I got to thinking about obstacles during a recent morning run. Jogging in Paris is always a dodge-‘em course. He who hesitates, loses. The streets are narrow and busy. I run on Sundays, which is market day in my part of town, so you can add shopping caddies full of fruit and vegetables, people with armfuls of flowers, kids on scooters and the markets themselves to the items to navigate on the footpath.
About ten minutes into my usual route, which takes me north past Père Lachaise cemetery up to Parc des Buttes-Chaumont, I realized there was a vide grenier underway around Jourdain. A vide grenier is like a car-boot sale and they’re held regularly around the city. The name means ‘attic emptying’ and generally it’s casual sellers getting rid of everything from second-hand clothes, electronics, vinyl records, furniture, toys, kitchenware, posters, books and shoes to miscellaneous junk. We’re not talking antiques here, or objects of even minor value. The brocante or antiques markets cover all that. Of course, your chances of finding an actual treasure at an actual bargain price are practically nil, unless you get in ahead of the dealers and before the beardy, bicycled armies of twee have finished their flat whites, especially in the eastern enclaves of cool. But that’s not the point. Trash or treasure is in the eye of the beholder. That said, I once picked up a Le Creuset saucepan for €20. Score.
This particular morning, it was shoulder-to-shoulder, as is usual at these things. The crush of the crowd can add a charge of adrenalin to the shopping hunt, but it also makes running impractical, uncool and impolite. I could see that the market stretched for several blocks from the top of Ménilmontant to just south of the church St Jean-Baptiste de Belleville near the Métro station. An alternative course was required.
I have learnt that sometimes the best tactic when confronted with a roadblock is evasion and that an obstacle can be an opportunity to test your ingenuity. So, I simply took another route up the hill and found myself at the summit of Parc de Belleville, which enjoys one of the best views across the city. It was a clear day, and the Eiffel Tower, Panthéon, Les Invalides (with sunlight glinting off its golden roof) and the Arc de Triomphe were all stark against the bright blue sky. Magic. I think there might be a point to be made here about obstacles and perspective. The terraces of the café/restaurant Moncoeur Belleville (formerly O’Paris) and the Le Panorama Gourmand boulangerie were both full of people sipping coffee or tapping at laptops.
After my circuit of Buttes-Chaumont, which is just donning its autumn finery, I walked back through the market, noticed some new street art and rued not having tucked a fiver into my jacket pocket for a slab of homemade carrot cake.
Life puts obstacles in our path. It just does. But each one is a challenge to see how high we can jump. Or a test of our ability to find another way around. Or simply a chance to prove that we can get through it. Even when defeat looms, there’s never any going back. The only things to do are breathe, embrace the challenge and discover what emerges on the other side, and enjoy the view.