Paris Is a Moveable Picnic

marche ordener and cafe chez pradel
On hot days, luckily, marchés have cafés beside them.

Bring Your Own Feast

Paris:- Wednesday, 20. May 1998:- I have a vague request lying here 'to do' a street marché report, but the weather is exceptional again and all I can think of doing is having a picnic.

To do this, street marchés can be more or less involved. But the marchés themselves are a big subject and I will treat them on their own some other time - today is picnic time. It must be about 25 degrees and there is a little breeze. Forecast clouds do show up for a bit, but go away again - nothing serious enough to force anybody to go inside.

For me the European-style picnic goes back - goes back to about 1956 or '57. My home town had become the home town to many nationalities of Europeans after the war, and by the '50's a lot of one-time penniless immigrants had moved out of basic industry jobs and had begun to branch out and set up their own businesses.

One essential business, was to give their folks a taste of their old homes, so my town had sprouted with the delicatessenboucherie, marche poteau shops of a variety of nationalities. This was a welcome addition to the largely provincial and monotonous standard fare of canned weiners and beans.

My 'home town' did not have marchés like this. It didn't have any at all.

So it was, I could go to the local delicatessen and get European sausage and cheese by the slice, and even imported very dark bread, if I wanted. I did this because European sausage or salami did not taste anything like the local sausage-factory product, of which there was one sort - called baloney. This was an all-purpose word for all-purpose sausage, and the word itself is a slander on Bologna in Italy.

The whole idea of this, comes from the tastes and shopping habits of Europeans. A lot of people here go out and buy what they want for their next meal; perhaps several times a day. This is changing of course, as people have less time to do it; and the all-in-one supermarkets take over with their everything-packaged selections.

All the same, the tradition of buying food in small amounts is far from dead, and many larger supermarkets have both the packaged stuff and the 'delicatessen' or 'chartcuterie' departments, where it is still possible to order any amount - of a wide variety of anything. In some, the selection is astonishing.

Back to the daily shopping or shopping for meals; in Paris - and almost everywhere else in Europe, there are street marchés. These are either daily affairs, mornings only, or only a couple of times a week. Often, these open-air marchés are located on streetsfruit and veg, marche poteau of shops, which sell the same items - with the difference that they operate six or seven days a week, and have roofs.

Fruit and veg at the Marché Poteau; the product is better than the decor.

For the spur-of-the- moment potential picnicker, this is where you get your ingredients. One essential thing to remember, is that most marchés and their surrounding shops, close for lunch from about 12:30 and don't open again until 15:00 or 16:00.

One thing you need to have or bring, is a knife. Without one, it can all be a bit sloppy. One step up from the totally spontaneous level brings you to stopping in an all-purpose small department store like 'Monoprix,' and getting a couple of wine glasses.

Chilled white wine to go with them is not so easy to obtain, but there are usually wine dealers near a marché and there are always bars and cafés near a marché. Some wine merchants do have chilled wine in season and will charge less for it - or will offer better quality at higher prices; while bars and cafés will just simply charge more, with possibly only little selection for quality.

If you feel like red wine, you can forget the whole 'chilled' business entirely - unless it is pink - and even skip the wineglass part. Not so much for cheap thrills as for simple pleasures.

Going the other way, you can also get very fancy; by going to and upscale grocery like Fauchon, or ordering a picnic to be made up by your hotel - and this can be very good, if you can afford it.

One step down, at the 'traiteur' or at the charcuterie: both will have many prepared dishes, of salads and meats and all sorts of things - all for sale by weight.

Fifty grams of olives are probably enough, plus a 100 of each of three different salads, maybe a couple of slices of Bayonne-style mountain hamtextiles, marche poteau from the Pyrenées, some cheeses and some baguettes; add some wine, beer, cidre or Champagne, and you are set. It depends on how hungry you are and how many you are.

If you are dressed too warmly for your picnic, you can pick up lighter clothes at a marché.

Writing this is making me hungry. It also reminds me of fantastic picnics in the past - because some of these are truly unforgettable. In Paris, in restaurants, the table talk is often of meals in other restaurants; which has always seemed kind of silly to me - but picnics that stand out, really had something special to them.

Okay, for today, you have your stuff and you are in Paris. You need a place to picnic. There are so many possible locations I'm inclined to suggest going to the square in front of Notre-Dame, the very centre of the city, and finding some steps or a wall to sit on and use as a table.

Behind the church there are shade trees and park benches. There's the square du Vert Galant at the other end of the Ile de la Cité too, and just before it, the quiet and shady place Dauphine. This adds up to four places on this one island in the Seine.

The neighboring Ile-Saint-Louis has a lot of sunlit quais where you can picnic. You can even get all your supplies from the shops on this island, so there's hardly any carrying to do.

Cross the pont de Sully, there is the quai Henri IV on the right bank. There are lots of quais on the left bank too, but many are in shadow. Further east, starting at the south end of the pont de Sully, there is the Musée de Sculpture en Plein Air on the quai Saint-Bernard, and it gets a lot of sunlight.

Paris has a lot of parks and I don't think picnicking in any of them is illegal. The minders are still keeping strollers and picnickers off the central grass on the Champ de Mars, but it is flanked on eithergrocery shop side by treed areas which I'm sure are good picnic areas. The same goes for the shady areas on either side of the fountains at Trocadéro across the river.

The last resort: the all-round grocery store - open when all others are closed.

Anywhere else in Paris where you can sit down on a public bench, is a potential picnic spot. Obviously, if housewives or clochards have already taken possession of the bench, this will reduce its picnic potential - but while there are a lot of housewives there are not many clochards, and there are more than a lot of benches everywhere.

Notice too, that there are a lot of trashcans around as well. Use them when your picnic is finished. As you stroll away, feeling pretty much at ease with the world, your hands will be free and you can whistle or sing out loud if you want.

With all the sandwich stands and fast-food joints taking care of basic needs, picnicking is sort of a luxury activity. If you are only going to be in Paris once, you owe yourself this treat. You'll never forget it.

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logo, metropole sml midi logo No matter how good it tastes,
there is no such thing
as a free lunch.
Waldo Bini