Street Fighter

The 80s eh? Thank God that decade’s long gone. It was just so flammable. We’re all much safer now there are a few decades between us and those crispy Flock of Seagulls hairdos. But ha ha! Paris shows it has a sense of humour and has held on to one of the most iconic symbols of those sacred fluoro years, that looks down on us from up high on thousands of the city’s corners to make sure we’re inspired to hum a bit of Wham! from time to time. Take that chic crowd.

Kim Invader 5Before you give yourself a crick in the neck scouring the storeys for Madonna’s conical bra, I’ll give you a hint as to what you’re looking for (hey, if you haven’t picked up the hint from the photos by now, then perhaps Twister is more your game). The kids these days may have computer graphics that are so real they mess with your mind, but back when I was a nipper, zapping space invaders was all we needed (well, after that two stick tennis game where you’d turn the knob to go up and down and that was all you could do).

IMG_1686One Frenchman has taken his worship of the pixelated monsters into adulthood, and has scattered the streets of the capital with various homages to his computer critter passion, hitting the START button in 1996. If you’ve spotted one already, don’t think you’ve defeated the Boss just yet, there are at last count, 1138 of them to find, and that’s just in Paris – this guy has gone global, but more of that later.

Kim invader 2Just as the video game has evolved over the years, then so has his style and he’s branched out into a dizzying array of cartoon and vintage computer graphic figures, from good ol’ Mario to Oscar the Grouch (even street artists get the grumps it seems). And don’t be fooled by impersonators neither (Mama didn’t raise no fool) his website documents some of his work, so you can try and cross reference your find to check if it’s legit.

Kim invader 4Want to shake this mysterious urban art guerrilla by the hand? Yeah, right. You’ve got more chance of beating the highest Pacman score on the arcade machine. Very much sharing a love of privacy with Britain’s Banksy, ‘Invader’ as he prefers to be called, is as hard to find as a Sinclair ZX Spectrum in perfect working order, keeping his face and identity a fiercely guarded secret.

He works exclusively at night and hides his true self behind a mask (in my mind it’s a Darth Vader one), and despite being arrested umpteen times, he’s managed to invade 60 cities in 30 countries including New York, London and Barcelona, and as far afield as Tanzania and Brazil. In France alone he’s left his mark on 31 cities, and still managed to keep his real persona safe. The man’s an artistic ninja.

Kim invader 3By why would a grown man make it his life’s mission to create a giant Pink Panther out of tiles and risk arrest by gluing it to a random wall? Like most artists, there’s a well considered point to it, Invader’s being what he sees as the limited accessibility to art galleries and museums. He’s assumed the duty of bringing art to the masses on a daily basis, his work being gifts to the general public. And it’s not so random either; his sites are well researched and extremely carefully chosen, often selected with the help of the local community.

IMG_1679Surely these things go missing all the time you might ask, as has been the fate of some of Banksy’s pieces? In some of the world’s cities, it’s true that his masterpieces have been removed by local authorities, but individual wannabe art dealers will have a tougher time with a hammer and a chisel given that Invader uses special glue and cement to keep his mosaics hangin’ tough. Rather than diminishing in number, his mission continues, and along the way he has high-fived new players to the game, inspiring a huge number of other street artists in the process. Game Over? Not a chance.

See the Banksy-produced documentary Exit Through the Gift Shop for more info (featuring Invader’s cousin) or check out his official website to advance to the next level. Or just go native and keep your eyes peeled as you go about your way (this is real life remember, no points for defeating pedestrians while you’re searching for the hidden treasure).


Sunday morning glory

IMG_1966Ah, Sundays in Paris. I’ve been here for nearly six years and I still haven’t worked out where everyone gets to. It’s like somebody pulled out the plug just under those large taps in that crazy fountain at Châtelet and sucked the residents into some sort of French Bermuda triangle for the daylight hours. Worse than that, my brain still hasn’t learned the trick of remembering to go to the supermarket a day before that laziest of weekend days, leaving my cupboard barer than Mother Hubbard’s and those overpriced corner shops the only available option if I want to eat something other than a pasta sandwich.

Kim respire 1But it’s not as desperate as all that, as I discovered when I lived in the southern part of the 18th arrondissement a few years ago and fell upon Rue des Martyrs, to this day one of my favourite roads in the capital. Here all the punters were, pushing their strollers, enjoying the view and stocking up on supplies from the many shops that were open. On a Sunday. Rarer than a Frenchman raving about English food. Not only were they having a fine old time, but they were brazenly wandering about in the middle of the road, the road seemingly closed to traffic, Paris’ cars terrorising pedestrians in another part of town.

IMG_1969Popping my eyes back into their sockets, I scooped up some bounty for lunch and headed back home to do some research. Had the local residents protested their hearts out until the shops were forced to open? Or was I in an alternative dream world in which Paris was actually behaving the way I wanted it to for once?

Well, neither of the above. This miraculous happening was also playing out in many other parts of the city, as part of an initiative known as Paris Respire, or ‘Paris Breathes’, in which certain roads and quarters are closed off to traffic, meaning that flâneurs, cyclists, dog walkers and rollerskaters can circulate in complete peace and tranquility, without losing the skin off their heels crossing a zebra crossing thanks to an impatient motorist. With hordes of potential customers passing their premises, many shops decided to open to take advantage of this stellar opportunity, and thus you’ve got until 13h to stock up on food, booze or even clothes; whatever is your retail poison.

IMG_1968There are 14 areas in total, sometimes a mere street as in this case, in other arrondissements you might find a whole neighbourhood throwing out the vehicles and welcoming your custom with open arms, with the Marais and Montmatre being two of the most popular. Down by the Seine you get to breathe properly for once too, with lengthy stretches of the banks proving to be a hotspot for leisurely joggers, afternoon strolls and intense marathon training.

Kim respire 2In the summer four more areas follow suit, including Rue de la Roquette and parts of the Canal Saint Martin, so when the sun’s turned up to full, your only Sunday challenge is to get round all of them before the colder weather kicks it in to touch. So whether you’ve been trying to work out how to sate that roasted rotisserie chicken addiction that plagues your post Saturday night recovery, or your feather brain has forgotten to buy a present for your afternoon birthday party host, then here’s your answer.

If anything, some of these parts of the city are the best places to find those darling independent shops you thought every man and his dog shopped at in France (no, supermarkets rule here too, just like everywhere else), and even if your wallet stays securely bolted together, the scenery if more than worth it. More than that sacred lie-in until noon perhaps?










You can’t keep a good woman down…

Kim emblem 3Sometimes, readers, a 60s roll-out bidet just isn’t enough to keep a gal entertained. And so this week, rather than trying to understand a bygone decade by studying its porcelain contours closely, I decided to take a long-overdue dive into the world of Mad Men where the retro scenery is a huge part of its charm, not unlike chez moi. Hardly Parisian you might argue, but what with the chain smoking and penchant for extra-marital affairs, it seems that in 1960s Manhattan, the spirit of Paris was alive and well.

Kim emblem 4Which got me to thinking. If Don Draper (the central character and creative director of a New York advertising agency, for the uninformed) was given the account for the city of Paris, what kind of marketing spin would he pull out of his Brylcreem-sodden hat to show off the city in its best light? Can-can dancers on every spread for sure, channelling the party atmosphere and old-time glamour in a sumptuous print show. A slogan? ‘Paris: Because even New York needs a mistress!’ I can only imagine.

As history would instead have it, the original guardians of Paris’ image didn’t know how this unique urban flower would bloom, and the original symbol of the city is as head-scratching today as the Eiffel Tower would have been back in its days of creation in the Middle Ages. The first chosen emblem? A ship. As the city has grown and the importance of the Seine as a source of industry has faded, a big ol’ ship floating through the city today would seem as out of place as Francois Hollande attempting a high kick on stage at the cabaret.

Kim emblem 2But sure enough, look closely as you meander around the place, and you’ll spy this municipal symbol, these days a fully-fledged coat of arms, on many public buildings, mairies, stations, schools and bridges; and displayed proudly on the gates and doors of the Hotel de Ville. But what’s a snazzy image without a carefully considered slogan to go with it? Well Paris has one of those too (though it would probably make Don Draper wince into his whisky), the far-from-elegant-sounding ‘fluctuat nec mergitur’. Hmm.

Kim emblem 1Sticking with the boat theme, translated from its original Latin it means ‘gets tossed around without sinking’, just like a wooden ship being battered by waves in a storm. You’d hope that they were better sailors than that in the industry’s heyday, but on a metaphorical level it fits old Dame Paris perfectly if you sail through her history. Revolutions, slaughter, floods, starvation and death; it’s easy to see why our old friend Baron Haussmann officiated the motto in 1853, and it now sits proudly upon the city’s emblem, a reminder of every tempest she’s had to endure from past until present.

So sometimes when Paris kicks me in the chops and the dark clouds of gloom roll in, it’s nice to remember that the old gal has had her dark moments too, but has bucked like a mule back, and survived every hardship and tumult imaginable with her head held high. Love, light and advertising are all well and good, but isn’t that what life is really about?

The three Rs

Mesdames et messieurs, all hail Paris’ romantic reputation, for a wonderful thing has happened. Granny Flat has fallen in love. And with the boy next door no less. Well the boy dans le coin to be exact, but in a capital city, that’s practically in her lap.

Kim recyclerie 2But alas, as much as I would like to bring you a happy end to this saga of love, I hate to say it’s more of a tragic tale seeing as the object of her fervent affection is far too young for her and currently the focus of every bright young hipster thing in the neighbourhood. But if two souls could be forged from the same spirit, then Granny Flat and her lover from afar are two peas in a pod. The good news is however, that you are free to fall in love with him too, and whether you exist in boy, girl, child, animal or vegetable form, then you surely will.

Kim recyclerie 6If you know Granny Flat, you’ll know that she’s an advocate of reduce, reuse and recycle, meaning that she’s furnished with artefacts from decades of Paris past, rather than all of the latest mass-produced kit from Ikea. She’s not ashamed of her ancient bidet on wheels, mis-matched cutlery or vintage mustard carpet. She’s proud of her bygone feel, tiny balcony vegetable garden and by consequence, her reduced impact on the environment.

Kim recyclerie 1It’s exactly the same ethos that permeates La Recyclerie at Porte de Clignancourt, once former train station Gare Ornano. Happily the moniker doesn’t refer to a municipal waste centre, but a lively new cafe (well, nine months by Paris standards is still young), adorned from the roof to the rafters with recycled materials, vintage artefacts and an eco spirit.

Kim recyclerie 7Their all-you-can-eat brunch at weekends is a huge draw, and at 20 euros, one of the cheapest in town. From hot bacon and eggs to cold salads and bursting baskets of pastries, a few hours spent here, and you’ll be waddling home like one of their family of chickens kept outside in their tiny urban farm. You might even get an egg for dinner too as they offer them for free on the counter if the chooks have been a-laying plenty. Or if you fancy an especially mammoth feed, hop on one of the vintage exercise bikes dotted around and make room for some more.

Kim recyclerie 3If you’re here for a bite because your blender’s on the blink, then Rene the resident Monsieur Fix It will bring it back to life for you, or lend you the tools to do it yourself. Or if you have a craving for parsley and your fresh herbs have seen better days, bring them here and they’ll be magically reborn at the on-site plant hospital. Now that’s surely a Parisian first.

Kim recyclerie 5It’s still very much a work in progress, and there are plans for expansion of the outside area, running alongside the old train tracks of la Petite Ceinture (which we’ll discover another day). But for now, there are events sprinkled all over the calendar, from gardening classes for kids, to cooking demos for adults and even a takeaway window if you’re just after a coffee to warm your hands whilst perusing for bargains at the nearby flea market.

Kim recyclerie 4Thanks to my good friend Iain for the awesome find, it won’t be long before the whole world is in love with Parisian chickens and mis-matched cutlery too. You’ll have to get through Granny Flat first though…

Post originally published 01/04/2015