The most common questions that people ask me about life in Paris:
- How come nobody in Paris speaks English? (How come explained in the English notes below.)
- How come whenever I try to speak to people in Paris in French, they always answer me in English?
- Aren’t you afraid of terrorist attacks?
- Where can I buy non-touristy souvenirs?
(1) and (2) are, of course, contradictory, and I’ve written about them before (and will again, ’cause it’s super-complicated). I’ve written about (3), too, and no, I’m not–every 3 days in the US, we have more gunfire deaths than Paris had in its worst terrorist attack in history. I literally have a greater chance of being shot to death in a road rage incident on my way to work in the US than I do of dying in a terrorist attack in Paris. Seriously.
(4): a question that I love to answer. Today I’ll tell you where to buy non-touristy souvenirs in Montmartre.
Before there were museums, there was the cabinet of curiosities–le cabinet de curiosités. If you were powerful, or maybe just really rich, your cabinet of curiosities was where you showed off your collection of … interesting stuff. Mostly stuff from the natural world. A narwhal’s tusk, say; rare stones; perhaps some fossils. Showing it off was the point. As Wikipedia puts it:
The Kunstkammer (cabinet of curiosities) of Rudolf II, Holy Roman Emperor (ruled 1576–1612), housed in the Hradschin at Prague, was unrivalled north of the Alps; it provided a solace and retreat for contemplation that also served to demonstrate his imperial magnificence and power in symbolic arrangement of their display, ceremoniously presented to visiting diplomats and magnates.
Montmartre is a neighborhood in the northern part of Paris. As you might expect from the name Montmartre, it has an elevation, and at the peak of that elevation is one of Paris’s most popular tourist attractions: Sacré Coeur, “Sacred Heart,” France’s way of saying it’s sorry that Paris seceded from it in 1871.
I jest–bitterly: Sacré Coeur expresses France’s wish that Paris would say that it’s sorry that it seceded in 1871. Sacré Coeur is reactionary France’s way of putting words in Paris’s mouth–specifically, an apology for having seceded from France in 1871. As if it weren’t enough that the Versaillais (the soldiers of the national government) killed 20,000-ish Parisians when they retook the city. La semaine sanglante, it’s called–The Bloody Week.
Descending from the aforementioned elevation on a Sunday-afternoon walk the other day, I came across Grégory Jacob and a truly delightful place to buy non-touristy stuff in Montmartre. Curiositas is a charming little store in the style of a 19th-century cabinet of curiosities, complete with a nice selection of marlin snouts–far more practical in a little Parisian apartment than a narwhal tusk, and just as pointed.
Grégory spent 20 years as an optician before the insurance companies sucked the joy out of the profession, at which point he decided to become a boutiquier (see the French notes below for some subtleties of the terminology of shop-owners) and opened Curiositas. His new profession lets him pursue his passions–la chine, la brocante, les curiosités, l’ostéologie, l’entomologie–in the very neighborhood where Gabriel loses his glasses and delivers his monologue in Zazie dans le métro.
And all of those passions are represented–the wares on offer include skulls, bugs, and the super-cool apparatus for drinking absinthe. (Who knew that there are nifty devices for holding the sugar cube over which you pour la fée verte, “the green fairy”–absinthe itself. Hell, I didn’t even know that you pour it over a sugar cube. Hell, again: I didn’t even know that they still make the stuff.) You need coasters with anatomical organs on them? Grégory’s got them. An emu egg? No problem. Skulls? Curiositas has both carnivores and herbivores. You’re tired of the Montmartre crêpe shops, wannabe artists, and fabric stores? Step into Curiositas. Tell Grégory the weird American guy says hi. Scroll down past the pictures for the English and French notes.
how come: an informal way of saying why. Examples:
How come every time my mom tells me to call her she never answers 😑
— Grayson Dolan (@GraysonDolan) May 30, 2018
How come it takes 3 hours to cook but 3 seconds to eat
— Carlos (@itscar1os) May 30, 2018
nick: “how come the trex couldn’t clap?
me: “i don’t know, how come?”
nick: “cuz he’s dead!!!”
— Whitney Lusk (@WhitneyLusk3) April 6, 2018
“Trex” is “T-rex,” Tyrannosaurus rex. The dinosaur with enormous fangs and tiny little arms.
le boutiquier : shopkeeper.
le commerçant : shopkeeper, retailer.
le magasinier : l’employé qui s’occupe d’entreposer, ranger des marchandises dans un entrepôt. (Definition courtesy of Grégory)