In California, the postcodes are a made up number created by the post office to create efficient delivery. In Paris, they are a signal, a sign of many things.
On Saturday night, we went to see some good friends at their home, in their neighborhood. We crossed the river, past the Louvre so we could enjoy some fresh air, but then jumped on a metro to speed our way there. Line 4.
Past the working neighborhood, with women hanging out of doorways looking as if they are simply waiting for some friend to come by. With windows full of wholesaler merchandise, not displayed as it is in some neighborhoods, for the public. But, simply, sans effort. Dinner turns out to be at this charming former oyster place, called Poulette, with gorgeous tile work.
Our friends tell us of their neighborhood, with such affection. That they rarely leave their 2nd arrondissement, their “quarter”. There are twenty of these arrondissements, or numbered districts, which spiral out, clockwise from the city centre. The post codes reflect this. 75001 is the original Paris, the city island, where the Notre Dame now sits. Our friends live in 75002, a neighborhood that is gentrifying. The streets we walk on after dinner are part “toys for fun” stores and others high end bars and shops.
These last two digits of the postcode are indicators loaded with information and significance once you know the city. I just read Sarah Turnbull’s book, “Almost French” and she describes “75016 is about tony neighbors who send their dogs to poodle parlours”. To which, one has to chuckle. Just as 75015 has a ton of nannies, or nounous as the French call them, the 75004 is full of ancient curvy village streets lined with gay bars, in what is called the “marais”. Each place is its own. 75005 conjours up student-filled cafes as you get close to the Sorbonne, and art-supply stores as you get closer to the river. 75006 has turned away from being the home of philosophers of the arts like Jean Paul Sarte, to the stores that sell the goods of Jean Paul Gaultier.
Our friends say of our neighborhood — 75007 — that it lacks “character” — and it’s true to some degree. The bank of France has their offices next door, and the House (the Hotel as it is called because it is its own stand alone building) of the Ministry of Ed is across from us. It’s down the street from the Musee D’Orsay and the Rodin Musee is not far from here. There are only a few homeless people in our hood, or “characters”. No loud bars. No jack packed restaurants. For better or worse, this seems far more kid-friendly, with a short 4 metro stop trip to school for when it gets cold. Not too far from us, we’ve found a place that serves a warm cassoulet for Sunday supper. The waitress now knows us and seats us in the downstairs part (clearly where the French locals sit) not the upstairs part where they send the “loud Americans” to disturb only one another. In the evenings, I find the boutiques in the 6th, with their beautiful window displays like art, gorgeous to look. And, sometimes, when Curt is home, we talk a walk and then stop on the way back home at St. Sulpice place to prend un verre before tucking ourselves into our quiet little place.
In as much as you can almost anywhere in Paris within 30 minutes, it’s still very much a city of neighborhoods. We were so glad to have gone “across the river” and we ended up the night singing together in harmony, outside the Bar, Club Raye.