People ask what I do all day in Paris. The answer, to paraphrase David Lebovitz in his book The Sweet Life in Paris, is that I embark on the daily adventure called Running Errands. Faire des courses, en français. I happen to really like this translation because courses – in addition to meaning “errands” – also means “races.” Yes, running errands is a race, maybe a marathon, or maybe one of those newly popular obstacle course races where you drag yourself through the equivalent of military boot camp.
You may remember, for example, the time Colin and I wanted to cook a fancy dinner to impress his boss and visited twelve shops in one afternoon in order to make it happen. That was probably a record, but yesterday came close.
Sometime after lunch, I set out with the intention of buying ingredients for two meals: big salads for that night, and pasta with sautéed veggies for the following night. I also had a long list of things like laundry detergent and toothpaste to buy. I set off for our regular produce market near Metro Saint Paul to buy the veggies first.
I was still a block away when I noticed that the storefront looked unusually dark.
“Non non non,” I groaned. I have only ever seen the produce market closed three times in the five months we’ve been here, once on a Thursday and now twice on Mondays. They have no hours posted and nothing online. I’m beginning to think I should just ask, but as with most of my interactions in French, I don’t because I’m afraid I won’t understand the answer. C’est la vie when you’re an ex-pat with an elementary understanding of the local language.
So, yeah, the produce market was closed. I knew there was another one on Île Saint Louis, so I decided I’d go to the supermarket first, since it was on my way. There is a Franprix supermarket at Metro Saint Paul, but I opted instead for Intermarché, which is closer to our apartment, because they have delicious salami that I wanted for our salads plus Colin’s favorite flavor of yogurt. Franprix is the bigger supermarket but has neither of those things and always has longer lines. Confident in my decision, I walked past Franprix and on towards Intermarché.
Well, wouldn’t you know, Intermarché may have good salami and yogurt, but they did not have the laundry detergent I needed, nor the toothpaste I wanted, nor the 10-liter garbage bags that fit our tiny trash can.
I halfheartedly wondered if I could put off laundry and toothbrushing for another day. Then I wondered if there was another Franprix closer to Île Saint Louis so I wouldn’t have to walk back to Saint Paul.
When I got to Île Saint Louis, I couldn’t find the produce market, which I’d never been to before. I assumed I was just in the wrong place, but when I checked the map I was in exactly the right spot. I crossed the street for a better view, and then I saw it: there was the awning, “Vergers de l’Île Saint Louis,” but the shop was closed.
At that point, I began to consider skipping dinner altogether. Clearly, we would not be having salads or veggie pasta. Laundry and toothbrushing aside, if we wanted to eat, I would have to walk back to Saint Paul to go to Franprix.
If you’re keeping track, I had now been to three shops and had only some yogurt and salami to show for it.
Back at Franprix, the employees were casually restocking shelves, seemingly without a care in the world. And I don’t mean that they were joyous—I mean that they had plopped their crates in the middle of the aisles and were slowly shuffling boxes around, looking at them absentmindedly while considering where to put them, all while customers contorted themselves to squeeze past. This, too, is something David Lebovitz observes in his book. And this is why courses in Paris have that boot-camp element.
Eventually I managed to navigate the aisles and find everything on my list, plus some frozen tortellini for dinner because what else were we going to eat? Those salads would have to wait for the following day, when maybe – hopefully – at least one market would be open. Oh, and on the way home I also stopped at the boulangerie that I had passed about two hours prior on my first trip to Saint Paul, since I realized I had missed the one on Île Saint Louis in my rush to get back to Franprix. So: two produce markets, two supermarkets, and two boulangeries, and all I had for us to eat was some yogurt, salami, frozen tortellini, and a baguette.
You can see now why people mostly just eat bread and cheese in Paris, oui?