26 April 2007


After our shopping trip in the Marais on a Friday afternoon, we went back to move our car, which we had parked on the Place des Vosges. We then decided to drive down into the 13th arrondissement to buy a mortar and pestle at the Tang Frères supermarket, which specializes in Asian food and cooking products. I've written about Tang Frères several times on this blog.

It was 5:00 p.m., rush hour, on a Friday afternoon, and we got stuck in some traffic down at the expressway that runs along the Seine, but we didn't stay in it long. It wasn't bad.

The mortar and pestle. The wine bottle is just for scale.
Now how did that get empty? Oh, I see — it has a hole in it!

We found and bought the mortar and pestle and stowed it safely in the trunk of the car. Then we drove across Paris, up the Boulevard Raspail to the Boulevard Saint-Germain and over the Seine to the Place de la Concorde. Then we headed up the Champs-Elysées to the Place de l'Etoile, with the Arc de Triomphe in the middle of it.

A café at sunset in Asnières-sur-Seine

I was driving so I couldn't take any pictures. Chris and Tony said it was a thrill to actually drive around the Etoile in all that traffic (even when traffic is light, you can count on a confusion of cars around the Arc de Triomphe). We ended up driving around it a second time later in the evening.

We were on our way to La Défense, the gigantic "financial district" on the western edge of Paris. It's about as big as San Francisco's financial district, with dozens of skyscrapers, and it is entirely outside the old city of Paris. Chris wanted to see it, because she had never been out there before. We just drove around it; it has its own ring road. Some of the skyscrapers are impressive, and the Grande Arche de La Défense is quite a monument.

We walked down the main street in Asnières and saw this street art.
Do you recognize these two men? One of them is a real icon.

At that point, I decided I wanted to go to Asnières-sur-Seine, a suburb of Paris where I lived for 18 months in 1974-1976. It's just a mile or two north of La Défense; I used to go to La Défense by train to do grocery shopping when I lived there. At the time I was working for the University of Illinois year abroad program and also teaching English in various schools in Paris.

I had a small apartment on the third floor (deuxième étage français) of a 1930s brick building, with a bakery — boulangerie-pâtisserie — just below. When I opened the windows in the morning, the smells of fresh bread and croissants poured into my apartment.

I remember buying cheese here often — 30 years ago!
I was a very young child then, of course.

The aparment had a small bathroom (shower, sink, toilet) that had only recently been put in, so it was modern for the era. And it had a small kitchen with a stove for cooking and a sink of course, but no refrigerator. I guess I could have bought one but I didn't know how long I would stay there and what I would do with it when I left. I'm not sure there was even room for a fridge in the kitchen.

I think the rent back then was about $75 a month, and I didn't have a lease. I paid the landlady, Mme Léandri, in cash on the first of each month (350 French francs, if I remember correctly). She was older and sometimes got a little confused. Once I paid her the rent as usual, and then three days later she came and said I was late with the rent. She never gave me a receipt.

I said I had paid her three days earlier, but she didn't remember. I told her son, who was about my age, what had happened, and he went and looked in the cookie jar (or whatever) where she kept her cash money and found the 350 francs there, so he believed me. From then on, I paid him, not her.

This is the building I lived in: 23, rue de Bretagne, in Asnières-
sur-Seine, on the corner of the rue d'Anjou and across from
the train station. Nothing has really changed in 30 years.

On Saturdays, the street just below my window, the rue de Bretagne, was taken over by an outdoor food market. I lived right next to the train station, and it was just three stops to get to the Gare St-Lazare from Asnières. At St-Lazare, you could get the métro or a bus to go over to the Latin Quarter or St-Germain-des-Prés, which was where I worked. The Illinois office was on the rue Soufflot, and I was consulting and teaching at the Sorbonne, at Censier, and at a school on the rue des Saints-Pères near St-Germain.

Just on the other side of the Asnières train station (which was more like an elevated métro station than a real gare SNCF) there was a big supermarket, a multiplex movie theatre, and a full range of small shops selling cheeses, charcuterie, meat, and so on. There was a laundromat with Speed Queen washers and dryers where I could do my laundry. It was a pretty nice little business district.

Another café near the station in Asnières, on a warm afternoon.

The other day, we found a parking space and walked around for half an hour or so, just to see the place. It has hardly changed at all in the 30 years since I lived there. The boulangerie in my old building has been remodeled and is surely under new management, but it's still there.

Chris said she could tell we weren't in Paris; Asnières had a different feel to it. The buildings are smaller, I think. But there are cafés and since the weather was nice a lot of people were sitting out on the sidewalk terraces having a coffee or a beer. I enjoyed seeing the old stomping grounds again. My last visit was in the early 1990s.

Buying bread on the corner of the rue de Bretagne
and the rue d'Anjou in Asnières.

We drove back into Paris, rounded the Etoile the second time, and went on down into the 15th. We had dinner at a couscous place called Le Vent de Sable on rue Mademoiselle. I had couscous with méchouis (spit-roasted lamb), and Chris, Tony, and Walt all had tajines of braised lamb. Walt's was lamb with prunes, Chris's was lamb with artichoke hearts and green peas, and Tony's was lamb with almonds. It was all very good, and we washed it down with a chilled, rich rosé wine from Algeria.


  1. Are the men De Gaulle and Roosevelt or maybe Truman?

  2. Hi Evelyn, yes, it is Charles de Gaulle, with the writer André Malraux who was de Gaulle's culture minister.

  3. Oh, what a nice trip down memory lane regarding Asnieres! As Maurice Chevalier would say: "Yes I remember it well."

  4. Can you believe that I went several times to the Rue Soufflot Illinois office, visiting various people there.
    Did Mme Léandri have anything to do with René Léandri who was at some time at the U of I?
    Just wondering...
    75$ a month? Those were the days. Even for a small chambre de bonne these days, you'd pay 10 times that amount!

  5. Yes, Claude, I wondered if you would know René Léandri. He had been at the U of I a few years earlier. It was through him that I got my apartment in Asnières in 1974. His mother was my landlady. I worked in the rue Soufflot office in 1974-75.

    Cheryl, you should write a blog entry about your life in Antony that same year.


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