“..ce train desservira toutes les gares jusqu’a saint-germain-en-laye…”

March 14, 2007

new photos are up on flickr.

as i’ve previously written, i live in a dump. not only is my apartment a hole, though. the area leaves much to be desired. in fact, the area leaves pretty much everything to be desired. there’s virtually nothing within walking distance. the train isn’t so bad, but it’s tiring to have to schlep groceries all the way from la défense to home. on top of that, paying €2.80 to get there (€4.20 for paris) a pop adds up.

normally, biking would be a good option, but, unfortunately, la défense is pretty much cut off by a twisting network of limited-access roads. while it technically is possible to tackle them on the bike, sharing the roadway with aggressive drivers who will generally tack an extra 30 km/h onto the legally-sanctioned 70 km/h is not something that i really want to do. either way, all that effort to end up at auchan, a store with all the ambience of wal-mart, is not really worth it.

so, thankfully, with the bike, i ended up today to do some shopping at nanterre centre-ville. and what a difference the town makes! the DSCF2091.JPGbaker, with seven kinds of price-controlled bread, each one more tempting than the last! the butcher, tending his case of boudin noir and jambon de bayonne. the fromagier (cheese store), who cuts me a slice of nutty morbier (and, on account of my nationality, gifts me a small pot of sour cherry preserves). the greengrocer, keeping her wares perfectly aligned and organized with the precision of a troop division (mysteriously doing so while genuinely seeming to enjoy her work; more on this later).

what a nice, little town! there’s pretty much everything that you need! and it’s all within that magic ten-minute walk from the train station! it’s pretty much the perfect, non-linear, old-school example of how a town should be: intimate, accessible and small – and affordable: the running price for a prix-fixe (set meal of two or three courses; virtually every restaurant in france has one) is floating around the very reasonable price of €9 – €11 (paris will cost you €14 at the very least).

streets open up onto squares, which in turn open up into gardens. take a look at this aerial photograph, for example. pretty much everything in red tile is the old town. the park in the centre used to be the town hall (the new one is about a klick east of the park).

it almost makes it a shame that i’m leaving nanterre! ah, well.

the greengrocer was a slightly older woman with an accent. i seem to have a talent for charming my way around sexagenarians, but i think that it was hardly my doing that led her to smiling as broadly as she was.

my first question to her was if her shop was “libre-service”, that is, if i should help myself. she said that it wasn’t; i should come up with a list of what i wanted and she’d collect it for me. the first thing i thought was “it wouldn’t be french if it weren’t inefficient,” but then something magic happened. i realized that she was the proprietor, and this was her job largely out of choice. she enjoyed her job not out of the fact that she sold fruit by the piece, but because she was her own boss! she could have hired some help (and perhaps she does) and perhaps expanded her business, but that would have killed the special relationship that i had with her, because i wasn’t her customer and she wasn’t my service.

we were perfect equals (well, okay…almost; i suppose that if our transaction had never happened, she’d be just fine, but i’d still be hungry). i could trust her with any one of her vegetables and know that they were all perfect. even if one of the apples that i bought ended up being rotten inside, i’m sure i could have brought it back!

maybe this is why “france is so kid-friendly,” as kim put it…because of that idea that the street is everyone’s responsibility, from the pharmacist to the butcher. common ownership results in more public eyes, meaning safer streets. it’s evident that nanterre is working class and has been so for quite a long time. the whole thing works because of that voluntary trust in each other.

hm. the past twenty minutes or so of writing probably won’t seem make a whole lot of sense to anyone but me. i’d tinker with it, but it’s almost 2 am.

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