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…

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It’s a fine line…

Kim axis 3Pondering the beauty of my home city the other day, it struck me that the ‘P’ for Paris also stands for ‘paradox’ – and I don’t just mean the presence of sheer mountains of dog merde clogging up streets in a place so celebrated for its good looks. When we think of France’s capital, we often think of it as a place to spend a romantic weekend, or a few days’ shopping. Whatever the purpose of your visit, it seems that most of us intend it to be a short one, which quite frankly sells the old Dame a bit short.

With so many gorgeous things to see, having a mini break here seems as nuts as trying to fit your worldy possessions into a 10m² apartment (trust me, despite optimistic projection is NEVER. GOING. TO. HAPPEN.). Your experiences will just end up bulging out of either side, and no one likes squashed memories. Sure, life is busy and there are so many amazing places to see, not just in France but in the whole world, and finding time for a holiday is as difficult as locating a Parisian parking space.

Kim axis 2Coupled with this, we’re used to having things at the touch of a button, in an instant, in a tiny package that fits into the palms of our hands. Well as much as I’m reluctant to move with the times (still resisting that smartphone would you believe), I have to admire the way that Paris caters to these modern needs and provides us with all the best bits in one bite-size chunk. Want to see all the big players in one tidy tableau without spending precious sightseeing time zigzagging the city map encased in the metro? Paris delivers like a pro.

KIm axis 1If cityscapes were apps, the Axe Historique would gain top marks for usability. An axis, or straight line extending from the centre of the city out to the west, it connects a large number of the most famous sights, meaning that if you’ve no other option than to limit your time to a couple of hard-won days off, or God forbid, mere hours (shudder), you’ll get to bask in the delights of the city’s most revered structural gems without sacrificing too much time.

Kim axis 6The concept of this handy continuous perspective across the city (clearly completely impossible these days in our cram-’em-in pile’em-high urban tangles) was hatched back in the 17th century with the creation of the straight-as-a-poker Champs-Élysées, and encompassed the neighbouring Tuileries gardens (and ancient palace that has since burned down). These days the collection of famous faces has swelled, and now includes from east to west: the Louvre, Arc de Triomphe du Carrousel, Place de la Concorde and its central Obelisk, Champs-Élysées, Place de l’Étoile dominated by the Arc de Triomphe (regular) and the modern Grande Arche in the satellite CBD way out at La Défense. Currents plans will see it extend even further into the well-to-do suburb of Neuilly.

Kim axis 5I’m hardly the greatest fan of modern scourge the ‘selfie’ (savour life through your very own peepers, not through the screen of your blinking’ phone!) but even I have to admit the gold star value of this particular spot. Position yourself at the eastern end of the Tuileries gardens and the Eiffel Tower will also be in clear view (seriously, what more could you want?!), and turn 180° and ponder exactly how drunk the builders must have been to ensure that the great pyramid of the Louvre will forever be frustratingly off-centre*. Perfectionists beware.

*Said drunkenness is probably not in the slightest bit historically accurate.