Opening up the french windows of our hotel room became one of my favorite parts of each day. I had the same routine. After a good night’s sleep the first thing I would do would be to open the windows and let the sounds of the Paris morning in. I would lay back down in the bed and even though we were in one of the most magnificent cities in the world and all sorts of wonderful sites were waiting for us, I always had time to listen to the street below.
Rue Cler, one of the most vibrant and energetic streets in the 7th arrondissement, has more personality than many people I know. The lovely pedestrian market street starts at avenue de la Motte Picquet before dead-ending just north of rue St.-Dominique. It features a wide assortment of businesses and people and from our third floor window at Grand Hotel Leveque we got a great taste of it all. Each day, after laying there soaking up the sounds of this quaint Parisian street, I would get up, get dressed, then head back to the windows where, leaning on the black iron railing, I would visually take in everything around me.
One particular morning stood out to me. Apparently it had rained just before I woke up that morning. The cobblestones on rue Cler shined as if someone had polished each one by hand. The almost glassy refraction of light gave them a magnificent glow and they looked as if they would be slick underfoot. The rain had not slowed down the marketeers. Just across the road and to the right was a produce stand where the workers were unloading fresh fruit and vegetables from a small truck which had eased onto the pedestrian street. The marketeers were something to behold. They had a system and worked like the proverbial well-oiled machine. They pulled boxes off the truck and meticulously examined the produce inside them, often times individually,wanting only the best quality for their customers. Perfectionists in produce – I like that. They laid out the produce on simply wooden stands. The stands on one side of the road each had thin wooden rooftops. The main stands across from me were covered by an awning that extended from the main building. Once the array of fruits and vegetables were in place they would attach the awning meaning they were open for business. I loved watching them prepare for their day.
Just to my left of the produce stands was the poissonnerie , a fish market that also stocked their iced down shelves with fresh fish every day. The fish truck was parked below and I watched as workers pulled out plastic ice trays filled with a neat variety of fish, some I had never seen before. I watched as a small but stocky man yanked the heavy trays from the truck and passed it to another small but stocky man who carried it to the store front. There he pulled out the fish and tossed it onto the piles of ice on the shelves. Much like the produce marketeers, they worked in an almost poetic harmony and I was fascinated watching these Parisians carry on with their normal morning.
A parade of children – a site I had grown to love each morning – made their way up the wet road heading to school. It was a cool June morning and each kid was wrapped up in their stylish little jackets – miniature Parisians already fashion conscious. Many were walking with a parent, many were walking with friends and I couldn’t help but smile listening to the steady French chatter coming from their small voices. Occasionally the clamoring of children and their small two-wheeled push scooters could be heard coming from a mile away. I remember laughing and wondering how the vibration of the small wheels running over the cobblestones didn’t shake them off as they weaved in and out of the flow of people in front of them. This was a normal day in the lives of these children. As I stood watching from three floors above, in love with the fresh, new way of life I was witnessing, I couldn’t help but think that what I believed was so grand was just another day for them.
I began to smell the cheeses from the fromagerie directly below and to the left. The cheese shop was like an alien and uncharted world to us. Even though I had read about the French adoration for cheese and was even naive enough to call myself a cheese lover, neither I nor my wife were prepared for the sheer variety of tastes and smells. Directly below and to the right was the small but seemingly popular Le Petit Cler cafe. Regardless of the time of day, anytime I opened the windows I could hear the tinging of dishes and coffee cups mixed in with the French conversations taking place on the cafe terrace. This particular morning was no different. The awning above the terrace blocked my view but it was clear to me that waiters were already hard at work.
I’ve said before that the street was alive to me. The sounds were it’s pulse. The people were it’s lifeblood. What was everyday life for the marketeers, the waiters, the schoolkids, and the patrons was new, soothing, fresh, and idyllic to me. Each morning and each evening when I opened those windows I was letting in a special part of Paris, not necessarily what you would read about in a guide book, but real life – true Parisian life. I was spellbound. I wanted it. I still do. And even though I struggle to keep the mental images vibrant within my mind, the impressions on my heart are as vivid as the day I first opened those windows and let Paris in.