The Royal Treatment: Montmartre

Having seen a week in Paris, my allowance stash has been growing pretty meager. Despite not one knick-knack purchased, my euros have been slipping into all the necessities of chocolate, bread, and cheese. With little in hand, I still wanted to to be terribly French. I wanted to comlain, to tsk-tsk.  I wanted to be picky. I wanted to be have my cake and eat it too.

This fine Saturday, Marché Barbés was selected as the ticket to gastronomic happiness. Located in the 18th arrondissement, the open-air market had been around since 1922 and near to Sacré Coeur and other hang-outs of artists like Monet and Picasso. Montmartre with her artsy history called me to her far away zip code for an adventure. On my way out the door, a little thought came that I should ask a friend along. So together, the RER to line 4 were taken popping us out to a Parisian scene unlike any of the jardins or chateaux or musées.

Bienvenue, Marché Barbés.

Unusually clouded by smog and cigarette smoke, the streets were brimming with people alongside drab, unkempt shops. A bargain store, a Lebanese patissier, many Arabic book stores and blocks later brought us to the Saturday swarm of the market. “Un euro! Un euro-cinquante! Un euro!” came at different intervals, overlapping the French and Arabic shouts from other stands. When I finally mangled my way through the thick of bodies, a plastic bag was thrown down to fill to my hearts content. What else could I do with all the blooming reds and fresh greens and cheerful yellows and sumptuous purples? (Fresh figs are my Achilles.)

Contemplating canteloupe, note the millions of people in the center aisle (and, as I later realized, I am one of the only women without a headcovering...)

For the first twenty minutes, I held off. It was hard enough to breathe within the walkway of two meters, many North African faces more like sardines swimming up the stream against one another. With the lay of the land, I fell right into pursing my lips, drawing fig to my nose and tsk-ing away. “Monsieur, je suis prête.” to which he would reply, “no, no. Ce n’est pas assez.  C’est moins qu’un euro!?” as he proceeded to fill my bag with enough produce for a third world country. After each purchase, my eyes become narrower, my voice stronger until colorful plastic bags spanned over both arms.

A view from the metro at noon, the market always busier towards closing!

 Abruptly tugging my shirt, my friend and body guard whispered of unsolicited attention. Since my last bout with a vendor ended in, “à vous, princesse,” I was more than compliant. Making our way back, we continued to see the dark face of unwanted attention and broke out into a mom-in-Walmart walk weaving between market and street. My hands fumbled for my metro pass too long. In a young boy’s palm, bootlegged L’Oréal was shoved in my face. “Mais, vous êtes belle, mademoiselle!”  Once we swiped past into the safety of the metro, I laughed six euros poorer, half-scared, half-triumphant, holding a week’s worth of food fit for a queen.

Our spoils. Lesson learned: stay in the single digit arrondissements when unaccompanied.