I was leaving the hills around Montmartre and not paying too much attention to my route, figuring I would find Rue Lepic or Pigalle or some other landmark and then a metro station. But I didn’t. As I descended I discovered another side of Paris I did not know. And once again Paris surprised me on that cold November morning when I was just looking for the metro to take back to the Yellow Flat.
Directly to the north of the Gare Du Nord train station is the neighborhood surrounding the Chateau Rouge metro stop in the 18th District. On most days an open marketplace can be found there starting at Rue Poulet. But this is no open air market like you will see throughout the rest of the city.
This particular market has a lot more to do with West Africa then with Europe. Brightly colored silks dominate the windows. Loud music plays. Hallal butchers are everywhere. It is packed with shoppers and vendors. It feels like you are on the streets of Dakar.
The market is full of shops that sell a wide variety of foods, from fish to vegetables with a distinct tropical accent. You see a lot of cassava, plantains and eggplants.
If you look closely you can see remnants of the French culture that used to exist here.
The wonderful smelling but simple bread that is sold in the window tells a much different story, not an artisan baguette to be found.
There is another class of vendors at the market. They line up in the middle of the street or on the sidewalk, temporary, transient. They set up their meager wares on a cardboard box or sell out of a suitcase. Many sell clothes.
These temporary vendors live in constant apprehension because they do not have a license. They never know when the police will come and no doubt they pay something to whoever controls this place and makes sure the lookouts are posted.
Without a spoken word there is a shift in the market. Something is happening, the vendors look at each other and then as a group without a word and as one they pick up their wares and begin to flee the market spilling out onto the side streets and leaving no trace that they were there just a moment before.
No more than 10 minutes later they have all returned and taken up their spaces in the streets and on the sidewalks as if nothing happened. All returns to normal. A child sees something she wants and asks her father for it.
Then someone yells. An accusation is made and yelling begins. Fingers point. A fight almost breaks out.
Just as quickly it ends. The market returns to normal. The cops are gone. Life goes on in the slice of Paris that tourists rarely venture into, missing a rich vibrant and one of a kind visit no other city offers in quite the same way.
To reach the Chateau Rouge metro station in the 18th from the Yellow Flat take the 8 line direction Creteil and transfer at Strasbourg St Denis. Then take the 4 direction Porte De Clingancourt and exit at Chateau Rouge. We didn’t feel threatened once but pay attention to your belongings as you always do.
Get off of the beaten path. Enjoy a slice of Paris that isn’t in the guide books and Rick Steves will never walk (no offense Rick!). Happy walking.