This lovely but sad human story ran two weeks ago. I’m posting it below because it’s a story I can relate to.
It’s only in the Arab shops that you find yourself lingering and having friendly chats with the owner/manager. The North African Arabs do what the French merchants no longer do: make house deliveries, give you the lowdown on the local gossip; offer a bowl of water for a thirsty dog, a bonbon to a child. My Moroccan shopkeeper two streets over gave me a remedy for a knee flare-up once, and a bouquet of fresh mint leaves with which to make tea. The Algerian shopkeeper at the foot of my street opened a jar for me once (for me, it was impossible to open). He also held my apartment keys to give to a visiting friend while I was at work.
The keys, I normally would have given to my Moroccan concierge, Jemma, who lived and reigned over my apartment building for nearly 40 years. But she’s gone now, she retired last year, and I miss her. She always had a smile for me and we’d have long, long chats, something I don’t have with the other tenants (except for one, my neighbor next door.) And she knew the building inside out. If the furnace broke down in winter or the electricity turned off, she was on it. A few months ago the furnace conked out and no one knew what to do (it was a freezing cold Sunday.) As we sat shivering in our respective apartments, I feel certain we were all thinking the same thing: if only Jemma were here.
Whenever she came back from a visit to Marrakech, she’d bring me a small box of the most divine Moroccan pastries. My favorite was corne de gazelle, a crescent-shaped cookie made from almond paste, perfumed with orange flower water and dusted with icing sugar. Every year during Ramadan I’d take food gifts to her and her two sons and daughter: a box of plump Iranian dates. An almond cake. Lebanese pastries.
Jemma dished all the gossip, and not just the gossip in our building, but the whole street. Now that she’s no longer here, we all feel a little bereft (not to mention out of the loop), as if we were a building of orphaned tenants. These days, once the concierge retires he or she is rarely replaced. As an aside, concierges (also called le gardien) in Paris were traditionally Portuguese.
The Algerian shop at the end of my street is open until midnight. I can tell you that sometimes when I come home late at night, walking from the metro station to my apartment building in the dark, it’s reassuring to know that it is open – the lights in his shop are like a beacon.
Here’s the article. Read it and weep. Because when that Moroccan convenience store shuts down to be replaced by one of those shiny gentrified cold corporate chain stores, what will become of the small and touching human stories? What will become of us?