Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Il Mercato

Today we went to the mercato for the first time. Every Wednesday, the outdoor market sets up in a huge field downtown. There are vendors of every sort, from meat and fish, to fruit and vegetables, to clothes, linens, housewares, pots and pans etc. You name it, you can generally find it at the mercato.
Every vendor has his assigned place so it is easy to find your favorites from week to week. They set out awnings to help provide some shade on these hot summer days. Then, as you stroll by, if you slow down or show any interest in their merchandise, they are ready to jump on you!
I have not generally enjoyed the mercato experience. We would always go at peak times, when it would be miserably crowded and hot. Then I would get discombobulated at the crowds, not know where I was going and would just end up frustrated and tired, having accomplished nothing. I would usually be following my late sister-in-law, who was an inveterate shopper, and I could never keep up with her.
Today's experience was much more pleasant. We arrived at about 11:00, as the crowds were thinning down and the vendors eager to pack up and move on. We found a parking spot right across from the entrance to the mercato, which was good, because we brought our 85 year old neighbor, Lello, along. We strolled amongst the bancarelle, bought some nice olives, went to the housewares vendor and picked up some little gadgets that would be useful, Mike got some sandals and Lello bought some fish and fruit. I saw several vendors with some clothes that I will look at next week; I need a couple of house dresses that are cooler than what I brought from the states. There is a uniform here that most women seem to wear. It is a kind of cotton, sleeveless dress, that may button down the front, usually in a black or dark print. It looks comfortable and easy-care for doing the housework and cooking. I may give in and pick one up, just to see how it works out. They were only 5 euros a piece, so it's worth a shot.
We'll be back to the mercato next Wednesday, checking out the merchandise and enjoying our outdoor shopping experience.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

A week in Paris

I spent this past week in Paris and, once again confirmed why this is my favorite city of all. Even in July, our apartment with no air conditioning was perfectly comfortable. The gardens were as beautiful as always, the city and its people were charming and the food, as usual, was superb.
I decided to rent a studio apartment in the 20th arrondissement rather than go the tourist hotel route. Most of the rationale behind this decision came down to money. This sweet little studio, with kitchen and bath, cost only 420 euros for an entire week. Split between my niece and me, that meant that I paid a total of 210 euros for seven nights' lodging. Impossible to do that even in the cheapest of hotels.
While getting to know our neighborhood, it became clear to me that, just as I have wanted to live in a small village in Italy, the small village of the 20th was just as perfect and just as interesting.
For the entire week, I never heard English spoken once we got off the metro. We were truly in France! We were able to shop at the local markets; traiteurs with roast chicken and potatoes, bakeries with an amazing assortment of breads and croissants, the Parisian equivalent of the dollar store etc. Becoming familiar with the local merchants has many benefits. One evening as I was stopping to buy a loaf of bread, I realized I only had a 50 euro note, which the clerk was unable to break. "No problem, madame. Just pay tomorrow." You can be sure that this would never happen in a single digit arrondissement!
We had a little theater up the street from us and one night I went to see "La Belle Helene", a comic operetta about Helen of Troy by Offenbach. The theater itself was a little run down and the production was certainly not Broadway worthy. But the troupe was talented, the show was lots of fun and, best of all, the director sat next to me. We chatted at length about theater, this company and production, music in general and why I had decided to go there that night. It was such a unique and unusual experience to have that kind of a conversation, and it would never have happened in a more "downtown" theater.
Make no mistakes about it; this is not the Paris with the parisiennes soignees, in stiletto heels and skinny jeans. This was definitely a multi-ethnic, working class Paris, with people looking tired after a long metro ride home, some a little frumpy, some downright seedy. This is a Paris of young families, of dads teaching their kids how to ride their two-wheelers, of toddlers running up the sidewalk, of moms leaving their kids in strollers out on the sidewalk while they browse through the cheese store. This is a Paris with saris and hijabs and head scarves and dashikis. It is colorful and exotic with food from the four corners of the world.
I have no desire to go back to a hotel in the 3rd (well, maybe a sweet little hotel in the Marais might work!), not when there is a nice apartment with a great landlord in a fun neighborhood awaiting. Gambetta (our metro stop on line 3), I hope to see you again soon!