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Stop the Sushi

photo: zango bar resto

The corner café gives way to – Zango!

Paris Life – No 38

by Laurel Avery

Paris:– Friday, 13. February 2004:– During dinner last night in a small bistro around the corner from my apartment, the person sitting at the next table who was an American tourist, in the course of conversation about life in Paris, remarked that he came here to see 'the Paris of Hemingway, not the Paris of Starbucks.'

Unfortunately, 'Old Paris' is fast disappearing, being replaced by chain stores and high–end boutiques. I read in the newspaper last week that approximately 250 small food shops, like the boulangerie, charcuterie, fromagerie – basically any food store ending with 'ie' – close every year when the owners retire or sell the business, and the new owners do not continue in the same business even if it was successful.

photo: ex boucherieThis has become such a problem that the city hall organized a forum aimed at bringing together owners who want to sell their businesses with people interested in preserving them as they are

Chic shop is former boucherie, featured in film by Agnés Varda.

A few months ago I saw Agnes Varda's film, the 'Daguerreotypes,' which was filmed in 1975. It was a documentary on the daily life on the Rue Daguerre in the 14th arrondissement.

She interviewed the local shopkeepers such as the butcher, accordion seller, grocer, baker, etc. Thirty years later, almost every one of those shops is gone, now replaced by yet another Japanese restaurant. Now, I love sushi every now and again, but think that five sushi restaurants in one short street is a bit excessive.

One reason for much of what is happening seems to be that it is becoming increasingly impossible for an average shopkeeper to pay the rent for a shop. The cost of real estate is skyrocketing all over the city, and there is no way some small guy selling shoe polish can compete with a large corporation selling really bad burnt–tasting coffee – aka Starbucks.

I can understand why more people shop in supermarkets than patronizing their local shop owners. I would like to supportphoto: ginza sushi the little shop owners as well, but on my miniscule budget I usually can't afford to. The beef at the boucherie just downstairs is about 25 percent more than I pay at the supermarket around the corner. If you're just a little guy yourself you can't afford to pay the little guy shopkeeper's prices.

One of five sushi restos in the Rue Daguerre.

But I do what I can, and will buy a little cheese from the fromagerie across the street, or something small and inexpensive at the boucherie, but admit to doing the bulk of my shopping at the supermarché. Happily, there are street markets around where I can get fresh fruit and vegetables, since fresh things at the supermarket are almost universally of bad quality.

Another disappearing institution is the old corner bistro, where you can just go and hang out for as long as you like. Where everyone in the neighborhood congregates and knows one another. These 'brown bars' where the ceiling is stained with a hundred years of tobacco smoke and the bar is worn down to a shiny patina from the thousands of people who have leaned on it are harder to find these days. They have been replaced by trendy bars with a club–like atmosphere and techno blaring on the speakers, especially during 'happy hour.'

The film 'Amélie,' so popular both here and in the US, shows Paris as we want to imagine it. Every once and a while, when I start feeling down about the encroachment of the modern world on this beautiful old city, I watch that film. It's certainly an idealizedphoto: pho soupe portrait of Paris, but parts of it still do exist.

You just need to look in between the cell phone store and the McDonald's to see it. More often than not, it's tucked away in some little back street where the tourists don't go.

The usual fast food from Chinatown, but with homemade Pho soup.

I suppose Paris, like any other city, has to change with the times somewhat. I certainly don't want Paris to become like my former hometown, Santa Fe, which is a city that is basically a southwestern theme park. The city regulates what every building in its 'historic district' looks like, down to the trim.

I don't want Paris to become a museum, but there has to be a way of integrating the modern world with what still remains of the Paris so many of us came here to live in. Otherwise it will just be like every other large city in the world, devoid of any particular color and character. And really accessible only to the wealthy few.

Text, Laurel Avery © 2004

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