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…

To be, to do, to have

IMG_3062Dear old January. A vacuum of celebration (and skiing opportunities apparently), where only good intentions and quiet reflection can attempt to fill the void. Most people dream of the path of 2016 paved with virtuous objectives, reflecting on hopes and wishes for the year ahead in a cloud of wide-eyed optimism. Well, I’m not like other people. At the close of this particular festive period, my thoughts have turned towards grammar.

Woah, woah, woah, don’t touch that dial! There’s an awesome point coming I swear it. See normally the differences between my home land and adopted country are blindingly (and mostly) endearingly obvious, but when it comes to auxiliary verbs (i.e. ‘helping’ verbs that are used to make other tenses for those allergic to grammar), we’re like two peas in a pod. Both languages use the duo to be and to have (‘I am writing’ and ‘I have written’ for example), though in the true spirit of English oneupmanship against our ancient Gallic rivals, English also adopts to do to form a happy trio of conjugation.

IMG_3061Seriously, do bear with me, this is going somewhere, I promise. Not just handy linguistic tools I surmised one tropical December day. No, no, no. Delve deeper into the inherent meaning of these three grammatical building blocks and you just might find the meaning of life itself (and it may be hard to believe but no wine was responsible for fuelling these musings). To be, to do, to have – isn’t that what forms the basis of our existence? (As I later discovered in research breaks during pauses in Grey’s Anatomy binges, that’s precisely reason why they’re auxiliary verbs in the first place…)

But somewhere along the line, the batting order has all gone a bit awry in the journey through modern life. Whereas ‘being’ and ‘doing’ used to feed the soul, now ‘having’ is all most of us can think of. Or at least the true nature of having, in that you can feel contented and fulfilled with the things that you already have. That’s been replaced with an insatiable compulsion to fill our lives with more and more, as if possession and consumption are the only ways to measure value.

IMG_3064So top of my 2016 resolution list (yes, I’m not at all embarrassed to admit I still make a ton of these) is to concentrate my efforts on more being and doing, leaving ‘having’ closed up in a static box, like an overused credit card battered and bruised after Christmas spending. And I’m exactly in the right place to do it – maybe one of the reasons the French stuck with an auxiliary twosome is because the concept of ‘being’ is such a huge part of the cultural fabric that an extra recruit wasn’t needed. Sitting in rattan chair on the terrace of a café in Paris watching the world go by? You couldn’t ‘be’ harder or happier than that if you tried.

Sure, have fun, have a bath, have dreams, have hopes. Have sex. Have that extra macaron. But I hope that 2016 brings you memories and experience with presence, appreciation and activity at the core. Take a moment to cast an eye over what you already have and you’ll no doubt realise that you probably already have everything and more that you really need (c’mon, be truly honest here). If you can take care of the being part, I’ll provide you with plenty of things to do over the coming year that will hopefully brighten your time in Paris, whatever your reason for being here. Happy 2016 one and all.

???????????????????????????????Ok, philosophical reflective moment over. It’s 2016, time to get wrestling with that to do list..

(PS. I sincerely promise this will be my last EVER blog post on auxiliary verbs. Brownie’s honour.)

Santa Chords

Be still my beating heart...

Be still my beating heart…

In the voyage of discovery that has been my so-far seven years in France, I’ve encountered many a curious and endearing custom. At this time of year, that cultural apprenticeship turns festive, and I’ve learned an awful lot about how the French embrace the Christmas period, not least their baffling fondness for holding on to their Christmas trees for dear life until the summer months, refusing to let them go until every last needle has fallen.

Kim carols 4This year though, my education intensifies as I’ll be spending my very first Noël in my adopted homeland. Mostly, I’m not going to lie, I’m looking forward to the good food, Champagne and feasting, not to mention the best French lesson a person could have, spending Christmas Eve as I am (the Queen ‘turkey’ on France’s December calendar) around a table with 15 authentic locals. English will be as rare during that meal as a flaming Christmas pudding, bread sauce and paper hats.

But it dawned on me the other day, with every Christmas card I wrote, that the glaring lump of coal in my Gallic Christmas stocking, was the French Christmas soundtrack. Or more accurately, the lack of it. I may be denied seconds by my hosts when I proclaim that the music culture in France is one of the country’s weakest points (at least when compared to the motherland’s efforts), and it seems that even a dollop of festive cheer hasn’t been enough to get the nation’s songwriting heavyweights to lift up their pens. Back in the UK anyone who’s anyone has a Christmas song under their belt. Even East 17.

Kim carols 3There are some that exist of course, we’re not talking full-on Scrooge here. One of the most well-known and best loved is the tinkling classic Petit Papa Noël, though anything by Bing Crosby knocks that right out of the snow. Jingle Bells loses most of its Christmas charm when translated into its French version Vive le Vent, more a meteorological observation in lyrical form as it celebrates that, erm, delightfully biting winter wind. Even French legend Jonny Hallyday has had a couple of pops, but I’m not providing you with any links to save your ears.

Joyeux Noël from the Granny Flat!

Joyeux Noël from the Granny Flat!

The religious crowd get their fix with some classics carols, but these, and most of the holiday song efforts are mere translations of various international versions, with lyrics forced in like stuffing in a plump bird. For a gal who’s used to The Pogues, Nat King Cole, Chris Rea and Shakin’ Stevens keeping me nodding through Christmas dinner, I simply won’t be having a wonderful Christmastime in the music stakes this year. And don’t even get me started on the glaring Wham!-shaped hole, though in retrospect given the crazy-warm December weather this week, Club Tropicana may be more appropriate than Last Christmas.

I promise I will try to get in the spirit and not spend the 24th pining after Elton John et al (though I’m sure the oysters and foie gras will go some way towards helping), but I can’t promise I won’t try and teach my fellow French revellers how to sing Fairytale of New York when my head is merry with bubbles. By God, they’d better know how to play Charades…. 

It’s a fine line…

Kim axis 3Pondering the beauty of my home city the other day, it struck me that the ‘P’ for Paris also stands for ‘paradox’ – and I don’t just mean the presence of sheer mountains of dog merde clogging up streets in a place so celebrated for its good looks. When we think of France’s capital, we often think of it as a place to spend a romantic weekend, or a few days’ shopping. Whatever the purpose of your visit, it seems that most of us intend it to be a short one, which quite frankly sells the old Dame a bit short.

With so many gorgeous things to see, having a mini break here seems as nuts as trying to fit your worldy possessions into a 10m² apartment (trust me, despite optimistic projection is NEVER. GOING. TO. HAPPEN.). Your experiences will just end up bulging out of either side, and no one likes squashed memories. Sure, life is busy and there are so many amazing places to see, not just in France but in the whole world, and finding time for a holiday is as difficult as locating a Parisian parking space.

Kim axis 2Coupled with this, we’re used to having things at the touch of a button, in an instant, in a tiny package that fits into the palms of our hands. Well as much as I’m reluctant to move with the times (still resisting that smartphone would you believe), I have to admire the way that Paris caters to these modern needs and provides us with all the best bits in one bite-size chunk. Want to see all the big players in one tidy tableau without spending precious sightseeing time zigzagging the city map encased in the metro? Paris delivers like a pro.

KIm axis 1If cityscapes were apps, the Axe Historique would gain top marks for usability. An axis, or straight line extending from the centre of the city out to the west, it connects a large number of the most famous sights, meaning that if you’ve no other option than to limit your time to a couple of hard-won days off, or God forbid, mere hours (shudder), you’ll get to bask in the delights of the city’s most revered structural gems without sacrificing too much time.

Kim axis 6The concept of this handy continuous perspective across the city (clearly completely impossible these days in our cram-’em-in pile’em-high urban tangles) was hatched back in the 17th century with the creation of the straight-as-a-poker Champs-Élysées, and encompassed the neighbouring Tuileries gardens (and ancient palace that has since burned down). These days the collection of famous faces has swelled, and now includes from east to west: the Louvre, Arc de Triomphe du Carrousel, Place de la Concorde and its central Obelisk, Champs-Élysées, Place de l’Étoile dominated by the Arc de Triomphe (regular) and the modern Grande Arche in the satellite CBD way out at La Défense. Currents plans will see it extend even further into the well-to-do suburb of Neuilly.

Kim axis 5I’m hardly the greatest fan of modern scourge the ‘selfie’ (savour life through your very own peepers, not through the screen of your blinking’ phone!) but even I have to admit the gold star value of this particular spot. Position yourself at the eastern end of the Tuileries gardens and the Eiffel Tower will also be in clear view (seriously, what more could you want?!), and turn 180° and ponder exactly how drunk the builders must have been to ensure that the great pyramid of the Louvre will forever be frustratingly off-centre*. Perfectionists beware.

*Said drunkenness is probably not in the slightest bit historically accurate.

Out and a spout

Kim strav 1Summer attracts folk to water like bees to a fallen scoop of raspberry sorbet. Paris Plages’ artificial beaches hugging the banks of the Seine are an option if you don’t mind your tides weak and murky, but for me it doesn’t come close to sating my need for the rolling waves and golden sands that I grew up with on the south coast of England.

Fountains provide the continuous liquid tinkle of relaxation if you park yourself next to them, and if we’re talking about out-spouting the rest, then you can’t beat the graceful flow found at Versailles. But maybe your donkey’s out of order, and the city centre is the only option there is. Where to go to soothe the soul with the gentle stream of calming water music?

Kim strav 2Nestled in a corner of the 3rd arrondissement in the patch more familiarly known as ‘Beaubourg’, you’ll find the modern colour extravaganza that is the Stravinsky Fountain. Just make sure that your eyes aren’t too preoccupied with the neighbouring fantasmic Pompidou Centre, or you’re bound to miss it. And that would be a crying shame – this puppy is like no fountain your eyes will have ever beholden before. If a water feature ever mated with A Clockwork Orange, this would be the happy result.

Kim strav 4Bright and quirky in equal measure, it comprises of a shallow basin (which doesn’t mean you can hop in and have a paddle) housing sixteen sculptures reflecting the different works of naturalised French citizen and composer Igor Stravinsky. If you study each piece for long enough, you’ll be able to identify such characters as ‘the firebird’, ‘the frog’, ‘love’ and ‘death’. It’s a living fountain too – the pieces move and spray water making those fountains at Versailles look pretty one dimensional in comparison.

Kim strav 5Inaugurated in 1983, it was the work of sculptors Jean Tinguely and his wife Niki de Saint Phalle. Not only does it celebrate Stravinsky’s work, but it was designed to put the Pompidou Centre is some kind of context. On its own, Paris’ modern art gallery is like a scary alien invader amongst the traditional architecture of the city, but with the fountain keeping it company, its progressive, contemporary charm suddenly finds a happy home. Even Dali approves, looking over the water play from a giant mural on a neighbouring wall.

Kim strav 3Once you’ve been suitably hypnotised by the liquid enlightenment and spinning parts, don’t hurry off too soon. That modern artistic spirit has spread to the streets, and this is one part of town where you’ll find some of the weirdest and most wonderful street performers keeping the passers-by mesmerised with their own unique brand of grass roots art.

If you’re immune to all of this creativity, all is not lost; on one of the fountain’s perimeters are cafes and terraces galore, including the home of some the best crêpes in town. Hear that dripping sound? That’ll be your mouth watering…

Talkin’ bout a revolution……

If Paris was a family, the Eiffel Tower would be at the bottom of the tree, the precocious young pup at a mere 126 years old. Being the juvenile show pony of the city kin, it’s no wonder that hordes flock to her as a priority, leaving the rest of the Parisian clan to fill up the lower reaches of the sightseeing list. But you know what tower, dear? It’s far too hot to be shimmying up your height in this face-melting weather, so we’ll leave your daunting climb to a day during much cooler times.

Kim bastille 1Luckily it’s almost as if the history of Paris prepared itself for this change in temperature, and July is the month to cast our cultural eye, Sauron style, to a different part of town where it’s the country as a complete generational unit that gets our undivided attention. You’re in the mood for a lively celebration? Then you can’t go wrong if you happen to be in the capital on 14 July for France’s Fête Nationale, or ‘Bastille Day’ as us Anglos like to refer to it.

Kim French 3In the Motherland, the damp squib that is England’s national day on 23 April couldn’t be more of a contrast. Over there we raise little more than an eyebrow in celebration to Greek-born Saint George who never actually went to the green and pleasant land, and made himself famous, as legend has it, by having a to-do with a dragon. Yes, that traditional English native animal, THE DRAGON. Here in France the origins of the national celebration may be more recent, but a whole lot less tenous, and a far more historically rich and suitably patriotic affair.

Kim bastille 5The whole shebang started way back in 1789 when thousands of cheesed-off revolutionaries stormed the Bastille prison, marking the beginning of the French Revolution and setting the wheels in motion for a chain of events that would change the country and its values forever. A feast was held on the same date the following year to mark the momentous occasion, but there was a whole lot of revolting happening during the subsequent 100 years, and the date wasn’t chosen and officiated as the national celebration day until 1880.

The spirit of French unity which prompted its creation carries through to today and a week on Tuesday you can check out the huge parade of military might on the Champs Élysées and watch the heart-shuddering air display pass over the city. The Eiffel Tower can’t help but muscle in on the festivities as restless kids are wont to do, and naturally an impressive fireworks display makes sure we pay enough attention to it.

Kim bastille 4If you fancy absorbing some of the original revolutionary spirit, head to Place de la Bastille. You won’t find the original prison there as the revolutionaries did a sterling job of dismantling it stone by stone, but if you want to see just what an impressive feat that is, duck into the metro and find the platform of line 5 (direction Bobigny) where you can find the only remaining chunk of foundations and an outline of where the structure used to stand.

Kim bastille 2Don’t be lumping into the 1789 story the green column standing proud in the middle of the place though – that’s a whole other story of the 2nd French Revolution (oh how they loved making their point back then). Named the July column, it commemorates the 3-day-long July Revolution of 1830 (27-29 July), and the little gold cherub on the top represents the spirit of freedom. Revolutions? Buy one get one free in these parts.

I hope you can appreciate my brevity in telling these tales, with history as rich as this, we’d be here all year if I tried to delve any further. So for now, enjoy the sunshine, embrace the fête and save the French history lesson until the winter.

Battle cry

Me getting' my French on

Me getting’ my French on

Bonjour there old friends! Have you missed us? Well whatever the extent of your blog pinings may be, there has certainly been a Granny Flat-shaped hole in my life of late as I abandoned the old girl to spend a well-earned rest back in the UK. Without her comforting embrace, my writing powers were hugely diminished, and what with meeting my new niece (so gorgeous!) and reconnecting with the Motherland, the last two posts have stubbornly refused to materialise.

What with the UK elections hogging the headlines too, it’s been a terribly patriotic time chez moi. Not that there’s anything wrong with that of course, but nestled back in France, it’s time to readjust to the cultural shift and get myself back in a Gallic state of mind.

There are many ways I can tackle this, from stuffing my face with baguettes and cheese to blowing the budget at Chanel, but I’m all about health and my blog prides itself on its frugal tilt, so we’ll leave that to the others. Instead I have a sure-fire way to get my French hat on again, using a technique I’ve always made a priority in each culture I’ve lived in – learning the national anthem and singing it as loud as you can (preferably in the shower).

Kim French 3I’m the first to admit that the UK’s effort is hardly inspiring (‘dirge’ springs to mind, sorry Ma’am) and probably on its last legs given the political climate back on the island right now. In comparison the French version, La Marseillaise, is about as rousing as you can get, invoking ruddy-faced French folk of yore swigging wine in the fields and celebrating their homeland’s many virtues in voices as loud as they can go.

Well…. there’s some ‘red’ in their somewhere, but behind the spirited melody is a far more violent sentiment than you’d probably first think. We’re not celebrating the crustiness of the humble baguette here, but the bloodthirsty tendencies of revolutionary soldiers who yearn to spill the blood of their enemies. If anthems were series, then Game of Thrones it would be. Here is a translated version…

Let’s go children of the fatherland,
The day of glory has arrived!
Against us tyranny’s
Bloody flag is raised! (repeat)
In the countryside, do you hear
The roaring of these fierce soldiers?
They come right to our arms
To slit the throats of our sons, our friends!

Chorus

Grab your weapons, citizens!
Form your batallions!
Let us march! Let us march!
May impure blood
Water our fields!

Kim French 2

French transition complete.

Blimey. It’s the Haka in lyrical form. Who knew that when I first learned the words (in French) what I was really singing about? There are more verses, naturally (as the same with God Save the… zzzzz), replaying the same feeling over again, encouraging the French fighting spirit against the tyrants, traitors and er, ‘mercenary phalanxes’ who threaten their liberty. Never mind blood spilling, it certainly gets my blood pumping in the shower on a Parisian morning….

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.

Kim rues 7

‘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.

Kim rues 2

‘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.

Kim rues 9

‘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.

Kim rues 10

‘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.

Push the goat out

Kim ChineseNY 1So those New Year’s resolutions are a distant memory by now, eh? Let’s not begin to count how many got washed down the drain of apathy into a cesspool of honest intentions, that we’ll no doubt fish out and recycle come December. Sigh. If only we could rewind the clock and travel back to January to capture that full-strength motivation, stuff it in a jar and feed from it for the rest of the year.

Well you can! Sort of. If you’ll turn your shameful gaze towards the Chinese calendar, then today just happens to be New Year’s Eve, the most Etch-a-Sketch night of the year when we can fervently shake up the memories, sweep the mistakes of the past year under the carpet and start the new one with determined and wholesome vigour. Life hardly throws us many seconds chances, for redemption or otherwise, so grab it while you can.

Kim CineseNY2Tomorrow (19th February) sees the official start of the Chinese new year when the outgoing horse high-fives the incoming goat. Well, I say ‘goat’, it’s a wood-dwelling sheep-goat-ram thing if we’re being proper, so much of the world call this the ‘year of the sheep’ instead, before you start pointing out my error (‘goat’ got more Google results than ‘sheep’, thus being my sophisticated method of selection. That and the prospect of a zippier headline).

In the Asian world, this marks a period of extensive holiday and celebration, and ceremonial worship of all things goat-y (or sheep-y). Given I’m the sign of the ram in the western zodiac calendar (Aries), then I’m quite happy to assume this year as full of personal luck and prosperity like all of the other goats in the world. Call me greedy if you like, but if the Queen has two birthdays, then surely it’s permitted (she’s a tiger by the way, naturally). Traditionally, typical ‘goats’ are gentle, peace-loving, thoughtful and kind, but prone to munching on your smalls hanging on the washing line if you leave them alone for too long.

Kim ChineseNY 3In Paris there will be ample opportunity to participate in the festivities due to the city’s huge Franco-Chinese population, with activity being centered around the Marais, Belleville and the ‘official’ Chinatown in the 13th. The parades are the big draws, what with their lively atmosphere, traditional dancing and kick-ass dragons, but there are also food stalls, street demonstrations, martial arts and exhibitions put on by the mairie of the 13th in celebration Chinese and Asian culture to check out as well.

The bulk of the events take place this weekend (21st and 22nd, what with tonight being a school night and all), and the first parade leaves from Place de la Republique at 14h30 on Saturday, to weave through the Marais. Dragons and revellers will also fill the streets for the Belleville parade starting at 11h30 on Sunday morning, with the main procession winding through the 13th the same afternoon from 13h, accompanied by the delightful whiff of new starts and firecrackers.

Here is a list of events from the official website of the Mairie de Paris (in French).

Gong Xi Fa Cai!

PS. Apologies for the lack of photos of actual goats. They’re hard to come by in Paris.

(W)all you need is love

Sorry for the late post this week loyal readers, the ‘flu virus I’d been running from finally found me this week, and as we all know, creative juices and evil germs just don’t get on. But Granny Flat has proved herself as an excellent nursemaid, and the clouds of poor health are happily beginning to lift.

Kim wall 3When we’re poorly, all we need is a bit of loving (of the non Fifty Shades kind, steady on). So kudos for all of us who have either ended up in, or been at least once to this most romantic of cities. With Valentine’s day just a cupid’s arrow away, you can be sure that a huge proportion of the world’s most ardent lovers have descended on Paris to make sure their heart’s allegiance is declared loud and clear in the most appropriate and sentiment-saturated of settings.

Kim wall 1It used to be that attaching a padlock to one of Paris’ most charming bridges was the only acceptable way for any Casanova (or Casanov-ette for that matter) to prove his ardour (and even I was guilty of promoting the trend this time last year). But now we’ve all learned the error of our ways and seen just how the burden of so much collective sentiment can actually be hugely damaging to the city’s architecture, not to mention a massive pollutant for the famous River Seine. Joy Division proved to be an oracle for the future in addition to being a kick-ass 80s band, with their right-on assertion that ‘Love can tear us apart’. They were right on the money, in terms of ‘us’ being a bridge, anyhoo.

Kim wall 2So maybe macaroons are the order of the day. A box of chocolates perhaps. Or even stick with tradition and thrust a bunch of roses under your lover’s nose. But with street sellers walking past with blooming bouquets for sale what seems like every five minutes, that idea now seems about as romantic as the Dropkick Murphy’s attempt at a love song, ‘Kiss me I’m shitfaced’. And you’d better be five sheets to the wind if you think buying a rose for your cherie in that fashion spells top Valentine’s points.

Kim wall 7Instead take a tip from me and take a walk to a part of the city I love, Abbesses, in the arrondissement I’ve been having a love affair with ever since my first trip to Paris, the 18th, and visit a whole wall dedicated to sweet, delicious amour. You can take your sickly pink desserts and romantic mood music, I’m a writer, so nothing is more important to me than words, pure and simple. And here nestled in the small and perfectly formed Square Jehan-Rictus just near the metro, is a whole wall dedicated to the linguistic profession of undying affection.

Kim wall 5Le mur des je t’aime or ‘wall of I love yous’ contains 311 examples of the same phrase written in 250 different languages, printed on 612 squares of polished blue lava tiles, forming an extraordinary monument to love itself. It was the idea of Frédéric Baron, a wannabe traveller who wanted to travel the world to hand-collect his texts, but instead achieved his goal through his network of friends, family and foreign acquaintances.

It was artist and calligrapher Claire Kito and mural specialist Daniel Boulogne who made his dream into reality, and this year the wall celebrates its 15th birthday, the age at which most of us are taking our first forays into love as nervous teenagers and testing our fledgling hearts for the very first time. So this year, give the padlocks a wide berth, and plant a smacker on your loved one’s lips in front of this 40m² expression of love. Paris will love you back for it.