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???

 

The Bike-ly Lads

Kim Tour 4Summer – the season of floaty dresses, floral prints, tailored shorts, and as seems to be the trend in France, er Lycra. And not just any old Lycra; Lycra so tight it’ll show every contour and so bright it’s a good thing it’s also the sunglasses season. You haven’t seen such fashion specimens amongst the July crowds? That’s ‘cos you’re looking in the wrong place. Take your eyes off the human traffic on the pavements and cast your gaze into the road. That slender chap peddling like his life depends on it can only mean one thing – Tour de France fever is here.

For approximately one month of the year, here the bike is king. It’s dusted off and rescued from the garage and the official Lycra kit (with go-faster stripes if you must) is dug out from the depths of the wardrobe, and hard saddle and padded shorts are reunited once again – all in honour of the biggest sporting event in the world (with more viewers worldwide than even the Olympics) the three-week cycling roadshow that is the Tour de France. Or being terribly French about it, simply ‘Le Tour’.

My own understated Tour effort

My own understated Tour effort

And what an impossibly challenging beast it is, both understanding the rules and putting yourself through it. Allow me to help with the former. 3 weeks, 198 riders, 22 teams, 21 stages in 3 countries (this year anyhow, usually it’s only 2), with 4 colours of snazzy shirts for the winners to wear – yellow for the overall winner, green for best sprinter, white for best youngest rider, and white with red polka dots for the best climber. Some of the riders aren’t even there to win, but are merely domestiques or maids, simply there to make sure the lead rider in the team is aptly fed and watered. They’ll even swap bikes with him if he knackers his. How gentlemanly.

The route winds around France with a stage every day (covering 3,360km in total), taking in flat terrain, treacherous cobble-stoned villages, luscious countryside and evil mountains, plus a couple of time trials for extra variation. Anyone worth their sel de guerande as a Frenchman or cycle enthusiast piles onto the side of the road to wave them on, even if this involves waiting for a good few hours to see the peleton (main pack of riders) whizz past in a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it two seconds at breakneck speeds.

248398_10150232286151685_3611686_n (2)The capital has traditionally played host to the last stage since 1985 and the weary riders roll into town on the 26th July for the final parade lap where they ride a circuit up and down the Champs-Élysées, by the Louvre, along the Rue de Rivoli and across the Place de la Concorde (don’t worry, they do it nine times, so it’s more than worth it). Seeing an aerial view of the beautiful city on TV or soaking up the atmosphere amongst the crowds is the day my heart bursts most with pride at being able to call Paris home. Usually the race is already decided by the time they arrive as the last week is packed with gruelling mountain stages that really sort the men out from the boys, but occasionally if there’s only seconds between the top two (astounding to think after three weeks’ racing), the race is on.

Kim Tour 2This year there’s almost no chance at all of a French victor (the last was Bernard ‘The Badger’ Hinault in 1985), but chances are good for the UK (Froome), USA (Van Garderen), Spain (Contador), or Columbia (Quintana). Time to dig out that flag. If it’s not grabbing you so far then at least appreciate the utter insanity of the challenge. These dudes are amongst the fittest – and craziest – in the world. Last year hot favourite Contador fell then rode 15km up a mountain with a broken leg before pulling out. Forget Magic Mike, this is a chance to wonder at physical magnificence atop magic bikes.

If you’re keen to check it out, just remember to take something to stand on – gazing at the backs of strangers does not a sporting event make. Recreating the action on a Vélib strictly discouraged…. For more info and standings check out http://www.letour.fr (English version available).

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.

Push the goat out

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Gong Xi Fa Cai!

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

(W)all you need is love

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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, next Monday 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 17th 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 beer instead 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 Monday 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.