Two years ago, I sampled life as a resident of Paris. For ten days, my spouse and I spent time in a quirky and comfortable apartment on the Rue du Faubourg du Temple. From there we set out to do what most tourists do: visit the Louvre and Musée d’Orsay, climb to the top of Montmartre, and walking the banks of the Seine.
Having our own apartment helped us to learn more about the neighborhood where we’d taken up residence. We walked to the cheese store for the best brie I’d ever tasted. We visited the weekend market in the rain, a walk of only a few blocks. (Tip: Don’t pick up a handful of salad greens; wait for the purveyor of the produce.) And a short walk also brought us to the boulangerie/patisserie (bakery) where we found delicious eclairs and baguettes. The perfect existence as I had imagined it to be.
But I found more than I expected in that neighborhood between the Republique and Belleville metro stops. On the street I passed my neighbors, many of whom were immigrants or the children of immigrants from the Middle East and North Africa. A window displayed clothing that I wouldn’t expect to find on the Paris runways.
I passed my temporary neighbors, many of whom were immigrants or the children of immigrants. North Africans, and more recently, sub-Saharan Africans have replaced the Armenians, Greeks, and Ashkenazi Jews which were once the predominant ethnic groups. A window displayed clothing that I wouldn’t expect to find on the Paris runways.
The Bataclan, the site of the attack that took 130 lives, sits only a few blocks from where we stayed, and the Jewish store that experienced the killing of four hostages on the same day as the Charlie Hebdo massacre, is just over 4 kilometers away. Despite these tragedies, I wouldn’t hesitate for a moment to return there.
As an outsider, especially one who ‘lived’ there for such a short time, I could not gauge whatever tensions there might have been. But for ten days—a brief moment in time—I did feel the richness of a culturally diverse neighborhood right outside my door.