Enough with the stuff already!

Kim Grenier 6Stuff, eh? We might all assume that our daily lives are ruled by crooked politicians and the chaffing chains of bureaucracy, but we’d all be wrong. What actually seems to have the stranglehold over most of our lives these days is stuff. Yep, all of those things that we dedicate our lives to getting and having, before the buzz wears off and the getting and having reveal themselves as soul-sucking monsters with infinite appetites. That cycle of emotions that comes with every possession we encounter which takes us fleetingly through joy, quickly into indifference, finally sinking into guilt as our consumer desires eventually begin to drown us in clutter. Forget bent governments, that Ikea catalogue is really the boss of you.

Kim Grenier 5In Paris, many of us manage to escape this ‘power of things’ given that we live in matchboxes (we can only dream of living in shoeboxes), forcing us to adopt a one-in-one-out policy when it comes to possessions. That joyous feeling of having a shiny brand-new thing quickly turns into frustration when you get it home and realise you have absolutely nowhere to put it, besides out the window. But as the generous provider of things, Dame Paris makes sure that we can both inhale and exhale goods as we need them in order to maintain our domestic equilibrium, and at the very same time instil within us the waste-not want-not community spirit that is so very virtuous, but somehow so typically un-Parisian. Behold, the Vide Grenier.

Kim Grenier 1Something also very un-Parisian is the concept of the car boot, a vehicular feature rendered utterly useless thanks to Parisian parking rules dictating that cars need to be caressing each others’ rear ends like excited terriers to be considered properly parked. Forget trying to sell your old vinyl collection from the back of your car, even if you had room, you wouldn’t be able to open the damn thing. Thankfully Parisians have decided not to deny themselves access to the bric-a-brac spirit and every so often spill on to the pavements of the city’s quartiers to either peddle or browse the contents of theirs, and others’ homes (sorry, ‘matchboxes’) in an officially organised event known as a Vide Grenier, or literally ’emptying of the attic’.

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They’re not the most obviously advertised or frequently held events, but they do happen all around the city, and generally only a couple of streets-worth of vendors means you won’t have to pick up a second pair of shoes on your way round. All manner of second-hand delights await, from shoes and clothes, old records, knick-knacks and furniture, to even the odd teapot or two. To find out if one’s happening in your neighbourhood (permanent or temporary), check out the local council’s website or keep your eyes peeled for posters on telegraph poles or in shop windows nearby.

You have the revered flea markets to peruse of course, if bargain hunting is really your thing, but everyone knows the price hikes in the name of the ‘vintage’ tag that really go on. Besides, from the inside of an authentic Parisian apartment into your hand in exchange for a couple of paltry euros? And right on your doorstep? Ikea may have hotdogs, but it’s fighting a losing battle.

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And Sceaux it is…

Kim Sceaux 5Despite a healthy sprinkling of rain at all-too regular intervals, I’m having a ball in Paris this May. I’ve just turned freelance, meaning me and Granny Flat are bonding to the max, I can drink as much tea as I goddamn like (though intake is becoming quite extreme) and taking a break from keyboard tapping means working out the muscles making a loaf of bread. Bliss.

Even the rain is a welcome friend, allowing me to turn my attention to the computer screen without that nagging feeling that I’m missing out on the glorious sunshine outside (life goal #35: live somewhere with a balcony). But all work and no play means I get a bit antsy and as any efficient freelancer knows, outdoor excursions are a must if one is to stay relatively sane (we are writers after all with sanity always at arm’s length). A walk around my ‘hood high up in the 18th demands far too much effort negotiating the dog-mess slalom on the streets, and besides, it’s just not green or breezy enough around these parts to adequately recharge the creative juices.

Kim Sceaux 2Paris can offer some gorgeous pockets of green, even on the smallest scale. But variety is the spice of life don’t you know, and I wouldn’t be doing my job properly if I didn’t search out some new places for both me and you to galavant about in. And so, with a couple of friends and their giant dog Brian in tow (always in need of a scamper), we headed out on the RER B to have a refreshing stroll in Parc de Sceaux.

Kim Sceaux 3Not a park in your traditional sense, this sprawling patch of green lies south of Paris, just before Antony (of Orly airport fame), wrapping itself around the sides of the château which gives it its name. If you’re taking the train, RER B direct from Paris is quick enough, and you can get off at either Sceaux, Parc de Sceaux or La Croix de Berny, depending which part of the grounds you fancy attacking first.

Kim Sceaux 4Directly in front of the château (a rebuild dating from 1856-62) lies a classic French landscape masterpiece, the formal tableau of manicured lawns and a network of straight avenues typical of famous garden tamer, André Le Nôtre. Not just any old green-fingered enthusiast in possession of a hoe, he was the man responsible for most of Paris’ most beautiful gardens, including those at Versailles, Fontainebleau, Vaux-le-Vicomte, Chantilly and Saint-Germain-en-Laye. Let’s hope he had one of those ride-on lawnmower things, or at least a good pair of scissors.

Kim Sceaux 1If you like your nature a little less polished, then the park can offer you all number of green environments. You can wander down tree-lined avenues to your hearts’ content in the dappled leaf shade, spotting as you go the number of statues and traditional pavilions that will greet you along the way. There are also handy enclaves off the beaten path for keen picnickers in search of a quiet alfresco dining spot, and even Brian and his canine peers are catered for with designated dog areas where they can run about and sniff each other, lead-free.

Those sans chien, or without the get-up-and-go to put in the hard kilometres can take advantage of the on-site café to monitor collective walking techniques over a leisurely glass of something chilled. Me, I’ll be doing all of the above, as well as spinning arms wide Sound of Music style, revelling in my new-found creative freedom. Do come and say hello…

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