Friday night I walked out into a city of deserted streets and an eerie sky. The light in Paris is often remarkable, but this evening it was almost shocking.In some sections, the clouds were thick as taffeta, heavy as metal. Even behind such a stiff curtain, however, the evening sun somehow made itself known.
When I picked up my friend Ericka, she noticed it, too. The apocalyptic clouds gave way to blue sky at the end of her block. A strange pink tinged the billowing sky.
“Let’s follow the light,” she said.
We wandered down the street looking up the whole time.
It was then that we realized there was no one else on the street. Surely we would have been run over at any other time wandering around like that, faces upturned to the sky. But there was no traffic – no one anywhere, for that matter. The entire city seemed to be ours.
It was the opening day of the World Cup, we finally realized. Everyone was huddled inside somewhere, watching the action on a big screen.
We needed something to eat, but we didn’t want to watch the game. We also weren’t looking for fine dining, either, or to pay 15 euros for an uninspired salad. (There are plenty of Paris foodie sites – you all know by now, I’m not one of them. I like a good meal as much as the next person, but sometimes I just want simple, cheap fare. You know, fast food prices for actually edible food. And for all the mediocre food at high prices – I’m over it!)
We walked down the middle of Boulevard Voltaire – simply because we could – then turned down Rue Chanzy and its environs, an area with lots of restaurants. Bistrot Paul Bert, El Galpon de Unico. The places were packed, people spilling out onto the streets (here they all were!)
We decided we’d love to try these restaurants for a special occasion, but it didn’t make sense to go for it now. Ericka had already munched on popcorn before leaving and I was kind of full from ice cream. (Yes, I’ve been doing dessert before dinner a lot lately, and I make no apologies for it!)
We continued our walk around the 11th, as the strange sky started sending raindrops down. In its continued bizarre fashion, however, the full storm didn’t come. That heavy sky was holding something in store for later – who knew what.
By now, we were in the 12th, back to deserted streets. We make our way to the Place d’Aligre, and there find men roaming about the square. We were no longer the only people in the city – but we felt like the only women.
Then it comes to us: couscous.
We enter a tiny, well-lit space advertising couscous for 7 euros. Though we were the only women there, we didn’t feel uncomfortable. And then what followed was exactly what we needed.
A huge plate of couscous next to a large bowl of vegetables and sauce + 5 brochettes of meat of our choosing. Perhaps it was because it was now after 10 PM and all I had eaten was ice cream, but it tasted damn good. (For vegetarians, it’s still a good deal – just don’t get the brochettes).
What really made the experience, however, was the almost fawning service. We hadn’t even finished our first round when Wahid (yes, we stayed long enough to get on friendly speaking terms) served up another helping of vegetable stew. Plus more brochettes. Plus some fresh mint tea.
He offered Ericka another fork (because hers was dirty from eating, I guess?) – he wanted to know if there was anything else he could possibly offer us.
It seemed all part and parcel of our strange night, but you’ll hear no complaining from me. In a little hole-in-the-wall, we were treated like royal princesses. Sometimes in Paris, I guess it does help to smile.
We asked Wahid if we could take the rest of our meal home. I mean, he had just given us two! He brought out boxes and foil and carefully wrapped each of our meals. He handled each implement like it was a precious jewel. It was almost heartbreaking how much attention he gave to us and every little thing.
When the bill came – and it was still only 7 euros a piece for the mountain of food – he wouldn’t accept any more.Full and content, we walked to the Café Courant for the end of Honky Tonk night. (Why not continue the surreal string of events?) There we met some real soccer fans. France hadn’t scored, so people were kind of subdued. Except this girl. Her getup just seemed to sum up the very surreal night.
No frills, but for some cheap couscous with kind service:
16 rue d’Aligre
01 43 46 07 73