May the force be with you

It should have become apparent by now dear readers, that I’m a person fascinated by paradox. And as luck would have it, I happen to live in a city that keeps on throwing them out for me like bread to a begging duck. Of all of the paradoxes Paris can offer, this Sunday 1st May sees the one of the largest of all when two festivals collide on the same day, fusing beauty and fury, friendship and dissatisfaction. Crikey, what a cocktail.

Kim Mai1 2aAs is the case in many countries throughout the world, the first day of the month of May is officially known over here as la Fête de Travail or Labour Day. Originating in the US, the day became a commemoration of the Haymarket affair in Chicago in 1886, in which four demonstrators were killed when striking workers clashed with police, but encompasses a wider celebration of labourers, the working classes and international workers rights.

So the obvious way to pay respects to the universal working spirit would be, well, to work your behind off earnestly and conscientiously for at least one day of our lives. But to save us all pulling too many muscles, most countries designate May 1st as a public holiday meaning we all get to put our feet up instead. Sadly for the French this year it falls on a Sunday without the offer of a Monday off work in lieu.

Rather than letting the day pass in a relaxing haze, the French use this day to do what they do best – no, not indulging in a four-hour lunch, much more energetic than that, they like to protest. Whatever you’ve got a bee in your bonnet about it doesn’t matter; on this day you have the right to shout loud and proud ‘down with that sort of thing’ about whatever subject you choose. ‘Spot the protest’ can be a wonderful game as you watch the yelling crowds weave through the streets, trying to guess exactly what it is they’re complaining about. Many a time I’ve been completely stumped.

Kim Mai1 1If organised objection isn’t your thing, then happily on the other side of the paradoxical May 1st coin, things are far quieter, prettier, and friendlier. The day also goes by the name la Fête du Muguet after the tiny white lily-of-the-valley that is traditionally given to close friends and family as a sign of love and affection. King Charles IX was the first to do so in 1561 and the tradition has lasted throughout the years, apparently most popular in the Île-de-France region around Paris.

Just one more paradox to leave you with, and undoubtedly the most confusing. May is widely considered the spring-iest of months and so as the calendar leaves April behind and runs forward to meet it, the day marks a celebration of the return of good weather. A lovely thought for sure, but this year this beautiful weather sentiment falls in the same week when Paris saw mid-spring snow. Brow-furrowing, head-shaking stuff. Let’s hope the new month gives us a bit of a climatic break or I might just be forced to rustle up a placard real quick and get out there to protest against those pesky weather Gods…

Petal, I’m back!

Kim flower 4Hello? It’s me! No, I haven’t entirely disappeared off the face of the earth and left Paris with my tail between my legs; I’m very much here and still plugging away at uncovering the city’s secrets. Apologies for the lengthy pause; the Motherland got hold of me and wouldn’t let me go and when you’re happily stuck in rural England without the technology to get the blog updated (doh!), there’s nothing for it but to dig your Mum a veg patch. So that’s what I did.

Happily in my absence Paris has had her gardening gloves on too, and she’s positively blooming in colour as the spring sunshine blankets the streets. Seeing beautiful flowers at every turn made me pine for a visit to one of my favourite places in the very centre of the city, where nature’s own art reigns as king – the Marché aux Fleurs on the Ile de la Cité.

Kim flower 1Well I say ‘king’, but if we’re being proper, the full name is Marché aux Fleurs Reine Elizabeth II, as in June 2014 on a visit to commerate the 70th anniversary of D-day, our Queen Liz’s name was added to the full title as a gift from the French state. Since our dear monarch turns 90 this month, it seemed more than appropriate to pay her plaque a visit (and try and find some parsley for the windowsill too).

Kim flower 2Long though her reign may be, the market has been around much longer, having existed in some form or another since at least 1808. Its distinctive green pavilions were an addition in the early 20th century meaning that rain shouldn’t ruin the hunt for the perfect pot plant. Wander through the leaf-filled aisles spilling out into the open air, and you’ll forget you’re slap-bang in the middle of Paris, nestled in the heart of its biggest central island. Whereas plants grow from seed into magnificent blooms, even the grandest of cities has to start from a tiny geographical grain, and it was right here way back in 52 BC that the first settlers were believed to have set up camp.

Kim flower 6Whatever your horticultural needs, you’ll find them answered with a huge array of pot plants, flowers (though less of the cut kind), herbs, trees and shrubs, with even tiny cactuses for the less green-fingered. Head over the threshold of the individual shops and your present-finding stresses will be calmed with a not-tourist-tacky range of ornaments, knick knacks and plant-themed merchandise that serve nicely as gifts for those gardeners in your life.

Kim flower 5Head over on a Sunday and the feathered ferns turn into real-life plumes when the bird market pecks the plants into submission. Not quite as exotic as it sounds, it’s more of a magnet for strange small-time bird traders to make a bob or two on a couple of off-loaded zebra finches, but worth a look if you’re in the vicinity nonetheless. Because who knows, maybe a sorry looking budgie is the perfect birthday gift for the Queen who has everything?