Saints and sinners

Kim saints 2I grew up with a sister called Alix. Well, she’s still called Alix, but novelty keyrings, fridge magnets and giant pencils just aren’t as important to us now as they once were.

Let me bring you up to speed. Holidaying in our rose-tinted youth involved heading south for weeks of glorious camping on the Isle of Wight, with part of the fun involving shameless pocket-money splurging on useless tat in souvenir shops. Being frequent-to-bicker siblings, it was of course vitally important that we made it painfully clear whose PVC coin purse was whose, so we’d always hone in on the revolving racks of name-embossed products, eagerly searching for our own.

Blessed with unusual names however (FYI we’re not Kimberly and Alixandra, just short and sweet – both of us literally – Kim and Alix), we’d spin the displays in vain, lost in a sea of Sarahs, Amys, Davids and Marks. Despite often leaving empty-handed, I’d usually have a better tat-score record, Kim being marginally more common than Alix thanks to ladies Bassinger and Wilde.Kim saints 1

Since moving to France though, it’s been hard to ignore the hammer blow dealt to my tally by the French tradition of name days, based on the Christian calendar of saints. The old custom dictates that each day of the year is named after a saint (often the day they died), and if you share that name, you get to celebrate. Though you might have to jostle for room at the party table as some days have more than one. Too much do-gooding, obviously.

I was dismayed to find out there was no Saint Kim listed, but utterly mortified that there was a Saint Alix (January 9th). It turns out the name is not quite as un-saintly as some of my sister’s childhood antics would have you believe. Tradition used to be that children born were named after the saint on the relevant day, though this has been largely abandoned. Nowadays the (fading slightly) tradition is to give a small gift, essentially meaning you get a bonus birthday. Card companies, keen to snatch the ‘occasion’ dollar wherever they can, produce ‘Bonne Fête’ cards.

Saint Tweetie Pie

Saint Tweetie Pie

Before you start making an imaginary gift list in your head, remember how names have a tendency to waver in popularity over the years (and I should know given the sizeable damage Messrs Jong-Il, Jong-Un and Kardashian have done to our reputation in recent times, but I’m pinning my hopes on Korean TV actor ‘Kim Bum’ to claw it all back for us. Watch this space). Alix may have made the cut, but she’s joined by the likes of Barnard, Crépin, Igor, Norbert and Prudence. Good luck in finding yours.

If you happen to be in the family way, thank your lucky stars the custom isn’t as popular as it once was. You might not be obliged to go with ‘Tanquy’, but that doesn’t mean you can call it Rihanna instead. Given that my dear sister is expecting her own little bundle of joy next year, maybe it’s time to settle old debts, bust out the calendar and convince her that ‘Ignace de Loyola’ is in fact a charming name for a first-born child.

I did say there wasn’t a Saint Kim, didn’t I?

Click here for a full calendar to see if your moniker made the grade.

Lou Messugo

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The art of the underground

Kimwinnogrand1Last week was a busy one in Granny Flat HQ, so apologies for the delayed post. But there are two very good reasons for this. Last week’s major time-sucker was a stunning two-for-one bonus showing of ‘My First Migraine‘, enjoyed in complete surround sound with a team of hammer-and-drill-wielding builders who went to town renovating the façade of my building as if their lives depended on it. Secondly I’ve been distracted by a new cream-topped yoghurt dessert with a salted caramel butter centre that’s just appeared in my supermarket, akin to liquid gold on a spoon. It’s been a roller coaster week.

Kimwinoogrand4So I’ve been depending on the metro more than usual to save time, rather than tackling the hour long walk from work to home that I like to indulge in to keep me ol’ buns in check. Regular travellers through the bowels of the city know you’ve got a few socially acceptable options available to you whilst you pass the time holed up in your carriage. Read, snooze, listen to thumping tunes and to hell with the other passengers, examine your fingernails… i.e. any activity that promotes avoiding the ultimate public transport sin – making eye contact with your fellow commuters.

Kimwinnogrand2But hurrah! Rather than depending on staring at inane adverts for stuff you don’t want or need as you wait patiently at various stations along your route, RATP (those public transport dudes who like striking) have brought the culture underground and provided us with a magnificent black and white photo exhibition to look at, which started in mid-October and lasts all the way until February 8, 2015.

Kimwinogrand5

The art is on display in the following stations

A retrospective of the American photographer Garry Winogrand (1928-1984) and put together in association with the Jeu de Paume, 16 stations around the city display huge billboards of his famous photographs on their platforms, depicting life on the street of 1960s America (check out the map to see exactly where). It’s the 4th time Paris’ major transport organisation have exhibited throughout their transport network since 2013.

You’ll come across curly-haired, pointy glasses-wearing dames gossiping in the street, a smiling President Kennedy unaware of what the near future would hold, trilby-sporting commuters on their way to a Mad Men style day at work, and a monkey in a Cadillac (probably) cruising down the strip, amongst other vintage delights. It might be a world away from Paris, but it sure beats staring at the used chewing gum on the metro floor.

For more info, direct your mouse here.

View-ly scrumptious

IMG_2005Inner city living, eh? Flying by the seat of your pantalons from metro to boulot to whichever hipster hangout or cultural happening is the flavour of the moment, dodging your fellow chic citizens along the way. A constant thrill ride though it can be, sometimes you just need to take yourself off to a quiet green corner and take a few (hours of) deep relaxing breaths before you give in to the urge to boff someone across the chops for pushing in front of you at the supermarket. It’s high tension living for sure.

Thankfully large cities are fairly accommodating things and provide us with parks a plenty in which to mull over our urban woes, savour a sandwich or stroll through the leafy air without purpose to recharge our lungs. Paris may find it hard to compete with the sheer size and centrality of London’s royal parks or New York’s Central Park in its very heart, but there are enough small patches of lawn for everyone to have somewhere near to have a breather.IMG_2003

My need for the green took me up to Parc de Belleville one afternoon, sandwiched between Buttes Chaumont and Père Lachaise in the 20th arrondissement. An enormous sweeping park it isn’t, moulding itself around the hilly contours of the neighbourhood with enough steps to provide a behind-shaping workout, but with its winding leafy-lined paths, it’s probably the most Central Park-y space Paris can muster (minus the kamikaze squirrels).

It may not have Parc Monceau’s refined beauty or the classic charm of the Jardin du Luxembourg, but one thing it can particularly puff its chest out for is the view you get from the top. At 108 metres it’s the highest park in Paris, and therefore an awesome spot from which to survey the beauty of the capital spread out below. All the gang are in the picture; the Eiffel Tower, Tour Montparnasse and every church tall enough to muscle into view, plus there’s a handy plan that points it all out to you and a viewing scope for a close-up look.

IMG_1993Your only other options for getting a decent panoramic view of our darling girl is to shimmy up one of the highest buildings or climb the stairs to Montmartre, but we all know how common those ideas are. Nothing ruins a wide shot of the city scape like a strange tourist’s head. Here you can take in the scene in perfect peace without a foreign elbow shattering your sense of calm.

Once you’ve convinced yourself you’ve correctly identified where your apartment/hotel is in the geographical scheme of things, you can head down slope to a park bench, a patch of the 1000m squared of lawn, or choose instead to get to the bottom of that misty haze hanging over your vision, and check out the (free to get into) Maison de l’Air which will educate you about the importance of fresh air and the pollution problems choking it up. There’s a definite undercurrent of environmental protection in this park more than any other.IMG_1998

If the weather’s just not playing ball, check out the view and head toute de suite afterwards to one of the colourful independent cafes in the area, where the prices are far friendlier than in the packed-to-the-pavement tourist hangouts. This weekend though you won’t have to, given that we’re set to be graced with sun and an unseasonably warm 23-degrees. Time to give your sunnies their swan song and take in the panorama before the winter descends.

 

High on a hill stood a lonely vineyard

kim vineyard 1Paris might be the bitchy queen bee of its country, pulling in the tourists like bears to honey with its luxurious superiority over its smaller French cousins, but there’s one notable chink in her armour. Exquisite architecture, yes, galleries galore, of course, and style in spades that looks down on almost everywhere else in the world – France’s capital seemingly has everything you could need for living the high life.

Well, almost everything. There’s an important trump card in the hands of many of the other regions in the country that Paris just can’t compete with. Oh, and it’s a big ‘un alright. Wine. Grape wizardry is what the ruddy-faced country folk lay claim to. But like a cunning madam with a trick up her sleeve, there is a oenophilic heritage to be found in the city, if you keep your nose close to the ground and look hard enough for it.

Way, way up in the winding heights of the 18th, happily not far from Granny Flat HQ, is Clos Montmartre, a tiny vineyard that produces the only wine Paris can muster. Bordeaux it certainly isn’t given that fact that grape growing conditions in the inner city are hardly ideal, but it’s more of a gesture to the wine gods anyway, rather than a serious attempt to compete with the vinicultural juggernaughts in the rest of France.

CIMG7304In a nod to the wine-making past of Montmartre, where the industry flourished from the Roman era until the early 20th century when urbanisation and phylloxera soon stomped all over the practice, the vineyard was revived in 1933 by a group of locals led by artist Francis Poulbot, who wanted to preserve the viticultural heritage. Today it still stands, a minuscule parcel of vines of 1,556 sq m, tucked away in a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it corner between Rue des Saules and Rue Saint Vincent.

You can only visit by appointment in groups of over 12, but the view from the road is good enough to be able to spy on the progress of the grapes. But who need a private tour anyway when for the next five days the vineyard comes into its own with the Fête des Vendanges, a celebration of the yearly harvest and a new Paris vintage (though the crappy summer weather has probably dampened the chances of it being a decent one).

The fête officially kicks off today (Wed 8th) and continues until Sunday, though pretty much all of the good stuff takes place at the weekend. There are masses of stalls selling wine and produce from all over France, so you’d be well advised to forgo meals in preparation from, well, now, to make sure you take full advantage. Sadly you can’t get your hands on the Paris vintage though, that’s only available via auction (with all of the proceeds going to charity), and anyway with the price tag punching far above its weight, you’re better off spending your hard-earned on Champagne and saucisson in the assembled tents.

Aside from fireworks on Saturday night, the highlight of the festivities is a parade through the streets of the 18th from the mairie at Jules Joffrin (where the grapes are eventually pressed) to the foot of Sacré Coeur on Sunday (3pm start), where producers from around the country don their jauntiest traditional garb and celebrate the joy of growing the good stuff. For once in a city where image is everything, it’s life’s most humble offerings that are the kings. And you can’t say more delightfully simple than that.

Autumn aesthetics

louvre kimSo we’ve officially entered October, meaning that the ‘summer’ (the punctuation points to the fact that it was a bit of a wet squib to put it mildly), is well and truly over. So we’ll have to abandon the sun-baked terraces for now (this weekend is probably the last chance we’ll get), start to migrate indoors and huddle like penguins until the the winter wave hits and the good weather returns in the spring.

Lucky for us though, Paris is a ‘good ideas’ kind of city, and this weekend marks the beginning of cultural season when most of the city’s museums and galleries turn off their tills for the first sunday of every month, and let us poor rugged-up souls in for free, starting from this sunday (October 5th).

Well, that’s not strictly true (call it artistic license on my part) as many of the city’s cultural draws are open for free throughout the summer on this magical first sunday, including the likes of the Pompidou Centre, Musée D’Orsay and the Musée de l’Orangerie. But from this weekend, the list starts to get properly serious again, with the Louvre being the first to waive the entrance fee for willing art lovers, staying free once a month until the spring.

November is the month to really get the cultural programme started though, with a whole host of other venues letting folk in without money changing hands (well, once a month only). You’ll have until February to get rubber-necking around the Arc de Triomphe, Pantheon, Conciergerie, Saint Chapelle, the towers of Notre Dame, the Basilique at St Denis (where all the old kings are buried), and the chateaux of Vincennes and Versailles. With the city not being quite so choked with tourists as it is in the summer, it’s the best time in the calendar to check them out. Just play nice in the queues, mind.

In addition to this magnificent cultural present, tomorrow marks Nuit Blanche, the artistic meander through the city from dusk ’til dawn where a whole plethora of weird and wonderful installations will be on offer. This year there’ll be a proper circuit to follow, giving purpose to your wanderings and gently guiding you around the south of the city to make sure you don’t miss that 20ft sculpture of a naked bottom (probably). No touching allowed…

Click for more info about museums and Nuit Blanche.