At Home In Le Marais
“The medieval home to Paris aristocrats and Jews,” writes Correspondent Paul Lewis from the City of Light, “now features a new sign outside number 26 rue des Rosiers, reading, in English, ‘Bed and Breakfast,’ followed by the phone number 06-16-83-90-37. (Put 33-1 before that and drop the 0 if you are outside France.) What is on offer in this traditional center of the city’s fast-shrinking Jewish Ghetto is a choice of a double room or triple, sharing a bathroom. The price is 49 euro per head per night. It is the only bed and breakfast I’ve ever seen advertised in the French capital.
“Meantime, the decline of Paris’ Jewish Quartier (called, in Yiddish, the Pletzel) continues apace. It is now confined to the first two blocks of the rue des Rosiers in the 4th arrondissement, which has been turned into a pedestrians-only street and is still crowded with (mostly American) tourists on Sunday mornings (since French Jews are mostly Orthodox, it closes down completely on Saturdays).
“Goldenberg’s once-famous delicatessen has closed its doors. So has Les Caves de Simon, with its fine selection of Kosher Burgundy wines. Florence Kahn struggles on with her Gastronomie Yiddish, and shops selling Kosher felafel are very popular still. Felafel is Israeli fast food on a pita, with lots of salads, fried chickpea balls, sesame, and hot sauce.
“But there are almost no Kosher butchers left offering piquant little North African meat turnovers, or briks. A handful of Kosher bakeries remain, as well as a couple of grocers, some jewelers, one offering Mezsuzahs de voiture (holy writings to protect your car), and the patriotically named restaurant Chez Marianne (not Kosher). But designer boutiques and expensive men’s shoe stores continue their relentless colonization of the old Ghetto.
“A new arrival in Le Marais is the renamed and expanded Jardin Anne Frank (formerly Jardin St. Aignan) by the Musée de la Poupée, where the rue Beaubourg crosses the rue Rambuteau right by the oil refinery of the Centre Pompidou. A cutting from the chestnut tree in the garden of the Amsterdam house where Anne hid has been planted beside the plaque telling her story. The garden was opened about a year ago. It is very quiet and beautifully maintained. Naturally, it has a children’s playground, but it is essentially a place for meditation with no free flow of visitors. You leave by the only gate, the same one by which you entered.
“Monops are the new retail rage in the Marais. They are springing up everywhere. These are small, up-market, self-service food shops, open very late. They offer a good selection of quality fast food and drink and are generally well lit and pleasant. Many also contain small cafes where you can heat and consume your purchases. Monops spell trouble for the Marais’ innumerable North African-owned grocery stores, which also never seemed to close.
“The do-it-yourself wars are taking over the Marais. On the one hand, the venerable Bazaar de l’Hôtel de Ville (BHV) continues to offer its enormous DIY basement, where, if you are prepared to put up with sullen and surly staff and lack of clear information, you can buy almost anything to repair almost anything.
“But now an interloper is fast expanding. This summer, Leroy-Merlin, France’s leading DIY chain, took over another chunk of the old shopping center of the Quartier de l’Horloge, beside the Pompidou refinery. It is self-service, with green-checked-shirted assistants who sometimes actually know what they are talking about. As the recession bites deeper, the French are doing more repairs themselves, which is bad luck for Polish plumbers, to say nothing of the French ones. The queues for checkout at Leroy-Merlin are long and slow, and the self-service credit card checkout doesn’t work without staff intervention. I witnessed a furious male customer shouting angrily about the fact that he had to wait 22 minutes to pay.”