Autumn leaves… or does it?

Living in France, we do get used to erring on the side of tardiness when it comes to appointments and suchlike (though it does allow time to squeeze in a bonus apéro as an alternative to watch tapping if you’re waiting on a friend on a café terrasse somewhere, silver lining and all that). But the weather? Never have I before seen the summer be quite so fashionably late as it was this year, finally gracing us with his* presence in mid-October just as we’d begrudgingly stuffed our summer garb into the back of the wardrobe and liberated the winter woollens.

Though it may point to worrying variations ahead in our global climate, we did as we all do when the sun appears in an unexpected encore, and without a care for the world weather crisis, re-donned our flip-flops and raced to the nearest patch of grass in the hope of achieving a hallowed autumn tan. But which parcel of green in particular? is always the burning question on fairer days, though one I didn’t have to ask as I was passing Parc Monceau last week on my way to scope out a location for a future blog post (this isn’t just thrown together at the last minute you know…).

Nestled at the very top of the 17th and the very bottom of the 8th arrondissement, you’d be hard pressed to find much else in the immediate area to do, and I must admit I only found myself here on the way to somewhere else, and popped in to use that rarest of facilities – free toilets – housed in the entrance’s imposing rotunda. But having not visited it for a while, I couldn’t resist a turn around the lawns, and dutifully washed my hands and started on my loop.

Now this time of the year most of the green grass in Paris is ‘turned off’ and put into rest mode so it can regenerate into a lush carpet ready for next year’s picnic season, so rolling around on Monceau’s gently undulating slopes just wasn’t an option. But you know, parks simply weren’t design just for collective lounging on warm sunny days, and this one more than most demands you stroll around its confines, trying to spot the myriad features installed for the pleasure of the visiting public, that honestly put the humble picnic quite to shame. So many there are, the city should really think of inventing some kind of Monceau bingo.

Originally completed in 1779, it was the idea of Phillipe d’Orléans, cousin of King Louis XVI and close friend of future English king George IV. Not surprisingly given his close ties to the neighbours across the channel, Phillipe was a lover of all things English, and wanted to fill his public park with architectural follies, or reconstructions of historical and world buildings, typical of English gardens at the time (before Vegas went crazy with the idea a few centuries later). So look hard enough and you’ll find an Egyptian pyramid, a Roman colonnade, a Chinese fort and a Dutch windmill nestled in the landscape, not to mention statues of French luminaries like Maupassant and Chopin, added later in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The level of art was so impressive, even Monet popped down a few times a century after the park’s inception, producing five paintings of it in total.

These days, quiet artistic reflection has given way to almost frenzied athletic activity, though feel free to take a moment to reflect on the property prices of the buildings overlooking the park’s 8.2 acres (clue: win-big-in-Vegas prices). If you’re a visitor here today, chances are jogging is on the agenda, and during daylight hours there is a constant stream of lycra-clad pavement pounders doing the rounds, not to mention the grunt of a thousand sit-ups and lunges echoing through the air. So eager is the fitness spirit here, I spied a guys selling protein powder at the entrance. No kidding. Those with younger models looking to shed excess energy, a carousel and tandem swings will effortlessly get the job done.

Maybe jogging isn’t your thing, though admittedly a better choice than the chosen active pursuit of 1797 – the world’s first silk parachute jump that landed in the history books right in the park’s grounds. Perhaps a turn or two doesn’t look too bad in comparison, though we’ll let the weather decide our level of exertion for now. Where did I put that umbrella?

Click here for more info on times and location.

* summer is masculine in French as are the rest of the seasons, try and work that logic out…

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Innocents pleasures

Hi there stranger! A whole season has passed since we’ve seen each other, as life has been busy at the Granny Flat of late. I have a few other irons in the fire (one day I’ll let you in on it…) that have selfishly stolen my attention and left you post-less, but hopefully you’ve overcome the drought by reminiscing through old Paris Small Capital bounty. Yep, I thought so.

So we’ve said goodbye to summer and are waist-deep in la rentrée, that autumnal trudge back to work, studies and reality, kept afloat by distant dreams of the next holiday in the sun. With that return to normality, those pesky stress levels like to head skywards and will stay annoying buoyant until we can finally relax, sherry in hand over the Christmas holidays – for most the next sizeable chunk of relaxation showing on the yearly calendar.

Until then I’m sure to find myself pining for regular half an hour sessions sat beside a trickling mountain stream, to gather my thoughts and get the zen levels up to normal again. Alas, in Paris the only tinkling water streams around come from the Wallace fountains, and that’s not really what I had in mind. No, a more majestic water stream is what I need, and the Renaissance-style Fontaine des Innocents in central Châtelet never disappoints.

Not just the one of the biggest public fountains around, it’s also the oldest, being completed in 1550, and was originally part of a collection of decorative constructions intended to commemorate Henry II ‘s entrance into Paris in 1549 (this was in an age before balloons and ticker tape, obviously). Architect Pierre Lescot was the chap responsible, chosen undoubtedly thanks to his work as chief architect of the Louvre Palace.

Now we generally assume fountains to be fairly static affairs, hardly a natural piece of municipal furniture to keep moving about like an occasional table. But this stone beast has travelled more than most, currently occupying its third home, not to mention second name, having been called originally the Fontaine des Nymphs. Take a second just to wonder how on earth they managed to transport the thing using only a rickety horse and cart…

Thanks to the grizzly history of the area it was originally constructed in, the fountain found a new home in 1787 after the adjacent Cimetière des Saints-Innocents was dug up for sanitation purposes and its ‘inhabitants’ were transported to the Catacombs (expertly recounted in Andrew Miller’s novel Pure). Moving just round the corner to the central square of the former Marché des Innocents (having valiantly fought off plans for its destruction), it moved again in 1858 to its current spot, where it happily trickles away, hoping never to be moved again.

So grab a croissant or a hunk of cheese and bread, and settle yourself in the shadow of its grandeur, and contemplate away. Maybe you’ll ponder the logistical nightmare of its travels, hypnotise yourself watching its gentle flow, or perhaps curse my sending you there to find that they’ve only gone and turned the water off (aside from in winter, naturally). Nope, I have no idea either. Answers on a postcard…

 

 

A right royal sunbathe

It’s that time of year folks – dust off the picnic blanket, grease yourself up in factor 15 and hit the park for a sizzling session or two of self-browning. Paris offers parks a-plenty for the purpose, though those with a more refined sense of outside fun in mind, might want to head to one of the city’s sculpted gardens.

Well hold your cool box right there sun-seeker, Paris hasn’t made this outdoor bronzing business quite as easy as we’d all hope, and actually not every green spot in town is open to receive a tartan blanket or ten. Think you can lounge uninterrupted on the grassy knoll in front of Sacre Coeur? Nope. You’ll get whistled at by killjoy guards before you’ve even settled in. The Jardin de Luxembourg might equally seem like a nice spot, but in fact amongst all that lush lawn, there’s only a tiny parcel that you (and a thousand other sun worshipers) are allowed to sit on. And each time I’ve been, it’s been in the shade.

If you want to keep your foray into the great green relatively central, then there’s only one real option where the grass is fair game, and the surroundings couldn’t be classier – the Place des Vosges, a geometrically perfect square straddling the 3rd and 4th arrondissements. If Louis XIV (aka ‘The Sun King’) had ever decided to take his title literally and mingle with the masses in a sunbathing sesh, then this is surely where he’d have done it.

Originally christened Place Royale (see, told you it was classy), it was the work of Henri IV (or at least his building crew) and was inaugurated in 1612, remaining to this day the oldest planned square in the city. It’s also one of the most elegant, and the prototype for many square places dotted around Europe, and single-handedly responsible for making the Marais one of the wellest-to-do parts of Paris. If it’s typically classically decadent Parisian architecture you want, here’s where to find it in geometric perfectness.

For your lounging pleasure there are ample patches of lawn to spread your picnic on, or plenty of shade under the rows of clipped linden trees if the french sun begins to bite. Play spot the jogger skirting the edges, let the kids battle it out in the sand pit or simply lay back and let the regal fountains trickle you into a reverie. Mostly though, just let your mind wander amongst the lucky residents enjoying such an address and try to come up with ways to make enough money to follow them (you’ll need to budget for upwards of €18,000 per m2 FYI). Tax avoidance to fund your dreams may not be in the spirit of the location however, given that the square was named after the people of Vosges in 1799, the first department in the country to pay their taxes to fund the revolution.

For a sneak peek inside before you get home to count the coppers in your piggy bank, head to the south east side of the square to have a wander through Victor Hugo’s house, where he lived from 1832-1848, just after the publication of The Hunchback of Notre Dame. See if you can get an idea of the creative magic that lived here too – it was here where the seeds of Les Misérables were sown and the fledgling work began to take shape (finished eventually in 1862). Writing a bestseller might be the only chance you’ll ever have of living here after all…

 

 

 

Square Roots

kim-hdv-4Think of modern day politics and you’d be forgiven for thinking the end of the world is fast approaching. We have an orange cartoon villain as the leader of the free world, and concentrating on French soil, the name ‘Le Pen’ is looming uncomfortably large in a reality we hoped we’d never see. Can’t we go back to the Golden Age of politics when everything was just and fair, and made a whole lot more sense?

Yep, I don’t really know when that was either. To try and make myself (and you guys, obviously) feel a little better at the state of the world, I thought I’d take a peek back into French politics through the ages, and perhaps see how good we have it nowadays in comparison, harping back to the days when losing your (actual) head was the punishment for stepping out of line, rather then being roasted on CNN or having your Twitter account suspended. Compared to times gone past, believe it or not, this appears to be that golden age.

kim-hdv-1Now there’s no need to bore ourselves to tears trawling through the intricacies of the French political system (I like my soul and intend on keeping it), but instead let’s take a trip to one of Paris’ most important landmarks when it comes to governmental matters, albeit these days on a more administrative tip – le Hôtel de Ville. When I think of some of the concrete monstrosities that house those pesky paper pushers in the UK, well this beauty puts all of them to shame in quite damning fashion. I can’t imagine heading to a city’s council offices in absence of official business to lure me there, but Paris’ Hôtel de Ville is such a beautiful sight to behold in itself, that I’d quite happily cross the city on a rainy day just to stand outside and ogle at it.

kim-hdv-3But such architectural allure and elegance in fact hides quite a littered and lively past, or at least the square or ‘place’ in front of it does, having played host to events that have shaped modern day Paris since it was first know as ‘Place de Grève’ and used as a gathering spot way back in the 12th century. The word ‘grève’ refers to the gravel or sand that first defined the shorefront location, but also came to later mean ‘strike’ since it became known as a spot for unemployed people to complain en masse about their search for work, coining the expression ‘être en grève’ (to go on strike), now so fiercely engrained in the French psyche.

If we’re talking about gallic stereotypes, then nothing says French history like the bloody story of the guillotine. Well you won’t find a real one here, but stand in front of the Hôtel de Ville and you’ll be standing on the spot where the very first executions by guillotine took place, the bloodiest place in the city for a mere four months until the scaffold was moved elsewhere (more of that another time). Hardly a stranger to death though, the Place de Grève had been the official execution spot for at least 500 years before using various other medieval methods like the gallows or pillory. If walls could talk, eh?

kim-hdv-5Well, luckily enough these days, they kinda can. Not as in the narrators of grizzly legends gone by, but as modern beacons of hope, continually and silently reminding us that there is light at the end of the tunnel via the city’s motto ‘fluctuat nec mergitur‘, found on numerous municipal coats of arms adorning the sides of the building. Luckier still, you won’t find the bloodshed of ancient justice here these days, rather a charming carousel a world away from the horrors of old. It’s also the spot for many a special event, and ubiquitous protest of course, keeping the old rebel spirit alive.

For those heading inside, there’s always an exhibition or two worth a browse around (normally free), and my condolences if you’ve found yourself here (to attempt) to get some actual paperwork done. Whatever your motive, you’re doing the city a great disservice if you don’t take a couple of minutes outside to give a nod to its colourful political past.

Visit the official website here.

High on a hill stood a lonely vineyard

kim-vendanges-1Paris might be the bitchy queen bee of its country, pulling in the tourists like bears to honey with its luxurious superiority over its smaller French cousins, but there’s one notable chink in her armour. Exquisite architecture, yes, galleries galore, of course, and style in spades that looks down on almost everywhere else in the world – France’s capital seemingly has everything you could need for living the high life.

Well, almost everything. There’s an important trump card in the hands of many of the other regions in the country that Paris just can’t compete with. Oh, and it’s a big ‘un alright. Wine. Grape wizardry is what the ruddy-faced country folk lay claim to. But like a cunning madam with a trick up her sleeve, there is a oenophilic heritage to be found in the city, if you keep your nose close to the ground and look hard enough for it.

cimg7182Way, way up in the winding heights of the 18th, happily not far from Granny Flat HQ, is Clos Montmartre, a tiny vineyard that produces the only wine Paris can muster. Bordeaux it certainly isn’t given that fact that grape growing conditions in the inner city are hardly ideal, but it’s more of a gesture to the wine gods anyway, rather than a serious attempt to compete with the vinicultural juggernaughts in the rest of France.

In a nod to the wine-making past of Montmartre, where the industry flourished from the Roman era until the early 20th century when urbanisation and phylloxera soon stomped all over the practice, the vineyard was revived in 1933 by a group of locals led by artist Francis Poulbot, who wanted to preserve the viticultural heritage. Today it still stands, a minuscule parcel of vines of 1,556 sq m, tucked away in a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it corner between Rue des Saules and Rue Saint Vincent.

You can only visit by appointment in groups of over 12, but the view from the road is good enough to be able to spy on the progress of the grapes. But who need a private tour anyway when at the start of October the vineyard comes into its own with the Fête des Vendanges, a celebration of the yearly harvest and a new Paris vintage (it’s always a red, but don’t be expecting Margaux or anything).

kim-wine-fair-3The fête officially kicks off on Wednesday 5th and continues until Sunday 9th, though pretty much all of the good stuff takes place at the weekend. There are masses of stalls selling wine and produce from all over France, so you’d be well advised to forgo meals in preparation from, well, now, to make sure you take full advantage. Sadly you can’t get your hands on the Paris vintage though, that’s only available via auction (with all of the proceeds going to charity), and anyway with the price tag punching far above its weight, you’re better off spending your hard-earned on Champagne and saucisson in the assembled tents.

Aside from fireworks on the Saturday night, the highlight of the festivities is a parade through the streets of the 18th from the mairie at Jules Joffrin (where the grapes are eventually pressed) to the foot of Sacré Coeur on the Sunday (3pm start), where producers from around the country don their jauntiest traditional garb and celebrate the joy of growing the good stuff. For once in a city where image is everything, it’s life’s most humble offerings that are the kings. And you can’t say more delightfully simple than that.

On the right track

Kim Station 2Hey you! You with the terrible sunburn over there. Have a good holiday? Great! Me? I’ve still got a week in Sardinia to cope with, as my milky English skin can’t cope with the August rays on the beach (it’s a hard life). This month though I have been holidaying in a fashion, kicking about in Paris trying not to complain too much about the city’s face-melting heatwave, and making the most of the deserted streets (for my guide to a super Paris stay-cation, click here). I’d have been in touch, but I couldn’t risk you spilling your cocktail all over my blog, so for both our sakes, I’ve left it until now. But now, here we are, a wee pick-me-up post to cushion the blow of the rentrée let’s call it.

So, modern holidaying often requires being stuffed into a metal tube and catapulted through the skies to somewhere hot and sunny for a couple of weeks. Well, that’s the case for most of us, but the clever French have refined their holiday game to quite another standard. Most vacationers largely avoid the lo-cost cattle-esque aerial option preferring to head to the south of their own glorious country, where the sun shines bright and the need to master tricky foreign phrases dissolves into the sparkling blue sea. Air travel is possible from north to south, but any savvy traveller here knows that the car and plane are for chumps, and that the train is where it’s really at; one of France’s proudest, chest-puffing achievements.

Kim Station 1Being from the UK, my train-travel norm is paying hundreds of pounds to take the most long-winded and illogical route on an always-late train from one depressing station to another, without even the promise of a seat. Jeremy Corbyn has just made it political, for Christ’s sake. France offers quite the opposite thanks to the lightning fast (ok, not quite) TGV and a well-ordered nationalised rail network, meaning it’s possible to get from Paris to Montpellier (747 km or 464 miles) in a shade under 3 1/2 hours. To travel the same distance on a train in the UK (lost for words as to why you would though) would take at least twice as long and cost at least twice the price. Madness.

Kim Station 3Next time I’m on a TGV, I’m going to head to the bar carriage, order a glass of wine and ‘cheers’ the inside wall in appreciation of this seamless efficiency, that after nearly eight years of living here, is easy to take for granted. But this is a blog about Paris rather than train appreciation, (thank God), so I’ll turn my gaze instead towards the city’s major stations that quietly and skilfully assemble and disperse the nation’s passengers from and to all corners of the country, in a display of relaxed and scenic effortlessness.

Out of Paris’ six major station hubs (including stations at Austerlitz, Montparnasse and Saint-Lazare), it’s the big three gares Nord, Est and Lyon that deserve a visit even if you’re not planning on going anywhere. All 19th century constructions (Lyon was the latest, completed in 1900) pay homage to the cities their tracks serve, with the most ornate being Gare du Nord, featuring sculptures along its top edge dedicated to individual towns or cities, including some of the trains’ European destinations. Long regarded as a less than attractive or inviting part of town (and that’s being extremely kind), it’s sad that most passengers try to flee to the nicer parts of Paris without truly taking in the stunning architecture of Europe’s busiest station.

Kim Station 4The charms of Gare de l’Est and Gare du Lyon are often similarly ignored as visitors and commuters alike pass by their beauty thanks to underground train links, but the latter’s imposing clock tower still strikes me quiet as one of the most stunning structures in Paris. If (somehow) the combination of aesthetics and travel isn’t enough to steam your train, then the larger stations are becoming shopping malls in their own rights (but remember, it’s all about doing, not having!), and you can hardly argue with the pull of that trio in destination terms.

So I might not be able to take the train to Sardinia, but I’m sure my journey will be the poorer for it. After all, isn’t how you get there half the fun?

Gut instinct

Kim Brass 3If you’re currently in Paris in this hazy last gasp of July, I’d bet the last slice of Raclette that you’re relaxing languidly in a rattan chair on a terrace somewhere, watching the people go by (and for the uninitiated, at this time of year, they’re not actually Parisians – they’ve all buggered off down south for the holidays, which is probably why you got a chair on the terrace in the first place). If you’re not currently semi-horizontal in France’s capital lazing with a glass in your hand, then I’d raise you my dessert that that’s where you’d actually rather be.

Kim Brass 6And mon dieu haven’t you got a job on your hands trying to decide which particular one to spend your hard-earned euros in? In rattan chair terms, Paris has provided wannabe loungers with an embarrassment of riches (a termed coined by a Frenchman don’t you know), and as many an inhabitant and visitor knows, trying to pin-down the specific markers of establishment quality is as difficult as avoiding a sun-splashed terrace in the first place. Hell, they can’t even seem to decide amongst themselves what names to go under, meaning the capital’s many awnings are stamped with the seemingly interchangeable terms restaurant, café, brasserie and bistro(t). 

Assuming each establishment offers relatively the same thing is as foolhardy as assuming that you’d experience the same level of warm welcome in Paris as you would in Provence (erm, nope). There’s a fine art to this thing, and you’re lucky things that I’m here to give you a hand in negotiating it all.

A restaurant is much the same as you’d expect from most countries in the rest of the world; the most formal of the bunch, with menus depending on the food type and chosen price range of the place. If you’re sucking up to/trying to score with/grovelling your heart out to someone, a restaurant is where you’d head to. If you know what’s good for you.

Kim Brass 4Don’t confuse a café with the greasy spoon type you get in the UK. Easily identified most of the time as there’s often a tabac (peddler of cigs and lottery tickets) attached, here is where you stop for a quick coke-and-toilet stop or a swift espresso before work (and FYI order just a ‘coffee’ and that’s what you’ll get as standard). Beware – prices are cheaper standing at the bar and take a leap higher if you choose to sit (often higher still if that’s on the terrace), and if you’re after more solid refreshment, the most you can hope for is a menu of lighter meals and snacks like omelettes and croque monsieurs.

Kim Brass 2A classic French brasserie used to be a place that brewed its own beer on site, but is now known for its professional service, printed menus, tablecloths and waiters in penguin-esque outfits. Here you’ll find a static menu of classics like steak tartare, confit de canard and andouillette (only for the brave, you have been warned). They tend to serve food all day, and here’s one thing that will BLOW YOUR MIND – some of them are called Le Such-and-Such Café so you’ll have to make sure you pay attention. Stand at the bar waiting for an espresso like a lemon in a brasserie, and you’ll be waiting a very. LONG. TIME. And just to confuse you, there’s a fledging beer scene in France which means that you might also stumble on a micro-brasserie, which doesn’t mean short waiters and tiny portions, but a (hopefully) great selection of Paris-brewed craft beer.

Kim Brass 5Finally, if you still haven’t found what you’re looking for, then try a bistro(t), a smaller type of restaurant, often with just one owner or family in charge that specialises in moderately-priced French home cooking like traditional cassoulet or blanquette de veau. Bistros were originally thought to originate from basement kitchens in Parisian apartment blocks, but these days they serve to be some of the quaintest eateries in the city. And if you’re still furrowing your brow in dissatisfaction, then the only places left to go are salons du thé for tea, coffee and cake, or bars for hardcore liquor to toast the highs and the lows of your holiday/afternoon/life.

And if you’re still not content after all of that, then I, nor Paris, can help you…

The green green grass of home

Kim MontS 3Normally, I’m the sort of gal that doesn’t need an invitation to have a lollop around in a large green space, being a country girl at heart, with fine English sap running through my veins. But a friend with small human in need of celebrating his three whole years on this earth steered me last weekend to a patch which hadn’t previously seen a great deal of lolloping on my part, and picnic blanket and thermos of wine in hand, I headed south on RER B to the resplendent Parc Montsouris.

Literally translating as a very unappealing and frankly incorrect ‘mouse mountain’ thanks to years of linguistic tinkering with its original moniker of ‘Moulin de Moque-Souris’ (meaning the equally perplexing ‘mouse-mocking windmill’), this 15.5 hectare park is nestled in the 14th arrondissement and forms part of the quartet of vast green urban spaces across the capital created by the power duo of Napoleon III and Baron Haussmann (capable of creating much smaller bits of green too), eventually completed in 1878.

Kim MontS2Much smaller than the bookend woods Boulogne and Vincennes, it echoes the hilly contours of sister park Buttes-Chaumont in the 19th, though unlike the others was designed specifically in the English landscape garden style. So far, so elegant and refined. It’s construction story though was a million miles away from its classic, cultivated exterior, being built on the site of a former quarry and a network of abandoned tunnels and mines which came to reveal a gruesome cache of some of the six million Parisians that were buried under the city in the 18th century. Around 800 skeletons were removed to their final resting place in famous catacombs of Paris.

Kim MontS 5Thankfully no hints of its macabre past remain today and you’ll find an undulating park perfect for picnics and frisbee or a good old-fashioned stroll. There’s also a duck pond towards the middle and a café and kiosk for something cold and refreshing should you be stupid enough to forget your thermos of chilled white wine. Kiddles will get all squeaky and excited when they spy the ponies offering rides round the winding paths, and joggers decided long ago that this is in the top five training spots that the capital can muster.

Kim MontS 4As for us, we took advantage of the wide open spaces and spread our picnic blankets under the shade of a giant tree, surrounded by fellow alfresco diners, snoozing citizens and lounging couples. We might not have seen any mice, but the bubbles (of the soapy-water-blow-into-the-air kind) and birthday cake(s) were far more interesting than any mouse-mocking that could have taken place. As English experiences in Paris go, all that was missing was a delicious cup of afternoon tea.

Reach Park Montsouris by taking RER B or tram 3a to stop Cité Universitaire.

Wall and Peace

Kim Rosa 1The Paris attacks. Widespread global terrorism and violence. Brexit. Has the world always been this conflicted and divided? Logged into my computer with constant tales of doom and gloom popping up via every available electronic avenue means a black cloud of political despair soon settled under the ceiling of the Granny Flat. Hitting the laptop’s off button and heading out for a head-clearing walk was the only solution.

This time my feet took me directly east, swapping the mildly gritty confines of my neighbourhood for the meanest streets of intra muros Paris in its poorest arrondissement, the 19th. Hardly the place to search out the soul-soothing beauty and goodness in the world you might think, but then Paris is a mistress that always surprises, and on this overcast Friday, she pulled out a colourful display from her sleeve in a place you’d hardly expect to find it.

Kim Rosa 2High above the tangle of train lines passing under Rue Riquet and round the corner along Rue d’Aubervilliers runs a 500m long artwork inspired by the famous American civil rights activist Rosa Parks, whose refusal to give up her bus seat in the coloured section to a white passenger in 1955 made her a key figure in the fight against racial segregation. It was created at the end of last year to honour her legacy in line with the opening of a brand new train station named in her honour, serving RER E and relatively new tram line T3b.

Kim Rosa 3One of the most compelling examples of street art to be found in the capital, it is the work of 5 street artists (4 of them women): Kashink (Paris), Katjastroph (Nantes), Bastardilla (Bogota), Tatyana Fazlalizadeh (New York) and Zepha (Toulouse). Using a range of techniques and styles, their collective work is centred around ideas of togetherness, equality and unity with a strong anti-discriminatory message.

Kim Rosa 4In such times of scarily prevalent social turmoil, walking along and absorbing all of the positive sentiments were just what my politics-weary brain needed to reset itself. At a time when the world really does appear to be falling apart, it was magnificent to be reminded that there are always those admirable voices fighting for peace and justice, however difficult the climate might be. I toddled home to a restorative cup of tea with a renewed buoyant feeling that maybe armageddon was a little bit further away than the constant media gloom would have me believe. I might not be able to change the world as Rosa Parks did, but a little positivity sure does go a long way.

Click here for more information. Guided tours of the artwork available.

Back to the good old days

IMG_3253What a time to be nestled in the heart of Europe, eh? What with unceasing showers, Euro tournament troubles, terrorist threats and the potential break-up of the EU looming on the horizon, it’s a time for the nerves to be well and truly jangled. Contemplating the present and future state of Europe is enough to give me grey hairs, particularly in light of the referendum vote which who knows, might result in me being turfed out of my French home. Let’s hope it doesn’t come to that, but for sure, looking around and ahead at this present moment is only a job for the very brave.

Lucky for me, my head was turned firmly towards France’s distant past the other day as I was out and about in the Marais meeting an old friend for a coffee. Walking around in the (currently annoyingly rare) blissful sunshine, we passed by an old architectural friend, one of the stops I used to make in my days as a bike tour guide. If the glory days of the past were what I was searching for, then I found some of the oldest kind the city could muster, one of a small handful of the city’s medieval relics.

IMG_3250Compared to the sleek, uniform lines of Baron Haussmann’s building style that typifies the capital, nestled in and around the centre are a small handful of Parisian buildings that make the Baron’s work seem positively space-age. With their wonky forms and beamed façades, they point back to a version of Paris way before revolutions shaped the city, hundreds of years before nearly all of today’s must-see sights appeared, presumably a time long before rulers and spirit levels were invented.

IMG_3248The majestic double-fronted specimens I encountered are to be found at 11 & 13 Rue François Morin, with a handy plaque explaining their littered and lengthy history. Not quite the oldest Paris can muster (you’ll find the oldest at 51 Rue Montmorency, Nicolas Flamel’s old gaff, or a similar medieval example at 3 Rue Volta), but clearly stuff of legend no less, the buildings’ construction date is that far back, sources can’t quite agree on when exactly they sprung up. Most estimates point to the beginning of the 16th century, though many repairs have been made since then. If I ever make it to 500 years, I’ll expect to have the same.

IMG_3252It’s difficult to imagine a Paris before Haussmann got his hands on it and created the long, wide boulevards we all know and love, but this was a city going through a renaissance, aesthetically more in line with Tudor London than the modern city style we’ve come to be so familiar with. Forget the Louis’ contributions, this is a slice of Paris before the wheels well and truly fell off. If you’re expecting to be welcomed through the door into a medieval museum bringing its origins to life though, then you might just be a little disappointed. The famed Parisian sense of passion is older than the building still, and quite fittingly, now houses an ‘adult’ nightclub, for those brave enough to indulge. If only walls could talk, eh?