Excelsior 10 février 1924


THE PASSAGE DE LA MADELEINE HAS SOME HARLEQUIN MERCHANT SHOPS
Sandwich men are its best customers.
The Passage de la Madeleine market offers a melancholic appearance early in the morning. This is because, not far from the vegetable, fruit and butcher's stalls, is the harlequin sellers' area.
There are three of them, gathered in an alley where their stall is next to the second-hand shop and that of the custom tailor “for ladies and gentlemen”. Singular boutiques, which give this corner of Paris the appearance of those London streets dear to Dickens. Perched on high stools, needles in their fingers, we see, pale under coldly buttoned clothes, pitiful apprentice little sisters unknown to David Copperfield.
From 9 a.m., poor people come, timidly, to acquire the remains of the meals served the day before. The divers sell these leftover food to the sellers, who share a clientele of regulars. They constitute, according to tradition, their “grate”, their additional benefit. And we can sometimes reconstruct, following the small piles placed on the plates and poured, after acquisition, into a piece of newspaper, what was the fine or copious menu piece of turbot green sauce, chicken skin Russian salad of the serious customer .
Despite everything, business is not otherwise brilliant. At least that’s what one of the merchants interviewed told me.
Beautiful leftovers
Before the war, much more was sold and, naturally, cheaper; for a penny, we had a dish. However, our prices are becoming affordable. The portion sells for three to twenty-five cents. For three cents we only get, of course, vegetables, leftover stew, stew potatoes, etc. Meat is necessarily more expensive: there's no point in insisting if you can't get within ten cents. Obviously, when the buyers are housewives and there are kids, we have family prices. We know what poverty is; we see enough of it. But most of our customers are these poor guys who carry signs, “sandwiches”, you know? These people don't earn much, they always seem frozen and, deep down, they really get bored of eating cold food. So, sometimes, we, without saying anything, before wrapping it, we heat their part. Only, you see, it's a complacency - they shouldn't get used to it if we do it, it's because we want to.
Do you buy everything mixed?
No not all; and then, as soon as we arrive, we sort the meat on one side, the fish on the other, and the vegetables separately, very neatly. We can't get angry with everyone, but we must admit that there are divers who are more or less careful.
An old man approaches, hesitates, sniffs for a long time at a plate of Brussels sprouts. - Four cents for you.
Another with a weary gesture puts down the sign he is carrying on behalf of an extra-lucid lady and chooses, after reflection, a portion of abatis. - Fifty cents.
As she gives change, the shopkeeper continues:
In the past, servants of large houses and bourgeois cooks sold us very suitable reliefs. This is hardly possible anymore; everywhere we restrict ourselves, you understand? The world is eating less.
She sighs and adds as if to herself:
Or, rather, it's no longer the same people who eat a lot.
Huguette GARNIER.

harlequins sellers, relief of dishes