Sweet Change

The lemon tart...

I was 19, so sex wasn’t really a taboo issue, but still, exiting the Pigalle metro station and stumbling upon the Sexodrome and its neighboring sex shops was not something I was ready to experience.  My French textbooks never talked about Paris’s red-light district.

It was my sophomore year abroad and my school had found me an apartment – no small feat, I would later learn, working at the same school two years later.  I was headed to meet my landlords on the supposedly chic rue des Martyrs.  I wasn’t sure if in French chic meant transsexual porn and leather whips.  Maybe a nuance was lost in translation. 

I found my way through the neon lights and advertisements for poppers and other erotic paraphernalia that my innocent young self did not yet understand.  Finally stumbling down rue des Martyrs (thinking that sex shops and allusions to death were, ultimately, good bedmates) I arrived and met the landlord for our first encounter. 

They were a lovely Portuguese couple and, to this day, all I really remember was that you have to take the duvet cover off if you want to wash it.  The wife was very insistent on this point, and to this day, I’m still afraid to wash my duvet cover.  Other than that, my semester was a blur, but a takeaway sentiment was that I was very happy, if not spoiled, to be living on that street.

A hot chocolate at Kooka Boora...
Weekends were filled with accordion players peddling their music up and down the hill as market vendors sold their fruits and seafood.  The bakeries served up some of Paris’s best bread and the view of the domed Sacre Coeur on my way up to the metro each day was nothing short of breathtaking.  Sure, I had to walk by a few sex shops and get solicited for various experiences on the way to Monoprix, across from the twirling nights of the Moulin Rouge, but it was just another shade of color on my experience.

Rarely do I head back to the rue des Martyrs, but recently on a walk for some coffee with a canine friend and her owner, we stopped by Kooka Boora at the top of the street.  While waiting to order, a woman asked if a box I was holding was filled with pastries from the new bakery down the street, Sebastien Gaudard.  It wasn’t, and I wanted to call her out on being nosy, but she continued on a rant about the best lemon tart in the whole city made by the hands of Monsieur Gaudard.

Clearly curious, some days later I took some new friends to the bakery to try it out, and upon meandering up and down the street, I realized how much had changed.  New shops and trendy boutiques had popped up, book-ended by Kooka Boora and Sebastian Gaudard’s bakery.  I hardly recognized my old haunt.  The view up the hill of a gleamingly white Sacre Coeur was the only thing I really recognized.

In the end, it’s probably better that Mister Gaudard’s bakery wasn’t open when I lived there.  The lemon tart was fantastic and I could have eaten ten of them in one sitting.  Next time I head back to rue des Martyrs, I won’t be quite so nostalgic for that study abroad experience because change, especially sweet and sour with a perfect crust, can be good. 

And besides, the tranny porn and whips are still there, so I’m covered.