101 ways with a baguette: #2

It’s that time of year again!

#2: The Don

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In life, there are the ones who make it, and the ones who don’t. Paris’ version of this unescapable rivalry of life revolves around the humble baguette. Don’t tell me you didn’t see that one coming…

Each year, a competition takes place that serves to separate the men from the boys, the wheat from the chaff if you prefer, and proclaims one lucky stick the best baguette in Paris. Not only does the winning bakery get to paste the title all over their premises and attract queues that could rival the Louvre, but they also get given the honour of supplying baguettes daily to the President for a whole year. If that’s not kudos, then I don’t know what is.

Baguette 2This year’s recently proclaimed winner is Le Grenier à Pain bakery nestled between Sacre Coeur and the Moulin Rouge in the 18e (my ‘hood, lucky me!) and the talented hands that created the magical bread wand belong to 38-year-old Djibril Bodian. Baking wizardry clearly isn’t a passing fluke either, Bodian won his first accolade in 2010 making him the first baker in the competition’s history to have ever won twice.

His baguettes were delivered to the top spot via their thin, crispy crust and light insides, and most importantly, a smell that makes you want to break with all decorum and devour the whole thing before you’ve even got out the door. Forget those anaemic efforts from the supermarket, the only way to get your daily bread in Paris is to head to a bakery who can rake in the prizes. And now you know exactly where to find it.

Le Grenier à Pain, 38 Rue des Abbesses, 75018

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Book ’em Danno

Kim SOS 2It’s a bit of a short post this week sports fans, given that at the Granny Flat, reading has beaten writing quivering into a corner. But that doesn’t mean it’s any less important, after all, what in the world could be more important than books? If you’ve been reading over the last few months, you’ll know that wine fans don’t come much bigger than me, and chez moi, my wine rack is full of weighty tomes just waiting for me to curl up with.

I’m also a fan of doing good where possible (as I’m sure you are too, dear reader), so SOS Help’s book sale this Sunday perfectly combines my philanthropic tendencies with my desire to fill my open dumper truck arms with as many books as my puny muscles can handle. And by God I’ll need them with a room full of paperbacks for a euro and hardbacks for two (the majority English language), not to mention comfort therapy in the form of home-baked cakes and coffee.

Kim SOS 3For those not familiar with their work, SOS Help is a charity that offers a free and confidential listening service to English people living in France, providing a friendly ear for those worried, stressed, lonely and confused. France is a wonderland of opportunity and experience in many respects, but life as an expat isn’t always sunshine and roses, and that’s where they come in.

When starting this blog, I decided never to act as a promotional tool for other organisations, giving me the freedom to choose whatever subject and angle my heart desired, and I stand by that. But in this case I’ll make an exception, knowing what valuable work SOS Help dedicate themselves to. Plus this bi-annual book sale fits in with my budget ethos and provides me with my yearly reading material for the price of a couple of pints, and whether we have need of a friendly ear or not, the imaginary world of books is sometimes all we need to climb over life’s prickly obstacles. Donations are also accepted, check the website for details.

Kim SOS 1Sun March 22, 12-4 pm
Orrick Law Offices
31 avenue Pierre 1er de Serbie,16e
http://www.soshelpline.org

Street life

Kim rues 1CLife will give you lemons they say, and that’s where my favourite French delicacy tarte au citron came from. Life will also kick you in the pants, rough you up a bit, and drag you by the ear in the opposite direction to the one planned. And that’s precisely what happened when I was scouting around doing important research for this blog post last week.

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‘Attendant ouverture’ by Lorenzo Barranco (Mairie de Paris)

Well, life has served me pricklier curve balls, that’s for sure, but plans changed slightly nonetheless. I was skirting around the Hotel de Ville trying to get into the Magnum exhibition to check out the best of French photojournalism but alas, the long queue soon squashed that idea. But while I was forlornly double-backing around the building’s railings on my way back to the metro, haunting photos caught my eye.

Kim rues 4And here’s the cracker, the stunning irony that made me throw my carefully scheduled blog plans into the gutter; these images are part of Prises de rues, an exhibition giving centre stage to a part of Parisian society that all of us, tourists, residents and locals alike, are purposefully guilty of turning our eyes away from each and every day. Those forgotten people that are more beaten down by life’s cruel twists than most of us; Paris’ homeless population.

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‘Hitchcock’ by Bossu de Notre Dame (Mairie de Paris)

A joint venture between the Marie de Paris, Deuxième Marche, a charity which raises awareness about the homeless cause, and photo competition site wipplay.com, the project aims to show the city through the eyes of people on the streets, forcing us to confront those things that we would all rather not see. 13 homeless people were selected, and over a period of four weeks, they, with the help of a handful of art students, used the lens to highlight the reality of their daily existence, generating 1,500 photos in total.

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‘Espoir d’un soir’ by Stéphane Baratay (Mairie de Paris)

The resulting images are beautifully raw and painfully familiar, juxtaposing the grandeur of their host building just the other side of the railings. The winning image Hitchcock (see above) may hint towards a dark urban romanticism with its grey cloud of pigeons, but it’s important to reflect on the struggle and hardship that inspired its, and the others’, creation.

'Sommeil' by Bossu de Notre Dame (Marie de Paris)

‘Sommeil’ by Bossu de Notre Dame (Mairie de Paris)

I’m simply not qualified to examine society’s role in both the reason or the solution to the city’s immense and growing homeless crisis, or to criticise the powers-that-be for not doing enough to help. But I will say how proud and moved I was to see such a public examination of the problem, shouting a message loud and uncomfortably clear amongst the elegant Haussmannian buildings lining the Rue de Rivoli, a mere stone’s throw from Paris’ most majestic buildings. Let’s hope it signals the start of a new and more positive era for the city’s people in need.

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‘Banc abandonné’ by Ramen (Mairie de Paris)

So whilst the glamour of Paris lies on the other side of the lens inside the Hotel de Ville, if you’re in the area, linger outside and challenge the city’s alluring stereotype with a collection of images that show a slice of what it’s really like to call France’s capital home. Sadly, unlike the homeless problem, the exhibition is soon to disappear, running until 23rd of March. So make it snappy.

For vital info, steer your mouse here.

Selected images are available for sale at http://www.deuxiememarche.org with half of the proceeds going to the charity and half to the photographer.

The market hall of fame: Aligre/Beauvau

Kim aligre 3Way back last summer, I filled my reusable canvas grocery bag full of veg and got my toes rolled over by many a granny shopping trolley (which by the way seems to be the height of fashion over here), all in the name of research. The goal was to cast your collective eyes towards the delightful produce on offer at one of Paris’ cheapest markets, nestled along the Boulevard Barbès. You know me, the budget drives the car (or should that be Autolib) in my Paris life, and food is the honorary passenger being chauffeured Miss Daisy-style in the back seat.

Kim aligre 6Today though I nudged the produce pandemonium at Barbès Rochechouart into second place, when I headed for a long overdue exploration of one of Paris’ equally vibrant and cheap markets, the jewel of the 12e, Marché Aligre (metro Ledru-Rollin). Situated so central you’d expect prices to make your eyes water, the market is in reality a twin endeavour, with the outdoor stalls nestled around a huge place bleeding into the side streets, and a covered hall (the Beauvau bit) dominating the middle.

Kim aligre 1Carnivores would do well to venture inside to make the most of many a meat merchant, whether it be fresh slabs of marbled beef you’re after, or a rock-hard saucisson as long as your arm. You can pick up some cheese and fish too if your incisors aren’t that keen, or even some horse if you’re determined to test the deepest, darkest corners of your Frenchness.

Outside is far more varied and livelier, with bric-a-brac competing with Levis for a tenner, second-hand clothing and vintage books. The colourful display of veg on offer really gets the cash flowing though, and let’s face it, Kim aligre 5out of everything, that’s the stuff we really need (put that replica Ming vase down). Unlike Barbés where price comparison is a futile exercise (and essentially impossible given the density of the crowds), at Aligre you have both ends of the spectrum, from bunches of herbs for 40 cents and assorted lots for a mere euro each, to seasonal greengrocery and the bio crowd, whose virtuous intentions push the prices further towards the heavens.

Kim aligre 7For the finest bargains, timing is the key; head there towards the final hour of the day and you’ll regret not bringing a horse and cart to wheel your own spoils home in. You’ll be able to fill your boots with cut price fruit and veg for mere cents, though be prepared for high spirits and loud voices trying to compete to sell you those two watermelons for a euro that they are adamant you can’t live without.

Open six days a week it’s also more accessible than most; for official details (hours, location and ‘ting), check here.