Last Tree Standing #6: For pine is the kingdom…

Let’s get down with the brown!

Bonné année scary cyber land! I hope everyone is suitably stuffed and rested like a prize capon thanks to the Christmas break, though in France things have been pretty fraught what with ongoing strikes and a generally unrestful ‘down-with-that-sort-of-thing’ vibe. Christmas in France was swell and I learned a very important new skill – opening a Champagne bottle with a knife. You bring a (full) bottle over, and I’ll give you a free demonstration. Christmas in Blighty was pretty swell too, though I almost shed a tear coming back through passport control as a British European for the last time. There, that’s your lot. Not a sausage about Brexit for the rest of the year. Promise.

Now back in Granny Flat with renovations beginning in earnest (like a tiny patch of wall being sanded at a time to avoid toxic plumes of dust, this is no Grand Designs) I certainly feel like I have an amazing sixth year of blog in me, and my list of simple Parisian delights to discover stubbornly refuses to get any shorter. I hope you’ll join me of course, and if you want to hear a little bit more about me and what this whole blog thing is, check out my episode on the C’est La Vie podcast from the lovely Katie.

We’ve covered a lot of the greatest hits in the last five years, so we’ll be heading in a more off-the-beaten-track direction in the year to come, with a lean towards forests and food, my two saviours when this increasingly bonkers world gets a little too hard to handle. Feel free to post any suggestions on the (probably criminally under-updated) PSC Facebook, Twitter or Instagram!

Now the crèche de noël has been dismantled and galettes de roi have taken centre stage, we can begin to gaze again in puzzlement at one of Paris’ strangest customs (but is it just Paris dear readers??) and focus on another year of Last Tree Standing; that addictive and unique activity of sorry, brown Christmas tree spotting, taking time to ponder exactly what would possess someone to abandon their festive fir on the street in the middle of October (the legend began here).

Last year’s clash saw a fruitful first few months of the year, with solid spots up until April. The summer saw slim pickings, presumably because the heat caused all discarded specimens to spontaneously combust in the heat, and evidence suggests that that’s exactly what happened as we didn’t get much further, with Nicole McElvain taking the prize with her mid-June spot. Max Legeais is awarded a distinction (again) for his spot of 16th December, though signs point to a pre-ski holiday indulgence and subsequent rejection, rather than a 12-month old kidnap-ee. But in this crazy game, who blinkin’ knows.

Seeing as we’ve passed the 6th and thus the deadline for acceptable tree custody, the games can once again begin for another year, with all entries invited on the Last Tree Standing Facebook page. The Christmas tree crumbs wherever you look, not to mention mountains of spent firs at dedicated recycling posts, point to a January full of green. But anyone worth their dead tree-spotting salt knows the game really begins in the spring.

For newcomers, a quick recap of the rules….

1. Photographic evidence required.
2. No artificial trees. Or conifers.
3. No planted specimens.
4. No repeat claims.
5. Trees must be obviously abandoned, put out for, and accessible by the binmen, though all submissions will be considered and are subjected to jury approval.
6. Honesty prevails. If you want to keep a dead Christmas tree in your apartment until September just so you can win, you need to get out more.

Bon Chance!

Santa Chords

 

Apologies for the recycled post friends, these are testing times… But for those singing ‘O Come All Ye Faithful’ alone into French radio silence, this might help you out….

In the voyage of discovery that has been my so-far eleven 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 only my second Noël in my adopted homeland (thanks for the strikes to mark the occasion SNCF, RATP et al). 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 25 talkative Frenchies. 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 into 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 travelling to see friends and family on a stuffed-to-the-gills train means 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…. 

Last Tree Standing #5: O Come All Ye Faithful…

…the annual dead Christmas tree hunt begins again!

Bonne année World Wide Web! I trust the new year diets and good intentions are still holding strong in this early stage of January. Amongst my personal goals for the coming year include ‘drink as much tea as is humanly possible’ and ‘try to steer well clear of Brexit before actual steam starts to pour from my ears’. Oh.

After a generous and suitably boozy sejour in the UK for Noël, I’m now back at Granny Flat HQ with a furnace of 2019 ambition keeping me toasty and warm. I certainly feel like I have a fifth year of blog in me, and my list of simple Parisian delights to discover gets longer each passing month, rather than shorter. I hope you’re equally keen to leap aboard the good ship Paris: Small Capital and join me on a voyage of exploration, uncovering the best, and cheapest pleasures France’s capital has to offer.

Though I wouldn’t blame you if you declined my offer, given my shamefully scant posting schedule in 2018. I can only protest being held to ransom by a charming combination of technical issues, other writing projects biting at my ankles, and drawn-out deliberation as to where to steer the good ship next. Paris’ sights are all well and good, but this year I’d like to explore some of my original ideas that were promised, but never really got off the ground, namely expeditions into the best of the city’s (and country’s) food and wine, that invaluable fuel that keeps everything running, and the citizens largely content. We’ve dipped our toes in in the past (exhibits A, B, C and D), but 2019 marks the start of a much more enthusiastic culinary tour.

But to respect January’s spirit of restraint, and to gaze in puzzlement at one of Paris’ strangest customs as we must at this time of year, we’ll focus instead on another year of Last Tree Standing; that addictive and unique activity of sorry, brown Christmas tree spotting, taking time to ponder exactly what would possess someone to abandon their festive fir on the street in the middle of October (the legend began here).

Last year’s clash saw a fruitful first few months of the year, with solid spots up until April. The summer saw no (documented) sightings at all, presumably because the heat caused all discarded specimens to spontaneously combust in the heat. The autumn failed miserably too. This year’s winner is therefore officially Louise Abbott (again!) with her April spot, though Max Legeais is awarded a distinction for his spot of 23rd December, though its greeness points to a pre-ski holiday indulgence and subsequent rejection, rather than a 12-month old kidnap-ee.

Seeing as we’ve passed the 6th and thus the deadline for acceptable tree custody, the games can once again begin for another year, with all entries invited on the Last Tree Standing Facebook page. The Christmas tree crumbs wherever you look, not to mention mountains of spent firs at dedicated recycling posts, point to a January full of green. But anyone worth their dead tree-spotting salt knows the game really begins in the spring.

For newcomers, a quick recap of the rules….

1. Photographic evidence required.
2. No artificial trees. Or conifers.
3. No planted specimens.
4. No repeat claims.
5. Trees must be obviously abandoned, put out for, and accessible by the binmen, though all submissions will be considered and are subjected to jury approval.
6. Honesty prevails. If you want to keep a dead Christmas tree in your apartment until September just so you can win, you need to get out more.

Bon Chance!

Crêpe Expectations

How many French folk does it take to change a lightbulb? Well that question is completely irrelevant on February 2nd as any request for handy help will fall on deaf ears as the whole country will be far too busy eating crêpes.

Kim crepe 1Ah, those delicious golden discs of batter that require such deftness with a frying pan, and untold patience given that most of us only have one with which to manufacture an appropriate stack. Don’t the French eat them between every meal? Aren’t they the warming cold weather vehicle for Nutella in a carbohydrate yin-yang partnership with the fair weather baguette?

Not quite… Crêpes are indeed nestled within the gastronomic heart of France, wafting their goodness via many a batter-toting kiosk, though not something that is considered a daily treat. Once in a while, for sure, but it’s not like the French give a toss even weekly. But that doesn’t mean we’re not allowed to hold a party for our circular, pan-dwelling friends. If food is to be championed, then this is the country in which to champion it in.

Kim crepe 3Exactly 40 days after Christmas on 2nd February is when over here we celebrate La Chandeleur(Candlemas for the non-French speakers), when we do just that. It’s the one day of the year where crêpes are held aloft and idolised, though they can’t claim to be the belle of the ball as there’s a hell of a lot of traditional legend and religious symbolism tied up on the same date in the calendar.

Depending on which religion you subscribe to, the 2nd February is the day to celebrate the presentation of Christ at the temple, the feast of the purification of the Virgin, or the blessing of the church’s beeswax candles. Non-religious traditions dictate that in France, the UK and the USA the weather on 2nd February predicts the forecast for the rest of the year, in Scotland a big snake will appear from the ground (which promises not to ‘molest’ anyone), and if you’re a sailor, it’s a day to give a jaunt on the ship a miss.

Kim crepe 5In France, the ‘crêpe party’ element (as my friend Arthur likes to call it) means that superstition is expressed through the medium of food, i.e. the lowly pancake. It’s not about using up ingredients in time for Lent which underlies the Anglo tradition of Shrove Tuesday (this year 13th February), but more a celebration of light, and the transition between the last dark days of a cold and sombre winter and the fledgling days of the approaching spring. The crêpe is supposed to reflect the image of the round, golden disc of the sun.

As well as making sure your wrist action is on form to indulge in the obligatory tossing, tradition also states that the first pancake out of the rank needs to be folded up and placed in the wardrobe to encourage a plentiful and abundant harvest for the coming year. It sounds to me like that’s just a recipe for attracting an abundance of the neighbourhood mice, but hey, maybe enticing them from the fields and into the home is the whole point.

Kim crepe 6Let’s assume you’re a sensible, rational being and you’ve opted for crêpe worship above any other 2nd February signification. The only choice now is what to fill your spoils with. Banana and Nutella, classic sugar and lemon, or a sinful mountain of cheese and ham? Today I opted for (in practice for the big day) a savoury oven baked roll up of crêpes (made with beerinstead of milk) filled with veg and a goat’s cheese sauce topped with parmesan, followed by a sweet duo of blueberry and honey, and good ol’ lemon and sugar. Now I can’t move (lucky for you my fingers still can).

This Friday residents of France can follow my stunning example, those in a country where pancakes are fashionably late will have to hop on the spot until it’s your turn later on in the month. Just look into the light whilst you’re at it.

Last Tree Standing #4: Needles and Pins…

Bonne Année loyal readers! And I must emphasise the ‘loyal’ as I’ve disgracefully left you hanging for the last couple of months. All I can say is that Christmas preparations dug their claws deep in to the old timecard, and a festive period of technological abstinence has kept me firmly off the radar. But here I am to greet you for the first time in 2018 with sharpened intentions and a blog schedule ready and waiting to sail us through the next year.

So with the plan thoroughly in hand, let’s start where is fitting for this time of year, with the sport of dead Christmas tree spotting. Longtime readers will know the drill, but for those new to this curious pastime, all is explained in the original post below (first published December 6th 2015). This year we made it to July, though my dear sister spotted an abandoned fir at the start of December in the UK, but lack of camera and a two-year-old in a pushchair made gathering evidence impossible. But still, something to aim for. Happy spotting one and all! (Entries can be submitted on the Last Tree Standing Facebook page if you’re taking part!)

Oh, Christmas tree. Oh…. Christmas tree???

When you live in a place for nearly seven years, you get to notice the odd local quirk or two. Spend an hour or so in the company of fellow ex-pats, and you’ll become exposed to even more. And it was just on an afternoon such as this in early 2015, that the legend of the Parisian Christmas tree was born. Pull up a pew, wrap yourself in a warm Christmas jumper, and I shall begin.

April...

Like every major city, Paris goes nuts as early as possible for our piny, decorative friends, erecting huge specimens dancing with lights in spitting distance of every plug socket the city can proffer. From the behemoth at Hotel de Ville, the upside-down wonder inside Galleries Lafayette, to the tiny sparkler currently nestled in the Granny Flat, all shapes and sizes are seen throughout the streets ushering in the joy of the festive period.

But it’s easy to love something that’s bright and shiny, adorned in the jolly colours of the season, lighting our chilly paths home. But to love a thing when it’s way, waaaaayyyy past its best, when the chocolates have long been stripped from it and a greater percentage of pine needles cling to the carpet rather than the branches, now there’s a story of love enduring through the toughest of times. Jesus’ struggles don’t even come into it.

Kim Last Tree 1

This seems to be the backdrop in which the love affair of the Parisian and their Christmas tree takes place. “Isn’t is weird??” I shared, puzzled, last January to ex-pat friends Iain and Laura, “how Parisians seem to have trouble letting go of their seasonal firs?”. The question begged to be asked as I had noted many a withered, abandoned tree being tossed out onto the street uncomfortably long after the Jan 6th deadline. And where I’m from, tradition quite strictly dictates that no pine tree will grace the indoors after this date, on pain of a crappy year.

They concurred, and #LastTreeStanding was born, a competition to spot an abandoned tree on the streets of Paris at the latest possible date in the year, photographic evidence capturing the proof. January, February and March were almost too easy. Spring arrived. We slipped with ease into April, and the stakes got higher as we moved into May. There were always pickings to be found, and not just trees either, various other Christmas paraphernalia popped up for the rubbish men ALL THE TIME, including an advent calendar finally discarded in mid-May (it didn’t count, but kudos nonetheless for sheer self control).

June....

June saw an amazing flood of sightings, and by the beginning of July, we’d gone international as entries from London arrived. In the midst of that furnace of French summer this year, we expected the competition to gracefully and appropriately die, though a couple of submissions outside the rules (artificial trees and repeat sightings were deemed not to count), told us not to foolishly assume it all was over.

AUGUST 24TH..... #LastTreeStanding....

So now, as we’ve stepped into December, we can call the competition off once and for all (for 2015 at least), and I’m happy to announce that my sighting of a sorry brown tree on a balcony in Vincennes on August 24th, takes the prize-winning mince pie. AUGUST 24TH! Is there anyone out there who can explain this curious Parisian phenomenon? And remember, these are only the trees we did see. Maybe October hid some samples from view. Mind. Blown.

So we’ll kick off proceedings again next year, and I hope you can all join us. But for now, practise loosening up the pipes for in month’s time after all the festive fun has died down, there’s only one song we need to sing… “Let it go, let it go!” Who said Frozen was only for kids???

Last Tree Standing #3: Fir the Love of God…

img_3476Bonne Année readers! I hope you’ve been well treated/rested over the festive period, and are ready for another year of Paris Small Capital action. I certainly am. Apologies for the long break, but batteries in both my fingers and laptop keyboard needed extensive recharging, but power bars are now fully restored and there’s a nearly complete blog schedule ready to see us through 2017. I sincerely hope you’ll join me.

Kicking us off this year is the annual launch of #LastTreeStanding, that quite perplexing but utterly addictive game of ‘spot the Christmas tree’. If you’re not sure of the roots of the whole thing, take a peek here at last year’s entry, and all will be revealed.

img_3488Today being January 6th (date of posting at least), means that officially 2017’s tree spotting can begin. For non Anglophones out there, it’s widely accepted that this day, the 12th day of Christmas or Epiphany, marks the Christmas decoration deadline, meaning that you must have vamoosed your tree, life-sized Santa and all other festive trappings by close of play or you risk an entire year’s worth of bad luck. No kidding; when we moved into a new house in March ’94 to find the old owners had left an irritating couple of inches of tinsel in the corner of the lounge room ceiling, my mother flatly refused to remove it until the following Christmas’ end. This is not a date to be casual with, oh no.

In Paris however, despite a rather lukewarm observance of the festive season (no crackers, no paper crowns, no mince pies, no Slade), inhabitants are seemingly very attached to their Christmas trees, finding it hard to set them free until well after the 6th Jan deadline. Sure, they might not be so strict or superstitious as us Anglophones. So that’s January explained. February at a push. But when you start to see sorry brown firs being dumped on the street with alarming regularity in April and May, now that’s just chicken-for-Christmas-dinner weird.

15541874_10154240624729352_2514299915846705292_n

2016’s winner, courtesy of Louise Abbot.

The first year saw us crown the winner a specimen found in Vincennes at the end of August. This year the plot thickens as the winner from Louise Abbot turned out to be an abandoned tree found floundering on, wait for it… December 19th. And that’s really half the fun; putting your sleuth hat on and trying to fathom what on earth possesses someone to get rid of their tree on August 24th, and even more baffling, December 19th.

img_34752016’s winner is going to be hard to beat, and those of us who live (and visit) Paris are going to have the trump card. But last year saw a flood of entries from elsewhere in France and many other countries from around the world. Check out our Facebook page Last Tree Standing (with bonus Twitter coverage at @psmallcapital or #LastTreeStanding) for a rogue’s gallery of withered specimens.

For those willing to participate (and let’s face it, it’s really just a question of opening your eyes as you walk down the street), here are the official rules.

12509333_973431352692621_7240197065082279475_n1. Photographic evidence required.
2. No artificial trees. Or conifers.
3. No planted specimens.
6. No repeat claims.
7. Trees must be obviously abandoned, put out for, and accessible by the binmen, though all submissions will be considered and are subjected to jury approval.
8. Honesty prevails. If you want to keep a dead Christmas tree in your apartment until September just so you can win, you need to get out more.

In the photos you can see (aside from the winner), just a few of the specimens I captured today on my travels. Gauntlet thrown. *cuts red ribbon with a pair of blunt clown scissors* Enjoy!

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…. 

Oh, Christmas tree. Oh…. Christmas tree???

When you live in a place for nearly seven years, you get to notice the odd local quirk or two. Spend an hour or so in the company of fellow ex-pats, and you’ll become exposed to even more. And it was just on an afternoon such as this in early 2015, that the legend of the Parisian Christmas tree was born. Pull up a pew, wrap yourself in a warm Christmas jumper, and I shall begin.

April...

April…

Like every major city, Paris goes nuts as early as possible for our piny, decorative friends, erecting huge specimens dancing with lights in spitting distance of every plug socket the city can proffer. From the behemoth at Hotel de Ville, the upside-down wonder inside Galleries Lafayette, to the tiny sparkler currently nestled in the Granny Flat, all shapes and sizes are seen throughout the streets ushering in the joy of the festive period.

But it’s easy to love something that’s bright and shiny, adorned in the jolly colours of the season, lighting our chilly paths home. But to love a thing when it’s way, waaaaayyyy past its best, when the chocolates have long been stripped from it and a greater percentage of pine needles cling to the carpet rather than the branches, now there’s a story of love enduring through the toughest of times. Jesus’ struggles don’t even come into it.

Kim Last Tree 1

May….

This seems to be the backdrop in which the love affair of the Parisian and their Christmas tree takes place. “Isn’t is weird??” I shared, puzzled, last January to ex-pat friends Iain and Laura, “how Parisians seem to have trouble letting go of their seasonal firs?”. The question begged to be asked as I had noted many a withered, abandoned tree being tossed out onto the street uncomfortably long after the Jan 6th deadline. And where I’m from, tradition quite strictly dictates that no pine tree will grace the indoors after this date on pain of a crappy year.

They concurred, and #LastTreeStanding was born, a competition to spot an abandoned tree on the streets of Paris at the latest possible date in the year, photographic evidence capturing the proof. January, February and March were almost too easy. Spring arrived. We slipped with ease into April, and the stakes got higher as we moved into May. There were always pickings to be found, and not just trees either, various other Christmas paraphernalia popped up for the rubbish men ALL THE TIME, including an advent calendar finally discarded in mid-May (it didn’t count, but kudos nonetheless for sheer self control).

June....

June….

June saw an amazing flood of sightings, and by the beginning of July, we’d gone international as entries from London arrived. In the midst of that furnace of French summer this year, we expected the competition to gracefully and appropriately die, though a couple of submissions outside the rules (artificial trees and repeat sightings were deemed not to count), told us not to foolishly assume it all was over.

AUGUST 24TH..... #LastTreeStanding....

AUGUST 24TH….. #LastTreeStanding….

So now, as we’ve stepped into December, we can call the competition off once and for all (for 2015 at least), and I’m happy to announce that my sighting of a sorry brown tree on a balcony in Vincennes on August 24th, takes the prize-winning mince pie. AUGUST 24TH! Is there anyone out there who can explain this curious Parisian phenomenon? And remember, these are only the trees we did see. Maybe October hid some samples from view. Mind. Blown.

So we’ll kick off proceedings again next year, and I hope you can all join us. But for now, practise loosening up the pipes for in month’s time after all the festive fun has died down, there’s only one song we need to sing… “Let it go, let it go!” Who said Frozen was only for kids???