Give fleas a chance

I’ve been musing a lot lately about stuff. No, not stuff stuff, things stuff; that collection of material goods we accumulate (and eventually begin to choke ourselves with) as we meander through life. Here in our minuscule Parisian lodgings we have the advantage of not having the space for a whole load of material baggage (click here to discover more advantages of living in a chic match box), though when we do have the urge to shop, we do live in one of the best cities in the world to do it in.

Sure we have all the chains and the big names, chic arcades and sprawling malls – hell even the larger train stations in Paris are being turned into soulless shopping centres designed to lure in those sensible enough to have allowed themselves ample time to catch their trains. That’s not really what gets my carte bancaire sweating though, and I’m lucky enough to live less than a ten-minute walk away from one of largest flea markets in the world, where vintage chic melds with the beautifully bizarre and getting a real bargain beats battling around the rat run in Ikea into flat-pack submission.

If you’re heading up this way, eschew line 4 and the Porte de Clignancourt exit where cheap trainers and pleather handbags clog the lanes, and instead brave line 13 and get off at Garibaldi near the northern end of the main street Rue des Rosiers, meaning you’ll more easily get to good stuff and avoid all the tat (unless you really can’t do without some new incense sticks and a Bob Marley flag). Then all you have to do is keep an eye on your twitching credit card and decide which particular classic delight(s) your life and home are missing.

Rather than one big sprawl, the area is divided into lots of smaller markets (15 and counting), all specialising in slightly different things, though there’s furniture up the wazoo at every turn and if you have the time for a more comprehensive wander, it’s worth having a rifle through as many as you can (or bank balance will allow). See the photos for just a tiny taste of some of the gems I found on my way around. Needless to say I didn’t have a bag big enough to take a vintage pinball machine home, no matter how short the distance back to Granny Flat.

For those without a white van man on hand for larger purchases, there are plenty of smaller items to dig through from vintage postcards and knick knacks, to jewellery and classic toys. Remember though that actually digging may lead to some exasperated stall owners – ask before touching (‘je peux?’) and lead with your eyes; handling things is taken in some cases as a precursor to a sale. As with all flea markets, bartering is a useful skill, though you’ll have way more success if you bring cash (some stalls don’t take cards at all) and have a go at sealing the deal in French.

If you’re a visitor rather than a native and plan on organising your trip around a visit here, just be aware that the markets are only open at weekends and on Mondays, and you’d do well to try and avoid peak times if you want to snag the best bargains. Bad weather Mondays are treasure-searching gold.

Whatever your shopping motivation, for weary feet and spirits there are some weird and wonderful cafés dotted around, including some amazingly traditional French gems (remember the stall owners need to eat too!). And even if you haven’t been so lucky as to find that 19th century chandelier at the right price, keep your eyes peeled as you might just be lucky enough to catch a glimpse of the local firefighters jogging around the area in their tiny, tight red shorts as they most regularly do. Sadly, no touching allowed, and models not for sale…

Click here to explore the various markets and offerings to plan your visit (available in English).

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Elevated Expectations

img_3481When you consider the choices on offer, months don’t get much worse than January. Last Monday marked what is billed as ‘Blue Monday’, what has officially been calculated as the most depressing day of the year. What with freezing temperatures and this week’s inauguration of a quite astounding choice of US president, January isn’t giving us much to smile about.

I’m one of those crazy weirdos though, who actually likes, hell, even revels in this time of year. For me the new year signifies a new start, a chance to take a personal inventory, reflecting on the joys and life lessons from the previous year and to make a list of the hopes and plans for the year to come. Resolutions might be seen as a bit naff these days, but I’m a loyal subscriber (although the UK tradition of embracing a Dry January has happily not, and probably never will enter mine, or the French psyche).

img_3480Now it’s likely that most of those resolutions earnestly made a couple of weeks ago have already fallen by the wayside, and the shiny potential of a new year has already become tarnished for most. But here in France the Bonne Année spirit lasts until the very end of the month when cards and greetings are exchanged right up until the 31st. Personally, I’m still buoyant with the thought of all the adventurous and positive things 2017 could potentially bring.

img_3483With this month all about embracing a new perspective, I decided on a clear but toe-numbingly cold winter’s day to head for the heights and take the chance to reflect on not just what the upcoming 12 months have in store for me, but for the city that for 8 years this year, I have had the pleasure (and yes, sometimes the pain) of calling my home.

Paris can offer plenty of vantage points, though mixing with the hoardes up the Eiffel Tower or Tour Montparnasse hardly encourage zen contemplation. So I headed instead to a lesser-known spot devoid of choking crowds, but offering no less stunning 360° views of Paris’ classically alluring skyline. In the process I also got to put in practice keeping to last year’s mantra of rejecting the desire to ‘have’ rather than ‘be’ or ‘do’, by passing the seven floors of consumer temptation found in famed department store Printemps, and heading straight to the open air terrace right at the top (be not afraid, they do have lifts).

img_3486The view was simply divine, if not a tad clouded by the seemingly now omnipresent fog of pollution that has become such an unwelcome reality in our daily lives. But even this had a place in my pensive reverie, as I pondered whether Paris would embrace the year from a greener perspective, and what changes we’d see in the city in a general sense as 2017 passes. It’s been a painful and disquiet few years for France’s capital, and just as we all wish the best for ourselves as the year progresses, then we wish the best for our concrete surroundings too.

This is a spot I’ll head to throughout the year when in need of a bit of perspective on life (sunny days only naturally), and if I manage to resist a spot of shopping in the process, I’ll end the year a happy woman. I’ll keep you posted.

 

Enough with the stuff already!

Kim Grenier 6Stuff, eh? We might all assume that our daily lives are ruled by crooked politicians and the chaffing chains of bureaucracy, but we’d all be wrong. What actually seems to have the stranglehold over most of our lives these days is stuff. Yep, all of those things that we dedicate our lives to getting and having, before the buzz wears off and the getting and having reveal themselves as soul-sucking monsters with infinite appetites. That cycle of emotions that comes with every possession we encounter which takes us fleetingly through joy, quickly into indifference, finally sinking into guilt as our consumer desires eventually begin to drown us in clutter. Forget bent governments, that Ikea catalogue is really the boss of you.

Kim Grenier 5In Paris, many of us manage to escape this ‘power of things’ given that we live in matchboxes (we can only dream of living in shoeboxes), forcing us to adopt a one-in-one-out policy when it comes to possessions. That joyous feeling of having a shiny brand-new thing quickly turns into frustration when you get it home and realise you have absolutely nowhere to put it, besides out the window. But as the generous provider of things, Dame Paris makes sure that we can both inhale and exhale goods as we need them in order to maintain our domestic equilibrium, and at the very same time instil within us the waste-not want-not community spirit that is so very virtuous, but somehow so typically un-Parisian. Behold, the Vide Grenier.

Kim Grenier 1Something also very un-Parisian is the concept of the car boot, a vehicular feature rendered utterly useless thanks to Parisian parking rules dictating that cars need to be caressing each others’ rear ends like excited terriers to be considered properly parked. Forget trying to sell your old vinyl collection from the back of your car, even if you had room, you wouldn’t be able to open the damn thing. Thankfully Parisians have decided not to deny themselves access to the bric-a-brac spirit and every so often spill on to the pavements of the city’s quartiers to either peddle or browse the contents of theirs, and others’ homes (sorry, ‘matchboxes’) in an officially organised event known as a Vide Grenier, or literally ’emptying of the attic’.

Kim Grenier 4

They’re not the most obviously advertised or frequently held events, but they do happen all around the city, and generally only a couple of streets-worth of vendors means you won’t have to pick up a second pair of shoes on your way round. All manner of second-hand delights await, from shoes and clothes, old records, knick-knacks and furniture, to even the odd teapot or two. To find out if one’s happening in your neighbourhood (permanent or temporary), check out the local council’s website or keep your eyes peeled for posters on telegraph poles or in shop windows nearby.

You have the revered flea markets to peruse of course, if bargain hunting is really your thing, but everyone knows the price hikes in the name of the ‘vintage’ tag that really go on. Besides, from the inside of an authentic Parisian apartment into your hand in exchange for a couple of paltry euros? And right on your doorstep? Ikea may have hotdogs, but it’s fighting a losing battle.

Market hall of fame: Marché des Enfants Rouges

IMG_2562I’ll admit it – after nearly seven years in France’s fair capital, there’s still a list of things I sorely miss from the motherland for which Paris can supply no substitute. It has diminished over time, a mere scribbled shadow of what it once was, but the one thing that remains steadfastly stubborn at the top (and I’m not proud of myself, dear readers), is the British supermarket. Sorry Carrefour, Monoprix et al, but you’re just simply no match for the behemoths I’m used to (and guys, if you insist on selling Marmite at such an offensively inflated price, you never, EVER will be).

IMG_2561In Paris though, there’s one thing on the other side of the coin that floats high above these pile-’em-high grocery warehouses, and that’s the traditional produce market, largely abandoned back home in favour of convenience and the fruitless (ha!) search for the cheapest price. And I don’t mean the status-coated ‘farmer’s markets’ either – throughout the city you’ll find both covered and outdoor markets every day of the week selling ordinary fruit and veg from mere pennies to the more upmarket selections in the more well-to-do arrondissements.

IMG_2559Whereas the supermarket is a relatively modern invention at a mere 100 years old*, showing its true influence in our food culture only in the last 40 years or so, the traditional market goes way, way back into the very deepest mists of time – so far back you can hardly even see the beginning anymore. I’ll leave Tesco, ASDA and friends to contemplate their frustratingly unflinching stranglehold on the UK economy, and instead celebrate the birthday this weekend (8th November) of one of Paris’ oldest and most charming fruit and veg bazaars; le Marché des Enfants Rouges.

IMG_2560You’ll find this rain-friendly covered market in the 3rd arrondissement near the Rue de Bretagne, and its name, ‘Market of the Red Children’ comes from the red-suited inhabitants of an ancient orphanage that used to stand nearby. Though the latter is long gone, the market has stood strong for the last 400 years, though understandably needed a facelift after centuries of trading, and closed for six years for a spruce-up in the late 1990s.

Kim fish and chipsRainbows of produce await hungry punters, but waiting until to you get home to satisfy your hunger sounds like unnecessary torture to me. To save you from breaking your teeth sinking them into a raw turnip, the real draw of le Marché des Enfants Rouges is the huge selection of freshly prepared food on offer from all corners of the world, hot and cold, served in compact glass pod-like structures with plenty of seating scattered around to take the load off. Happily the menu also includes fish and chips, so authentic that you could close your eyes and be sitting in a café on Brighton seafront. That’s another British comfort ticked of my list then.

Things do get manically busy at the weekends, and this one will be more sardine-like than most, so best to take a wide berth if you want to be able to find a seat. And being able to tuck into fish and chips whilst occupying yourself with the weekly produce shop sounds well worth the wait to me. I’ll be at home screwing up my ‘things I miss from home’ list and flinging it into the bin.

Open Tuesday to Sunday.

*The very first was called, wait for it, ‘Piggly Wiggly’

New ages for pages

Phew chers followers! What a time I’ve been having of it recently at the Granny Flat! After two years of pulling up my donkey and ushuring all my possessions over the threshold, the time has finally come to get my hands dirty, embrace and advance my fledgling DIY skills, and little by little peel back the layers to expose the old girl’s metaphorical undercrackers. Oh the history (plus lurid green paint, dodgy fittings and holes) I’ve been uncovering.

Kim books 2Gratingly, at the same time a cloud of insomnia has descended onto my hand-made Granny-fashioned roll-out bed, meaning that the ever-darkening nights have been spent tossing and turning beneath the covers, eyes firmly open, as if I’ve suddenly forgotten how this darn sleep thing works. Happily though there are infinite things one can do with an abandoned pallet and a few basic tools, so my rolling mind has been awash with ideas to turn my cute little palace into a modern temple of do-it-yourself, budget-conscious wonderment.

To stop me from getting totally carried away, my precious stack of books has also proved invaluable during those nights of broken sleep, and as you’ll recall from my last post, I’ve recently topped up supplies. But hoovering literature like it’s going out of fashion means my limited space is simply chocka with tomes that need new homes. Sadly the next SOS book sale isn’t until the spring, so what to do with those stories in need of recycling to free up precious space to accommodate my ever-growing tool box?

Kim books 3Paris has kindly provided some useful and financially rewarding options for off-loading spent books, though passing on via friends and the wider book community and giving to charity are always the most virtuous options. But, à la fin du jour, the crisis still lingers and sometimes a few extra euros weighing down our wallets can just make that all important difference in living a more comfortable life. Plus it’s not always easy to find a willing recipient with the same literary tastes.

Kim books 5So where to go? Well head towards the centre of Paris and you’ll find a collection of bookshops that sell, and crucially buy, secondhand English language books, including paperback and hardback fiction, travel books and various non-fiction titles. If you haven’t been to the hallowed Shakespeare and Company yet (37 Rue de la Bûcherie, 75005), then you’re well overdue a visit, especially considering that they’ve recently opened a café next door, meaning that you can nestle with your chosen pages in warm comfort as winter approaches. The tiny shop where you go to offer your wares is just nearby at 71 rue Galande.

The minuscule Canadian-run Abbey Bookshop not far at 29 rue de la Parcheminerie will also accept secondhand specimens to buy, and even if you’re not willing to part with them, it’s traditional floor-too-ceiling randomly stacked shelves are a joy to behold for any enthusiastic reader. Yellow-hued chain Gibert Jeune in the same neighbourhood has a dedicated bourse des livres (2 Place Saint-Michel, just next to the bigger shop at no. 4, and there’s also one on Boulevard Saint-Denis), and they’ll pay you in cash (like the others) once they’ve perused and valued the items you’ve brought.

Kim books 4We’re not talking big bucks here by any means (the last time I went to Shakespeare and Company I left six books lighter with 11 euros in my back pocket), and they won’t accept any old tat that you want to get rid of. But in these times of tight economies, it makes sense to recycle the things you don’t need and get a bit of cash in return, rather than keep them chez toi as handy dust magnets. After all, those screws and sandpaper don’t buy themselves you know. Parisian DIY-on-a-budget masterclass post coming soon…

Never-ending stories

Kim SOS 2It’s a bit of a short post this week sports fans, given that at the Granny Flat, reading (and rugby) has beaten writing quivering into a corner. But that doesn’t mean it’s any less important, after all, what in the world could be more important than books? If you’ve been reading over the last few months, you’ll know that wine fans don’t come much bigger than me, and chez moi, my wine rack is full of weighty tomes just waiting for me to dive into. And what perfect timing! Nothing says autumn more than curling up on a darkening evening with a mug of something steaming and a good book to get lost in.

I’m also a fan of doing good where possible (as I’m sure you are too, dear reader), so SOS Help’s bi-annual book sale perfectly combines my philanthropic tendencies with my desire to fill my open dumper truck arms with as many books as my puny muscles can handle. And by God I’ll need them with a room full of paperbacks for a euro and hardbacks for two (the majority English language), not to mention comfort therapy in the form of home-baked cakes and coffee. Just in time to replenish those shelves for the long black evenings of chilly winter, the second sale of the year takes place on Sunday October 11th.

Kim SOS 3For those not familiar with their work, SOS Help is a charity that offers a free and confidential listening service to English people living in France, providing a friendly ear for those worried, stressed, lonely and confused. France is a wonderland of opportunity and experience in many respects, but life as an expat isn’t always sunshine and roses, and that’s where they come in.

When starting this blog, I decided never to act as a promotional tool for other organisations, giving me the freedom to choose whatever subject and angle my heart desired, and I stand by that. But in this case I’ll make an exception, knowing what valuable work SOS Help dedicate themselves to. Plus this bi-annual book sale fits in with my budget ethos and provides me with my yearly reading material for the price of a couple of pints, and whether we have need of a friendly ear or not, the imaginary world of books is sometimes all we need to climb over life’s prickly obstacles. Donations are also accepted, check the website for details.

Kim SOS 1Sun Oct 11, 12-4 pm
Orrick Law Offices
31 avenue Pierre 1er de Serbie, 16e
http://www.soshelpline.org

Give it away, give it away now

IMG_2250If December is all about giving and receiving, the guilty pleasure of excess and the warmth of celebration, January is the polar opposite, when we all decide to be our most angelic and virtuous selves as the real winter cold stabs us to the bones.

The diet’s on, the wine’s been relegated to the cupboard to sulk for a month, and the good intentions are spilling free. Now is the perfect time to sort through those unwanted Christmas presents and help someone else for a change.

IMG_2243Happily my family know me so well that unwanted offerings just aren’t something I have to deal with, but for those who have a reindeer jumper or soap on a rope too many, clearing out the present cupboard is a fine idea this week, now that the Christmas dust has well and truly settled.

Back in dear old Blighty, this task is made all the easier by the rainbow parade of charity shops to be found on every high street, meaning you can dispense of the outcasts almost guilt-free. From when I was a student and beyond, I loved hunting for one-off bargains on a budget, something I looked forward to with relish anticipating my move to Paris.

IMG_2248But Paris, for once, did disappoint. I pictured myself snapping up vintage Agnes B for a mere pittance, profiting from the French snobbery that likes to buy new. But it’s partly down to this snobbery that to my dismay, there were just no charity shops to be found.

In fact, it took me three desolate, bargain-void years for me to find the city’s principal philanthropic retail contribution (those with long memories might remember my Guerrisol post from last year, but that’s a purely commercial endeavour, albeit providing the same rummaging fun).

IMG_2249Its name is Emmaüs, and with 15 or so outlets of varying size and quality, there are hours of great value, second-hand fun to be had. Just like in the homeland, you could dress yourself and furnish your home and more in a single visit (to the bigger ones at least), with clothes and bric-a-brac up to the rafters and a good cause winking at you behind it.

Once you’ve muscled that woman out of the way to win that pair of red leather boots for a tenner, you can reflect on what your purchase means, other than a gold star in the vintage style stakes. Your money will be going to help the homeless and those in poverty, a philosophy that dates from 1949 when the charity was set up by Priest Abbé Pierre to do just that.

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I SWEAR I did not touch this display

As well as providing financial aid, Emmaüs also provides employment and housing, and some of those in need are offered work helping to restore and prepare donations for sale. And this is not just in Paris either; there are hundreds of locations throughout France, and the philanthropy has exploded on an international level. By the early 90s, the do-gooding had spread to over 40 countries, kicking off in the UK in 1992.

You might share the (thankfully fading) Parisian instinct that cast-offs aren’t worth the energy to find them, let alone a few euros, but in my many visits hunting for used treasure, I’ve seen many a hipster and fashionable young thing searching for that unique piece to offset their designer wardrobe core.

IMG_2244Unlike many other of the city’s second hand shops, the prices aren’t jacked up amongst cries of ‘vintage’, meaning you’ll always get a cracking deal. If you need further persuading, check out my spoils. My shopping list of awesome finds include branded walking boots for seven euros, Mango jeans for five, and the jewel in the crown (you can’t help to be impressed with this one) a big, orange Le Creuset crockpot for a paltry 2 euros (yes, I had to clarify with the shop assistant at least three times). It needed a good scrub, but hey, don’t we all?

So rather than ignoring your unwanted Christmas presents at the bottom of the wardrobe hoping they’ll take themselves to back from whence they came (they won’t), donate them to a good cause and feel warm and tingly inside instead. To find out where you can dig for glory (buy) or become a saint (donate), check out the website here. Just make sure you take your rejected goods to a different area from where your relatives live, or you’ll be getting coal in your stocking next year.

It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas…

Galleries Lafayette

Galleries Lafayette

At this time of year I find it about as hard to maintain a zen and adult-like exterior as a three-year-old on a bouncy castle. That childhood inclination towards anything covered in snow and shaped like a candy cane has stubbornly (and a bit embarrassingly) stayed with me into my thirties, whereas it should have melted away like a spring snowflake in my teens. I kid you not, one of the main reasons I live where I live is the iron garland of holly on each front door of my building.

BHV Marais, Hotel de Ville

BHV Marais, Hotel de Ville

Mince pies, Slade hits, chocolate coins; I like surrounding myself with them like a warm, kitschy blanket. There’s hardly a seasonal film I haven’t seen (except the ones made for TV – I’m a die-hard enthusiast, not a simpleton). When it comes to an obsession with Christmas trees, I’m on a par with Kevin from Home Alone (and if you haven’t basked in the Culkin magic by now, you’d better rectify the situation immediately if we are to remain friends).

Printemps

Printemps

Thankfully Paris knows how much I love things that twinkle in the frosty dark, and has generously dug deep into its garage (behind the giant lawnmower) to put on a magnificent festive light show that would make the elves proud. For all of those bah humbugs amongst you, I defy you to wander through the streets without catching at least a sniff of the warming spirit.

We’re not talking blow-the-national-grid American style here, but there’s sparkling pockets of Christmas cheer dotted around the city should you wish to find them. Putting the city’s power points under the most strain are the big daddies of the shopping scene, department stores Printemps and Galleries Lafayette on Boulevard Hausmann, that have enough lights between them to melt half the neighbourhood.

Galleries Lafayette

Galleries Lafayette

It’s the latter that has the edge with its child-magnet window displays and inside a giant upside down Christmas tree under its famous dome. It also provides a death-blow for the religious aspect of the festival and a victory for commercialism with its Sesame Street-esque ‘monster Noël’ theme (no, I don’t really get it either, but it sure is pretty). BHV completes the multi-floored consumer paradise, but keeps it simpler with pixellated santas evoking Nintendo Christmases gone by, and piped music flooding the pavement outside.

Notre Dame

Notre Dame

If you have the willpower to fight against the grand plan by the big stores to lure you in and spend all of your money on wildly overpriced gifts for your nears and dears, a trip to the German Christmas market along the bottom end of the Champs-Élysées is worth a look, if only for festive spirit turned up to the max and a warming cup of Glühwein. You can catch a glimpse of the lights lining Paris’ most famous street while you’re choosing what to buy me.

Paris might be thin on the ground on majestic municipal spruces, but there’s a glowing behemoth slap-bang in front of Notre Dame to gawk at. If you look hard enough, the blue lights hint at the icy politics behind it; not having enough money to pay the 75,000 euros to install it, the city went cap-in-hand to the embassies of Paris asking for sponsorship, and the Russians were the first to volunteer and stumped up the cash. Stings a bit like a pine needle, no?

Place Carré, Les Halles

Place Carré, Les Halles

For those who can’t stomach the cold, there’s a glowing electronic version in Place Carré in Forum Les Halles, plus plenty to look at on your route home as many of the city’s streets suspend glowing bulbs up high to guide you through the chilly evenings. You’ll be spared the carol singers though, this is Paris after all, and not Dickensian London. The French would much rather be supping on a vin chaud somewhere than belting out Mary’s Boy Child.

So there you have it. You might not have an inner child awaiting the December’s climax as eagerly as mine, but you owe it to the city’s electricity bill to go and soak in the festive rays. If anything it sure beats standing next to those guys who burn sell chestnuts out of shopping trolleys as a way to keep warm…

Rain? I’ve got it covered…

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Passage des Panoramas

Someone call a plumber. The great tap in the sky won’t stop dripping. I, for one, didn’t envisage spending my summer exploring Paris under leaking clouds; my ideas list was filled with day trips out into the green, sun-baked picnics and other assorted outdoor gaiety not conducted wearing soggy clothes. But we can’t always get what we want, and if we try sometimes, then we just might find ourselves nice and dry in one of Paris’ beautiful vintage shopping arcades.

Passage Vivienne

Passage Vivienne

Paris is a pretty sneaky dame, and is well-practiced in stealing all of your money from you when you’re not looking (yes, sometimes literally), what with all of those shops lurking round every corner waiting to inhale your cash. But you can be sneaky back and go shopping without actually going shopping, throwing your focus on architecture rather than haute couture in these charmingly preserved passages.

There are plenty scattered around the city (fifteen or so remain from the original sixty-odd), mostly nestling in the 2nd, 9th and 10th arrondissements, but are mostly well-hidden, so a map (electronic if you must) is essential if you want to find them. Stumbling across one on an idle promenade is as delightful as it gets, but if you left it to chance you’d probably die of frustration first.

Prins Patrick in Passage des Panoramas

Prins Patrick in Passage des Panoramas

They all follow the same kinda theme, beautiful as it is, existing as commercial throwbacks from the late 18th and early 19th centuries with shops lining each side under brightening skylights. The original idea was to provide shelter for the city’s ladies-who-shop from the grimier ‘charms’ of Paris, i.e. horses, mud, open sewers, and the ever-present rain (making the nastiest pavement soup you could imagine). And who wants to go wading through all that when you’re wearing your newest floor-scraping ye olde designer dress?

Fabric in the Passage du Grand Cerf

Fabric in the Passage du Grand Cerf

Each passage has its own personality and style, so even the most obscure tastes will find something to smile about. One of the swankiest and most famous is the Passage Vivienne in the 2nd, filled with fine wines, rare books, posh tea and designer togs (though hemlines have leapt a bit over the years). Towards the south-eastern corner of the same arrondissement is the Passage du Grand Cerf where you’ll find the funkiest art and craft shops selling contemporary prints, every colour of wool in the rainbow and adorable Liberty fabrics.

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Passage du Grand Cerf

In the 9th the Passage des Panoramas is the most culinary of the lot filled with quaint eating posts not too damaging at all to the budget. I didn’t test out the goods, given that at this time of the year quite a few were lights-off-doors-closed, though I did spend a good ten minutes checking out the vintage postcards at Prins Patrick. Nearby passages Verdeau and Joffroy keep up the tradition of way-out-there-specific shops catering for lovers of old movie posters, antique art, comic books and er, tiny ceramic animals.

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Passage Brady

Head up to the small handful in the 10th and things get predictably grittier; rather than shopping for dusty old books or charming trinkets, the only sensible thing to do in this part of town is fill your face with Indian food in one of the restaurants lining the Passage Brady. And as for the weather, you won’t have to worry about the odd drop of rain in here, there’ll be naan…

Click here for Paris’ official site on the subject for more information (in English).

The market hall of fame: Barbès Rochechouart

Market barbes2Whenever a person thinks of France, and I’m really sticking my (frog’s) leg out here and generalising, I can be almost certain that the flashing procession of images contains a market in there somewhere. The place is fabled for them, making sure our happy bellies are full of technicolour produce, to-salivate-for meat and without a doubt the smelliest cheeses in the world.

Having lived in Paris for over five years (so I can safely consider myself somewhat of an expert), I’m well used to the gulf between the glittering tourist clichés and the more mundane and unspectacular reality of what the city is actually like. But these bustling markets, filled with a plethora of goodies and traders trying to push juicy figs into your mouth as you idle past, straddle the both ideas, being both the romantic cliché, and the happy reality.Market barbes1

Just as the 20 arrondisements are a patchwork of different cultures and salary brackets, so is the catalogue of the city’s produce markets. Ranging from the organic wonderland of the Boulevard Raspail where the prices can leave you saucer-eyed and open-mouthed, to the lower end of the scale where you can fill two carrier bags full of fruit and veg for 5 euros (and I’ve done it), there are different markets to see you through every day of the week.

Given the premise of this blog though, it’s only fair that I point you towards the cheapest. After extensive research (I still have the fig moustache), I can confirm that if it’s veggie bargains you want, then it’s to Barbès Rochechouart you need to head. The market takes place every wednesday (8am-1pm) and saturday (7am-3pm), extending along Boulevard de la Chapelle, under the metro line (so you’ll be nice and dry if it rains).

Market barbes3Along with the odd hardware and clothes stall, there’s are plenty of the usual suspects selling fruit and veg, cheese, fish and meat, and a handful of specialists selling delights such as olives and spices. You’ll also have to make sure you look out for the herb guys who plonk themselves right in the middle of the pedestrian traffic – if not for their fragrant green bunches, at least to save your shins.

It’s a busy ol’ affair, so if you’re not keen on elbowing through the crowds, competing with the masses to get served, or losing your heels via a fellow shopper’s loaded trolley being pulled with reckless abandon, then you’ll have to get there early. Given the rock-bottom prices, you won’t find a whole host of organic or local produce being sold by ruddy-cheeked farmers, and none of that ‘posh’ veg (watercress, asparagus, kale), though the quality is reasonable and the sales patter always lively. Who needs bananas exactly the same size and length anyway??

For more information on this market and others near you, check out http://meslieux.paris.fr/marches