“Most of the time, beauty lies in the simplest of things.” — Winna Efende, The Journeys
On Rue Mouffetard, we’ve bought a rotisserie chicken for dinner, with a side of potatoes roasted in the drippings. We’ve shopped for salami, a couple different kinds of cheese, some bread, and called it dinner. We’ve stopped for gelato at Amorino’s a couple of times. One night, we ate at the counter in Chez Nico, where Nico prepared fresh, savory crepes while we waited. Another night, we picked up slices of tarts, one a chicken-and-mushroom, one goat-cheese-and-tomato, brought them home and ate them window-side.
What a street! Rue Mouffetard is a dazzling melange of everything to eat. Little restaurants serve French food, of course, but if you’re in the mood for Greek, Japanese, Indian, or Turkish, you’ll find it. New York pizza? An Irish pub? Sushi? Yup, those, too.
Ernest Hemingway lived right around the corner on Rue Descartes, and maybe Mouffetard inspired his title, “Moveable Feast.” Fromageries, charcuteries, boulangeries, patisseries, poissonneries, chocolatiers, tea shops, wine shops, and fruit and vegetable markets display a beautiful banquet.
Just food? Mixed in the stew are cute boutiques, a couple souvenir stores, pharmacies, an optician, a flower market, a jewelry store or two, shoe stores, a shop selling household items like shopping carts or baskets, a nail salon, a cinema, a youth hostel, and one chain store, L’Occitane. Mike even got a haircut right around the corner.
We’ve been there bright and early, when housewives cluster around vegetable markets, peruse meat counters, and select perfect loaves of bread.
We’ve gone at night, too. When the food shops close, the bars open and college students pour in while high-schoolers rove in packs, eating crepes. Restauranteurs hover in doorways, pointing out their menus de jour to Looky-Lous passing by. Sometimes a musician plays a guitar or sings for tips in the plaza, and the brasserie tables load up. Motorcycles weave in and out among pedestrians.
In the afternoon, things quiet down. Today, on a mission to buy some quiche and wine for dinner, we strolled along at a slow pace, knowing we may not have time to return. We passed parents clustered outside the elementary school for dismissal time, and the children’s shrill voices carried over the school’s stone wall and down the street.
I wanted to memorize it all. While Mike picked out some wine displayed in wooden boxes outside our go-to shop, I zeroed in on the people of Mouffetard. The owner of the fancier wine shop across the narrow street stood outside like so many proprietors do, his arms folded, watching the passers-by. In a gray wool apron over his blue slacks and shirt, and a stylish scarf knotted around his neck, he looked spiffier than the fruit-and-vegetable men in long blue canvas work smocks over their rumpled clothes.
Roasting chicken and fresh bread scented the air, and an elderly woman with a cane minced along the uneven cobblestones. A guy in a brown velvet blazer, a white shirt, and jeans carried his baguette home for dinner. A young couple, both in skinny jeans, trotted along, his motorcycle helmet tucked under his arm. Pigeons swooped. Above the shops, most apartment windows were open on this warm afternoon. Bedraggled summer geraniums lingered on some window ledges.
We headed back uphill, passing the little plaza where a couple streets converge. A fountain is surrounded by greenery and a metal fence perfect for perching on while eating a gelato. At Delmos, one of the open-all-day brasseries around the circle, a couple of gray-haired matrons enjoyed an afternoon coffee in the sun. A couple of tourists sat at attention, watching the action, while a young man and woman nuzzled each other over a glass of wine.
Now past the pedestrians-only section, motorcycles lined the curbs. We avoided the German shepherd that always sleeps in front of the pharmacy, and headed home.
Yeah, it’s gritty. Some of the trash ends up on the curb. The cobblestones are grimy. Dress code is come-as-you-are. Metal security doors that cover the closed businesses are smeared with graffiti. But, this is truly Paris.
My advice: skip the Champs-Elysées. You can see a Gap anytime. Come to the Mouff instead.