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…

The thigh’s the limit

Kim eiffel 1I’ve always wanted to go up in the world. But as you all know, I’m hardly flush enough to afford a penthouse in the 16th, and besides, leaving Granny Flat would simply break my heart. So with one of my best friends in tow visiting from the Motherland entrenched deep inside a new punishing fitness regime, last weekend there was only one way for us to achieve my lofty ambitions, for an afternoon at least. Climb the Eiffel Tower. One. Step. At. A. Time.

Kim eiffel 6The sky’s the limit! the old adage goes. Well… sure Parisian rooftops become a distant tableau the higher you climb, but actually your feet can only take you as far as the second tier, and by then it becomes a case of the thigh’s the limit. Buttock-tuning was a secret aim of our mission, but there’s only so much leg-raising our adult bodies could take. Once the second floor had been conquered there was no way we had enough puff power to hit the very top, and anyway a snaking queue, an extra ticket and the dull prospect of being crammed into a lift to get there meant that we were happy to take in the sights from halfway up.

Kim eiffel 2Now I know for those visiting Paris, hitting the famous tower is a bit of a no-brainer. But here’s the twist. Most folk waste their time hanging around in the longer queue to take the lifts, and pay a bit more for the privilege. From September 1st it’ll set you back €11 to get ferried to the second floor or €17 to reach the very top. But where’s the challenge in that? Skip the queues, pay a mere €7 to walk up the way God intended, and use the extra time and money to grab a glass of wine and a well-earned rest at the bar on the 1st floor. Far classier than hopping from one leg to the other in a never-ending line.

Kim eiffel 5Plus, I can’t imagine that the views can be any more stunning from the third floor than they are from the second. Whatever your perspective when casting your eye over the charms of the Grand Old Dame, the beauty always shines through. People-watching from a cafe terrace shows you the finer aesthetics of Parisian life, but from up its most famous structure, you get to see the city as one in spectacular 360° panorama, taking in all of the must-see spots all at once. Rooftops have never been so romantic since Bert and Mary Poppins skipped across them covered in soot in the old Disney classic.

Kim eiffel 4For the daredevils amongst you, 2014 saw the introduction of a portion of glass floor meaning you can lord over the people-ants below like a huge, sightseeing giant (with jelly legs shaking with fear in our case). Those with love in mind will no doubt move in for the smooch at any given opportunity, and there must have been more proposals up the Eiffel Tower than anywhere else in the world. Me, having a squeeze and a glass of wine with my bestie was enough to make my own heart full of amour. And being able to see the quiet beauty of my much-loved home city from the dizzy heights; now that’s amore.

For more info on how to test your thigh power, check out the tower’s official website here.


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.

Out and a spout

Kim strav 1Summer attracts folk to water like bees to a fallen scoop of raspberry sorbet. Paris Plages’ artificial beaches hugging the banks of the Seine are an option if you don’t mind your tides weak and murky, but for me it doesn’t come close to sating my need for the rolling waves and golden sands that I grew up with on the south coast of England.

Fountains provide the continuous liquid tinkle of relaxation if you park yourself next to them, and if we’re talking about out-spouting the rest, then you can’t beat the graceful flow found at Versailles. But maybe your donkey’s out of order, and the city centre is the only option there is. Where to go to soothe the soul with the gentle stream of calming water music?

Kim strav 2Nestled in a corner of the 3rd arrondissement in the patch more familiarly known as ‘Beaubourg’, you’ll find the modern colour extravaganza that is the Stravinsky Fountain. Just make sure that your eyes aren’t too preoccupied with the neighbouring fantasmic Pompidou Centre, or you’re bound to miss it. And that would be a crying shame – this puppy is like no fountain your eyes will have ever beholden before. If a water feature ever mated with A Clockwork Orange, this would be the happy result.

Kim strav 4Bright and quirky in equal measure, it comprises of a shallow basin (which doesn’t mean you can hop in and have a paddle) housing sixteen sculptures reflecting the different works of naturalised French citizen and composer Igor Stravinsky. If you study each piece for long enough, you’ll be able to identify such characters as ‘the firebird’, ‘the frog’, ‘love’ and ‘death’. It’s a living fountain too – the pieces move and spray water making those fountains at Versailles look pretty one dimensional in comparison.

Kim strav 5Inaugurated in 1983, it was the work of sculptors Jean Tinguely and his wife Niki de Saint Phalle. Not only does it celebrate Stravinsky’s work, but it was designed to put the Pompidou Centre is some kind of context. On its own, Paris’ modern art gallery is like a scary alien invader amongst the traditional architecture of the city, but with the fountain keeping it company, its progressive, contemporary charm suddenly finds a happy home. Even Dali approves, looking over the water play from a giant mural on a neighbouring wall.

Kim strav 3Once you’ve been suitably hypnotised by the liquid enlightenment and spinning parts, don’t hurry off too soon. That modern artistic spirit has spread to the streets, and this is one part of town where you’ll find some of the weirdest and most wonderful street performers keeping the passers-by mesmerised with their own unique brand of grass roots art.

If you’re immune to all of this creativity, all is not lost; on one of the fountain’s perimeters are cafes and terraces galore, including the home of some the best crêpes in town. Hear that dripping sound? That’ll be your mouth watering…

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.

The market hall of fame: Aligre/Beauvau

Kim aligre 3Way back last summer, I filled my reusable canvas grocery bag full of veg and got my toes rolled over by many a granny shopping trolley (which by the way seems to be the height of fashion over here), all in the name of research. The goal was to cast your collective eyes towards the delightful produce on offer at one of Paris’ cheapest markets, nestled along the Boulevard Barbès. You know me, the budget drives the car (or should that be Autolib) in my Paris life, and food is the honorary passenger being chauffeured Miss Daisy-style in the back seat.

Kim aligre 6Today though I nudged the produce pandemonium at Barbès Rochechouart into second place, when I headed for a long overdue exploration of one of Paris’ equally vibrant and cheap markets, the jewel of the 12e, Marché Aligre (metro Ledru-Rollin). Situated so central you’d expect prices to make your eyes water, the market is in reality a twin endeavour, with the outdoor stalls nestled around a huge place bleeding into the side streets, and a covered hall (the Beauvau bit) dominating the middle.

Kim aligre 1Carnivores would do well to venture inside to make the most of many a meat merchant, whether it be fresh slabs of marbled beef you’re after, or a rock-hard saucisson as long as your arm. You can pick up some cheese and fish too if your incisors aren’t that keen, or even some horse if you’re determined to test the deepest, darkest corners of your Frenchness.

Outside is far more varied and livelier, with bric-a-brac competing with Levis for a tenner, second-hand clothing and vintage books. The colourful display of veg on offer really gets the cash flowing though, and let’s face it, Kim aligre 5out of everything, that’s the stuff we really need (put that replica Ming vase down). Unlike Barbés where price comparison is a futile exercise (and essentially impossible given the density of the crowds), at Aligre you have both ends of the spectrum, from bunches of herbs for 40 cents and assorted lots for a mere euro each, to seasonal greengrocery and the bio crowd, whose virtuous intentions push the prices further towards the heavens.

Kim aligre 7For the finest bargains, timing is the key; head there towards the final hour of the day and you’ll regret not bringing a horse and cart to wheel your own spoils home in. You’ll be able to fill your boots with cut price fruit and veg for mere cents, though be prepared for high spirits and loud voices trying to compete to sell you those two watermelons for a euro that they are adamant you can’t live without.

Open six days a week it’s also more accessible than most; for official details (hours, location and ‘ting), check here.

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.


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.

A metro-ode to Paris transport history

IMG_2203So I’m a woman and therefore allowed to change my mind as often as I want. Now before you menfolk start rolling your eyes, I’m sure you’ll thank me for this happy affliction. This post was originally intended to be about where to find the most delicious seasonal tucker in the cutest streets of Paris, but that can sit for another day. This is France after all, and if you can’t find decent food around the place then you probably don’t deserve to have taste buds.

IMG_2207Instead I found a hidden gem, completely unrelated to Christmas (which let’s face it, begins to grate like nails down a chalkboard after a while). It came about as I was snaking my way through the city on the metro, forced underground by the chilly drizzle. As the train ambled into my home station, a flash of vintage colour caught my eye – unusual given that the platform is currently under construction and therefore a bloody mess. But underneath the layers of grime twinkled forgotten memories of the past, that practically begged for further investigation.

IMG_2217See, my station Marcadet-Poissonniers actually used to be separated in two, with unconnected stops at Marcadet on line 4 and Poissonniers on line 12 (christened after the above-ground roads which bear their names), that were eventually connected to form the twin station in 1931. As a result, in a bit of a bodge job, the old single-titled platforms had to be renovated and the old signage hastily covered up to make room for the new, swanky double-barrelled name. Forget removing the old and replacing with new, the out-of-date tiles and hoardings were simply boarded up.

IMG_2211Recently though, as renovations have started (and we’re just talking on the platform of line 12 here for the time being), all of that framework has been taken down and the old (albeit crusted with years of dust) glory revealed once again. And not just the old ‘Poissonniers’ tiling either, there are old advertising posters and official information notices that have remained hidden for all these years. There’s even a list of ghost metro stations that didn’t quite stand the test of time.

IMG_2213It’s at this time of year we all have a tendency to scratch back through the year’s calendar and reflect on the past, and it was an awesome vintage treat to see Paris revealing its bygone layers in a similar way. There were old holiday posters, flyers for concerts past, adverts for cars once modern, now classic, and official literature produced by RATP typists of yore, sadly all ripped and half-fallen, but still bathed in the vibrant colours and archaic print of the era.

IMG_2216It’s hard to know exactly when they were pasted for the eyes of commuters gone by, but the tiling certainly dates back from the 30s and the advertising has a distinctive 50s artistic flair. Some of the stations on the closed list met their end as early as 1939, and those that reopened didn’t feel commuter footsteps again until the late 60s.

IMG_2208I’m harbouring a wish that a bit of spit and polish will bring the old decor back to its original splendour, but it’s likely that given the presence of the antiquated station title signage, it’ll be a case of tear it down and start afresh. For the moment, I get to hop off the metro and into a glorious time warp, reminding me that this transport system that is so easy to take for granted has a colourful, event-filled past just like the rest of us. If you happen to be in the ‘hood in the next few weeks yourself, I hope you’ll take this rare trip down metro memory lane too.

Dead interesting

IMG_1956What does one do on a beautiful autumn afternoon in Paris? Head to a terrace and sip on a glass of rosé? Stroll along the banks of the Seine and soak up the sunshine? Not if you’re Kim you don’t. You head to a cemetery.

My last seven days have been very much less than perfect (in a magnificent understatement), so you’d hardly blame me for looking for a giant hole to fall in and escape the world. But that’s not why yesterday afternoon I found myself in a burial ground, it just so happens that my usual long walk home takes me past the Montmartre cemetery and for the first time, I decided to have a wander through.IMG_1964

‘Paris is dead’, the hipster avant gardists might say. Well it seems alive and kicking to me, but it certainly is full of dead, this beautiful graveyard being one of many scattered throughout the capital. Given the host of other beautiful things there are to explore in Paris, a cemetery is a pretty tough sell. But for me, there’s so much silent beauty to be found, I might just take a detour through it every day. Plus if you’re in a bad mood, it can remind you quite convincingly that things could be a whole lot worse.

IMG_1947If it’s serene solitude you seek, there are fewer more peaceful places to sit and read, or contemplate the meaning of life (and death, of course). You won’t hear a peep out of the residents, and the traffic and city noise refuses to penetrate as if you’ve actually just stepped right into the underworld. I saw a few singular people doing exactly that as I wandered through, happily ensconced between the tombs, perhaps reading the histories of the souls who rested beside them.

Personally, the silence barely registers with me at all, and instead I feel surrounded by centuries of chatter, generated by the stories of those who lie buried beneath the ground. Their Paris would have been so very different to mine, and as I passed grave after grave looking at the dates bookending each life, I imagined the experiences they would have had, what they would have taken from, and contributed to this uniquest of cities.  Soon after this had occurred to me, I happened upon the tomb of Louise Weber, or ‘La Goulue’, the creator of the French cancan. You can’t get more Paris-stopped-in-time than that.IMG_1962

If the stories of ordinary Parisians of ages past weren’t interesting enough, there are plenty of writers, painters, scientists, politicians and celebrities of the golden age who are laid to rest here. In Montmartre you can find the graves of Émile Zola, Alexandre Dumas Fils and Edgar Degas, though it’s the two bigger cemeteries of Père Lachaise and Montparnasse that contain most of the famous names. Here you can pay your respects to, amongst many more, Jim Morrison, Chopin, Molière, Balzac, Edith Piaf, Oscar Wilde (former) and Guy de Maupassant, Charles Baudelaire, Jean-Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir (latter).

IMG_1963In this digital age where only the photo seems to be important, there’s something quite arresting about physically being next to the resting place of a great figure, as if you can somehow absorb part of their spirit just by being close. In any case, the time of elaborate burials is over, so you’ll be walking through a beautiful museum of mourning filled with statues, sculpture and messages of love, even if you don’t know the famous names. Doesn’t it do us all good to just sit and reflect every once in a while?

For more info about the three major cemeteries and some of the lesser know ones dotted in and outside the périphérique, click here.

Pick me, pick me!

Kim farm3I’ve always been a bit picky. And by that I mean being good at picking things, and not displaying frequent outbursts of fussy diva behaviour, à la Mariah Carey. I’m great at picking wine. And restaurants. I even spent four months voluntarily being paid peanuts to pick fruit and potatoes in the Australian hinterland. And I picked Paris (well technically it kind of chose me too, but that’s a story that needs an expertly selected bottle of wine handy for the telling).

So it was with a big Kim smile and an eager rub together of the magic picking hands when my friend Corinne told me she was taking me to Les Fermes de Gally just outside of Paris where I could pick my own vegetables and get to take them home afterwards. For a gal raised in the country who needs a good dose of proper fresh air every now and again or I go a little bit crazy, it was on par with telling a Frenchman he had just qualified for a free cheese allowance for life.

Kim farm 2Luckily Corinne was equipped with a car, so we hopped in, strapped her adorable toddler daughter in for the ride, and headed off with glee at the prospect of getting good ol’ real dirt (as opposed to gross metro slime) under our fingernails. Thank God we took the car though and didn’t rely on my flea-bitten donkey, given that it’s a bit of a drive out of Paris in the commune of Bailly, a good 15k past the périphérique at the western edge of Paris.

But make the effort of crossing the force field (i.e. the ring road), and the ride is more than worth it. Well, obviously only if picking your own produce direct from the farm appeals to you, if not then stick to Carrefour with its natty tweeting birds soundtrack in the veg aisle. ForKim farm 5 those die-hard supermarketeers who haven’t ever seen a tomato in the wild, the gnarly misshapen versions hanging off the gigantic plants might scare you. But this is nature my friends, in all of its imperfect, back-to-basics glory. Real tomatoes are not the same size. And they are not born in cellophane.

Not so much an option for the weekly shop as it’s a bit of a hike, and you won’t find bushes necessarily blooming uncontrollably with produce given that everyone else has had the same idea. But if you like good honest food, enjoy the thrill of the harvest and a bit of dirt on your potatoes, then you can’t go far wrong. For those not keen on getting soil on their chinos, there’s also a café and shop where you can buy the farm’s own produce (soups, cider and the like), and a teaching farm for the smaller folk.

Kim farm 4Without a doubt the shortest route from field to plate you’ll find in Paris (unless you grow kale in window boxes like me where I can harvest and cook at the same time), it hardly needs saying that everything is seasonal and grown in the most planet-friendly way possible. Sadly you’re not supposed to eat stuff on the way round (utter torture, really), and it’s a good idea to take plastic bags with you to carry your spoils home in. Those old style welly boots with goggle frog eyes on the toes, entirely optional. Open April to November.