If America still had small towns, they might resemble Bry-sur-Marne.
A shop-lined main street. Neighbors who stop to chat on their way to the biweekly farmer’s market. A mayor who is also a veterinarian. Bakeries, butcher shops, restaurants and, of course, a store that specializes in cheese.
It’s shield proclaims: Moult Vieil que Paris (Much older than Paris !)
And it’s true: 35,000 years of human presence at this bend in the river, now a modest town of 16,000 , dwarfed by its larger neighbors, Champigny and Noisy le Grand on the east bank, and Nogent and Le Perreux on the west.
After repeated wars and fire and floods, Bry’s survival seems assured. Yet even now, in this little paradise 12 miles from Paris, larger trends threaten to sweep it away. Discounters and box stores pressure mom and pop operations; ubiquitous bank branches and real estate agencies gradually replace hardware, shoe and clothing stores.
I moved here from Paris 18 years ago, when Euro Disney set up offices in Bry while clearing Chessy’s beet fields to make way for Mickey , and I have not regretted it even for a second (except during transport strikes).
For Bry-sur-Marne has many wonders:
1 ) a 15,000 year old skeleton of what appears to be a cow;
2) the world’s only surviving diorama by the co-inventor of photography, Louis Daguerre
3) Tallyrand’s “chateau” (spectacularly burned by the invading Germans in 1871);
4) INA (The Institut National de l’Audiovisuel, where France’s tv and radio archives are stored);
5) Hervé Bazin, city councilor and author of the ur-Mommy Dearest novel, the terrifyingly great Vipère Au Poing.
6) and, of course, the Marne, with its tree-lined banks and miles of walking and bike paths.
Guinguettes would form a seventh wonder, if they still existed in any number. Sadly these riverside restaurants and dancing emporiums have mostly gone bankrupt or been replaced by eateries serving “cuisine française et asiatique”. The famous Chez Gegène still clings to life in Joinville le Pont, and offers a pleasant and unusual Sunday outing for couples who like to dress up to dance. But stylish gangsters and their girls, immortalized by the likes of Jean Gabon and Simone Signoret, must find somewhere else to plot their crimes.
For such a small town, Bry still has many decent, friendly restaurants.
My absolute favorites : the “Alexandrin” on Bry’s main street, with its tasty, honest bistro food (12 euros entrée-plat or plat-dessert); and the Dar Al Salaam, a terrific couscous restaurant not physically in Bry (it’s in Le Perreux), but one Bryards have been enjoying as their own for decades and whose food, service and decor are outstandingly agreeable or, if you prefer, agreeably outstanding.
The Marne is quiet and very pretty. Waterfowl, especially swans, abound. (I saw a dozen in one place yesterday.) Fisherman pitch their tents and fish all day. You can bike to the immense Parc de Noisiel and beyond in one direction; to Joinville, Vincennes and, (perhaps), Paris, in the other. Maybe someone fitter than me can tell me if and when they end?
In addition to the attractions already mentioned, for history buffs there is a museum, and for shoppers an Ikea.
Bry-sur-Marne can be reached by RER A (towards Eurodisney) or the A4 highway.
Laurel Zuckerman is the author of Sorbonne Confidential, a no-taboo account of France's unique competition for selecting English teachers which continues to provoke laughter, outrage and serious debate, Her second novel, Professor Collie's Barbarian Dreams, appeared in French in 2009. Laurel edits a newsletter for France-based writers at http://www.laurelzuckerman.com/paris-writer-news/. and blogs about France at : http://laurelzuckerman.typepad.fr/laurel_zuckermans_weblog/ Originally from Arizona, she has lived in France for 25 years.
I am happy to announce the launch of Eye Prefer Paris Cooking Classes. Come take an ethnic culinary journey with me and chef and caterer Charlotte Puckette, author of the bestseller The Ethnic Paris Cookbook. First we will shop at a Paris green-market for the freshest ingredients and then return to Charlotte’s professional kitchen near the Eiffel Tower to cook a three-course lunch. After, we will indulge in the delicious feast we prepared along with hand-selected wines.
Cost: 185 euros per person (about $240)
Time: 9:30AM- 2PM (approximately 4 1/2 hours)
Location: We will meet by a metro station close to the market
Class days: Wednesday, Thursday, Saturday, and Sunday
Minimum of 3 students, maximum 6 students.
Click here to sign up for the next class or for more info.
I am pleased as punch to announce the launch of Eye Prefer Paris Tours, which are 3-hour walking tours I will personally be leading. The Eye Prefer Paris Tour includes many of the places I have written about such as small museums & galleries, restaurants, cafes & food markets, secret addresses, fashion & home boutiques, parks, and much more.
I look forward to meeting you on my tours and it will be my pleasure and delight to show you my insiders Paris.
Check it out at www.eyepreferparistours.com