I came to Paris for a year and I’m still here three decades later

On Bastille Day, Jean O'Sullivan explains why she loves living in Paris, France

Jean O’Sullivan at the marché d’Aligre in Paris. France celebrates Bastille Day today.

Jean O’Sullivan at the marché d’Aligre in Paris. France celebrates Bastille Day today.

 

The marché d’Aligre is a small traffic-free enclave near the Bastille. Around the stone market building the stalls are heaped with fresh produce. I join the stream of shoppers flowing down the rue d’Aligre as the vendors cry out: “du bon!” “deux pour un euro!” By packing-up time at 1pm they are all but giving away boxes of cherries, peaches or whatever fruit is in season.

By contrast, the cool indoor market, built in 1843, is an Ali Baba’s cave where you can buy everything from a giant mango to a roast suckling pig. The array of cheeses always reminds me of de Gaulle’s quip: “How can anyone govern a nation that has 246 different kinds of cheese?”

The tiny Place d’Aligre houses the only flea market in central Paris. There’s Farid the vintage clothes merchant, Abdel the bald book dealer and Michel who sells buttons and bows while his dotty old maman belts out Edith Piaf songs. Bargains lurk among the bric-à-brac. My husband once got a signed copy of A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man for the price of a giant mango.

I sit outside the bar-tabac by the flower stall, order a coffee and if the barrel-organ man is cranking out musette songs I request “Sous les ponts de Paris” because my Dad used to sing it.

The marché d’Aligre may be unique, but similar gems can be found all over Paris. Behind its famed monuments the French capital is really a cluster of villages.

Why do I love Paris? Let me count the ways.

Paris is home: It’s where I met my Irish-Parisian husband and where our two daughters were born (in a birthing pool in the laid-back Maternité des Lilas). It’s also where I began a proper grown-up career. Best of all, it’s only a 90-minute flight from Dublin, my other home.

Parisians: Blasé and opinionated maybe, but Parisians are rarely rude - just direct. I especially admire the way they take to the streets at the least injustice.

Café life: There is nowhere like a Paris café - the extension of many a living-room, including my own. It’s where Parisians write novels, make calls and hold meetings, and watch other Parisians.

The Seine: Browsing at the bookstalls on the quays is one of my greatest pleasures, as is spending a summer evening on the quai St Bernard watching the tango dancers perform by the water’s edge as the riverboats glide by.

Paris by night: A meal in the Marais, a movie in Montparnasse. The sight of 10,000-plus roller skaters speeding past on a Friday night. Slumming on the rue de Lappe where Kader, king of the late-night dives, dusts off his fabled vinyl collection and dances on the bar.

Cultural offerings: With 170 museums, 90 cinemas and 200 theatres and cabarets, Paris can give you Stendhal syndrome if you’re not careful. (The writer believed that too much art can make you ill.) In addition, we are spoiled with the Centre culturel irlandais, a little goldmine of Irish culture.

L’art de vivre: I love living in Paris because it’s the capital of a country devoted to the art of living well; where people enjoy five weeks leave a year (and 11 national holidays) and where everything stops for lunch. Of course Paris has big-city problems too, but as I finish my coffee at the Marché d’Aligre, I choose to ignore them and relish instead the atmosphere that seduced me when I came here for a year - three decades ago.

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