Balls to it

1919135_10150155245455497_553719_nSince I’ve been living in Paris, I’ve eaten countless baguettes, hoovered my body weight in croissants, said ‘bof’ a lot, and purchased a stripy t-shirt. It’s really only my pétanque skills that need polishing up, and then I’ll be a bona fide Frenchie. Handily though, I don’t need to worry anymore about the stigma of hanging out with old men with round bellies on gravelly terrain with my hat pulled down to hide my face, apparently, that old French leisure sport is the new hipster trend.

132103_491492285981_3602241_oIf you wander down the canal after work these days or cross through one of the city’s beautiful parks (the flat ones, obviously), then the chances are you’ll hear the clinking of boules being thrown, and see the concentration etched on players faces as they survey the scene. What used to be a game popular with the older generation, is now the hipsters’ sport of choice. Rumour has it that even the likes of actress Diane Kruger enjoy an odd round or two.

1915846_10150171484930114_5970098_nThe rules are relatively simple – you can play singles, doubles (3 balls each) or even triples (2 balls each), and the team with the ball closest to the jack or cochonnet wins. The team furthest away from the cochonnet throw until they become the closest and then the other team have their go. The winning team scores a point for the ball closest to the jack and for every ball closer than their opponents. The first team to hit 13 points wins.

Aside from a nice shiny set of boules (see Decathlon or Go Sport), all you need is somewhere to play, and a flat piece of gravel or lawn will do nicely. Some of the nicer spots on paris include Canal de l’Ourc, Jardin de Luxembourg or Jardin de Plantes, though there are plenty of spots to be down by the Seine if you’re confident you won’t end up launching a ball into the water.

1915846_10150171484920114_1564837_nTo celebrate this new and growing trend, the city hosts this saturday day 2 of its pétanque festival Petanque Paradise, being held on the edge of the 12th near the Bois de Vincennes on the Route des Fortifications. They’ll be plenty of players showing off their skills if you fancy seeing how it’s really done, but also DJs, food stalls and workshops to keep you occupied if your talents aren’t up to scratch. Check the official website  for more details. Oh, and don’t forget the pastis.

Take a walk on the mild side

kim flaneurAh, walking. That most basic of basicest pastimes that we all learned super early in our own personal earthly innings. Easy, right? Put one foot in front of the other, and repeat until fade. In theory yes. Though we’re now in the age of the space-age motorcar, bikes with engines, and automatic, electronic stairs so the need to put theory into action is rapidly disappearing.

It always surprises me just how many people in Paris (and probably the world) can’t be bothered to walk up the escalator, or even worse stand still and insist on being carried along at less than 1 mile an hour on those automatic rolling travelator things in Châtelet (and in various airports around the planet). I mean, all that used chewing gum stuck to the walls of a dingy underground metro station is hardly scenic…

I have to be honest though, I may have more than mastered this walking lark, building up speeds so impressive I can actually feel the wind in my hair like an Afghan hound hanging out of a moving car window as I’m powering along, but it seems I’m missing the point entirely. Now, Paris (any major city for that matter) can’t really claim to be a place of serenity and calm – and if you think it is then try getting home on line 9 at 6.30pm on a weekday. But there’s a movement unique to the city that promotes exactly that, using the humble activity of walking as its core value. The art of being a humble flâneur.

The verb flâner literally means ‘to stroll’ (i.e. the exact opposite of my like-that-electronic-rabbit-being-chased-by-a-pack-of-greyhounds version of walking), and it was the great Baudelaire who moulded the verb into a persona; that of the flâneur, ‘the man who strolls’. I say the ‘great Baudelaire’ by the way, but I’m not going to pretend I’m intelligent enough to have read any of his books, though the French sure think he’s swell.flaneur 2

But we’re in France after all, so this concept of the ‘idle stroller’ isn’t just akin to walking down Brighton seafront with an ice-cream in your hand; this is very serious business. It’s all about taking everything in, opening your eyes to your surroundings and absorbing the layers of culture, history and beauty that the city beholds. It’s about the journey, the very experience of walking and what you pass on the way. Think of a photographer without a camera as opposed to a stressed commuter/irate horned animal, head down, doing their best to push through the anonymous crowds trying to get home.

The flâneur was born in Paris, and it’s hands-down one of the best cities in the world to put the discipline into action. The city’s still relatively quiet until next week when the envy-inducing tans of the residents return from their holidays, and the Navigo is no longer dezoned (well, happily still at weekends), so the time for flexing your flâneuring skills is as ripe as a mirabelle plum. But if I catch you doing it from behind the screen of an iphone, then the rabbit becomes the greyhound. Don’t say you haven’t been warned…

Rain? I’ve got it covered…

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Passage des Panoramas

Someone call a plumber. The great tap in the sky won’t stop dripping. I, for one, didn’t envisage spending my summer exploring Paris under leaking clouds; my ideas list was filled with day trips out into the green, sun-baked picnics and other assorted outdoor gaiety not conducted wearing soggy clothes. But we can’t always get what we want, and if we try sometimes, then we just might find ourselves nice and dry in one of Paris’ beautiful vintage shopping arcades.

Passage Vivienne

Passage Vivienne

Paris is a pretty sneaky dame, and is well-practiced in stealing all of your money from you when you’re not looking (yes, sometimes literally), what with all of those shops lurking round every corner waiting to inhale your cash. But you can be sneaky back and go shopping without actually going shopping, throwing your focus on architecture rather than haute couture in these charmingly preserved passages.

There are plenty scattered around the city (fifteen or so remain from the original sixty-odd), mostly nestling in the 2nd, 9th and 10th arrondissements, but are mostly well-hidden, so a map (electronic if you must) is essential if you want to find them. Stumbling across one on an idle promenade is as delightful as it gets, but if you left it to chance you’d probably die of frustration first.

Prins Patrick in Passage des Panoramas

Prins Patrick in Passage des Panoramas

They all follow the same kinda theme, beautiful as it is, existing as commercial throwbacks from the late 18th and early 19th centuries with shops lining each side under brightening skylights. The original idea was to provide shelter for the city’s ladies-who-shop from the grimier ‘charms’ of Paris, i.e. horses, mud, open sewers, and the ever-present rain (making the nastiest pavement soup you could imagine). And who wants to go wading through all that when you’re wearing your newest floor-scraping ye olde designer dress?

Fabric in the Passage du Grand Cerf

Fabric in the Passage du Grand Cerf

Each passage has its own personality and style, so even the most obscure tastes will find something to smile about. One of the swankiest and most famous is the Passage Vivienne in the 2nd, filled with fine wines, rare books, posh tea and designer togs (though hemlines have leapt a bit over the years). Towards the south-eastern corner of the same arrondissement is the Passage du Grand Cerf where you’ll find the funkiest art and craft shops selling contemporary prints, every colour of wool in the rainbow and adorable Liberty fabrics.

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Passage du Grand Cerf

In the 9th the Passage des Panoramas is the most culinary of the lot filled with quaint eating posts not too damaging at all to the budget. I didn’t test out the goods, given that at this time of the year quite a few were lights-off-doors-closed, though I did spend a good ten minutes checking out the vintage postcards at Prins Patrick. Nearby passages Verdeau and Joffroy keep up the tradition of way-out-there-specific shops catering for lovers of old movie posters, antique art, comic books and er, tiny ceramic animals.

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Passage Brady

Head up to the small handful in the 10th and things get predictably grittier; rather than shopping for dusty old books or charming trinkets, the only sensible thing to do in this part of town is fill your face with Indian food in one of the restaurants lining the Passage Brady. And as for the weather, you won’t have to worry about the odd drop of rain in here, there’ll be naan…

Click here for Paris’ official site on the subject for more information (in English).

The perfect Parisian dinner party – Kim style

Kim dinner partyNow that we’re great virtual mates and all that, it’s high time I invited you over for dinner. But, stone the crows would you look at that, I don’t have enough room, given that I live in an apartment so small it’s practically rodent real estate (though thankfully free of actual rats). So we’ll have to do that virtually too. Sorry.

But it’s a good job I’ve had lots of dinner-party-hosting practice in my first year at Granny flat HQ, who provides excellent entertainment herself what with the roll-out bidet, 1950s carpet cleaner and all (refer to March’s archives for a nosy around my tiny palace to see it in all its glory), so I’m well educated in the subtle art of throwing the perfect dinner party.

Yes, yes, I know what you’re thinking; there are plenty of amazing places to eat in Paris where some other poor chump gets to wash your dirty dishes for you. But personally I’m a bit sick of the Parisian version of customer service that involves eye-rolling, impatient sighing or complete unashamed ignorance, green beans from a tin served with everything, and quite frankly lazy menu choices. An evening spent dining at Casa Kim means you’ll avoid all of that merde, and you don’t even get a bill at the end of it (though wine is always appreciated*).

It’s a pleasure to say that finding willing diners is not the challenge. The real trick lies in preparing a four course meal in a teeny tiny kitchen, where even cooking for one is a complicated culinary juggling act. But readers, I’m proud to say, I’ve totally nailed it (even if I do say so myself). Here’s how to make sure guests’ bellies will be bulging in pure delight (and not just limited to Parisian kitchens mind, if you own a big one wherever in the world you are, you’re laughing).

Apero – Because ceremony outweighs everything in this charming French early evening tradition, your work is already done. A few bowls of olives, cherry tomatoes and saucisson and you’re all set (Granny, bless her heart, thoughtfully left me some vintage bowls for exactly this), though for Pete’s sake make sure you’ve got the beers/wine/mineral water chilling waaayyy ahead of time. A rookie mistake waiting to happen.

oeufs en cocotteStarter – From here on in, it’s essential to keep things nice and simple – you didn’t invite your friends round to spend all of the evening talking to the cooker in another room did you? Make ahead dishes are the key; soups are always super easy to heat up, oeufs en cocotte take minutes to assemble and fling in the oven, and things prepared ahead and kept in the fridge only to be whipped out just before serving are dinner party gold. Think pâté, simple salads, and my personal favourite, leeks vinaigrette (see February 6th post for recipe).

Mains – You are not, and never will be Jamie Oliver. Only the very skilled can pull of fancy pants creations whilst still taking the time to amuse their guests. It’s better to create something that entertains itself in the oven or on the hob while you’re entertaining your guests with your witty banter, impressive encyclopedia of jokes, and hilarious animal impressions. IMG_1669I usually go with something like a lasagne, chilli, curry or a simple roast. Fish en papillote is super easy but looks and tastes a whole lot more complicated. Last week’s dinner party saw me roll out a panzanella salad made with tomatoes and day-old baguette happily marinated for hours before my chums arrived (google it).

Dessert – You lose 1000 hosting points if you don’t prepare this in advance. The options are endless. Cheesecake, French favourite chocolate mousse, pavlova, crumble, or my current favourite, macerated strawberries with balsamic vinegar, can all be whipped up during the day, or even the night before.

Cheese – Go for a soft, a blue and a harder one to make a nice balance, and take them out of the fridge a few hours before serving. Only serve The Laughing Cow triangles if you have actually invited the laughing cow to dinner and you want to make her feel at home. Otherwise, er, no.

So there you have it! Don’t forget to buy a couple of baguettes, download the latest Michael Bolton album, and a good time will be had by all. To try and keep things seasonal, here’s a list of things good to eat now: apple, apricot, aubergine, beetroot, broccoli, carrots, cherry, courgette, fennel, french beans, nectarine, peach, pepper, radish, raspberry, rocket, spinach, strawberry, tomato, watercress.

* Read ‘absolutely mandatory, otherwise you eat in the hall’. My British politeness filter doesn’t allow me to say what I actually mean.