The suburb of Paris in which I’m staying is called Malakoff, and the specific part of Malakoff is called Vanves. It’s just south of the periphery road that circles central Paris, about 10 minutes from Montparnasse by Metro.
A while ago, I rudely called Vanves "drab," and now I’d like to make up for that piece of snarkery. I’ve taken several strolls in and around Vanves, and I like it. No, you don’t have any elegant Haussmann-style townhomes or Art Nouveau facades here, it’s solidly middle-class. But that’s perfectly fine. Parisians who wear precisely-tailored clothing, discreetly expensive cologne, and aggressively rectilinear glasses are intimidating. Especially at restaurants. The waiter puts 7 different kinds of cutlery before you, some of which look like 18th-century surgical instruments. You are confused and intimidated, but the perfectly-coiffed Frenchman next to you deploys them expertly to crack the lobster claws, extrude the escargot from its shell, or pry open the clam. You feel inadequate, and begin to understand why people burn cars here.
But then you come to Vanves, among the hairdressers, Metro drivers, flight attendants, lower-level bureaucrats and office workers, and you feel just fine. They still look good, but not aggressively good. They buy frozen pizzas, in addition to the obscure cheese and sublime baguettes. They have 1997 hairstyles. They’re wearing imitation adidas sneakers. The stores here sell wine in giant plastic tubs that looks like antifreeze containers. The people of Vanved are just plain folks. Like most French people I’ve ever met, they’re friendly and helpful.
And the neighborhood is not without its charms. Check out the buildings to the left — the chimney vents are encased with a special dark-colored brick, and snake up the side of the building like ivory in reverse. Or to the right, a French consignment shop, with its hand-painted advertisement. So Vanves is not ‘drab,’ it’s just a bustling, lively suburb. And a nice place to spend a few weeks.
Finally, I’d like to show you a picture I took today of the shop-window of a locksmith in the 6th arondissement. I’m no cultural anthropologist, but I think there’s something very French about this locksmith shop. Can you spot what it is?