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“Montmartre and “”Mashonzha”” on My Mind”

It’s not often I make it up the hill to what was once a “petit village” outside of the city — Montmartre. But by sheer coincidence (or “synchronicity” as respected psychologist Carl Jung would call it), I landed there several times over the weekend, both in body and spirit.

It is classic to meet a friend at Métro Abbesses, famous for one of the Art Nouveau entrances designed by Hector Guimard at the turn of the century, and so we did, to have lunch at a hill-top bistrot. The “place” there is a key point for Montmartre residents and a pleasant spot to relax under the trees on the park benches watching assorted rendez-vous’s take place.

At this moment, it is totally under reconstruction. The city is “pedestrianizing” much of itself, enlarging sidewalks, adding trees, creating more “espaces verts” and in the process, making it almost impossible for traffic to circulate. If I had to depend on a car for my mode of transportation, I wouldn’t be so pleased, but as a pedestrian and supporter of public transportation, they can lay those pretty stones in their scalloped patterns just anywhere they like, as far as I’m concerned! Of course, this is the intention of our city planners — to create such a hell for drivers that they will park their cars forever, stop polluting the environment and making less noise, not to mention providing a better quality of life for all.

Wherever these improvements have taken place, property values have increased. The 18th arrondissement has been on an upward climb for a while now with property appreciation about 15% per year. The “quartier” with the most to gain is “Château Rouge,” the heart of the African community.

I found myself there on Sunday with another friend at the market on rue Dejean to take a stroll to discover African delicacies and have lunch at a Senegalese restaurant. You will see there all sorts of vegetables, roots, herbs and nuts you’ve never seen before. Along rue des Poissonniers, African women sit in front of their burlap bags filled with deep purple eggplants and bags and “Mashonzha” — worms that are similar to caterpillars in appearance. Along rue Myrha, the prostitutes hang-out in front of their doors waiting for a John or two while the pimps have lunch in the local restaurants. “Le Nioumré” is one of them — an inexpensive voyage into the Flavors of Senegal — “Tiébou Diène” (National dish of Senegal of fish and vegetables in a spicy red sauce over rice), “Yassa” (chicken or fish marinated in lemon juice with onions, then braised and served over rice) and “Accra” (Caribbean codfish fritters).

Boulevard Barbès is under massive reconstruction to create what the city calls “un espace civilisé.” The sidewalks are being enlarged from five to eight meters, a 1.6 kilometer-long bicycle lane and bus/taxi lanes are being added, traffic for cars is being reduced to one lane, 7 parking spots for two-wheelers have been added on adjacent streets while 33 special delivery zones are planned. To augment the 150 trees that are already there, 75 more will be planted and 110 lampposts are being added to light the area well.

The idea is to provide a safe an pleasant environment for pedestrians, bikers and skaters while reducing the speed of the traffic, improving the air quality, increasing commercial opportunities and raising the quality of life for all. It should all be complete by the end of the year, or so they predict.

The 18th arrondissement encompasses much more than the part we thi

nk of as “Montmartre” with its imposing Sacré Coeur as the undeniable landmark. The areas of the district you might not have ventured to before will soon be particularly inviting.

The city invites you to be a part.

A la prochaine…

Adrian Leeds
Editor, Parler Paris
Email [email protected]

P.S. Don’t forget, Parler Paris Après Midi is one week early this month. Be there on September 5th at 3 p.m. to meet, drink and be conversive! Scroll down or visit /parlerparis/apresmidi.html for more information.

P.P.S. Parler Parlor French-English conversation group celebrates La Rentrée on September 23rd with its annual party — this time with Hot Dogs American style and a special offering on both 10 and 20 session membership cards! Scroll down or visit http://www.parlerparlor.com/ for more details.

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