Coeur Blimey

It seems to be one of the quirks of the universe that the closer you get to a place, the less you see it. Dream of travelling across to the world to see Sydney Opera House and the landmark becomes the most magical thing in the world. Live just down the road from it and pass it every day on your way to work, and it curiously fades into the background. As it is with many of Paris’ most famous spots and monuments; it’s easy for those of us who live here to forget that they’re even there.

So it happened recently, when approaching ten years of life in France’s capital, I decided to finally, finally, finally take a trip inside Sacré-Coeur, my immediate neighbourhood’s crowning glory. It peeks round the corner every now again whilst I’m on my way through the quartier occupied with life’s more mundane errands, bringing my geographical reality into fleetingly sharp focus. So beautiful it is on the outside, but just like people (and fondant au chocolat, obviously) sometimes the best of a thing is to be found on the inside.

Despite lauding over the city like a grand old dame, our ‘sacred heart’ is actually a relatively young pup on the Paris monument scene, officially consecrated only 100 years ago this year (though construction ran from 1875-1914). Technically a Roman Catholic church and basilica in the Romano-Byzantine style, it has both religious and political significance, dedicated to the Sacred Heart of Jesus and at the same time a symbolic monument of penance for the French loss of the Franco Prussian war in 1870.

From its terraces you’ll get some of the best views of Paris (from the bell tower too, but that’ll cost ‘ya), but it’s inside the walls you’ll find her most beautiful delights. You won’t be able to help being captured by the 475m² gilded blue Apse Mosaic high up on the ceiling, one of the largest in the world, and the biggest in France. Framing this breathtaking work are the obligatory stained glass windows, though sadly not the originals thanks to the carnage of World War II.

Music nerds will stare wide-eyed at the 1898 grand organ, officially recognised as a national monument in itself, and designed by Aristide Cavaillé-Coll, the most famous organ builder in France in his time and responsible for pretty much all of the best examples in the churches of Paris. There’s time as well for quiet contemplation (‘quiet’ being the operative word of course in a place of worship) and candles are available (with a donation) to light in remembrance of those who can sadly no longer be with us.

Now you might be wondering why I haven’t furnished you with any photos of this interior magnificence. Rather than being an attempt to describe such grace and elegance through words alone, it’s because in this case, the lens of a smartphone simply can’t do it justice. Plus when the sign says ‘cameras strictly forbidden’, the goody two shoes inside me respects the rules (and internally frowns and tuts at those who don’t). There’s nothing for it, you’ll just have to go yourself (smartphone dutifully tucked away). Free stuff in Paris doesn’t get much better than this.

Click here for more information.

Advertisements

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 it 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!

Creative Grace

If you were one of Paris’ 20 arrondissements, which one would you be? The wealthy 8th, the shopaholic 1st? Maybe the hipster 11th is more your bag? Whichever one you think suits you best, I’ll bet my morning croissant that you didn’t pick the 19th – that largely forgotten north-east corner of the city that many a tourist fails to include in their holiday itinerary. Even Parisian residents have been immune to its charms over the years, and honestly who would blame them given the area’s history as the slaughterhouse centre of the city?

But tourist or local, anyone who’s anyone has woken up to the 19th’s awesomely shabby creative chic, and the fact that it has a personality that other quartiers should start to be very, very jealous of. I’ll be taking you round the many of its enchantments in months to come, but for now I want to introduce you to an achingly cool contemporary art space that would turn even the hippest corners of London pea-green with envy.

Jump on the metro if you must, but head east from Marx Dormoy along Rue Riquet to the corner of Rue d’Aubervilliers on foot, and you’ll be given a stunning glimpse into the creativity that’s at work in this part of Paris, when you hit surely one of the best graffiti walls the city has to offer (ancient blog post on exactly that here). It extends all the way up Rue d’Aubervilliers if you have time for a stroll to check it out, if not, head straight for the building on the right, an imposing modern art space offering sanctuary and inspiration, whatever your creative persuasions.

Completed in 2008, this multifaceted cultural centre is a hotbed of local talent, and invites artists of all disciplines to make use of the space to hone their craft, allowing members of the public to see their ingenuity in action. Whether a visual artist, a street performer or urban dance addict, there’s enough room for all to convene in perfect harmony (just watch out for flying juggler’s batons or hula hoops if you’re weaving in between the assembled crowds). Indulging in this creativity-in-progress is happily free to all, whether you’re an observer or an eager participant.

In addition to art in real time, there are also permanent and temporary exhibitions, film screenings, live theatre, dance and music performances (ticket prices vary), and an ever-changing programme of activities open to all from artistic workshops for children in the aptly named ‘Littlie’s House’, to free Qi gong (a close cousin to Tai chi) sessions at the weekends. Those with a more literary leaning will find a free book exchange shed in between to two main halls.

Folk led by their stomachs will find their more basic appetites well catered for with a selection of places to eat, including the main Grand Central Restaurant, hidden café and pizza truck for a fly-by feed. There’s even a nod to our commercial impulses with a book shop and a branch of second-hand wonder chain Emmaüs (see here for my own glowing tribute to my favourite shops in Paris). And the gritty past of the area hasn’t been forgotten either – the site may not have been one of the numerous abattoirs dotted around a century ago, but the two halls used to house the city’s municipal undertakers, processing 150 funerals a day. Maybe the creative ‘spirit’ of days gone past still resides here, I’ll let you be the judge.

Le CENT-QUATRE Paris, 5 Rue Curial (second entrance on Rue d’Aubervilliers), 75019

All the info you need is here (French and English)

Square Roots

kim-hdv-4Think of modern day politics and you’d be forgiven for thinking the end of the world is fast approaching. We have an orange cartoon villain as the leader of the free world, and concentrating on French soil, the name ‘Le Pen’ is looming uncomfortably large in a reality we hoped we’d never see. Can’t we go back to the Golden Age of politics when everything was just and fair, and made a whole lot more sense?

Yep, I don’t really know when that was either. To try and make myself (and you guys, obviously) feel a little better at the state of the world, I thought I’d take a peek back into French politics through the ages, and perhaps see how good we have it nowadays in comparison, harping back to the days when losing your (actual) head was the punishment for stepping out of line, rather then being roasted on CNN or having your Twitter account suspended. Compared to times gone past, believe it or not, this appears to be that golden age.

kim-hdv-1Now there’s no need to bore ourselves to tears trawling through the intricacies of the French political system (I like my soul and intend on keeping it), but instead let’s take a trip to one of Paris’ most important landmarks when it comes to governmental matters, albeit these days on a more administrative tip – le Hôtel de Ville. When I think of some of the concrete monstrosities that house those pesky paper pushers in the UK, well this beauty puts all of them to shame in quite damning fashion. I can’t imagine heading to a city’s council offices in absence of official business to lure me there, but Paris’ Hôtel de Ville is such a beautiful sight to behold in itself, that I’d quite happily cross the city on a rainy day just to stand outside and ogle at it.

kim-hdv-3But such architectural allure and elegance in fact hides quite a littered and lively past, or at least the square or ‘place’ in front of it does, having played host to events that have shaped modern day Paris since it was first know as ‘Place de Grève’ and used as a gathering spot way back in the 12th century. The word ‘grève’ refers to the gravel or sand that first defined the shorefront location, but also came to later mean ‘strike’ since it became known as a spot for unemployed people to complain en masse about their search for work, coining the expression ‘être en grève’ (to go on strike), now so fiercely engrained in the French psyche.

If we’re talking about gallic stereotypes, then nothing says French history like the bloody story of the guillotine. Well you won’t find a real one here, but stand in front of the Hôtel de Ville and you’ll be standing on the spot where the very first executions by guillotine took place, the bloodiest place in the city for a mere four months until the scaffold was moved elsewhere (more of that another time). Hardly a stranger to death though, the Place de Grève had been the official execution spot for at least 500 years before using various other medieval methods like the gallows or pillory. If walls could talk, eh?

kim-hdv-5Well, luckily enough these days, they kinda can. Not as in the narrators of grizzly legends gone by, but as modern beacons of hope, continually and silently reminding us that there is light at the end of the tunnel via the city’s motto ‘fluctuat nec mergitur‘, found on numerous municipal coats of arms adorning the sides of the building. Luckier still, you won’t find the bloodshed of ancient justice here these days, rather a charming carousel a world away from the horrors of old. It’s also the spot for many a special event, and ubiquitous protest of course, keeping the old rebel spirit alive.

For those heading inside, there’s always an exhibition or two worth a browse around (normally free), and my condolences if you’ve found yourself here (to attempt) to get some actual paperwork done. Whatever your motive, you’re doing the city a great disservice if you don’t take a couple of minutes outside to give a nod to its colourful political past.

Visit the official website here.

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!

Gut instinct

Kim Brass 3If you’re currently in Paris in this hazy last gasp of July, I’d bet the last slice of Raclette that you’re relaxing languidly in a rattan chair on a terrace somewhere, watching the people go by (and for the uninitiated, at this time of year, they’re not actually Parisians – they’ve all buggered off down south for the holidays, which is probably why you got a chair on the terrace in the first place). If you’re not currently semi-horizontal in France’s capital lazing with a glass in your hand, then I’d raise you my dessert that that’s where you’d actually rather be.

Kim Brass 6And mon dieu haven’t you got a job on your hands trying to decide which particular one to spend your hard-earned euros in? In rattan chair terms, Paris has provided wannabe loungers with an embarrassment of riches (a termed coined by a Frenchman don’t you know), and as many an inhabitant and visitor knows, trying to pin-down the specific markers of establishment quality is as difficult as avoiding a sun-splashed terrace in the first place. Hell, they can’t even seem to decide amongst themselves what names to go under, meaning the capital’s many awnings are stamped with the seemingly interchangeable terms restaurant, café, brasserie and bistro(t). 

Assuming each establishment offers relatively the same thing is as foolhardy as assuming that you’d experience the same level of warm welcome in Paris as you would in Provence (erm, nope). There’s a fine art to this thing, and you’re lucky things that I’m here to give you a hand in negotiating it all.

A restaurant is much the same as you’d expect from most countries in the rest of the world; the most formal of the bunch, with menus depending on the food type and chosen price range of the place. If you’re sucking up to/trying to score with/grovelling your heart out to someone, a restaurant is where you’d head to. If you know what’s good for you.

Kim Brass 4Don’t confuse a café with the greasy spoon type you get in the UK. Easily identified most of the time as there’s often a tabac (peddler of cigs and lottery tickets) attached, here is where you stop for a quick coke-and-toilet stop or a swift espresso before work (and FYI order just a ‘coffee’ and that’s what you’ll get as standard). Beware – prices are cheaper standing at the bar and take a leap higher if you choose to sit (often higher still if that’s on the terrace), and if you’re after more solid refreshment, the most you can hope for is a menu of lighter meals and snacks like omelettes and croque monsieurs.

Kim Brass 2A classic French brasserie used to be a place that brewed its own beer on site, but is now known for its professional service, printed menus, tablecloths and waiters in penguin-esque outfits. Here you’ll find a static menu of classics like steak tartare, confit de canard and andouillette (only for the brave, you have been warned). They tend to serve food all day, and here’s one thing that will BLOW YOUR MIND – some of them are called Le Such-and-Such Café so you’ll have to make sure you pay attention. Stand at the bar waiting for an espresso like a lemon in a brasserie, and you’ll be waiting a very. LONG. TIME. And just to confuse you, there’s a fledging beer scene in France which means that you might also stumble on a micro-brasserie, which doesn’t mean short waiters and tiny portions, but a (hopefully) great selection of Paris-brewed craft beer.

Kim Brass 5Finally, if you still haven’t found what you’re looking for, then try a bistro(t), a smaller type of restaurant, often with just one owner or family in charge that specialises in moderately-priced French home cooking like traditional cassoulet or blanquette de veau. Bistros were originally thought to originate from basement kitchens in Parisian apartment blocks, but these days they serve to be some of the quaintest eateries in the city. And if you’re still furrowing your brow in dissatisfaction, then the only places left to go are salons du thé for tea, coffee and cake, or bars for hardcore liquor to toast the highs and the lows of your holiday/afternoon/life.

And if you’re still not content after all of that, then I, nor Paris, can help you…

The green green grass of home

Kim MontS 3Normally, I’m the sort of gal that doesn’t need an invitation to have a lollop around in a large green space, being a country girl at heart, with fine English sap running through my veins. But a friend with small human in need of celebrating his three whole years on this earth steered me last weekend to a patch which hadn’t previously seen a great deal of lolloping on my part, and picnic blanket and thermos of wine in hand, I headed south on RER B to the resplendent Parc Montsouris.

Literally translating as a very unappealing and frankly incorrect ‘mouse mountain’ thanks to years of linguistic tinkering with its original moniker of ‘Moulin de Moque-Souris’ (meaning the equally perplexing ‘mouse-mocking windmill’), this 15.5 hectare park is nestled in the 14th arrondissement and forms part of the quartet of vast green urban spaces across the capital created by the power duo of Napoleon III and Baron Haussmann (capable of creating much smaller bits of green too), eventually completed in 1878.

Kim MontS2Much smaller than the bookend woods Boulogne and Vincennes, it echoes the hilly contours of sister park Buttes-Chaumont in the 19th, though unlike the others was designed specifically in the English landscape garden style. So far, so elegant and refined. It’s construction story though was a million miles away from its classic, cultivated exterior, being built on the site of a former quarry and a network of abandoned tunnels and mines which came to reveal a gruesome cache of some of the six million Parisians that were buried under the city in the 18th century. Around 800 skeletons were removed to their final resting place in famous catacombs of Paris.

Kim MontS 5Thankfully no hints of its macabre past remain today and you’ll find an undulating park perfect for picnics and frisbee or a good old-fashioned stroll. There’s also a duck pond towards the middle and a café and kiosk for something cold and refreshing should you be stupid enough to forget your thermos of chilled white wine. Kiddles will get all squeaky and excited when they spy the ponies offering rides round the winding paths, and joggers decided long ago that this is in the top five training spots that the capital can muster.

Kim MontS 4As for us, we took advantage of the wide open spaces and spread our picnic blankets under the shade of a giant tree, surrounded by fellow alfresco diners, snoozing citizens and lounging couples. We might not have seen any mice, but the bubbles (of the soapy-water-blow-into-the-air kind) and birthday cake(s) were far more interesting than any mouse-mocking that could have taken place. As English experiences in Paris go, all that was missing was a delicious cup of afternoon tea.

Reach Park Montsouris by taking RER B or tram 3a to stop Cité Universitaire.

Back to the good old days

IMG_3253What a time to be nestled in the heart of Europe, eh? What with unceasing showers, Euro tournament troubles, terrorist threats and the potential break-up of the EU looming on the horizon, it’s a time for the nerves to be well and truly jangled. Contemplating the present and future state of Europe is enough to give me grey hairs, particularly in light of the referendum vote which who knows, might result in me being turfed out of my French home. Let’s hope it doesn’t come to that, but for sure, looking around and ahead at this present moment is only a job for the very brave.

Lucky for me, my head was turned firmly towards France’s distant past the other day as I was out and about in the Marais meeting an old friend for a coffee. Walking around in the (currently annoyingly rare) blissful sunshine, we passed by an old architectural friend, one of the stops I used to make in my days as a bike tour guide. If the glory days of the past were what I was searching for, then I found some of the oldest kind the city could muster, one of a small handful of the city’s medieval relics.

IMG_3250Compared to the sleek, uniform lines of Baron Haussmann’s building style that typifies the capital, nestled in and around the centre are a small handful of Parisian buildings that make the Baron’s work seem positively space-age. With their wonky forms and beamed façades, they point back to a version of Paris way before revolutions shaped the city, hundreds of years before nearly all of today’s must-see sights appeared, presumably a time long before rulers and spirit levels were invented.

IMG_3248The majestic double-fronted specimens I encountered are to be found at 11 & 13 Rue François Morin, with a handy plaque explaining their littered and lengthy history. Not quite the oldest Paris can muster (you’ll find the oldest at 51 Rue Montmorency, Nicolas Flamel’s old gaff, or a similar medieval example at 3 Rue Volta), but clearly stuff of legend no less, the buildings’ construction date is that far back, sources can’t quite agree on when exactly they sprung up. Most estimates point to the beginning of the 16th century, though many repairs have been made since then. If I ever make it to 500 years, I’ll expect to have the same.

IMG_3252It’s difficult to imagine a Paris before Haussmann got his hands on it and created the long, wide boulevards we all know and love, but this was a city going through a renaissance, aesthetically more in line with Tudor London than the modern city style we’ve come to be so familiar with. Forget the Louis’ contributions, this is a slice of Paris before the wheels well and truly fell off. If you’re expecting to be welcomed through the door into a medieval museum bringing its origins to life though, then you might just be a little disappointed. The famed Parisian sense of passion is older than the building still, and quite fittingly, now houses an ‘adult’ nightclub, for those brave enough to indulge. If only walls could talk, eh?

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.

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…