What It’s Actually Like to Live on Canal Saint-Martin in Paris

An empty red and white cross-hatched bistro chair–if you’re lucky enough to find one on the first sunny weekend by the canal, you’d know how I felt that pristine Saturday in late February. For visitors, this can be an impossible task, however, I live upstairs. In the cave, my gf and I like to joke, a reference to how little daylight we receive.

That Saturday, the neighbourhood rejoiced, winter was over, and it seemed like the entire 10e joined us to relish in the sun. The banks were full. Hipsters and homeless and thugs and young families came together to sit and chat, drink beer and play music. A real Kumbaya moment.

Idyllic times such as these are why I love the city, and this city in particular. It makes the taxing montage of commutes, workdays, and alienating transactions worth a place in your life. And while there are many nose-pinching, ear-plugging, eye-shutting moments, I think, at the end of the day, it’s worth it.


In An Immoveable Feast, Hemmingway writes of the promise of Rive Gauche; Cardinal Lemoine, Saint Michel, the Latin Quarter, Saint Germain, and Montparnasse. But I’ll be the first to tell you, these quarters are dead. Unpopular opinion; I know. But have you been to Les Deux Magots, La Rotonde, or Shakespeare? It’s the same as going to a museum. And while I’m harsh, because I am omitting the exceptions to prove a point. The city has moved on.


My ❤️and I moved to the canal at the beginning of November. It was an exciting time, and technically our move into Paris. For the 6-months prior, we’d lived in a small town called Montrouge, a metro terminus and a 5-minute walk from the Southern border of Paris. Basically Paris, but, it wasn’t the postal 75, so for a Parisian, it isn’t Paris.

The canal was calm. A day muted by Parisian Grey. Sporadic runners threaded up and down the banks. The courageous sat on terraces in luxuriant coats lined with faux fur. Our move-in had showed promise from the neighbourhood; a reward from the investment that we’d put in, fighting a war just to submit a dossier to the agency. You need to have what it takes to be ‘accepted’ into this shitshow of a club called Paris.

Ironically it was the American style cafés and cocktail bars that charmed me. On our first night’s exploration of the neighbourhood, we settled in a little den called SAam for delicious Taiwanese Bao.

Our excitement, however, was quickly hampered by the apartment. Marred by filthy floors, a condescending attitude and exigent behaviour from the agency, we were handed two pairs of keys and a weeks worth of cleaning. I mean, there were dust bunnies the size of my fists behind the couch. We found a pair of dead moths behind the fridge, and popcorn cornels in bed (Yum). Mold in the bathroom, a large stain on the mattress…the list goes on.

This would be the beginning of our delusional one-sided legacy with this negligent agency.

With that aside, we began to get into the ebb and flow of the quarter. We found out which boulangeries were open on weekends, where to find juice and grain bowls Bob’s Juice, Sol Semilla, Le Bichat and RadioDays (turns out dozens of places), where the neighbourhood haunts were–newcomers like and old faithfuls.

The cool visitors post up at the legendary Chez Prune, La Marine; tourists pound pints at Cork and Cavan and queue at Comptoir General; the local chics gather at La Patache or Brigette; and the alternative side at Cinquante, Gorbi Palace. And then there’s Gravity, a cocktail bar in a realm of its own.

Even before this first sunny day in February, I noticed a difference in my outlook upon Paris. Small quality of life improvements. The subway lines are fruitful. The rest of Paris resembled a sibling instead of a distant cousin. Peanut butter is at the supermarket. Supermarkets are open on Sunday nights. So ostensibly, I can buy peanut butter on a whim now.

We found things that we couldn’t find before–St. Marcelin filled Naan at Marcel, Pulled Pork Tacos at El Guacamole, and chicken & waffles at Baba Zulu. Line 2 from Colonel Fabian took us to Pigalle, and the 11 from Goncourt took us up to Belleville, and down to the Marais. Is this happiness? Or is it misleading.


At some point in my life, I’ll have to question why innocuous things such as these have such a high importance in my life. Brunches, happy hours and private sales for plants, artisanal jewellery, beer, and ice cream. It’s like post-materialism; instead of materials, each experience has been reduced to a set of values. Packaged and presented by Instagram. In the end, they embody the same sets of adjectives as a clothing brand or car maker.

Grain bowls and vegan super foods #healthy #vegan / Eggs Benedict and chicken and waffles #indulgence. I give a lot of fucks, because I drink green smoothies with spiruline instead of four refills of drip coffee with brunch.


At home, our cour is small enough for awkward eye-contact with neighbours, and our walls are thin enough to hear unwanted arguments and sexual climaxes. During a rainstorm, we came home to find the stairwell flooding from a massive crack in the ceiling. We started banging on doors to find help. Immediately, The neighbours assembled to find a solution. Each person donated buckets. We set up a makeshift shoot, funnelling the water from the crack out a nearby window. No person acted ‘for themselves.’ A bond grew between us. We exchanged phone numbers, ideas, and now, more than just ‘bonjours.’ I had never experienced that in a building before.

Later that night, however, our roof partially caved in. Our kitchen flooded and consequently, we had to live without electricity for a week. Why? It took our lovely agency over a week to get back to us for an evaluation. We considered moving. Was the neighbourhood worth the living conditions? In New York, I had the chance to live in East Williamsburg for 4 months, but the Canal is the Canal.

Hopping over the water each day was a panacea.

On the canal I’d see photo shoots. I’d pass music videos being shot against the backdrop. The most stylish Brits, Spanish, Americans and Koreans flocked to our hood with cameras and dazzling fashion; beautiful, proud dogs trot down the promenades, they’re enough to make one self-conscious, to make one think twice about leaving the house in pjs for a croissant. It’s funny, but really, moving to a neighbourhood like this is intimidating.

The canal itself is very dirty. But only on second glance. On first glance, it’s glossy, pristine. My impression is that tourists pass through with this quick look, forgetting that it’s a breathing neighbourhood, not just an attraction or a postcard. In reality, Parisians adore the canal but abuse it, they hang around all day tossing beer bottles, cigarette butts and driving lime scooters into the murky waters.

Dive a little deeper into the quarter, into every unmarked road, alley and impasse and you’ll find the veins, Rue Bichat, Rue Marie et Louise and the magical Rue Sainte Marthe, the point of Eugene Varlin, Rue Juliette Dodu. Dozens of small abodes and packed terraces. Not a word of English.

I’m reminded everyday about how Parisian culture is different than that of New York. It’s not about loud signage, niche marketing, or incredulous hype. It’s also not about judgment or exclusion, which can often be the pervasive stereotype.

It’s about intimacy. In both definitions of the word.

Definition of intimacy

1: the state of being intimateFAMILIARITY

2: something of a personal or private nature

Dictionary

While this might seem like the romantic cliché of Paris, it has nothing at all to do with romance. It’s about proximity and knowledge, being close to and in the know.

On the 2nd of June, my gf and I found an ephemeral boat.

It docks across from the dog park and next to the basketball court, but only on sunny weekends. 200m up the canal from our apartment, this boat acts as a bar and music venue.

For hours, we sat under the sun, we called friends, and we listened to Cuban Jazz while drinking Europe’s Coors Light–Jupiler. It wouldn’t have happened without proximity or knowledge.

The atmosphere in Paris can be dream-like and refreshing. On the other hand, it can leave you distanced and put-off, like it did for me during my first several months. A large part of living here is learning the language, but another part is having a neighbourhood in Paris that allowed me to learn.

I plan to stay here, not because it’s Paris–whatever that packed statement means–or for the history of the quarter, which remains largely unwritten, but rather, because I like it.

The canal is a neighbourhood with a cosmopolitan glaze, but still retains its Parisian core. And just as Hemmingway found the Rive Gauche’s when he lived here, I find the canal’s image eternal.

Fin.

Alexander

The Funky Art of Mixing Drinks: The Gimlet

Your Gimlet should model that badass chick from junior year–never sweet, never dull, never limeade, never soda in that flask. A little edge is key; add the ingredients to a shaker with ice, rattle and strain into a cocktail glass. Gas it with a splash of sparkling water and give it wheels…of lime that is.

.5 Parts Simple Syrup

– 1 Part Lime Juice

– 4 Parts of Boodles Gin

adapted from The Fine Art of Mixing Cocktails

Above is the Godfather’s take, found in the essential book FAoMC, but I’ve decided to add some tang.

– .5 Parts Simple Syrup

– 1.5 Parts Lime Juice

– 4.5 Parts Bombay Sapphire Gin

🔥 take

Two alternatives are French or Italian Gimlets, the French with Citadelle Gin and Perrier, and the Italian with Madame Gin from Jerry Thomas Project and San Pellegrino.

What do you think? What’s the best ratio for a Gimlet? The Best Gin?

-Alex

Caché! The Secret and Wonderful Oddities of Paris: Passage du Pont aux Biches

On a black night, in the misery of a rainy Paris winter, I scamper past Place de La Republique into the upper east corner of Le Marais. Suddenly, I see a burst of color emanating from a narrow set of stairs.

This mysterious passage looks run-down, filthy even. On closer inspection one I see that it’s filled with a battery of enigmatic street-art and murals.

It’s curious, a bit eerys even. The wall reads like modern-day hieroglyphics.

A steep descension underneath several buildings.

The altitude drop is more curious–it reveals its age. In fact, Passage du Pont aux Biches is a remaining portal between medieval and modern Paris. It served as Rue du Pont Aux Biches, which led to the castle walls.

It dates back to 1550. The road below is stone-laden and narrow, and up above you have a modern road meant for thoroughfare.

As for the spectrum of colors at night, I haven’t found out the reason.

Not yet.

Tuesday 26 January

Chaque Detail Compte: The Bowtie’s Guide to a Weekend in Palermo

Palermo is a clash–a battleground of sorts where class, lifestyle and cultural identity impose on one another everyday. For me, it’s an enigma.

Sicilians are the warmest people you’ll meet, but then again, they have a legacy of tensions with North Africa, of racism and xenophobia. Palermo has a wealth of Baroque architecture, but their definitive style is Arab-Norman architecture, and now, a burgeoning street art scene. They embrace the slow-cooking movement, but have legendary street food. They are equal parts finger-snapping street vendors, as languid, sunshine dwellers.

700k reside in the capitol of Sicily, the largest city on the largest island in the Mediterranean.

Palermo’s landscape is so stark and vivid, one can’t compare it to ‘postcard’ Italy–Rome, Venice, or the ever trending Florence. Personally, I believe that these destinations verify the beauty we know exists in Italy; but in Sicily, something lies unknown, undiscovered.

The city has a rough reputation. Palermo of today seems to be falling to pieces. But in all honesty, they don’t seem too broken up about it.


Friday

Despite the reputation, you step off the plane onto the tarmac.

The first trick; how does one get to the city?

You have 3 options; a shared taxi (8€), a ticket from the bus company Prestia e Comandè (6€), or a ride on the brand new Metro station (6€).

A sweeping countryside with red, mountainous terrain out one window and a choppy sea outside the other, eventually your ride will reach the urban fringe.

Both commutes drop you near to the central walking street, Via Maqueda.


20h00 Dinner – Bisso Bistro

Via Maqueda, 172A, 90134 Palermo PA, Italy

Drop your bags at your AirBnb and head straight to this place. Sumptuous, yet inexpensive, Bisso Bistro looks like something your favorite joint in Brooklyn is trying to replicate. Exposed ceilings, beams, funky chandeliers, chatty intellectuals, a bartender with a moustache who speaks English with a thick accent; they’re all here.

There’s probably a wait-list. Tutto Bene. It’s all good. Drink a 2€ glass of Sicilian wine on the street corner and sink into the surroundings. Then, prepare for an excellent introduction to Sicilian food.

I have the theory ☝🏽that Sicilian food is the original fusion cuisine.

No, really. It starts from 2 distinct origins, Italy (duh), and North Africa. And when you surround yourself with the agricultural diversity that’s available in Sicily, you get one of the more complex culinary traditions in the world.
🧀🍕🍝The Italian base lends pastas, pizza, tomatoes, garlic, cheese, etc.
🍚🍆🍊Northern Africa brings oranges, mint, saffron, rice, semolina, tuna, aubergine.
🦑🐙Geography lends terre et mer, calamari, octopus, olives, capers, dates, pistachios.

It’d be wrong to restrict Sicilian food to ‘Italian.’


Drinks – Bonter Bar

Across from Teatro Massimo (we’ll stop here later), down the dark, narrow alley Via Orologio, young Sicilians and Erasmus gather at night.

Bonter Bar is the best on the street. This cocktail bar houses a cast of stuck-in-the-30’s hipsters with large suspenders, pinstripe trousers and hand-knit shirts. But hey, with cocktails, they don’t play around.

They use high quality products, have a good vibe, and were also friendly enough to introduce me to the Italian jewel, Madame And Monsieur Gin from the Jerry Thomas Project. A lifelong friendship was forged.


Saturday

10h00 – 11h00

Via Maqueda

Everything is at your disposal on this lovely, yet often hectic road. In the morning, however, it shows its calm side. Grab an espresso, cornets, and a table on a sunny terrace. Or check a couple of things off your list.

San Guiseppe dei Teatini (Baroque)

These landmarks are within a dozen steps from one another.

Fontana Pretoria & Santa Caterina Cathedral

11h00 – 12h00

Teatro Massimo

Al Pacino, Mr. Corleone, took his last seat here in Godfather 3. The theatre, 3rd Largest in Europe is well-kept, and renowned for its stellar acoustics. Its unique round structure should be worth the visit to Palermo by itself. 8€ for a 30-min tour of this spectacle.

Teatro Politeama

While Massimo was known as the theatre for the Sicilian bourgeois, the other, Politeama was for the Sicilian middle class. I toured Politeama, and while still very beautiful, it needs refurbishing. Palermo doesn’t have a plan to make this happen any time soon, but it’s still worth a visit.


12h00 – 14h30
Castellamare & Kalsa

Breezy neighbourhoods by the water stand still as postcards. Small, winding roads with weathered buildings and fresh-swept streets. Balconies reach like an outstretched hand, ushering you through these visually stunning quarters.

Terraces, Piazzas, and Bistros–it’s the Sicilian version of diners, drive-ins and dives. Stop for grilled octopus, fresh calamari and a glass of white wine, or indulge with fat slices of Focaccia, while posting up on the corner facing some ancient fountain.

Afterwards, I recommend a good amount of wandering.

Gagini Social Restaurant – 👨🏻‍🎨🍤An elegant Sicilian, slow-food restaurant with stone interior, and large contemporary paintings.

Restorante Quattro Mani -🍝🍋A modern Sicilian restaurant sourced by organic, sustainable and almost exclusively local traders.


13h30 -15h30

Albergheria

Flies buzz in summer heat; a motorbike leaves white pamphlets floating in its wake. An emptied Coca-Cola bottle lies strewn to the side of a black, empty alleyway.

This neighbourhood, a bit inland from the historical center of Palermo, hosts as a plethoric number of passageways, hidden landmarks, and the sprawling Ballaro market.

Turn the corner to yammering locals, and colors, vibrant colors. Green celery stalks, ruby tomatoes, and pink filets of swordfish. Fresh and local produce, seafood and street food, Ballaro Market is a reflection of the lush culture in Palermo.

Other Places of Interest:

Torri di San Nicolo di Bari – A tower open to the public with a view of the city.

Torre Dei Federic – Bed and Breakfast in a medieval building with Norman facade and baroque interior.

MoltiVolti -🍲🎨Coworking space/ colorful restaurant, ideal if you need to stop for a snack and wifi.


15h30 – 17h30

Palazzo dei Normanni

The pearl of Arab-Norman architecture, the Norman Palace. If you visit one thing in Palermo, this should be it.

The zenith of Palermo: origins tell that this area was initially a fortress during the Roman Empire. In the 9th century, North Africa invaded and conquered the Sicilian region. They prospered over a period of 200+ years in Sicily, and are believed to have begun the construction of this building. Then, the Normans arrived.

This gorgeous palace is actually a collaboration. The Normans hired Arabs to accomplish textile work to transform the fortified area into an ornate palace for the kings of Sicily.

The vivid golds and light blues from the North African region while the characters are painted in a Norman style.

Now, it also holds congress.

Nello Musumesci serves a five-year term as the President of Sicily, which is considered a region of Italy and has the power to establish its own laws.

18h00- 20h00 Apero

Mazzini 30 Taverna
A high end cocktail bar with elegant decor and an outside area. Sicilian charcuterie plates, among other delicious tapas.

Hic! La Folie Du Vin
Another option nearby with planchas accompanied by Sicilian wines instead of cocktails. A lively crowd in a small establishment.


Dinner – Frida

There is a pizzeria in Palermo that rivals any pie that I’ve had before, and its name is Frida.

Specializing in Roman and Neopolitan style pizza, this pizzeria leavens bread for 48 hours before using it. I have no idea what that does, but the pizza is excellent.

The secret is to forego the other two styles and order a Quadro, folded corners and stuffed crust. I’d heard of this only in legend.

Also; the place also seems to be a LGBTQ hub of Palermo. So, that’s cool.


Sunday

Cefalu

7h00 Palermo Central

What? You didn’t know you were going to get up so early? My bad. But trust me, it’s worth it.

Cefalu is a beautiful, picturesque town of stone buildings, steep terrain, and radiant waters. Spend the day here. Yes, the entire day.

Lay your towel on the sand and watch the waves roll, gregarious Sicilians surround you, and seagulls bounce upon the current. Open up that book you haven’t touched since the flight.

The beach is entirely unpretentious, one of my favorite things about Sicily. I’ve never felt classed out of a place. I never received that condescending glance from an old rich lady, or a guy who feels like he deserves priority.


13h00 Antica Foccaceria

Mouthwatering slices of focaccia, stuffed calzones, proscuitto sandwiches, this place is perfect for a brown bag lunch, either by the ocean or on an open piazza. It’s the embodiment of the Sicilian dream.

Also, the eggplant pomodoro was heavenly.


14h00 Cefalu Cathedral


A 10th century Cathedral, Norman architecture, very well-maintained and beautiful.


I’d recommend heading back before it gets too late. Grab a coffee or an Apero back in Palermo before you catch the bus to the Airport. Make sure to allow plenty of time–my commute was easy, but I’ve read horror stories about late buses and a slow airport. Tutto Bene. Enjoy yourself, and leave a comment if you enjoyed your stay.

-Alexander

All photos are originals.


Caché! The Secret and Wonderful Oddities of Paris: La Cité de Trévise


It’s a breezy, mid-spring Wednesday in Paris, the ninth Arrondissement. A fluffy white Samoyed pops out of a narrow road closely tailed by his athleisure fitted owner.


I stumble upon a moment of peace; a sudden gust of wind flows through the Sycamore trees. They encircle a small, neoclassical fountain. I approach. Pigeons bounce at the foot. Three mythic nymphs, holding hands, share an austere glare across the courtyard.

They stand guard over the Cité de Trévise, over the welfare of an elite who once lived in this quarter, when the quarter was gated, and the king still ruled. This was the final decade of a monarchy. 1840. 8 years later, after the outbreak of revolution, King Louis Phillipe fled into exile.

I continue my day, moved by the magic that lies in this city. The location is linked below.

Wednesday 24 April

-Alex

2.2 The Blue Notes – Le HasBeen

January 4th

Le HasBeen–22h30

We turn off the canal,

And pass the intersection of Rue Bichat and Rue Alibert–Le Petit Cambodge on the SouthEast corner, the hospital on the North–there are flowers, candles, pictures from loved ones in memoriam of the 2015 shootings.

Soap suds, draining water; circa 2015 I worked as a bar-back for an indie movie theatre in Seattle. I was scrounging, saving for a two-month trip to Paris. My phone blinks with a message. It’s my gf. She’s trapped in a bar in Montparnasse, desperate, waiting for news.

3 years later, we’re together, standing on the corner where it happened.

We continue into the night.

Two slight lefts along a wide Boulevard that scales the hospital. The bar rests on a corner, the HasBeen.

An L-Shaped bar. High-tables near the front, full, but not crowded. The bar at the heel. 2 bartenders.

We salvage a low, leather loveseat at the far side. Squeezing three. I sit on the armrest to abate my oncoming fatigue.

The drink menu consists of ‘house’ cocktails. Standard drinks with an ingredient thrown in, basil, honey, etc., to mask low-grade alcohol with a dulcifier.

I’ll take a Moscow Mule. It’s been a while hasn’t it?Crisp, sure, sugary too, but it’s not bad for the price.

Surveying the room; it’s not a dive bar in the colloquial sense. Less grunge, more catwalk.

A large group of Parisians occupy a 12-person table. Black turtle-necks. Colourful air max 95’s. Friends from a high-ranked university, meeting for their bi-weekly drink and dance where they find themselves smoking cigarettes outside of a small boite de nuit at 3am before pairing up for the night.

Small squadrons of 3 or 4 separate and hover around the bar to converse with the barmen.

My focus shifts back to the loveseat.

The girls gang up on the Londoner. He’s a talker, but he’s younger. And they’re old friends. He doesn’t stand a chance against their prying, their frank questions with hidden motives.

I motion to get another drink.

At the bar,

Je voudrais un Negroni svp. (I’d like a Negroni please.)

A balding 50-something year old with a stubbled beard camps at the pine. In a heavy French accent, he asks,

Where are you from?

American. But I live here.

Ah oui, and you’ve been here for how long?

Depuis 6 mois. (For 6 months)

6 months,

Has it really been that long? What do I have to show for that time? A couple of blog entries and a certificate for A-2 French. Restaurants that I frequent. A small group of (potential) friends from ecole, whom I’ve only shared beers with. I think a lot about whether this was a good move for me. This move to Pairs. Whether I take it for granted, after all, it’s the immovable feast. To live in Paris. To understand Paris. It’s priceless.

6 months, has it really been that long!?

The barmen returns to the pine.

A rock’s glass with ruby red liquid, and on top, curved like a capsized canoe, drifts an orange peel.

Bon soiree (Have a good night).

The drink is bittersweet. When I finish, we decide to move.

Fin.

@lehasbeen

2.1 The Blue Notes – La Patache

January 4th

La Patache 21h00

Two weeks later. The Gilets Jaune have given us all a break over the holidays. Paris is calm, for the moment.

We traverse the river once again, to La Patache, the same bar that we’ve been several times already. The long, narrow dive is packed. Every seat occupied. The table runner with the cap and the moustache sees us, winks: he’s going to hook us up.

Wait at the bar.

Three beers and a nice glass of white wine.

One of our friends, a Londoner, has given up beer for white wine. Every time he orders; he says, thick as molasses accent, I’ll have a nice glass of white wine.

It’s hilarious really.

We’re seated.

Planche Mixte in the mix. One of my favourites in the city. A Truffle Gruyere. It melts in your mouth. Nothing more delightful. House-made Paté too. Cornichons. A plate for 4–17 Euros.

Elbow to elbow tonight, service is slow.

Parisiennes, elegant women of lore brush passed me. Sometimes they step on my feet. I’m too large for my chair. Either way, I glance upwards.

I notice regulars. We’re regulars now, so we can spot other regulars. Like a sixth sense. A one-sided admiration. They’re much cooler looking than us. A Lennon shades guy with long black hair, another with a blonde buzz, a flowing black trench, and a neck tattoo. A well-groomed black dude with a designer button down and a cutting smile. Ragtag artistic bedfellows surround them.

The Parisian landscape is immersive yet alienating. Within reach, I could tap 15 people on the shoulder, but that wouldn’t be polite,
would it?

La Patache, at times, feels like a dystopian dive bar where all people must meet a certain threshold to enter. If your trench isn’t long or grey enough and your nose isn’t distinguished enough, if your parole isn’t witty enough, you must vacate your table.

A cat perches above, on the high shelf, sleeping. Yawning. Opening its eyes slightly and closing them. Sleeping again.

Who cares what us humans do, or think, or see, or feel, or wear, or drink to try and separate ourselves from the jungle. To you, we’re all. well. Illiterate.

Another beer and we finish the Planche mixte. The boys are overwhelmed tonight, so we’ll cut it short. Head somewhere else.

It’s rude to scarf and leave, so I nod my gf to put in a nice word for us. They’ll remember we were there, amongst the others, in the wildlife.

Fin.

@lapatach