While tourists are ticking boxes in their classic sightseeing lists, flocking to Tour Eiffel, Café De Fleur, Louvre and Sacré Coeur, some parts of the city get much less attention, not fitting into the global image of a beautiful and romantic Paris.
But this city has many faces. Until one starts living here, one doesn’t realize that Paris, in spite of its size, contains many cultural worlds, completely different from each other, which sometimes don’t intercross.
And to see one of these worlds you will need to go to the most authentic neighborhood – La Goutte D’Or in 18th arrondissement, at the foot of Montmartre. It is very diverse, it has a mosque, a synagogue, and a church, but predominantly it is a home for the African community of Paris.
Yes, unlike in its famous neighbor – Montmartre, you won’t see many tourists in this exotic neighborhood. If you spot any, they will be stray ones, who took a wrong turn upon exiting the metro. They usually standing at the corners, frowning, studying maps or looking around in hopes to see the white dome of Sacré Coeur somewhere in the vicinity.
A neighborhood of Paris with such a beautiful name like La Goutte D’Or (the “Drop of Gold” in English) should evoke only a pleasant associations, but I have to admit that I have a “love/hate” relationship with this interesting quarter. I love it because it is exotic, unusual, colorful and has interesting inexpensive markets. I hate it because it is overcrowded, noisy, unrefined, very dirty and the smell of urine here is stronger than on other streets of Paris.
The mornings here start in the same way: a big white refrigeration trucks stop in front of butcheries, blocking the road. Their doors swing open and butchers in white and still pristine at that early hour robes start taking meat out of the truck and into the shops, carrying a halal mutton, goats and beef on their shoulders like collars. The traditional butcheries in this part of Paris are not a sight for the faint-hearted. Nothing gets wasted here and all the parts are used. The intestines, hoofs, and tails make neat pyramids behind the glass of the counters. And on top of all this, there are sheep heads staring at you with their empty eye-sockets.
Coming out from the metro station Chateau Rouge (which is now closed for renovation for one year), you are greeted by an improvised market, which spontaneously appears and disappears as a part of permanent market Dejean with its excellent fish stalls. Animated Africans selling African beauty products, wigs, fake handbags, calling cards, sunglasses, and belts. And, of course, it is illegal and, of course, they run away at the first sight of the police.
A little further, African mamas sitting in front of the overturned boxes, which display local delicacies such as fried and strange looking fish, boiled corn and purple bush pears – safou.
In this quarter Pakistanis appeared to have a monopoly on roasted peanuts. They are on every corner, roasting the in-shell cacahuète right on the spot on improvised grills – a tin tray with holes, set on top of a tin bucket full of burning coals, placed inside of an old shopping trolley.
La Goutte D’Or is known not only for the markets, Dejean and Barbes (which is bigger and located under the elevated metro line on Boulevard de Rochechouart), but also for its shops, selling typically African products – food, cosmetics, bright textiles and much more. The vast majority of Africans don’t live here, but come here from all over Paris, suburbs and, I heard, even France to shop, to dine and socialize with friends. No wonder it’s always full of people.
There are many tiny restaurants and cafes, where you can sample real African food, (if you have a strong stomach, as some of those places lack hygiene). Another popular establishment is hair salons. I have never seen so many. And those are not just the places locals go to cut or braid their hair, those are the social hubs and entertaining centers – they are always full of people chatting, drinking, socializing, where music is playing loudly and children are crawling around. As many stores in this area, they serve a few purposes at once.
The most versatile store is on the corner of Boulevard Barbes. It sells everything – from hair oils to rubber enemas to esoteric literature. All your body and soul needs are covered.
In warm summer evenings and a weekends the streets of La Goutte d’Or are the most vibrant. Parisian apartments are small, so African inhabitants and their guests spill out into the streets. People are everywhere, drinking beer, crunching peanuts, playing cards on the lids of green trash bins.
The traffic in those times moves slowly, stopping every ten meters, delayed by delivery trucks, a haphazard driving, the people, constantly crisscrossing the road in a leisurely manner. And all of this is happening to a cacophony of impatient car horns.
The government is talking about cleaning up this quarter and building a big market outside of Paris. A lot of stores will follow their customers. If this will happen, It will make La Goutte D’Or more clean and organized, but probably will take away part of its exotic charm.