By: Katie Petersen
Professor Elaine Sciolino seems to know everyone on the rue des Martyrs, and she has to say hello to them all.
La rue des Martyrs is Sciolino’s home turf and the subject of her 2016 book The Only Street in Paris. It also happens to be historically rich, authentically quaint, and increasingly gentrified at once.
As she leads the group of Princeton students, intensely jet-lagged but propped up by café au lait, Sciolino stops in to say bonjour to virtually every shop-owner.
That’s the rule, she explains. “Stop in for a chat even if you’re not buying; never, ever be rude,” she prescribes in The Only Street. Naturally, “this means I cannot be rushed. It can take thirty minutes to walk a few hundred feet.”
Or more than half an hour, if you’re not only catching up with a friend but also introducing a group of students to Paris. Sciolino takes the time to share with the owner of a produce stand that one of her protégés is writing about tomatoes in Paris. Without hesitation, the man grabs a knife and selects a small, lumpy, red and green tomato from a pile. He carves pieces for the whole group to try that are so sweet they taste like candy.
The tour makes another stop in a small Italian market, where a printout of Sciolino’s book cover hangs prominently as one of the shop’s claims to fame. “This is my favorite place on the rue de Martyrs, because it’s a little bit of Italy in Paris,” says Sciolino, who hails from Buffalo, lives in Paris, and is of Sicilian origin.
The owner is – no surprise – delighted to see her. “You see how it’s different than Princeton?” Sciolino asks, turning to the students. “You come in, they know your name, you say bonjour. This is the spirit that I want you to take back to Princeton…so that you come in here and you feel at home.”
That is the spirit that the street is fighting to retain. A law dictates that small shops like these that close down can only be replaced by other artisanal businesses.
That’s not to say that new businesses don’t pop up. Some, like the carefully curated olive oil shop Première Pression Provence, are more recent additions and feature a steeper price tag. “This is an example of the new artisanal rue de Martyrs,” the owner says. “There’s a lot of little shops specialized in one thing, and a trend of people looking for something real, something special.”
If they’re looking for things real and special, the only street in Paris is a good place to start.