The Flaneur as Parisian Market Shopper

Photo of Les Halles, undated.

Blogathan June 29

Once, in London at The Travel Bookshop—the same one in the movie Notting Hill—an eccentric looking woman in her sixties with a gray pageboy hairdo, dressed in early flea-market finds and a wide brim straw hat, confided, “I hate to shop. I hate department stores. I love open air markets.”

“Then you’ll love my book, The Fearless Shopper.” I said.

And she bought a copy. But It’s not what it seems, and here’s my little secret: I hate to shop.

I loathe malls; I get intense headaches and claustrophobia. I hate department stores unless they are free standing and even then I hyperventilate. When department stores are a necessity because I need something specific, I adopt the male approach: Buy it and get out.

I do, however, love to wander—just stroll around especially at outdoor markets. If you are a flâneur (stroller) and a shopper, then Paris is your city. For wherever your feet take you, Paris is, with apologies to Hemingway, a moveable feast. Hemingway meant, of course, that the city is in your blood, always with you. I mean the city is an undeniable treat with street shopping that entices you in every arrondissement. Below are a few of my favorites.

Markets Streets

Most commercial market streets with indoor and outdoor kiosks are open six days a week. Normal operating hours are 9 AM to 1 or 1:30 PM and 4 PM to 7 PM, Tuesday through Saturday; and Sundays, 9 AM -1 PM. Most are closed on Monday.

2nd Arrondissement
Rue Montorgueil

Since the Middle Ages, the central food market of Paris centered around Les Halles—a space brimming with market activity day and night (yes, that activity, too, along with wholesale food vendors)—until 1969. Before city officials tore down its then mid-nineteenth-century iron girders and the wholesalers decamped to Rungis, south of Paris, rue Montorgueil was an area where restaurant buyers purchased the catch-of-the-day from northern fishmongers. Today, this renovated pedestrian street is gentrified and lively. A few of the old restaurants date back to a bygone era. Restaurant Au Rocher de Canale  dating from 1850 still serves locals and tourists and has an outdoor terrace—perfect for people watching. Stohrer, Paris’s oldest patissier, creating pastry since 1730, is in the national historic registry and may tempt you with a sweet along this street.

5th Arrondissement
Rue Mouffetard  

Inhale as you meander down this classic market street where food merchants hawk their goods, piling up produce and more all colorfully stacked in wooden crates. Just to walk Rue Mouffetard makes you feel like a local in search of ingredients or a fresh baguette for your evening meal. It’s a bit on the grubby and scruffy side, but you’re sure to sense a certain charm here as well, even as another client may jostle you aside to peak into the cheese vitrines.

9th arrondissement
Rue des Martyrs

Just down the street from the rough and tumble Pigalle area, Rue des Martyrs has the usual blend of restaurants, cafes, butchers, patisseries, and bakers, all still retain the essence of its two-century-old beginnings. It also is multicultural with kosher and halal vendors selling side by side. It’s another street I love to wander up and down just inhaling. At 25 Rue des Martyrs, the Italian restaurant Fuxia offers fresh takeout and a grocery selection of Italian wines, olive oils, and balsamic vinegar at the front of the store as well as seating for a more relaxed meal that spills out onto the sidewalk in warmer weather. If you continue walking up the street you’ll find rue Lepic in the 18th arrondissement with its many artisanal bakeries and other cafes and wine and craft shops. You may recall that Audrey Tatou donned a waitress outfit to play Amélie serving patrons at 15 Rue Lepic, Café les Deux Moulins, the corner art deco bar that is now part of film history.

16th Arrondissment
Passy

Just as each neighborhood has its own , and character, each market has its own local vibe and Passy is no different. It’s imbued with a civilized ambience that reflects its chic residents.  This one is a shorter street with less selection, but you’ll find the usual assortment of merchants including the Belgium chocolatier  Jeff de Bruges. And if you wander down to Avenue Mozart you can enjoy being a flanuer: The upscale clothing boutiques beckon you inside with their trendy displays.

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Paris, Shopping

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