Africa in Paris: The ‘Drop of Gold’
A recent swing through the Goutte d’Or (literally, Drop of Gold) quarter of the 18th Arrondissement of Paris yielded several surprises for me. The quarter is undergoing quite a face-lift, with many old buildings marked for demolition to make way for social and student housing. Several newer buildings are already occupied by residents and businesses. I saw two communal vegetable gardens in spaces where old buildings once stood.
Progressive waves of immigrants have settled here, the latest of which comprised black Africans. Sub-Saharan Africans had already been here for many years when I first visited the neighborhood in 2002 to research locations to buy ingredients for several of the recipes presented in my cookbook, Food for the Soul . The street markets captured all of my interest at that time, and they are still first on my list of destinations when I go to the quarter. On my latest outing, I noted that the market on the rue Dejean was as lively as always, with people chatting over roasted ears of corn and consulting butchers about their selection of meats for the day. I’ve known for some time that the turquoise arches that once delimited the market were a casualty of the refurbishing of this short pedestrian thoroughfare. But I was saddened to learn that the poissonnerie Embruns no longer sells live catfish, as it did when I wrote my book.
The rue des Poissonniers intersects the rue Dejean and offers an equally vivacious market atmosphere. There are many more shops offering African and Antillean produce here than on the rue Dejean, and many of the butcher shops are hallal. Many of the produce shops also sell cosmetics and hair-care products. A small, antiquated brûlerie (coffee-roasting shop) still exists there. I was happy to find that the restaurants Mini Resto (Cameroon) and Nioumrè (Senegal) are still serving the neighborhood with excellent home-style cooking. A new addition to the street is a small Haitian restaurant called Point C Paris, which has only been open for about three months.
The rue Poulet also has its fair share of produce and cosmetics boutiques. Vendors hawk their wares on makeshift tables along the sidewalk here. Though every bit as animated, this street lacks the intimacy of the adjacent stretch of the rue des Poissonniers because of the automobile traffic from the boulevard Barbès, the western border of the quartier.
In the heart of the Goutte d’Or, the rue Léon is home to several interesting cultural venues that are worth exploring. The Lavoir Moderne Parisien (LMP) offers an exposition space and Francophone theatre in what used to be a true, 19th-century washhouse. Emile Zola described it in several writings, including his novel L’Assommoir. The Olympic Café is a long-standing concert site that is part of the LMP complex. The bookstore Contoir Africain, inaugurated on May 18, 2010, is the latest addition to LMP’s venues.
The Institut des Cultures d’Islam (ICI), opened by the City of Paris in 2006, sits just across the street from the Olympic Café, in what was once a nursery school on the rue Léon. Though located in a temporary home, it is actively engaged in sponsoring and otherwise promoting cultural events that feature various aspects of Islamic culture, including the fifth edition of an event called Les Veillées du Ramadan: Islam(s) de l’Europe (September 2–12, 2010). Look for the institute to move to its new quarters—two purpose-built, distinct sites at 55, rue Polonceau, and 56, rue Stephenson—at the end of 2012.
Monique Y. Wells is cofounder of Discover Paris!—Personalized Itineraries for Independent Travelers and a freelance writer and editor. She is the author of two books, numerous articles about Paris and the Entrée to Black Paris™ blog.
INFO (All venues listed below are in the 18th Arrondissement)
Le Contoir Africain
20, rue Léon. 01 42 23 74 92.
L’Institut des Cultures d’Islam
19–23, rue Léon. 01 53 09 99 80.
46, rue des Poissonniers. 01 42 54 97 11.
7, rue des Poissonniers. 01 42 51 24 94.
Point C Paris
41, rue des Poissonniers. 09 54 26 27 54.
Poissonnerie les Embruns
6, rue Dejean. 01 42 62 47 34.