Who of you hasn’t watched Amelie. Longed to skip stones across that canal. Splashing away time. In a red dress. I know I did. Actually I’m pretty sure it was that scene that alerted me to the fact that Paris actually had a canal. Through the Tenth Arrondissement. With picturesque iron bridges and lochs lined pale green. The light filtering softly through the chestnut and plane trees. That it might be a cool place to hang about in. And it is.
The Tenth Arrondissement is a modern everyday sort of Paris. Not postcard pristine. Yet oddly pretty. Sometimes. Still urban and multicultural. Yet in that bo-ho-fair-trade-organic-artisan-hipster kind of way these days.
Here the north meets the south. Graffiti and gentrification collide. Seems like the young and the creatives increasingly like to live work and play here. So of course there’s good coffee and green juices and yummy smashed things on sourdough breads. Lots of real goodness going on. Side by side. The traditional handmade Algerian pastries. Indian spiced flat breads and fragrant curries. And the best Kurdish sandwich you’ll ever eat (Merci to Urfa Durum).
(Lets pray these communities are not price-pushed out of this diverse and vibrant area. That’s the problem with this gentrification thing isn’t it? Big business and investors get in on it. Ruin things I reckon….Anyhow more about that in another blog.)
I once took a meandering barge ride along the canal with some friends. Somewhat stressed out from being professional and successful and achieving things people. They found it all a bit slow. I became aware they were a bit underwhelmed to be simply watching everyday Paris pass by. Waiting as the many lochs slowly filled and emptied. It was discomforting. Not the usual mode of busy doing and getting stuff done. Nor was it on the bucket list for Paris.
Which brings me back to Amelie. Why the film is such a perfect Paris pleasure. What she so gorgeously shows us. About appreciating this area. Any area anywhere really. Because it’s good to be able to live fully into the ordinary moments. To deeply experience the essence of a thing. Because this is how to feast on the real sweet stuff of life. Anywhere. Anytime. In real time.
In the words of the films narrator.
” …instead she cultivates a taste for small pleasures. Dipping her hand into sacks of grain, cracking creme brûlée with a teaspoon and skipping stones at St Martin’s Canal. ”
Amelie’s life is of the everyday. Yet she seeks out and takes pleasure in all that comes her way. The little opportunities. Everyday things. Every little detail. She savours life though all her senses. As her life is. She actually is completely mindful. It’s a capacity for being that can be lost along the way with all our doings. One that we all could cultivate more of. To travel well. To be home. To live well.
So bring your ‘being’ energy. Not doing. No judgement. The canal really has that sort of atmosphere. Slow and steady. Sometimes serene. Like the opening and closing the locks. Can’t be rushed. Requires a sort of pensiveness. A space for the real Paris pondering. Maybe journaling. Opening up. Just allowing whatever is there.
What you will actually find is an area of wide contrasts. The picturesque canal with on trend coffee. The downtrodden vibe of the more grungy areas around the big train stations. And old streets like Rue du Faubourg Saint-Denis. Boulevard Strasbourg. Here there is still an original vibrance. The mark of the character of the immigrant working class communities that live here. Not grand Paris by any means. But real Paris.
So express your inner ‘flanueress’. Wander these other areas. The back rues. In and out. Up and down passageways. On the lookout. For interesting places. And the people. Crafty inspirations and spontaneous opportunities. And there are plenty. Maybe you to will go totally boho. Leave the credit card and plans behind. Make it a day out with your camera. (Extra hipster points if its film or vintage!)
My ‘problem’ here is that I usually end up holed up in the brightly coloured and therefore unmissable Artazart. Classic introvert heaven. A near perfect bookshop full of design, photography and art books. Lots of related bits and pieces. Actually I blame that shop for making me even want that Polaroid camera. And the Sarah Moon books. And the Sophie Callie fetish I just can’t shake! Among other things.
So the other thing to know is that all along the canal St Martin is ideal for long lazy picnics. Or evening drinks and good conversations. Generally just being in a nice moment. Completely.
Which was when the magic turned up for my friends. They’d given in. Finally relaxed. Were even pleasantly surprised. It was just before dusk. We sat on the canal edge. Soaking in the soft sounds of the French language. Surrounded by locals. We feasted on fat kebab with beers and a box of ‘patisserie orientale’ I’d stowed in my backpack. I swear I heard their hearts sing. Or perhaps it was my own. Later we took the metro back into central Paris. There was a mood of calm contentment. And friendship. Time shared well. No doing required.
Turns out wasting time in the Tenth Arrondissement was a way of finding really good time. That’s what made that day one of the very best days out and about in Paris.
So you know when you go.
BREAD: Du Pain et Des Idees
COFFEE: Ten Belles
ATMOSPHERE: Hotel du Nord
CONCEPT STORE: La Tresorerie
EAT SUBSTAINABLE: Les Resistants
KURDISH SANDWICH: Urfa Durum
BELLE EPOCH BISTRO: Brasserie Flo
TRANQUIL SQUARE: Place Sainte-Marthe
PIZZA DELIVERED CANALSIDE: The Pink Flamingo
AN ARTIST TO CHECK OUT: Lise Meunier for ceramics
CANAL BOAT RIDE: Canauxrama
STREET ART: Le Point Ephemere, quai de Valmy