the rich and jet-setting, who come here, if they’re able, not only to visit, but also to reside. For, as residents, they pay no taxes. Monaco is one of the world’s few remaining true tax havens.
P.P.S. While we’re enjoying the season on the Continent, intrepid Correspondent Paul Terhorst is spending the holidays off the beaten path in Laos. “Until 17 years ago,” Paul explains, “Laos was closed to foreign visitors. Now several hundred Westerners arrive every day. Immigration at both airports and at land borders has become routine.”
Paul continues: “I’ve met hill-tribe villagers who’ve never lived anywhere except in bamboo huts in their native villages, who’ve never seen indoor plumbing or an electric light bulb. The villagers use firewood for cooking, because there is no natural gas or electricity. They believe rain dances help to make the monsoons come…”