Crêpe Expectations

How many French folk does it take to change a lightbulb? Well that question is completely irrelevant on February 2nd as any request for handy help will fall on deaf ears as the whole country will be far too busy eating crêpes.

Kim crepe 1Ah, those delicious golden discs of batter that require such deftness with a frying pan, and untold patience given that most of us only have one with which to manufacture an appropriate stack. Don’t the French eat them between every meal? Aren’t they the warming cold weather vehicle for Nutella in a carbohydrate yin-yang partnership with the fair weather baguette?

Not quite… Crêpes are indeed nestled within the gastronomic heart of France, wafting their goodness via many a batter-toting kiosk, though not something that is considered a daily treat. Once in a while, for sure, but it’s not like the French give a toss even weekly. But that doesn’t mean we’re not allowed to hold a party for our circular, pan-dwelling friends. If food is to be championed, then this is the country in which to champion it in.

Kim crepe 3Exactly 40 days after Christmas on 2nd February is when over here we celebrate La Chandeleur(Candlemas for the non-French speakers), when we do just that. It’s the one day of the year where crêpes are held aloft and idolised, though they can’t claim to be the belle of the ball as there’s a hell of a lot of traditional legend and religious symbolism tied up on the same date in the calendar.

Depending on which religion you subscribe to, the 2nd February is the day to celebrate the presentation of Christ at the temple, the feast of the purification of the Virgin, or the blessing of the church’s beeswax candles. Non-religious traditions dictate that in France, the UK and the USA the weather on 2nd February predicts the forecast for the rest of the year, in Scotland a big snake will appear from the ground (which promises not to ‘molest’ anyone), and if you’re a sailor, it’s a day to give a jaunt on the ship a miss.

Kim crepe 5In France, the ‘crêpe party’ element (as my friend Arthur likes to call it) means that superstition is expressed through the medium of food, i.e. the lowly pancake. It’s not about using up ingredients in time for Lent which underlies the Anglo tradition of Shrove Tuesday (this year 13th February), but more a celebration of light, and the transition between the last dark days of a cold and sombre winter and the fledgling days of the approaching spring. The crêpe is supposed to reflect the image of the round, golden disc of the sun.

As well as making sure your wrist action is on form to indulge in the obligatory tossing, tradition also states that the first pancake out of the rank needs to be folded up and placed in the wardrobe to encourage a plentiful and abundant harvest for the coming year. It sounds to me like that’s just a recipe for attracting an abundance of the neighbourhood mice, but hey, maybe enticing them from the fields and into the home is the whole point.

Kim crepe 6Let’s assume you’re a sensible, rational being and you’ve opted for crêpe worship above any other 2nd February signification. The only choice now is what to fill your spoils with. Banana and Nutella, classic sugar and lemon, or a sinful mountain of cheese and ham? Today I opted for (in practice for the big day) a savoury oven baked roll up of crêpes (made with beerinstead of milk) filled with veg and a goat’s cheese sauce topped with parmesan, followed by a sweet duo of blueberry and honey, and good ol’ lemon and sugar. Now I can’t move (lucky for you my fingers still can).

This Friday residents of France can follow my stunning example, those in a country where pancakes are fashionably late will have to hop on the spot until it’s your turn later on in the month. Just look into the light whilst you’re at it.

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Last Tree Standing #4: Needles and Pins…

Bonne Année loyal readers! And I must emphasise the ‘loyal’ as I’ve disgracefully left you hanging for the last couple of months. All I can say is that Christmas preparations dug their claws deep in to the old timecard, and a festive period of technological abstinence has kept me firmly off the radar. But here I am to greet you for the first time in 2018 with sharpened intentions and a blog schedule ready and waiting to sail us through the next year.

So with the plan thoroughly in hand, let’s start where is fitting for this time of year, with the sport of dead Christmas tree spotting. Longtime readers will know the drill, but for those new to this curious pastime, all is explained in the original post below (first published December 6th 2015). This year we made it to July, though my dear sister spotted an abandoned fir at the start of December in the UK, but lack of camera and a two-year-old in a pushchair made gathering evidence impossible. But still, something to aim for. Happy spotting one and all! (Entries can be submitted on the Last Tree Standing Facebook page if you’re taking part!)

Oh, Christmas tree. Oh…. Christmas tree???

When you live in a place for nearly seven years, you get to notice the odd local quirk or two. Spend an hour or so in the company of fellow ex-pats, and you’ll become exposed to even more. And it was just on an afternoon such as this in early 2015, that the legend of the Parisian Christmas tree was born. Pull up a pew, wrap yourself in a warm Christmas jumper, and I shall begin.

April...

Like every major city, Paris goes nuts as early as possible for our piny, decorative friends, erecting huge specimens dancing with lights in spitting distance of every plug socket the city can proffer. From the behemoth at Hotel de Ville, the upside-down wonder inside Galleries Lafayette, to the tiny sparkler currently nestled in the Granny Flat, all shapes and sizes are seen throughout the streets ushering in the joy of the festive period.

But it’s easy to love something that’s bright and shiny, adorned in the jolly colours of the season, lighting our chilly paths home. But to love a thing when it’s way, waaaaayyyy past its best, when the chocolates have long been stripped from it and a greater percentage of pine needles cling to the carpet rather than the branches, now there’s a story of love enduring through the toughest of times. Jesus’ struggles don’t even come into it.

Kim Last Tree 1

This seems to be the backdrop in which the love affair of the Parisian and their Christmas tree takes place. “Isn’t is weird??” I shared, puzzled, last January to ex-pat friends Iain and Laura, “how Parisians seem to have trouble letting go of their seasonal firs?”. The question begged to be asked as I had noted many a withered, abandoned tree being tossed out onto the street uncomfortably long after the Jan 6th deadline. And where I’m from, tradition quite strictly dictates that no pine tree will grace the indoors after this date, on pain of a crappy year.

They concurred, and #LastTreeStanding was born, a competition to spot an abandoned tree on the streets of Paris at the latest possible date in the year, photographic evidence capturing the proof. January, February and March were almost too easy. Spring arrived. We slipped with ease into April, and the stakes got higher as we moved into May. There were always pickings to be found, and not just trees either, various other Christmas paraphernalia popped up for the rubbish men ALL THE TIME, including an advent calendar finally discarded in mid-May (it didn’t count, but kudos nonetheless for sheer self control).

June....

June saw an amazing flood of sightings, and by the beginning of July, we’d gone international as entries from London arrived. In the midst of that furnace of French summer this year, we expected the competition to gracefully and appropriately die, though a couple of submissions outside the rules (artificial trees and repeat sightings were deemed not to count), told us not to foolishly assume it all was over.

AUGUST 24TH..... #LastTreeStanding....

So now, as we’ve stepped into December, we can call the competition off once and for all (for 2015 at least), and I’m happy to announce that my sighting of a sorry brown tree on a balcony in Vincennes on August 24th, takes the prize-winning mince pie. AUGUST 24TH! Is there anyone out there who can explain this curious Parisian phenomenon? And remember, these are only the trees we did see. Maybe October hid some samples from view. Mind. Blown.

So we’ll kick off proceedings again next year, and I hope you can all join us. But for now, practise loosening up the pipes for in month’s time after all the festive fun has died down, there’s only one song we need to sing… “Let it go, let it go!” Who said Frozen was only for kids???

Autumn leaves… or does it?

Living in France, we do get used to erring on the side of tardiness when it comes to appointments and suchlike (though it does allow time to squeeze in a bonus apéro as an alternative to watch tapping if you’re waiting on a friend on a café terrasse somewhere, silver lining and all that). But the weather? Never have I before seen the summer be quite so fashionably late as it was this year, finally gracing us with his* presence in mid-October just as we’d begrudgingly stuffed our summer garb into the back of the wardrobe and liberated the winter woollens.

Though it may point to worrying variations ahead in our global climate, we did as we all do when the sun appears in an unexpected encore, and without a care for the world weather crisis, re-donned our flip-flops and raced to the nearest patch of grass in the hope of achieving a hallowed autumn tan. But which parcel of green in particular? is always the burning question on fairer days, though one I didn’t have to ask as I was passing Parc Monceau last week on my way to scope out a location for a future blog post (this isn’t just thrown together at the last minute you know…).

Nestled at the very top of the 17th and the very bottom of the 8th arrondissement, you’d be hard pressed to find much else in the immediate area to do, and I must admit I only found myself here on the way to somewhere else, and popped in to use that rarest of facilities – free toilets – housed in the entrance’s imposing rotunda. But having not visited it for a while, I couldn’t resist a turn around the lawns, and dutifully washed my hands and started on my loop.

Now this time of the year most of the green grass in Paris is ‘turned off’ and put into rest mode so it can regenerate into a lush carpet ready for next year’s picnic season, so rolling around on Monceau’s gently undulating slopes just wasn’t an option. But you know, parks simply weren’t design just for collective lounging on warm sunny days, and this one more than most demands you stroll around its confines, trying to spot the myriad features installed for the pleasure of the visiting public, that honestly put the humble picnic quite to shame. So many there are, the city should really think of inventing some kind of Monceau bingo.

Originally completed in 1779, it was the idea of Phillipe d’Orléans, cousin of King Louis XVI and close friend of future English king George IV. Not surprisingly given his close ties to the neighbours across the channel, Phillipe was a lover of all things English, and wanted to fill his public park with architectural follies, or reconstructions of historical and world buildings, typical of English gardens at the time (before Vegas went crazy with the idea a few centuries later). So look hard enough and you’ll find an Egyptian pyramid, a Roman colonnade, a Chinese fort and a Dutch windmill nestled in the landscape, not to mention statues of French luminaries like Maupassant and Chopin, added later in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The level of art was so impressive, even Monet popped down a few times a century after the park’s inception, producing five paintings of it in total.

These days, quiet artistic reflection has given way to almost frenzied athletic activity, though feel free to take a moment to reflect on the property prices of the buildings overlooking the park’s 8.2 acres (clue: win-big-in-Vegas prices). If you’re a visitor here today, chances are jogging is on the agenda, and during daylight hours there is a constant stream of lycra-clad pavement pounders doing the rounds, not to mention the grunt of a thousand sit-ups and lunges echoing through the air. So eager is the fitness spirit here, I spied a guys selling protein powder at the entrance. No kidding. Those with younger models looking to shed excess energy, a carousel and tandem swings will effortlessly get the job done.

Maybe jogging isn’t your thing, though admittedly a better choice than the chosen active pursuit of 1797 – the world’s first silk parachute jump that landed in the history books right in the park’s grounds. Perhaps a turn or two doesn’t look too bad in comparison, though we’ll let the weather decide our level of exertion for now. Where did I put that umbrella?

Click here for more info on times and location.

* summer is masculine in French as are the rest of the seasons, try and work that logic out…

Innocents pleasures

Hi there stranger! A whole season has passed since we’ve seen each other, as life has been busy at the Granny Flat of late. I have a few other irons in the fire (one day I’ll let you in on it…) that have selfishly stolen my attention and left you post-less, but hopefully you’ve overcome the drought by reminiscing through old Paris Small Capital bounty. Yep, I thought so.

So we’ve said goodbye to summer and are waist-deep in la rentrée, that autumnal trudge back to work, studies and reality, kept afloat by distant dreams of the next holiday in the sun. With that return to normality, those pesky stress levels like to head skywards and will stay annoying buoyant until we can finally relax, sherry in hand over the Christmas holidays – for most the next sizeable chunk of relaxation showing on the yearly calendar.

Until then I’m sure to find myself pining for regular half an hour sessions sat beside a trickling mountain stream, to gather my thoughts and get the zen levels up to normal again. Alas, in Paris the only tinkling water streams around come from the Wallace fountains, and that’s not really what I had in mind. No, a more majestic water stream is what I need, and the Renaissance-style Fontaine des Innocents in central Châtelet never disappoints.

Not just the one of the biggest public fountains around, it’s also the oldest, being completed in 1550, and was originally part of a collection of decorative constructions intended to commemorate Henry II ‘s entrance into Paris in 1549 (this was in an age before balloons and ticker tape, obviously). Architect Pierre Lescot was the chap responsible, chosen undoubtedly thanks to his work as chief architect of the Louvre Palace.

Now we generally assume fountains to be fairly static affairs, hardly a natural piece of municipal furniture to keep moving about like an occasional table. But this stone beast has travelled more than most, currently occupying its third home, not to mention second name, having been called originally the Fontaine des Nymphs. Take a second just to wonder how on earth they managed to transport the thing using only a rickety horse and cart…

Thanks to the grizzly history of the area it was originally constructed in, the fountain found a new home in 1787 after the adjacent Cimetière des Saints-Innocents was dug up for sanitation purposes and its ‘inhabitants’ were transported to the Catacombs (expertly recounted in Andrew Miller’s novel Pure). Moving just round the corner to the central square of the former Marché des Innocents (having valiantly fought off plans for its destruction), it moved again in 1858 to its current spot, where it happily trickles away, hoping never to be moved again.

So grab a croissant or a hunk of cheese and bread, and settle yourself in the shadow of its grandeur, and contemplate away. Maybe you’ll ponder the logistical nightmare of its travels, hypnotise yourself watching its gentle flow, or perhaps curse my sending you there to find that they’ve only gone and turned the water off (aside from in winter, naturally). Nope, I have no idea either. Answers on a postcard…

 

 

Modern life is rubbish

Lately I’ve been down in the dumps. Or it’s probably more accurate to say just in the dumps, full stop, as most of the time it feels like I am living in an actual rubbish dump. Capital cities tend not to be a country’s cleanest place, and Paris boosts that stereotype as if rubbish will soon be going out of fashion. The Japanese reportedly find the city off-puttingly filthy, and one council minister pointed towards the endless crud on the streets as the major factor in Paris’ failure to secure the 2012 Olympics. With the bid for the 2024 games in full swing, it’s astounding to see that not much has changed.

Personally, sometimes the prospect of wading through a tide of trash is seriously enough to keep me from going outside. If I do manage to pluck up the courage and venture out, I know within just a few metres I’ll be greeted with an abandoned pile of furniture, an old mattress, or a sorry mound of discarded clothes (the photos illustrate a daily reality). It’s not just a few empty crisp packets or plastic bottles that have been carelessly tossed aside left languishing in the gutter, oh no. That’s the least of our problems. I kid you not, pretty much every time I go for a wander I’ll see a dumped toilet or bathroom sink (sometimes even several) left for someone else to deal with, and that’s without even leaving the 18th. And don’t get me started on half-empty tins of paint left for dead, I could gather enough in a couple of months to paint the inside of the Louvre. I really should think of inventing some kind of waste item bingo.

Maybe it’s not as bad as all that you might think, and thankfully it isn’t all doom and gloom. The parts the tourists see tend to be kept relatively litter-free compared to neighbourhood backwaters (hang on a minute, that’s not fair!), and current spending on keeping Paris looking sharp totals €500 million. So far this year more than 34,000 fines have been handed out to offenders of filth, and with green leaner Anne Hidalgo occupying the Paris mayor chair, efforts have been notably stepped up.

For those who have cleanliness in mind, the city offers every possible service available to help residents dispose of their rubbish properly and responsibly. If you’re a visitor and have ever wondered just how this whole waste management thing works in France’s capital (c’mon, who hasn’t?!), here goes. Residential bins come in three colours; green for general waste, yellow for recycling paper, tins and (certain) plastics, and white for glass. Anything too big for the bins can be left on the streets and the council contacted to come and collect it. We tend to not have cars here you see, so getting down to the dump with that old wardrobe is kind of tricky left to our own devices…

Then you have the urban saviours, dressed in yellow and green, wheely bin and broom in hand, sweeping the pavements and shimmying the rubbish into the gutter via a stream of water that comes from the Seine (so it’s not wasted water, don’t fret!), and carries it away to be appropriately disposed of. Then you have a whole host of receptacles placed on street corners and the like ready to swallow your recyclable rubbish and old clothes. When you think about it, there’s no excuse NOT to be clean, save for laziness and general apathy, apparently in abundant supply in my patch anyhow.

Now you may be wondering if there’s a point to all of this ranting. Well, I wish there was a solution I could offer (save for PUT THINGS IN THE BIN!), but really I’d just like to offer an apology on behalf of the city of Paris for those visiting who find a less than immaculate reception. The council is doing its upmost to solve the problem, so don’t be hating on them. I guess my exasperation has just tipped over to prompt me to write this post (and I’ve always endeavoured to try and show you the real Paris as much as possible, good AND bad), and to remind everyone, visitors and residents alike (not that I really need to however) to keep it clean guys, keep it clean. PLEASE.

Give fleas a chance

I’ve been musing a lot lately about stuff. No, not stuff stuff, things stuff; that collection of material goods we accumulate (and eventually begin to choke ourselves with) as we meander through life. Here in our minuscule Parisian lodgings we have the advantage of not having the space for a whole load of material baggage (click here to discover more advantages of living in a chic match box), though when we do have the urge to shop, we do live in one of the best cities in the world to do it in.

Sure we have all the chains and the big names, chic arcades and sprawling malls – hell even the larger train stations in Paris are being turned into soulless shopping centres designed to lure in those sensible enough to have allowed themselves ample time to catch their trains. That’s not really what gets my carte bancaire sweating though, and I’m lucky enough to live less than a ten-minute walk away from one of largest flea markets in the world, where vintage chic melds with the beautifully bizarre and getting a real bargain beats battling around the rat run in Ikea into flat-pack submission.

If you’re heading up this way, eschew line 4 and the Porte de Clignancourt exit where cheap trainers and pleather handbags clog the lanes, and instead brave line 13 and get off at Garibaldi near the northern end of the main street Rue des Rosiers, meaning you’ll more easily get to good stuff and avoid all the tat (unless you really can’t do without some new incense sticks and a Bob Marley flag). Then all you have to do is keep an eye on your twitching credit card and decide which particular classic delight(s) your life and home are missing.

Rather than one big sprawl, the area is divided into lots of smaller markets (15 and counting), all specialising in slightly different things, though there’s furniture up the wazoo at every turn and if you have the time for a more comprehensive wander, it’s worth having a rifle through as many as you can (or bank balance will allow). See the photos for just a tiny taste of some of the gems I found on my way around. Needless to say I didn’t have a bag big enough to take a vintage pinball machine home, no matter how short the distance back to Granny Flat.

For those without a white van man on hand for larger purchases, there are plenty of smaller items to dig through from vintage postcards and knick knacks, to jewellery and classic toys. Remember though that actually digging may lead to some exasperated stall owners – ask before touching (‘je peux?’) and lead with your eyes; handling things is taken in some cases as a precursor to a sale. As with all flea markets, bartering is a useful skill, though you’ll have way more success if you bring cash (some stalls don’t take cards at all) and have a go at sealing the deal in French.

If you’re a visitor rather than a native and plan on organising your trip around a visit here, just be aware that the markets are only open at weekends and on Mondays, and you’d do well to try and avoid peak times if you want to snag the best bargains. Bad weather Mondays are treasure-searching gold.

Whatever your shopping motivation, for weary feet and spirits there are some weird and wonderful cafés dotted around, including some amazingly traditional French gems (remember the stall owners need to eat too!). And even if you haven’t been so lucky as to find that 19th century chandelier at the right price, keep your eyes peeled as you might just be lucky enough to catch a glimpse of the local firefighters jogging around the area in their tiny, tight red shorts as they most regularly do. Sadly, no touching allowed, and models not for sale…

Click here to explore the various markets and offerings to plan your visit (available in English).

A right royal sunbathe

It’s that time of year folks – dust off the picnic blanket, grease yourself up in factor 15 and hit the park for a sizzling session or two of self-browning. Paris offers parks a-plenty for the purpose, though those with a more refined sense of outside fun in mind, might want to head to one of the city’s sculpted gardens.

Well hold your cool box right there sun-seeker, Paris hasn’t made this outdoor bronzing business quite as easy as we’d all hope, and actually not every green spot in town is open to receive a tartan blanket or ten. Think you can lounge uninterrupted on the grassy knoll in front of Sacre Coeur? Nope. You’ll get whistled at by killjoy guards before you’ve even settled in. The Jardin de Luxembourg might equally seem like a nice spot, but in fact amongst all that lush lawn, there’s only a tiny parcel that you (and a thousand other sun worshipers) are allowed to sit on. And each time I’ve been, it’s been in the shade.

If you want to keep your foray into the great green relatively central, then there’s only one real option where the grass is fair game, and the surroundings couldn’t be classier – the Place des Vosges, a geometrically perfect square straddling the 3rd and 4th arrondissements. If Louis XIV (aka ‘The Sun King’) had ever decided to take his title literally and mingle with the masses in a sunbathing sesh, then this is surely where he’d have done it.

Originally christened Place Royale (see, told you it was classy), it was the work of Henri IV (or at least his building crew) and was inaugurated in 1612, remaining to this day the oldest planned square in the city. It’s also one of the most elegant, and the prototype for many square places dotted around Europe, and single-handedly responsible for making the Marais one of the wellest-to-do parts of Paris. If it’s typically classically decadent Parisian architecture you want, here’s where to find it in geometric perfectness.

For your lounging pleasure there are ample patches of lawn to spread your picnic on, or plenty of shade under the rows of clipped linden trees if the french sun begins to bite. Play spot the jogger skirting the edges, let the kids battle it out in the sand pit or simply lay back and let the regal fountains trickle you into a reverie. Mostly though, just let your mind wander amongst the lucky residents enjoying such an address and try to come up with ways to make enough money to follow them (you’ll need to budget for upwards of €18,000 per m2 FYI). Tax avoidance to fund your dreams may not be in the spirit of the location however, given that the square was named after the people of Vosges in 1799, the first department in the country to pay their taxes to fund the revolution.

For a sneak peek inside before you get home to count the coppers in your piggy bank, head to the south east side of the square to have a wander through Victor Hugo’s house, where he lived from 1832-1848, just after the publication of The Hunchback of Notre Dame. See if you can get an idea of the creative magic that lived here too – it was here where the seeds of Les Misérables were sown and the fledgling work began to take shape (finished eventually in 1862). Writing a bestseller might be the only chance you’ll ever have of living here after all…

 

 

 

Creative Grace

If you were one of Paris’ 20 arrondissements, which one would you be? The wealthy 8th, the shopaholic 1st? Maybe the hipster 11th is more your bag? Whichever one you think suits you best, I’ll bet my morning croissant that you didn’t pick the 19th – that largely forgotten north-east corner of the city that many a tourist fails to include in their holiday itinerary. Even Parisian residents have been immune to its charms over the years, and honestly who would blame them given the area’s history as the slaughterhouse centre of the city?

But tourist or local, anyone who’s anyone has woken up to the 19th’s awesomely shabby creative chic, and the fact that it has a personality that other quartiers should start to be very, very jealous of. I’ll be taking you round the many of its enchantments in months to come, but for now I want to introduce you to an achingly cool contemporary art space that would turn even the hippest corners of London pea-green with envy.

Jump on the metro if you must, but head east from Marx Dormoy along Rue Riquet to the corner of Rue d’Aubervilliers on foot, and you’ll be given a stunning glimpse into the creativity that’s at work in this part of Paris, when you hit surely one of the best graffiti walls the city has to offer (ancient blog post on exactly that here). It extends all the way up Rue d’Aubervilliers if you have time for a stroll to check it out, if not, head straight for the building on the right, an imposing modern art space offering sanctuary and inspiration, whatever your creative persuasions.

Completed in 2008, this multifaceted cultural centre is a hotbed of local talent, and invites artists of all disciplines to make use of the space to hone their craft, allowing members of the public to see their ingenuity in action. Whether a visual artist, a street performer or urban dance addict, there’s enough room for all to convene in perfect harmony (just watch out for flying juggler’s batons or hula hoops if you’re weaving in between the assembled crowds). Indulging in this creativity-in-progress is happily free to all, whether you’re an observer or an eager participant.

In addition to art in real time, there are also permanent and temporary exhibitions, film screenings, live theatre, dance and music performances (ticket prices vary), and an ever-changing programme of activities open to all from artistic workshops for children in the aptly named ‘Littlie’s House’, to free Qi gong (a close cousin to Tai chi) sessions at the weekends. Those with a more literary leaning will find a free book exchange shed in between to two main halls.

Folk led by their stomachs will find their more basic appetites well catered for with a selection of places to eat, including the main Grand Central Restaurant, hidden café and pizza truck for a fly-by feed. There’s even a nod to our commercial impulses with a book shop and a branch of second-hand wonder chain Emmaüs (see here for my own glowing tribute to my favourite shops in Paris). And the gritty past of the area hasn’t been forgotten either – the site may not have been one of the numerous abattoirs dotted around a century ago, but the two halls used to house the city’s municipal undertakers, processing 150 funerals a day. Maybe the creative ‘spirit’ of days gone past still resides here, I’ll let you be the judge.

Le CENT-QUATRE Paris, 5 Rue Curial (second entrance on Rue d’Aubervilliers), 75019

All the info you need is here (French and English)

Square Roots

kim-hdv-4Think of modern day politics and you’d be forgiven for thinking the end of the world is fast approaching. We have an orange cartoon villain as the leader of the free world, and concentrating on French soil, the name ‘Le Pen’ is looming uncomfortably large in a reality we hoped we’d never see. Can’t we go back to the Golden Age of politics when everything was just and fair, and made a whole lot more sense?

Yep, I don’t really know when that was either. To try and make myself (and you guys, obviously) feel a little better at the state of the world, I thought I’d take a peek back into French politics through the ages, and perhaps see how good we have it nowadays in comparison, harping back to the days when losing your (actual) head was the punishment for stepping out of line, rather then being roasted on CNN or having your Twitter account suspended. Compared to times gone past, believe it or not, this appears to be that golden age.

kim-hdv-1Now there’s no need to bore ourselves to tears trawling through the intricacies of the French political system (I like my soul and intend on keeping it), but instead let’s take a trip to one of Paris’ most important landmarks when it comes to governmental matters, albeit these days on a more administrative tip – le Hôtel de Ville. When I think of some of the concrete monstrosities that house those pesky paper pushers in the UK, well this beauty puts all of them to shame in quite damning fashion. I can’t imagine heading to a city’s council offices in absence of official business to lure me there, but Paris’ Hôtel de Ville is such a beautiful sight to behold in itself, that I’d quite happily cross the city on a rainy day just to stand outside and ogle at it.

kim-hdv-3But such architectural allure and elegance in fact hides quite a littered and lively past, or at least the square or ‘place’ in front of it does, having played host to events that have shaped modern day Paris since it was first know as ‘Place de Grève’ and used as a gathering spot way back in the 12th century. The word ‘grève’ refers to the gravel or sand that first defined the shorefront location, but also came to later mean ‘strike’ since it became known as a spot for unemployed people to complain en masse about their search for work, coining the expression ‘être en grève’ (to go on strike), now so fiercely engrained in the French psyche.

If we’re talking about gallic stereotypes, then nothing says French history like the bloody story of the guillotine. Well you won’t find a real one here, but stand in front of the Hôtel de Ville and you’ll be standing on the spot where the very first executions by guillotine took place, the bloodiest place in the city for a mere four months until the scaffold was moved elsewhere (more of that another time). Hardly a stranger to death though, the Place de Grève had been the official execution spot for at least 500 years before using various other medieval methods like the gallows or pillory. If walls could talk, eh?

kim-hdv-5Well, luckily enough these days, they kinda can. Not as in the narrators of grizzly legends gone by, but as modern beacons of hope, continually and silently reminding us that there is light at the end of the tunnel via the city’s motto ‘fluctuat nec mergitur‘, found on numerous municipal coats of arms adorning the sides of the building. Luckier still, you won’t find the bloodshed of ancient justice here these days, rather a charming carousel a world away from the horrors of old. It’s also the spot for many a special event, and ubiquitous protest of course, keeping the old rebel spirit alive.

For those heading inside, there’s always an exhibition or two worth a browse around (normally free), and my condolences if you’ve found yourself here (to attempt) to get some actual paperwork done. Whatever your motive, you’re doing the city a great disservice if you don’t take a couple of minutes outside to give a nod to its colourful political past.

Visit the official website here.

Rose and shine

kim-rose-4It’s on my friends. Forget conquering Williams and centuries of bloodshed on the battlefields, when it comes to epic contests between France and England, we only have to look towards this month’s rugby six nations championship to really sort the men out from the boys. Sport not your thing, huh? Odd. But no need to worry, there’s a much less bloody battle that takes every day for us Brits living amongst the French, on the level of our most basic sustenance. When it comes to breakfast, it’s time to pick your side.

kim-rose-6Whether you’re just a visitor to France, or have decided to take the leap to secure something more permanent, we’ve all dreamt of those lazy breakfasts on a French café terrace taking our time over a croissant and a café au lait. During a short break, it doesn’t get old and for a week you don’t tire of putting away as many pains au chocolat as your conscience can handle. But live here for a while and that little marmite-coated voice starts to become more and more persistent.

kim-rose-1But here’s the rub; living in France’s capital, it becomes quite a cloak-and-dagger affair favouring the British breakfast fayre when every bakery on every corner screams ‘pastries!’ as loud as their buttery-crumbed cries can muster. But sometimes, just once in a while, that croissant-filled utopia just doesn’t appeal and the thought of dipping things into a big bowl of coffee for a moment seems like a crazy way to combine liquid and carbohydrate breakfast pleasure. Sometimes all that will suffice is a steaming hot bowl of porridge. Thankfully I’ve found British breakfast heaven over here meaning that I can enjoy that hallowed Sunday brunch experience without wistfully wishing the pastry on my plate was a thick slab of marmite-slicked doorstep white instead.

kim-rose-2Rose Bakery can be found on one of my favourite streets in Paris, rue des Martyrs, snaking up towards the 18th arondissement not far from Sacre Coeur. At the weekends breakfast can be a very busy affair (so arrive early, they don’t take bookings) but you’ll be treated to a menu of Anglicised petit dejeuner classics including muesli, scrambled eggs and delightful eggs benedict. It’s also a chance to try and introduce your Francophile mates to the strange world of marmite (the French name should work in your favour) – watching their faces contort in disgusted delight is quite the Sunday morning pick-me-up.

kim-rose-5You can also choose from more lunch-y options from the homemade salads and savouries on offer, or if breakfast is something for you that other folk do, head over in the afternoon for a slice of cake (sold by weight) and a cuppa proper tea. Just like a proper breakfast of boiled eggs and soldiers, if you want to get afternoon tea right, us Brits have the upper hand when it comes to cake, and Rose (named after the British owner, er, Rose) makes sure the French don’t forget it.

Those who don’t have the time for a queue-up sit-down affair, you’ll find plenty of goodies on offer to recreate the authentic British bakery experience at home, on offer in their swanky new takeaway bit. This blog has been bought to you fuelled by their frankly incredible carrot cake (not cheap, but sooo good), I’ll leave it up to you to decide if it’s been worth it…

Rose Bakery, 46 Rue des Martyrs, 75009, open 7/7