Dead interesting

IMG_1956What does one do on a beautiful autumn afternoon in Paris? Head to a terrace and sip on a glass of rosé? Stroll along the banks of the Seine and soak up the sunshine? Not if you’re Kim you don’t. You head to a cemetery.

My last seven days have been very much less than perfect (in a magnificent understatement), so you’d hardly blame me for looking for a giant hole to fall in and escape the world. But that’s not why yesterday afternoon I found myself in a burial ground, it just so happens that my usual long walk home takes me past the Montmartre cemetery and for the first time, I decided to have a wander through.IMG_1964

‘Paris is dead’, the hipster avant gardists might say. Well it seems alive and kicking to me, but it certainly is full of dead, this beautiful graveyard being one of many scattered throughout the capital. Given the host of other beautiful things there are to explore in Paris, a cemetery is a pretty tough sell. But for me, there’s so much silent beauty to be found, I might just take a detour through it every day. Plus if you’re in a bad mood, it can remind you quite convincingly that things could be a whole lot worse.

IMG_1947If it’s serene solitude you seek, there are fewer more peaceful places to sit and read, or contemplate the meaning of life (and death, of course). You won’t hear a peep out of the residents, and the traffic and city noise refuses to penetrate as if you’ve actually just stepped right into the underworld. I saw a few singular people doing exactly that as I wandered through, happily ensconced between the tombs, perhaps reading the histories of the souls who rested beside them.

Personally, the silence barely registers with me at all, and instead I feel surrounded by centuries of chatter, generated by the stories of those who lie buried beneath the ground. Their Paris would have been so very different to mine, and as I passed grave after grave looking at the dates bookending each life, I imagined the experiences they would have had, what they would have taken from, and contributed to this uniquest of cities.  Soon after this had occurred to me, I happened upon the tomb of Louise Weber, or ‘La Goulue’, the creator of the French cancan. You can’t get more Paris-stopped-in-time than that.IMG_1962

If the stories of ordinary Parisians of ages past weren’t interesting enough, there are plenty of writers, painters, scientists, politicians and celebrities of the golden age who are laid to rest here. In Montmartre you can find the graves of Émile Zola, Alexandre Dumas Fils and Edgar Degas, though it’s the two bigger cemeteries of Père Lachaise and Montparnasse that contain most of the famous names. Here you can pay your respects to, amongst many more, Jim Morrison, Chopin, Molière, Balzac, Edith Piaf, Oscar Wilde (former) and Guy de Maupassant, Charles Baudelaire, Jean-Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir (latter).

IMG_1963In this digital age where only the photo seems to be important, there’s something quite arresting about physically being next to the resting place of a great figure, as if you can somehow absorb part of their spirit just by being close. In any case, the time of elaborate burials is over, so you’ll be walking through a beautiful museum of mourning filled with statues, sculpture and messages of love, even if you don’t know the famous names. Doesn’t it do us all good to just sit and reflect every once in a while?

For more info about the three major cemeteries and some of the lesser know ones dotted in and outside the périphérique, click here.

101 ways with a baguette #5: The Italian Job

Sometimes there are just perfectly coordinated moments. When you hit your breakfast cup of tea like it’s your birthday the minute it reaches core temperature. Arriving at the bakery just as the baguettes come out of the oven. Getting a seat on a crowded metro in rush hour (and not ending up sitting next to someone with flailing elbows and a personal hygiene problem).

I feel like this is one of those moments. Summer has come back for a welcome September encore, which means it’s salad time once again just as the food-o-meter was swinging towards soups and stews. We’ve got the last of the tomatoes to dive into before they disappear until next year (because winter tomatoes are about as worth it as vegan cheese). And I’ve got a freezer full of dog ends of baguettes not eaten because we were having too much fun at the dinner parties I’ve thrown recently. That could only mean one thing. Panzanella salad.

IMG_1669As lovely as baguettes are – hell, it’s practically a French religion – the crusty darlings do have a major flaw in that they are at optimum tastiness for all of ten seconds before becoming a hardened bread stick baseball bat. Rather than mourning the loss of that tiny gnome-sized window of deliciousness, embrace the stale remnants as the inspiration for this easy-as-pie Italian salad.

Like many of the world’s best dishes, there isn’t a definitive recipe per se (every Italian reader is probably hitting the screen in violent disagreement with said rock-hard baguette right at this very moment), but there are must-have inclusions. Proper ripe tomatoes, and if you can find the coloured ones even better. Stale baguette (or ciabatta if you like) chopped into decent chunks. Olive oil, salt and pepper, red wine vinegar and basil. That’s the classic foundation, but there are plenty of different recipes that add other delights like capers, anchovies, peppers and cucumber, even olives. It’s really up to you.

The important thing is to get all of the flavours to make friends with each other before you serve it up. So get chopping and let everything mingle for a bit (half and hour to an hour should do it, just don’t let the bread get soggy). Great on its own if you’re eating light, or you can serve it with a nice piece of fish or steak, however the mood takes you. The picture up above is my attempt, see if you can’t raise the bar a bit higher. Game on (cooking, not baseball – haven’t you been listening?).

The great fountain of use

Kim wallace 5aLiving in Paris is thirsty work, pure and simple. Climbing all those stairs, dodging all that dog poo, sitting on a terrace icily commenting on the passers-by… A couple of espressos just doesn’t equal adequate hydration for all of that energy expenditure.

I like putting on my adventure shoes and meandering around the city (we all know that by now), and to do that and stay properly watered, I could really do with one of those fire service water trucks to follow me around to make absolutely sure my levels stay where they should be. But trucks + stairs = sheer calamity, and I’m sure I’m not alone here, pompiers + Kim = utter distraction. Hardly a master plan.Kim wallace 3

Plan B would see me dashing into the nearest supermarket and arming myself with the Parisian accessory du jour, a bottle of mineral water, which I would sip stylishly as I went on my merry way. But I’d probably need a few of those puppies given my penchant for long, feet-exhausting strolls, and although I’m part donkey, always carrying something heavy with me, when taking in the sights, I favour lighter travel. Plus ‘save the planet’ and all that, naturally.

Thankfully, Paris provides in stunningly beautiful fashion the perfect solution, requiring a bit of delicious digging – the Wallace fountain. If you’ve clocked up any kilometres in the city at all, it’s likely that you’ve already come across these delightful H20 stations, though I know plenty of Parisian longtimers who are still none-the-wiser as to their existence. Given that we have taps in every home and all, they might seem a little superfluous, albeit very lovely to behold. But let’s backtrack a bit as there’s a pretty neat story behind their construction. If you’re sitting comfortably, I’ll begin.

Kim wallace fountainWay back in the 1870s water in Paris was as difficult to come by as proper sliced bread is today. So difficult in fact you had to pay, and beer and wine were only a smidge more expensive. If you did fancy buying the stuff then it was hardly worth it as it came mostly from the Seine where sewage and other assorted nasties were routinely dumped (mmm-mmmm!). So unsurprisingly, the city was filled with poor people favouring beer and wine and getting far too jolly for their own good (gosh, sounds a bit like the modern-day motherland).

Luckily though, at that time the trend was for the stinking rich to dig into their pockets and help the poor, funding numerous philanthropic projects like hospitals and the like. Very Bill Gates. A man called Richard Wallace (an English gent no less) happily obliged and invested much of his recently acquired fortune into the city, the Wallace fountains being his most famous contribution.Kim wallace 2

Intended to address the moral problem of public drunkeness and to make the city look prettier, they were designed by Charles Auguste-Lebourg and painted in municipal green. The principle design (of which there are 67, count ’em) features four ladies or ‘catyrids’ representing kindness, simplicity, charity and sobriety. Aw. There are three smaller lady-less models dotted around, but it’s the elegant tallest form that is the most well-known.

Before you put your nose in the air and toddle off to Monoprix, the water is still perfectly safe to drink, and remains to this day one of the only sources of fresh drinking water the homeless in the city have access to. You’ve only got a couple of months to give it a try though, the fountains only run from March until November, to stop the pipes freezing in the winter. Then you’ll just have to give them a stroke instead.

Pick me, pick me!

Kim farm3I’ve always been a bit picky. And by that I mean being good at picking things, and not displaying frequent outbursts of fussy diva behaviour, à la Mariah Carey. I’m great at picking wine. And restaurants. I even spent four months voluntarily being paid peanuts to pick fruit and potatoes in the Australian hinterland. And I picked Paris (well technically it kind of chose me too, but that’s a story that needs an expertly selected bottle of wine handy for the telling).

So it was with a big Kim smile and an eager rub together of the magic picking hands when my friend Corinne told me she was taking me to Les Fermes de Gally just outside of Paris where I could pick my own vegetables and get to take them home afterwards. For a gal raised in the country who needs a good dose of proper fresh air every now and again or I go a little bit crazy, it was on par with telling a Frenchman he had just qualified for a free cheese allowance for life.

Kim farm 2Luckily Corinne was equipped with a car, so we hopped in, strapped her adorable toddler daughter in for the ride, and headed off with glee at the prospect of getting good ol’ real dirt (as opposed to gross metro slime) under our fingernails. Thank God we took the car though and didn’t rely on my flea-bitten donkey, given that it’s a bit of a drive out of Paris in the commune of Bailly, a good 15k past the périphérique at the western edge of Paris.

But make the effort of crossing the force field (i.e. the ring road), and the ride is more than worth it. Well, obviously only if picking your own produce direct from the farm appeals to you, if not then stick to Carrefour with its natty tweeting birds soundtrack in the veg aisle. ForKim farm 5 those die-hard supermarketeers who haven’t ever seen a tomato in the wild, the gnarly misshapen versions hanging off the gigantic plants might scare you. But this is nature my friends, in all of its imperfect, back-to-basics glory. Real tomatoes are not the same size. And they are not born in cellophane.

Not so much an option for the weekly shop as it’s a bit of a hike, and you won’t find bushes necessarily blooming uncontrollably with produce given that everyone else has had the same idea. But if you like good honest food, enjoy the thrill of the harvest and a bit of dirt on your potatoes, then you can’t go far wrong. For those not keen on getting soil on their chinos, there’s also a café and shop where you can buy the farm’s own produce (soups, cider and the like), and a teaching farm for the smaller folk.

Kim farm 4Without a doubt the shortest route from field to plate you’ll find in Paris (unless you grow kale in window boxes like me where I can harvest and cook at the same time), it hardly needs saying that everything is seasonal and grown in the most planet-friendly way possible. Sadly you’re not supposed to eat stuff on the way round (utter torture, really), and it’s a good idea to take plastic bags with you to carry your spoils home in. Those old style welly boots with goggle frog eyes on the toes, entirely optional. Open April to November.