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  • Shelley Dark

17. day 3 of the course

There was no morning class today because we were to meet at the Aligre market, in the Saint-Antoine area east of the Place de la Bastille. Assignment: 300-500 word review.

photo of commode by André-Charles Boulle at Vaux-le-Vicomte, courtesy Wikipedia © O.Taris

This district used to be famous in the 16-1700's for its guild of cabinetmakers who worked only in oak, specialising in marquetry, gilding, lacquering, inlay work and upholstery. André-Charles Boulle, cabinetmaker to Louis XIV, was probably the most famous of them known for his brass and tortoiseshell work which came to be known as Boulle or Buhl. His status allowed him to move his business to a workshop in the royal palace at the Louvre.

Where some of the markets in Paris have become very chic and a little touristy, the Marché d'Aligre has remained a reasonably priced true neighbourhood food market where locals shop. This is thanks to the activity of the local community group, La Commune Libre d'Aligre, which has its roots in the suburb's working class history.

The group meets in that small building (1776) in the middle of the square with the clock on top, which was rebuilt after damage during the revolution. It focusses on the social cohesion of the suburb but it's also active in global matters like climate change. At the moment it's concerned with youth use of public spaces, the police, community get-togethers. There's a large immigrant population of arabic and African origin.

We met for coffee at Blé Sucre nearby, a café famous for its pastries. It overlooks the pretty fenced Square Trousseau with its trees, carrousel and playground. The land here was once an orphan graveyard, later a home for orphans, then a children's hospital. It became a park in 1906, and Art Nouveau buildings, a little out of character with the working class neighbourhood, were built around the square. It's nice that children run and play here now under happier circumstances.

The market was only a quick walk away. Heather explained that the street stalls are open only every morning (except Monday) and close by lunchtime. Fruit and veg sold out of doors before noon does not attract tax. A big square market building houses more upmarket, slightly more expensive food shops which stay open all day. In the Place d'Aligre, there's a flea market, with lots of old clothes and the odd surprising treasure.

The high-quality flower market lies at the heart of things, just outside the covered market. There are flowering potted plants too.

Heather explained there's an etiquette to shopping at the stalls, so it pays to watch other shoppers to see how it's done. At some stalls you might bag the produce, at others the seller may do so. First rule, do not pick up the fruit. The BIO and NATURALIA are organic produce.

Our first stop was Le Garde-Manger épicerie. Anne-Françoise Toussaint, or Nanoo, runs this part of the family business. Originally from Alsace, the family left their restaurant to come to Paris to expand. Their specialties are foie-gras (did you know that goose liver is less fatty than duck liver?), flammekueche and quiches, jams and condiments, Alsatian wines. Her father now has a small factory, still with the same high artisanale quality, where he prepares and vaccuum-packs for distribution to France, Germany and Ireland. Each day Nanoo cooks the flammekueche for takeaway in a wood-fired oven. It's a thin French pizza with creme fraîche, sliced onion, smoky bacon and nutmeg. The smell is heavenly.

The cheese shop close by, l'Alpage, began in 1930, and ages its own cheeses. Here writing buddy Dawn is hot on the trail of a particular cheese. There's an Algerian pastry chef at Amira. An arab barber. A cosmospolitan mix.

There's a very companionable feeling in this market. The stall holders all seemed to have ready smiles.

This man said of course I may take his photo BUT only if he could fetch his son. He went back to where his son was playing and brought him to pose. The boy was a little bemused by it all.

Heather had told us that the moustachioed president of the community organisation is informally called 'the mayor'. I asked one man with a moustache if he were the mayor. He laughed and said no, the mayor isn't here today. While I was speaking to him, another young man came up and without any warning gave me a big mwah mwah on both cheeks. I didn't take offence, because it was so impulsive. It just seemed part of the whole ambiance.

There was a fire inside the market building a couple of years ago and repairs are not totally complete yet. There's a very good fish-monger.

And an artisan butcher who sells everything from meat to sausages to horse meat.

When I asked this young butcher if I may take his photo, he said yes, but only if he could pose nude. When I said perhaps not, this was his response. The rest of the group asked why I said no!

The JoJo patisserie opened last year in the covered market.

I saw some chouquettes, ohhhhh my favourite French pastry. The next thing I knew......

Yes. Bryan bought some. He is the nicest, warmest, most generous kind person you could possibly imagine. One of those people you just want to hug and protect.

An antiquarian bookseller from Porte de Vanves was here with some of his wares.

I admired these two books dated 1848 and he said why don't you come to see my shop at Porte de Vanves? His name is Christian Dreyfus and he gave me his phone number.

I bought this 1907 business card from him for two euro. It says 'Madame M. Ollier has the pleasure in announcing that because she is expanding her business, her fashion rooms will from 1st January 1907 be moved to 23 Rue Tronchet, mezzanine floor, near the Madeleine.' I looked on google maps, and the double doors to 23 are two stories high. I hope she did well.

A couple of men from Algeria (they told me it's actually Paris du Sud or Paris of the south) looked at my notebook and pencil, and asked me if I were the police, then cracked up. I thought they had said I look like the sheriff. I wrote it down to show them. No no. One wrote Chérif. You're like Chérif, they chortled. I found out later it's a tv crime show and she's one of the characters.

I thought this woman looked so lovely with her peonies that I asked if I may take her photo. Of course, she said.

The men from Cameroon with their wonderful wooden masks weren't sure about smiling for the camera.

This granary is the oldest shop in the neighbourhood. May I take photos monsieur? Yes of course, of course you may. Of course everyone wants to. My shop has been here the longest!

Don't you love the china plates for scooping? He sells grains for human consumption in the front of the shop, and pet food grain at the back. Are you looking quizzically at me? Does he really keep them separate? No idea.

On the way to lunch, I saw a signboard saying 'Skinny people are easier to kidnap. Stay safe, eat cake.' I was laughing when I noticed this man talking on the phone. Great smile.

We lunched at Café l'Industrie, where the three-course formule (fixed price menu) was 12 euro (AU$18). Great lentil, tomato and onion salad to start, perfect lasagne and green salad, and strawberries and cream or coffee. What great value. I had a glass of very pleasant house sancerre.

We didn't want to fill up too much however, because we had another visit coming up after lunch. To a chocolatier called Edwart, on the Rue de Rivoli, right across from the Tuileries, near Le Meurice. The smartest of addresses.

Edwart is a combination of the names Edwin and Arthur, the two young men who started the brand. They met at a hospitality school in Paris, opened a shop in the Marais eighteen months ago and this one six months later. Quite a success story. They manufacture on the outskirts of Paris, using ingredients from all around the world.

The decor of the shop is bright and minimalist modern, stark white walls contrasting with black and copper features. Hanging pendants are overturned copper bowls. At the rear of the shop, copper coloured organ pipes symbolise the similarity between making music, and playing the notes of a chocolate creation.

At the front of the shop, a simple glass display case with almost vertical trays of chocolates, drawn out much as you would draw a violin bow across the strings, by Edwin's white gloved hand.

Edwin at 27 years old is as theatrically gifted as any actor and his eye sparkle with mischief. We were his audience. He's wanted to make chocolate since he was 15. First he asked each one of us which we preferred, milk or dark. Then he stood like this, considering carefully which chocolate he would give each of us, putting them carefully, one at a time, on the tray on top of the display case. He did this until he had 3 chocolates lined up for each person. Now and then he'd stop and smile at us, ask a question. There was no one chocolate the same. That's 21 different flavours.

He asked each of us in turn, to taste our first chocolate, wanting to know what we thought was in it. Waiting in anticipation. Laughing at our reaction. He could remember every flavour he had put on the tray, and where each one was. It was an amazing performance. He was delighted when we failed to identify, pleased if we could, triumphant when he knew he had chosen well for us.

This performance happens for all customers. The full chocolate-tasting experience.

Angela takes Edwin's photograph

They source their cocoa from the equatorial belt around the globe, each one giving a different flavour to the end product: Venezuela, Indonesia, Papua New Guinea, Africa. Interestingly the product from New Guinea has a smoky flavour because it's prepared with a fire fuelled by palm fronds. The added flavours ranged from baobab fruit, Spanish almonds, Moroccan coriander, pepper, mango, Iranian saffron, to curry, cadamom, coffee and whisky. There are over 300 flavours in their range.

We also tasted the marmalade, and a product similar to Nutella. When someone said that proprietary name, Edwin wrinkled up his nose in disgust. Which he also did when someone asked if he makes white chocolate. We would use that only for decoration! he answered.

photo courtesy of Edwart website

I would have loved to try the fruit jellies I saw later on their website, made from real fruit , to be sold online soon.

Although I hadn't tried the coriander chocolate in my tasting, I tried one later. It was very good. I bought some to take home to John who hates coriander. I didn't tell him what flavour it was until after he'd eaten a few. -:)

Bryan was taking my photo as I was taking his. We trooped downstairs to see where Edwart holds chocolate-making workshops - from a half an hour experience for children to a full three hours where you choose your own flavours and take home the goods.

What the modern chocolatier wears in Paris. Au revoir Edwin!

photo courtesy of Bryan Pirolli

We retired to the courtyard of the Westin Hotel nearby for coffee and to write a quick review of Edwart. Then each of us read out our work.

photo courtesy of Bryan Pirolli

Heather and Bryan were kind, but mine was just horrific. I think I tried to write it like a journalist. I certainly didn't use my own voice. Who knows. I went home feeling depressed. On the way I read an email from one of you telling me nice things, and I brightened up considerably. I can write, I told myself. I'd like to say a sincere thank you for your comments. Sometimes when I'm wondering if I'm nuts to be doing this, you lift me up.

As I walked towards the Louvre courtyard, I saw people queueing up to photograph JR's covered pyramid. Someone had worked out exactly where to stand to make it look part of the facade. I lined up too. It's fun isn't it?

We meet for class tomorrow morning, and in the afternoon we're updating a guide to the Montorgueil district by going on a reccie. It's the long foodie street where I had my coffee on Tuesday morning before class.

John is doing his best to Australianise Paris. He drinks beer with his snails. And for thank you he says Mercy Barcoo.

Until tomorrow buddies....

shelley dark, writer 

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