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…

For more info, click here.

End of germ celebration…

They found me, they finally found me. Germs that is. After a relatively illness-free winter, sinusitis showed up as March greeted the calendar to set up camp for two weeks, and the creative muse ran away screaming.  So my apologies for the late post, but I’m sure you can appreciate how little fun I’ve been having during my absence. But thankfully now the clouds of germs are clearing, and I’ll be ready to slip back into my adventure shoes next week to bring you a spangly new post next friday. But in the meantime, here is my ode to those white coated-folk who have supplied me with the medical weapons that I so desperately needed (first published a couple of years ago). French pharmacists, we salute you.

It’s all in the details… Pharmacy signs

IMG_1568The massive erection that dominates Paris (the Eiffel Tower… what were you thinking?), the uncomprehensibly large sprawl of the Louvre, the glittering mass of the Grand Palais… Paris may not be famed for its skyline, but there’s plenty of architectural heavyweights jostling for space nevertheless.

But as impressive as the big daddies of the cityscape are, I prefer furrowing around the city looking at all the small stuff that everyone else misses. The real nuts and bolts of a city, those tiny details that aren’t deemed attractive or exciting enough to celebrate. You can take your sparkling Eiffel Tower rudely cutting into the night sky; if we’re talking about a real light show you need to look no further than the guy that illuminates the city via a sophisticated network of blinking green lights dotted around every corner.

The pharmacy sign guy. That awesome guy. Forget Gustave Eiffel. Let me tell you his story.

One hazy day 50 years ago, the pharmacists of Paris were lounging round in their tablet shaped house, (let’s say they were in the red end, the white end is of course the sleeping quarters), sipping cups of coffee, and moaning collectively about how trade was flagging. One bright spark piped up and pointed the finger at the choice of signage; the old crayon-drawn ‘farmacee’ sign was starting to look a bit tatty. They scribbled down a few ideas for a new sign but to no avail, being pseudo-scientists of course, and therefore incapable of anything remotely artistic.

“We are useless (excluding our talents for making love, cooking and counting tablets and putting them into boxes, and pretty much everything else except sign making)” said one to the rest. “Oui,” said another, followed by a further handful of ‘oui’s’ from the others that put the little pig and his journey home quite to shame. So they all went off secretly to have clandestine affairs and reconvened a couple of hours later and decided that they’d employ a person to do it for them and would pay him a handsome wage. In asprin.

They went on to http://www.pharmacysignwriters.net and found Pierre, a failed artist who needed a challenge, and lots of asprin. “We plan to take over the country one pharmacy at a time so help us God so we need you to come up with a sign that not only says ‘Pharmacy’ but also hypnotises potential customers into entering our doors and buying lots of medication that they don’t need,” the pharmacists said. “D’accord” Pierre said, between cigarettes. “I will make you a sign that is the most beautiful sign you have ever seen, vive la France.” So they built him a little workshop in the syringe shaped garden, and he set to work.

Being a typical artist, Pierre decided to ignore the first objective of the brief, but by God, went crazy with the second. After a couple of days, the pharmacists put down their boxes of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle band-aids that they’d been throwing at each other and went to the garden to visit Pierre in his shed to check on progress. Just beyond the prescription pad-embossed patio doors, Pierre had installed his young apprentice cousin, Yves, to distribute darkened goggles to the passing pharmacists.

As they neared the shed, nestled deep down in the needle part of the lawn, a strange green light licked their white lab coats from bottom to top, as Pierre threw open the doors. An earnestly flashing, giant green cross greeted their eyes, and provoked such excitement among the crowd that Yves had to be dispatched back to the tablet house to fetch a few rounds of ibuprofen. Hypnotised by the sheer power of his creation, within a week every pharmacy in France was adorned with a blinking green appendage, attracting saucer-eyed customers to each premises like rust to a dirty, old bicycle.

The pharmacists enjoyed the fruits of their successful scheme for many years, adding gold fringing and sequinned lapels to their lab coats, making sure Pierre had enough boxes of asprin to build a small fort. The artist has tried to recreate the original success by adding spinning characters, rolling text streams and weather data to selected signs in Paris (probably the aspirin rather than raw talent), but nothing beats that hallowed original. It almost makes you wish for a headache, just to be lured in by that emerald green light…

God bless the little ones

Kim plaque 3Despite the (admittedly partly true) stereotype of the miserable Parisian, I consider myself incredibly lucky to be living in a place where all of my needs are comfortably met. I lack not food, water, shelter, love, security, freedom and adventure, and sadly it’s only when headlines detailing the struggles others are facing in other parts of the world, that we selfishly realise how good we’ve got it.

France, like most of Europe is deep in the midst of the migrant crisis, though it’s only through the media that we can begin to understand what difficulties others are living through. It’s easy to turn off the TV or computer, or put down the newspaper when those hardships become difficult to confront, and we’re all guilty of closing our eyes when concentrating on our own fortune is easier to bear. But turning the page is only temporary – above all, it’s important not to forget.

Kim plaque 2I may live a life a million miles away from families who have lost their loved ones at sea in the hope of building a better life, but the recent images of tiny beings tragically washed ashore are impossible for anyone to ignore, regardless of how removed our own realities are. I could never hope to understand the torment of their plight, though thinking of such innocent young lives in such peril made me cast my mind to the children of Paris who have suffered throughout the years, plaques of remembrance scattered throughout the city meaning that we will forever be surrounded by their memory.

Kim plaque 1Walk around with your eyes open and you’ll soon likely encounter one of hundreds of the city’s schools, most proudly displaying a black marble plaque near the front entrance, usually accompanied by a large brass ring, and frequently a bunch of flowers. It’s easy to walk by without realising the significance, but look more closely, and you’ll see that the inscription pays homage to the thousands of Jewish children who were removed from their homes and schools during the horrors of World War II and shipped to concentration camps by the Nazis.

Kim plaque 4Some plaques detail individual names, some quietly remember the numbers lost in each arrondissement, and others point to the horrifying city-wide total of 11,000 children deported from France between the years 1942 and 1944. Even today floral tributes are often placed within the brass ring to show that even though such terrors have gone, they will never be forgotten.

It may be beyond the powers of most of us to tackle the route causes of such needless suffering, but it’s at most important to us to remember what has passed, and those it has affected in a world where we have power to at least influence change. In a society when looking inward (often to the point of narcissism) has become more the norm, I find these plaques a sobering and poignant reminder to appreciate the freedom we have when others would give their lives for it, as is all too familiar in the past, and devastatingly, the present. Let’s hope one day we won’t need to remember such dark times in the first place.

 

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.

Messing about on the river

So fresh and so green, green

So fresh and so green, green

‘No man is an island’ philosophised John Donne. Well I’m hardly the best candidate to verify his musings (what with my giveaway lady lumps), but I have learned recently, that if that man’s an artist, then he may or not be an island, but he certainly needs one for inspiration. The Île-de-France may lay claim to inspiring, housing and incubating some of the world’s greatest talent, but that’s just cheating – an area that includes Paris, its famous winding river and numerous sprawling suburbs can no doubt lay claim in some way or another to most things (yes, even Kim and Kanye have been here. Shudder).

Kim Chatou 2Zoom in to the city further and you hit the creative ‘islands’ of Montmartre and Montparnasse, the pavements of both practically sagging with the weight of history that surrounds them, not to mention the footfall of eager art tourists making sure they hit all the right spots. But for some of France’s great painters, it wasn’t the hedonism of Paris’ central districts that acted as muse, but some of the greener spots a few kilometres away from all of the gaiety. Monet’s legacy will forever be wedded to Giverny, but if it’s impressionism that gets you stroking your brush, then a trip out to Chatou and the Île des Impressionnistes is well overdue.

You thought the Seine fizzled out into a sorry little trickle the minute it crossed the périphérique? Oh no my dear, naive explorer; head out into the wider, leafier parts of the Île-de-France and you’ll find it flowing serenely out into the unknown (according to Parisians anyway, but no, actual people really live this far out). The very same river, just not quite as brown, without bobbing crisp packets clinging to the banks and sans an endless procession of tourist boats pootling up and down.

THAT famous balcony

THAT famous balcony

Paris proper may have its islands Cité and St Louis, but out in the Yvelines, the Île des Impressionnistes is the only mid-Seine sanctuary worth talking about. Renoir and his fellow impressionist chums thought so, and he and his entourage (from time to time including Monet and Degas) spent a great deal of time on a this tiny green patch, discussing ideas, socialising and dining to their bellies’ content in the local restaurant La Fournaise, taking in the views on its river-facing balcony.

So good were the happy times spent boating on the water and relaxing with lunch when the rowing was finished, Renoir was moved to create one of his most famous works Le déjeuner des canotiers (Luncheon of the Boating Party), featuring a collection of his friends typically kicking back with food and wine in that very spot. Remember the film Amélie and the old neighbour who keeps painting the same picture again and again but can’t recreate the same expression on the face of the girl in the middle? That’s the one. The less famous Le Déjeuner des rameurs (The Rowers’ Lunch) and Les canotiers à Chatou (The Boaters at Chatou) were born from the inspiration of the same place.

Les canotiers à Chatou (1879)

Les canotiers à Chatou (1879)

Lunch spent absorbing impressionist vibes on that now-canonised balcony is a bit of a stretch (the restaurant prices are as lofty as you’d expect), but the views from the bank alongside it are as charming as you’d imagine from a place that inspired one of France’s most treasured artists. A stroll along the bank on a weekend (when the Navigo is dezoned, hooray!) is as pleasantly refined as it probably was back in Auguste’s day (that’s Mr Renoir to us humble folk). Plus Chatou’s nearby town centre has some charming independent shops and an open square begging for an afternoon glass of wine on a café terrace. You never know, maybe that doodle on your napkin could be the start of a wonderful career.

Take RER A to Chatou-Croissy, zone 4, follow your feet to the island via a map inside the station, near the main exit.

 

 

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….

You can’t keep a good woman down…

Kim emblem 3Sometimes, readers, a 60s roll-out bidet just isn’t enough to keep a gal entertained. And so this week, rather than trying to understand a bygone decade by studying its porcelain contours closely, I decided to take a long-overdue dive into the world of Mad Men where the retro scenery is a huge part of its charm, not unlike chez moi. Hardly Parisian you might argue, but what with the chain smoking and penchant for extra-marital affairs, it seems that in 1960s Manhattan, the spirit of Paris was alive and well.

Kim emblem 4Which got me to thinking. If Don Draper (the central character and creative director of a New York advertising agency, for the uninformed) was given the account for the city of Paris, what kind of marketing spin would he pull out of his Brylcreem-sodden hat to show off the city in its best light? Can-can dancers on every spread for sure, channelling the party atmosphere and old-time glamour in a sumptuous print show. A slogan? ‘Paris: Because even New York needs a mistress!’ I can only imagine.

As history would instead have it, the original guardians of Paris’ image didn’t know how this unique urban flower would bloom, and the original symbol of the city is as head-scratching today as the Eiffel Tower would have been back in its days of creation in the Middle Ages. The first chosen emblem? A ship. As the city has grown and the importance of the Seine as a source of industry has faded, a big ol’ ship floating through the city today would seem as out of place as Francois Hollande attempting a high kick on stage at the cabaret.

Kim emblem 2But sure enough, look closely as you meander around the place, and you’ll spy this municipal symbol, these days a fully-fledged coat of arms, on many public buildings, mairies, stations, schools and bridges; and displayed proudly on the gates and doors of the Hotel de Ville. But what’s a snazzy image without a carefully considered slogan to go with it? Well Paris has one of those too (though it would probably make Don Draper wince into his whisky), the far-from-elegant-sounding ‘fluctuat nec mergitur’. Hmm.

Kim emblem 1Sticking with the boat theme, translated from its original Latin it means ‘gets tossed around without sinking’, just like a wooden ship being battered by waves in a storm. You’d hope that they were better sailors than that in the industry’s heyday, but on a metaphorical level it fits old Dame Paris perfectly if you sail through her history. Revolutions, slaughter, floods, starvation and death; it’s easy to see why our old friend Baron Haussmann officiated the motto in 1853, and it now sits proudly upon the city’s emblem, a reminder of every tempest she’s had to endure from past until present.

So sometimes when Paris kicks me in the chops and the dark clouds of gloom roll in, it’s nice to remember that the old gal has had her dark moments too, but has bucked like a mule back, and survived every hardship and tumult imaginable with her head held high. Love, light and advertising are all well and good, but isn’t that what life is really about?

Game of bones

Kim denis 5We all love a good drama. The fact that Game of Thrones has thrust multiple daggers into hours of our lives over the past few years is testament to that. All that blood, guts and underhandedness; we’re far too civilised for shenanigans like that in this day and age. Plus France no longer has a royal family, so we can’t expect such Joffrey-ism dominating the headlines. Hollande may have gone all Charles II on us with his actress/mistress moment, but the Republic never seems to generate quite the ‘off-with-their-heads’ gruesome fascination that the long departed monarchy managed.

Kim denis 4Rewind a few centuries though when crowns were still the headgear of the moment, and there was enough drama happening this side of the channel to make GOT look like a Catherine Cooksoon novel. The royals ran riot, and even in death there was still scandal enough to make sure that history’s passage could do little to fade their memories. Even Marie Antoinette and Louis XVI were relatively recently small-fry in a huge regal pond full of centuries of gore. To delve into the deliciously dirty laundry of France’s monarchy long dissolved, there’s only one place to head (if you still have yours) – the Basilica of Saint Denis, nestled with little ceremony just outside the peripherique directly north of Paris, near to the national stadium.

Kim denis 1

Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette

Widely believed to be the first Gothic church ever built (well, a bit of it anyway – these old buildings have been remastered a great deal over the years), and named after the first bishop of Paris, the unique USP of this cathedral (if those boasts don’t impress you), is that it is the burial place of most of the kings of France from Clovis (d. 511) to Louis XVIII (d. 1824).

Kim denis 2So you’re probably imagining a neat little cemetery or collection of lovingly constructed vaults ceremonially added to over the years each time royal heads rolled, and well, you’d be wrong. Twin sibling incest kind of wrong. That would have been a fitting tribute to the reigning powers of yore, and was the original idea, but those pesky revolutionaries at the end of the 19th century had other plans and opened up the tombs, dumped all of the bodies in a mass grave and dissolved them with lime. If that isn’t a way to make an anti-monarchist statement, then I don’t know what is.

Kim denis 3The impressive effigies remained and attempts have been made over the centuries to restore the proper erm, remaining remains to their rightful spots, as well as moving other monarchs from different cemeteries to this ‘official’ resting place, but many of the regal bones and fragments unable to be identified were buried in the crypt behind a plaque bearing the names of the interred. So if it’s ancient royalty you want, you can count on the fingers of one hand those kings of France that don’t lie here.

You’d be as foolish as Louis XVI too, the day he thought he wouldn’t be recognised stopping for a pub lunch whilst trying to escape (you’re on the coins mate), if you didn’t head here this Sunday, Paris’ free museum day. Entry to the Basilica and its awesomely concentrated history will be free for the last time until November, along with other famous spots you can’t move in come summer; the Pantheon, Saint-Chapelle, Notre Dame’s towers, the Conciergerie, the Arc de Triomphe, and chateaux Vincennes and Versailles. That Game of Thrones marathon can wait.

Check out the list of free museums here.

A metro-ode to Paris transport history

IMG_2203So I’m a woman and therefore allowed to change my mind as often as I want. Now before you menfolk start rolling your eyes, I’m sure you’ll thank me for this happy affliction. This post was originally intended to be about where to find the most delicious seasonal tucker in the cutest streets of Paris, but that can sit for another day. This is France after all, and if you can’t find decent food around the place then you probably don’t deserve to have taste buds.

IMG_2207Instead I found a hidden gem, completely unrelated to Christmas (which let’s face it, begins to grate like nails down a chalkboard after a while). It came about as I was snaking my way through the city on the metro, forced underground by the chilly drizzle. As the train ambled into my home station, a flash of vintage colour caught my eye – unusual given that the platform is currently under construction and therefore a bloody mess. But underneath the layers of grime twinkled forgotten memories of the past, that practically begged for further investigation.

IMG_2217See, my station Marcadet-Poissonniers actually used to be separated in two, with unconnected stops at Marcadet on line 4 and Poissonniers on line 12 (christened after the above-ground roads which bear their names), that were eventually connected to form the twin station in 1931. As a result, in a bit of a bodge job, the old single-titled platforms had to be renovated and the old signage hastily covered up to make room for the new, swanky double-barrelled name. Forget removing the old and replacing with new, the out-of-date tiles and hoardings were simply boarded up.

IMG_2211Recently though, as renovations have started (and we’re just talking on the platform of line 12 here for the time being), all of that framework has been taken down and the old (albeit crusted with years of dust) glory revealed once again. And not just the old ‘Poissonniers’ tiling either, there are old advertising posters and official information notices that have remained hidden for all these years. There’s even a list of ghost metro stations that didn’t quite stand the test of time.

IMG_2213It’s at this time of year we all have a tendency to scratch back through the year’s calendar and reflect on the past, and it was an awesome vintage treat to see Paris revealing its bygone layers in a similar way. There were old holiday posters, flyers for concerts past, adverts for cars once modern, now classic, and official literature produced by RATP typists of yore, sadly all ripped and half-fallen, but still bathed in the vibrant colours and archaic print of the era.

IMG_2216It’s hard to know exactly when they were pasted for the eyes of commuters gone by, but the tiling certainly dates back from the 30s and the advertising has a distinctive 50s artistic flair. Some of the stations on the closed list met their end as early as 1939, and those that reopened didn’t feel commuter footsteps again until the late 60s.

IMG_2208I’m harbouring a wish that a bit of spit and polish will bring the old decor back to its original splendour, but it’s likely that given the presence of the antiquated station title signage, it’ll be a case of tear it down and start afresh. For the moment, I get to hop off the metro and into a glorious time warp, reminding me that this transport system that is so easy to take for granted has a colourful, event-filled past just like the rest of us. If you happen to be in the ‘hood in the next few weeks yourself, I hope you’ll take this rare trip down metro memory lane too.

The great fountain of use

Kim wallace 5aLiving in Paris is thirsty work, pure and simple. Climbing all those stairs, dodging all that dog poo, sitting on a terrace icily commenting on the passers-by… A couple of espressos just doesn’t equal adequate hydration for all of that energy expenditure.

I like putting on my adventure shoes and meandering around the city (we all know that by now), and to do that and stay properly watered, I could really do with one of those fire service water trucks to follow me around to make absolutely sure my levels stay where they should be. But trucks + stairs = sheer calamity, and I’m sure I’m not alone here, pompiers + Kim = utter distraction. Hardly a master plan.Kim wallace 3

Plan B would see me dashing into the nearest supermarket and arming myself with the Parisian accessory du jour, a bottle of mineral water, which I would sip stylishly as I went on my merry way. But I’d probably need a few of those puppies given my penchant for long, feet-exhausting strolls, and although I’m part donkey, always carrying something heavy with me, when taking in the sights, I favour lighter travel. Plus ‘save the planet’ and all that, naturally.

Thankfully, Paris provides in stunningly beautiful fashion the perfect solution, requiring a bit of delicious digging – the Wallace fountain. If you’ve clocked up any kilometres in the city at all, it’s likely that you’ve already come across these delightful H20 stations, though I know plenty of Parisian longtimers who are still none-the-wiser as to their existence. Given that we have taps in every home and all, they might seem a little superfluous, albeit very lovely to behold. But let’s backtrack a bit as there’s a pretty neat story behind their construction. If you’re sitting comfortably, I’ll begin.

Kim wallace fountainWay back in the 1870s water in Paris was as difficult to come by as proper sliced bread is today. So difficult in fact you had to pay, and beer and wine were only a smidge more expensive. If you did fancy buying the stuff then it was hardly worth it as it came mostly from the Seine where sewage and other assorted nasties were routinely dumped (mmm-mmmm!). So unsurprisingly, the city was filled with poor people favouring beer and wine and getting far too jolly for their own good (gosh, sounds a bit like the modern-day motherland).

Luckily though, at that time the trend was for the stinking rich to dig into their pockets and help the poor, funding numerous philanthropic projects like hospitals and the like. Very Bill Gates. A man called Richard Wallace (an English gent no less) happily obliged and invested much of his recently acquired fortune into the city, the Wallace fountains being his most famous contribution.Kim wallace 2

Intended to address the moral problem of public drunkeness and to make the city look prettier, they were designed by Charles Auguste-Lebourg and painted in municipal green. The principle design (of which there are 67, count ’em) features four ladies or ‘catyrids’ representing kindness, simplicity, charity and sobriety. Aw. There are three smaller lady-less models dotted around, but it’s the elegant tallest form that is the most well-known.

Before you put your nose in the air and toddle off to Monoprix, the water is still perfectly safe to drink, and remains to this day one of the only sources of fresh drinking water the homeless in the city have access to. You’ve only got a couple of months to give it a try though, the fountains only run from March until November, to stop the pipes freezing in the winter. Then you’ll just have to give them a stroke instead.