Spine-al tap

Over the years (if you’ve tuned in) you’ll have no doubt read a few posts on my blog about books (exhibits A, B and C). Well, to bring you the latest, the obsession continues and on a recent trip to the UK I managed to buy no less than 17 books, and that was 11 in the first two days alone – jeepers. In my defence, three were presents and I’ve already inhaled another four, but that still leaves me in double figures. Good job those long, cold winter nights aren’t too far away, and I’m someone who can read (and more importantly needs to read or-else-I’ll-go-mad) 50-odd a year (not that I’m smug or anything).

If it’s books you too are after, English language in particular (the French are pretty obsessed with books too – seems we’re a great fit – but if you don’t read the lingo you’re a bit stuck) then the American Library is the literary Mecca you’ve been looking for. The largest English-language lending library on the European continent, you’re spoilt for choice with over 100,000 books looking for temporary companions, and that’s not even taking into account periodicals, audio-visual and myriad other reference resources.

Just a year shy of its 100th anniversary, this vital non-profit cultural association came into being in 1920 thanks to the American Library Association, tasked with bringing books for US troops fighting in WWI to Paris, through donations from libraries across the pond. Their official motto reflects the cause – Atrum post bellum, ex libris lux: After the darkness of war, the light of books, though the idea of books as light counteracts any kind of darkness there is as far as I’m concerned. A concrete base at 10 rue de l’Élysée soon followed, with Edith Wharton amongst the first trustees, and Ernest Hemingway and Gertrude Stein as patrons.

A brave tale of plucky resistance played out during WW2 and the library was responsible for providing books to 12,000 British and French troops. It refused to close its doors and stayed open during the conflict, albeit in a limited capacity, defying rules to exclude Jews from using the service, hand-delivering books to Jewish members who were forbidden to cross the threshold. Americans who fled Paris with library books in their possession wrote back, promising to return the books safely upon their return.

Post-war prosperity saw the library move to the Champs-Élysées in 1952 and in 1965 it moved again to its current premises in the 7th. And just like there are too many books in the world to read, there are simply too many notable names that have been indelibly printed on the pages of the library’s history to mention. Visiting writers, members and speakers over the years have included Samuel Beckett, Colette, Salman Rushdie and David Sedaris, amongst a thousand others. It’s probably easier to write a list of notable literary figures that haven’t in some way been involved over the years.

Continuing today in its chief mission to celebrate the written word and life of the mind, after several modern renovations, the library currently counts over 4,000 members (membership for an adult is €12 a month, much cheaper than bankrupting yourself at WHSmith, no?) able to enjoy its books (obviously) as well as reading rooms, work and conference spaces, and an impressive schedule of events and talks. Their twice weekly Evenings with an Author program attracts writers as famous and renowned as you can get, and is open and free to the public (with a suggested donation of €10), though no chatting at the back or I’ll throw the biggest and heaviest dictionary at you. Then you’ll learn a bit about the power of words…

10 rue de Général Camou 75007 (metro École Militaire or Alma-Marceau) For more information and details of membership and events, check the site here.

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Water, water, everywhere

In the great yin and yang of things, the firm terre on which we tread our adventures shoes would be nothing without a bit of water for balance. And so it is with Dame Paris, with a vital liquid life force running through her very heart (no not wine, behave), the majestic river Seine. Why it’s taken me so long to dedicate a post to what is probably the simplest, most delightful and goddamn free-est part of this fair city, je ne sais pas. But investigate it in the name of the written word I surely have, so sit down, grab a glass (no not river water, behave) and I shall begin.

Let’s get the all-important stats out of the way, you can’t take selfies with those. 777km long running from its origin at Source-Seine (north-west of Dijon), France’s 2nd longest river (after the Loire) flows into the English Channel between Le Harvre and Honfleur in Normandy. Divided into five distinct parts, its middle section the Traversée de Paris weaves through the capital at 24km above sea level with an average depth of 9.5 metres. Here you’ll find river-going vessels a-plenty passing under 37 bridges, five of those strictly pedestrianised (posts on the honourable mentions coming in the future).

Named after Sequana, the river’s Gallo-Roman goddess, the Seine’s very existence ensured the origins of Paris itself, being an important trade route for the city’s first settlers, the Parisii tribe, way back in 250 (ish) BC. Historically speaking, the old gal (yes, she’s a la) has seen all the trials and tribulations of the birth and growth of a major city, from Viking invasion, too many conflicts to count, and many a poor soul destined to rest on her bed for all eternity (including Joan of Arc; her ashes were allegedly scattered in the river at Rouen in 1431). Many a flood has shown her darker side, most notably the big one in 1910, and as well in ’24, ’55, ’82, ’99–’00, ’16 and January 2018. Despite this constant threat of deluge, her banks were designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1991.

Why I haven’t quite appreciated up until now just how much the Seine reflects my simply delightful (and free, most importantly) ethos, I can’t tell you. Perhaps born under a fire sign I’m unconsciously wary of her powers. But as I’ve recently walked along the banks taking photos in preparation of this post, I find it hard to believe why you’d want to come to Paris go anywhere else. She quite simply has it all (ok, apart from Sacré-Coeur) as the lion’s share of the city’s heavyweights line her bank proudly, reflecting their beauty in her sparkling waters. We’ve seen how metro line 4 can give you all of the capital’s flavours north to south, but the Seine can do the same from east to west, so even if you’re (un)lucky enough to be in Paris for only a couple of hours, follow her contours and you won’t miss much.

There are of course many ways to do this (though I’ll put my foot down, those maddening electric scooters will NOT be tolerated). The river boat bateaux mouches will glide you briskly (though not cheaply) past the sights, with the added bonus of unique under-the-bridge vistas (mind your head). Given that much of the lower banks have been developed and fully pedestrianised, cycling and strolling are much finer choices, with ample entertainment provided for pensive pauses gazing at the water flowing past, and sun-tan-tastic Paris Plages for self-bronzing devotees. Many have been so charmed by the banks that they’ve decided to make them their home, and many a be-floraled houseboat can be spotted too, especially the further out of the city proper you go.

Those interested in more artistic pursuits (beyond gazing at the outside of museums) will revel in ambling by the hundreds of bouquinistes selling their literary wares on the banks at street level. Dancers can get their teeth into a tango at the Jardin Tino Rossi down by the river in the 5th (pm), and fish botherers can fill their boots (well, waders perhaps) if they rock up with permit and rod in hand (salmon allegedly returned to the water in 2009, but I wasn’t that lucky, and this is all I could tempt onto mine). These days sport takes on a whole other dimension as preparations for the 2024 olympics are well underway, with the river earmarked for swimming and triathlon events.

There’s a whole tourist boat full of stuff about the Seine that I’ve missed here (I didn’t even get to the part about the dead bodies), enough probably to warrant another post (I’ll add it to the list..) In the meantime here’s my glass (of wine, naturally) raised to the watery maiden that only expertly stokes, rather than subdues, the flames in my fiery heart. Cheers!

New ages for pages

Phew chers followers! What a time I’ve been having of it recently at the Granny Flat! After two years of pulling up my donkey and ushuring all my possessions over the threshold, the time has finally come to get my hands dirty, embrace and advance my fledgling DIY skills, and little by little peel back the layers to expose the old girl’s metaphorical undercrackers. Oh the history (plus lurid green paint, dodgy fittings and holes) I’ve been uncovering.

Kim books 2Gratingly, at the same time a cloud of insomnia has descended onto my hand-made Granny-fashioned roll-out bed, meaning that the ever-darkening nights have been spent tossing and turning beneath the covers, eyes firmly open, as if I’ve suddenly forgotten how this darn sleep thing works. Happily though there are infinite things one can do with an abandoned pallet and a few basic tools, so my rolling mind has been awash with ideas to turn my cute little palace into a modern temple of do-it-yourself, budget-conscious wonderment.

To stop me from getting totally carried away, my precious stack of books has also proved invaluable during those nights of broken sleep, and as you’ll recall from my last post, I’ve recently topped up supplies. But hoovering literature like it’s going out of fashion means my limited space is simply chocka with tomes that need new homes. Sadly the next SOS book sale isn’t until the spring, so what to do with those stories in need of recycling to free up precious space to accommodate my ever-growing tool box?

Kim books 3Paris has kindly provided some useful and financially rewarding options for off-loading spent books, though passing on via friends and the wider book community and giving to charity are always the most virtuous options. But, à la fin du jour, the crisis still lingers and sometimes a few extra euros weighing down our wallets can just make that all important difference in living a more comfortable life. Plus it’s not always easy to find a willing recipient with the same literary tastes.

Kim books 5So where to go? Well head towards the centre of Paris and you’ll find a collection of bookshops that sell, and crucially buy, secondhand English language books, including paperback and hardback fiction, travel books and various non-fiction titles. If you haven’t been to the hallowed Shakespeare and Company yet (37 Rue de la Bûcherie, 75005), then you’re well overdue a visit, especially considering that they’ve recently opened a café next door, meaning that you can nestle with your chosen pages in warm comfort as winter approaches. The tiny shop where you go to offer your wares is just nearby at 71 rue Galande.

The minuscule Canadian-run Abbey Bookshop not far at 29 rue de la Parcheminerie will also accept secondhand specimens to buy, and even if you’re not willing to part with them, it’s traditional floor-too-ceiling randomly stacked shelves are a joy to behold for any enthusiastic reader. Yellow-hued chain Gibert Jeune in the same neighbourhood has a dedicated bourse des livres (2 Place Saint-Michel, just next to the bigger shop at no. 4, and there’s also one on Boulevard Saint-Denis), and they’ll pay you in cash (like the others) once they’ve perused and valued the items you’ve brought.

Kim books 4We’re not talking big bucks here by any means (the last time I went to Shakespeare and Company I left six books lighter with 11 euros in my back pocket), and they won’t accept any old tat that you want to get rid of. But in these times of tight economies, it makes sense to recycle the things you don’t need and get a bit of cash in return, rather than keep them chez toi as handy dust magnets. After all, those screws and sandpaper don’t buy themselves you know. Parisian DIY-on-a-budget masterclass post coming soon…

Never-ending stories

Kim SOS 2It’s a bit of a short post this week sports fans, given that at the Granny Flat, reading (and rugby) 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 dive into. And what perfect timing! Nothing says autumn more than curling up on a darkening evening with a mug of something steaming and a good book to get lost in.

I’m also a fan of doing good where possible (as I’m sure you are too, dear reader), so SOS Help’s bi-annual book sale 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. Just in time to replenish those shelves for the long black evenings of chilly winter, the second sale of the year takes place on Sunday October 11th.

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 Oct 11, 12-4 pm
Orrick Law Offices
31 avenue Pierre 1er de Serbie, 16e
http://www.soshelpline.org

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

Paris through the pages

IMG_1971Here in Granny Flat HQ, it’s fair to say that books outnumber people. Books outnumber all of my pieces of crockery and cutlery put together. And probably clothes, too if I’m honest. If I can put it into perspective, I’m a huge fan of wine and love nothing more than cracking open a decent bottle with carefully selected invitees. I have a wine rack in fact. It’s filled to the brim with the good stuff. Books.

So obviously, as is my duty as an avid reader and Paris resident, I’ve obediently consumed a good number of the ex-pat literature on France, of which there are a massive amount of examples. We’ve all heard of the Stephen Clarke Merde series, good enough for a giggle but one of the leaders of a band of books that seem to trade on French stereotypes and Parisian clichés. It’s as if writers are still trying to recreate the success of Mayle’s Provence series, with most being poor substitutes.

I personally don’t think many of the I-moved-to-a-foreign-country-and-here’s-my-hilarious-take-on-the-natives examples floating around are really much cop, relying on the same tired format and hackneyed anecdotes. But happily I have stumbled across a few gems that offer a fresh perspective on a city, so here’s a few recommendations, good for residents and those who just love a bit of French flair in their lives, whatever their location.

IMG_1940Lunch in Paris by Elizabeth Bard is on the more saccharine side of the genre, but that’s no bad thing. There are those moments we want to ignore the dog poo coating the streets, being pushed on the metro and ignored in restaurants and concentrate on the magic of Paris that can fade into a pin prick the longer you stay here. Paris is magic. But Paris can be incredibly jading too. There’s nothing like seeing the city afresh through the rose-tinted glasses of an enthusiastic American to restore the romance. Plus you get cooking tips too.

Paris-centric The Secret Life of France sounds at first glance like another in a long line of conveyor belt fluff about an individual’s experience in this sometimes maddeningly complicated country, complete with stroppy waiters and stripy-jumper-clad plumbers named Pierre who don’t know the first thing about fixing pipes. So many of these books are paint-by-numbers accounts jumping from croissant to ancient writer’s hangout and back again, but Oxford-educated Lucy Wadham offers a hugely intelligent view on the living in Paris, and France as a whole, looking into history, politics, medicine and schooling, and everything in between. Exhaustively researched, its view of the French psyche is as thorough, funny and accurate as any I’ve seen.

IMG_1941If it’s the tales the city can tell about itself that float your literary boat, Pure by Andrew Miller gives an excellent fictional account of one of the grisliest histories, the emptying and eventual demolition of the Cemetery of the Innocents (and the subsequent creation of the Catacombs), its overflowing graves stinking out the area around St Eustache and Châtelet back in the day. Set in pre-Revolutionary Paris, the writer conjures up a vivid portrait of what the atmosphere and geography was during that era, in all of its putrid, cramped, wonky-building-ed glory. As historical fiction goes, I haven’t read much better.

In The Most Beautiful Walk in the World, John Baxter winds through the city following in the footsteps of many a famous inhabitant, doing that thing Parisians love doing best, walking. Sure he hits the well-known boulevards and visits the sites of literary heritage visited by the world and his wife before. But he does go off the beaten track a little bit too, painting a harmonious picture of gritty realism and magical history, with a few of his tales of domestic bliss and time as a walking tour guide thrown in for good measure.IMG_1942

Though a tour of the whole country, with a mere chapter on Paris itself, A Goose in Toulouse by Mort Rosenblum is a must-read for those interested in French food culture (so that’s all of us then). A quite delicious dive into the culinary heritage of a nation that occupies its collective mind more than most on such matters, Rosenblum gets to know Michelin chefs, local producers, decades-old restaurant patrons and those trying to tooth-and-nail to keep centuries-old traditions alive. It’ll inspire a desperate motivation to make full use of the kitchen, or at least a gargantuan appetite. Preferably both.

And Robert est ton oncle as the French would say. Whether it’s the real version of Paris scheduled for the spring, or a desire to capture the atmosphere of one of the most enchanting cities in the world without actually being there, these will keep you going through the winter months. Happy reading mes amis.