The Rue Cler Is Not Funky

photo: cafe du marche

One of the street's few café's is at the halfway crossing.

Between the Boring Old and the Boring New

Paris:- Friday, 14. May 1999:- I'm afraid the Rue Cler has left me underwhelmed. It may be somebody's darling but it is not mine. As a 'must-see' Paris market street, it doesn't cut it; there are too many superior others.

By putting the conclusion at the beginning I hope I am saving this street's fans the chore of reading the rest of whatever I may write here. On the other hand, it won't be much so if you've come this far, then this is how it starts:

The exit from the métro at Ecole-Militaire is refreshingly simple as only two choices are available. The one I take brings me out on the Avenue de Tourville and all I need do isphoto: flower marche turn 180 degrees to be set to head straight to the Rue Cler. I don't know where the other choice puts you. I guess it is on the Avenue de La Motte-Piquet, which really is a snazzier name, even if it is under 'L' alphabetically.

From selected angles, the Rue Cler is attractive; but you have to find them.

Maybe I should start over again. This is just to the west of the Hôtel des Invalides in the 7th arrondissement, which is mainly known for being the location - admittedly on the edge of the Seine - of the Tour Eiffel, the Musée d'Orsay and the Invalides itself.

The interior of this 'secret' arrondissement contains the Champs de Mars, taking up a huge whack of the west, French ministries and foreign embassies occupy up three-quarters of the eastern Faubourg Saint-Germain part, and the church owns a full 25 percent of the whole thing. There are many high walls and few of the heavy and large doors are open, but nearly everything is shut on weekends.

If you are eagle-eyed and know French and foreign dignitaries by sight, you will supposedly see them strolling around their 'village' as they transit from one walled place to another. Once, caught in a sudden downpour in the Rue de Grenelle, from my sheltered post in an accidently open doorway I saw many people scurrying for cover, but I can hardly say they were foreign or dignitaries.

Apropos of the Rue de Grenelle, it alone probably gives - in a 2,250 metre-long nutshell - pretty much the whole atmosphere of the 7th - starting as it does at the Croix-Rouge corner near Rue de Rennes and ending up way over by the Champ de Mars. It too, crosses the Rue Cler.

It is a tossup for which end of the market part of the Rue Cler is the most inspiring. I say where I start, at the Rue de Tourville is not a winner because La Poste's trucks are all over the place, and the Grenelle end has a bar-café. Between the two are 260 metres of redone stone paving blocks, laid 13 metres wide between opposing shop fronts.

The whole road, which goes all the way, about another 200 metres, to the Rue Saint-Dominique, rates only a tiny paragraph in my street dictionary. It was named in 1864 - nearly yesterday by Paris' standards - after General Gustave Cler, who was unlucky enough to get himself bumped off at the battle of Magenta in 1859.

In contrast, the Rue Clef, which I have never heard of before nor seen, but which is in the 5th arrondissement, goes back to 1588 and rates more than a full page of dense paragraphs. But it, is neither here nor there today.

The unfamous Rue Cler is as straight as an arrow and the first thing that strikes me about the market stretch of it, is it begins with a lot of post office trucks and it has a lot of sky. A wide street and a lot of sky.

Neither of these are usual for street markets. Some street markets like Edgar Quinet are on the middle stretch that divides two halves of a boulevard; which makes for street on either side. The central market part is covered by temporary awnings. Others, like Contrescarpe are open to the sky, but in narrow and winding streets. Both Buci and Lépic have skies, but I didn't notice them.

The Rue Cler's airspace is full of what the natives gaily call 'Ile-de-France Sky.' This meansphoto: chicken rotisserie puffy white clouds on a blue background, but followed today by great towers of ungay serious-looking gray ones.

Under the red awning - the chicken fanciers' mecca.

For the second ones, visitors from out of town have brought their foldup umbrellas. Natives seem not to have done so, being used to these 'Ile-de-France Skies,' but I know they will suddenly appear from nowhere if the 'serious gray' gets lower and bursts. I have never been able to figure out where Parisians hide their umbrellas before they pull them out for sudden showers.

Nobody sits outside at the glittery 'Bar-PTT-Brasserie's' four tables set in the street. Neuhaus, a fancy chocolate shop is doing modest business and the 'Artisan Boulanger' on the corner has a line of customers running out into the street.

Here, the Rue du Champs de Mars marks the halfway point of the Rue Cler's market stretch and the café on the corner has most of its terrace on this side, with a low awning covering a lot of lunchtime diners huddling under it. The awning protects them from - what?

Inside the café nobody is at any of the tables or at the bar. Standing by it for 30 seconds, ducking hurtling waitresses, changes my mind about having a quiet sip of café.

Evidently the help is not used to café-aware customers who know how to anticipate hurtling waiters - thus one dodges the wrong way as two of us and a large ray of drinks attempt leaving simultaneously through the narrow doorway. The geezer making crêpes just outside is muttering to himself or the God of the hot griddle as I pass.

Every café has it's off days and some even have off-half-weeks of them. I can live without a café for a few moments more. A good thing too, because now I discover the Rue Cler's only unique attraction - the 'Dorius Rôtisserie.'

Did you ever hear that wonderful Joe Tex classic, 'The Whole World's Goin' Chicken Crazy?' Lots of butcher shops and some others too, have telephone-booth-like chicken rotisseries out on the sidewalks, and small mutant roast chickens are a common sight, and smell. This 'Dorius Rôtisserie' is like a walk-in one of the sidewalk ones.

Of course, a place that has only roast chickens probably makes a bit of an effort, so 'Dorius' has a menu offering mutant chickens, real chickens, ranch chickens and wild chickens, in different-sized portions, and any way you like, so long as you like them roasted. I make a note about this 'Dorius.'

Near the Rue de Grenelle end of the market stretch, there are two hotels. My note says, 'Hotel du Centre,' flags. 'Grand Hotel L'Evéque,' flags: Japanese, Euro, US and French.' A tired and hot-looking man is trying to convince a heavy suitcase to mount a four centimetre hurdle before the doorway.

Next door, the combo bar-tabac-café-loto 'Le Diplomate,' is the street's only oasis. On the corner there is a small 'Franprix' supermarket. I thought this chain had gone out of business.

These last two are a hint that the Rue Clerphoto: aert deco, ave rapp was once a place of character, if not actual liveliness. On the way down I've also passed the 'Literie Bellino,' an establishment which claims to be able to renovate a mattress 'within a day.'

Between the 'Traiteur d'Asie,' with its gleaming and spotless display case full of delicate oriental take-away dishes and the not quite quaint 'Thé-Daric' with its exotic teas, a mattress-stuffer is a rarity. There is also a tidy but closed 'Droguerie Menage' - a household wares shop.

A few blocks away, at 29. Avenue Rapp, a first-class Art Deco building.

Totally down-market is the 'Leader-Price' discount supermarket, right in the middle. Doing the same thing, but with a bit of positive verve, 'Ed, L'Epicier' would have been a better, hipper, choice here.

The two photofinishing places, the dry cleaners - the 'Pressing' - the pharmacy, the bank, a 'Nicolas' and 'Repere de Bacchus' wineshops - are all standard items. Undergoing renovation, the 'Boucherie Chevaline' is a tip of the hat to the past and it'll be a wonder if it emerges with the same wares.

It is hard to suppose that the younger employees of all the embassies and ministries in the 7th also live in it. This little bit here to the west of the Invalides, and another on the west side of the bourgeois Avenue Bosquet, around the Rue Saint-Dominique, seem to have once been inhabited by people of relatively modest means. Nothing at all, compared to the formidable buildings along the side of the Champ de Mars or in the Avenue Rapp or along Bosquet.

Yet, the fnac chain has a red-fronted porti-phone boutique - not photo, not services - in the Rue Cler and opposite the 'Bar-PTT-Brasserie' there is a 'bio-food' shop. When I see this, I think the 'Boucherie Chevaline' is doomed to extinction.

The Rue Cler is an unfunky two-block market street, more than halfway gone from its former 'populaire' selfphoto: patisserie rue cler towards what passes these days in Paris, especially in the unhip 7th, as yuppiedom. This is not the right word of course, and I don't think there is an exact French word for it.

Just before the noon closing, most street markets are livelier than the Rue Cler.

'They' know who they are so they hardly need a word for themselves; and those who are not 'they' are so busy with the life they have instead of the one they will not have, that they can't be bothered wasting time thinking up a name for the 'theys.'

If you meet a young French person, probably a man, and in conversation he asks you if he can use the familiar 'tu' form of address, then you are talking to a 'they.'

Most normal people just 'tutoyer' you without formality. This probably still goes on the Rue Cler, but it is going fast. It may turn itself into something else entirely someday, but I think the chances for this are slim.

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