Thursday 25 December 2008

Time For Britain to Join the Euro

Originally uploaded by malias.

With the pound plummeting on the foreign exchange markets it seems that now is the perfect moment for the UK to join the Euro. Currently the pound and the Euro are worth practically the same. Couldn’t we just hand in all our grimy, pennies, shillings and pounds and get the exact same number of shiny new Euros in return?

I know it’s unlikely as it would be disagreeable to too many British people but I for one am in favour. All that hassle and expense at the bureau de change every time I hop over to blighty for a cup of rosie lea and a packet of twiglets. It’s enough to turn your beer cold!

I’m in London at the moment and with the collapse of the pound the UK is a cheap destination for visitors. The shops in central London are full of Europeans in search of a bargain. If you wish to practise, your French, Spanish or German no need to soil your boots on the other side of the channel any more just take the tube to Oxford Circus.

Old Fashioned Ways

The Archer
Originally uploaded by malias.

As a diehard geek with many years working in the front line of innovation I love to embrace new ways of tackling old tasks. However, one annoying trend that’s becoming standard practice at this time of year is the Dear-everybody-in-my-entire-address-book (most of whom I don’t even remember) merry Christmas/happy New Year email.

In two minutes and a single click you can write a message to everyone you’ve known in the last 15 years. Why even bother? I hark back to those leisurely pre-web days when we hand wrote seasonal cards one by one with a unique message for each person. And when you received one it actually meant something.

Call me a luddite but some things at least were done better in the olden days before the internet. Just don’t get me started on the Spinning Jenny.

Saturday 13 December 2008

Montmartre as you've never seen it (probably)

Montmartre is one of the first destinations for any visitor of Paris. From the steps of Sacre Coeur you get a breathtaking view of the whole of Paris and in the winding streets in the adjoining neighbourhood once frequented by Van Gogh, Renoir and Toulouse Latrec amongst many others you feel the history and charm of Paris’ best loved neighbourhood.

However, one of the big problems is that Montmartre is a victim of its own success. Turn up on any evening and the place is flooded with tourists from all over the world. On the Place du Tetre it’s heaving, from behind their easels portrait artists hound passers-by, the over priced cafes are bursting at the seams and the sound of clicking camera equipment never ceases.

I was surprised when one Saturday afternoon in autumn I received a phone call from my friend Igor inviting me to join him on a walk around Montmartre at 8am on Sunday morning. My first reaction was “you must be crazy”, but he was very persistant and eventually I reluctantly agreed.

Here is the astonishing thing, at 8am Montmartre is a completely different place, a place that few tourists chance to see. It’s deserted and you have virtually the whole area to yourself. You can walk along those lovely streets unmolested. In the place du Tetre life is just beginning to stir. The cafes are setting up and the portrait artists are just emerging from wherever portrait artists emerge from. You might want to sit a while as the first customer and enjoy (a still overpriced) coffee and take in the scene. It’s a real treat but get out of there by 9am when the hordes start to arrive.

Wednesday 26 November 2008

Shakespeare bookshop Paris tea party

A few years back, while rummaging around the dusty bookshelves of Shakespeare's bookshop on Paris' left bank on a Sunday afternoon, I was approached by the young male shop assistant with a rather gentrified English accent. "Would you like to come and join us for some tea upstairs" he announced.

I've never knowingly turned down the offer of a cup of tea so I climbed the rickety staircase passing through stacks of second hand books passed the old typewriter and numerous cats until I stumbled upon a small group of people sitting around chatting and sipping tea from chipped porcelain cups.

This was my first experience of the Shakespeare bookshop tea party a Paris Institution that's been going on for many, many years. Everyone is welcome, you'll find tourists, customers from the bookshop and Parisians who turn up to practise their English. It's supposed to take place every Sunday at 4pm but these days George, the nonogenerian owner, is sometimes too tired to hold the tea party so it's best to check at the desk first.

Sunday 9 November 2008

Cafe des Phares Paris

There is an ancient Chinese proverb which goes "talk does not cook rice". Very wise but in these modern times it is possible to purchase pre-prepared cooked rice in many Asian establishments offering a take away service. So, with the time you save you can indulge in more talking.

At the Philo café at Cafe des Phares, 7, Place de la Bastille 75004 Paris every Sunday between 11am and 1pm you can join a debate in French on a different philosophical topic each week.

Even if your French is not great you can still come along and watch the debate unfold. Sometimes, it the arguments get a bit heated and the tempers frayed. The scene is typically French and the place is popular with locals and tourists and tourists alike despite the language barrier.

Wednesday 5 November 2008

US Elects its new Leader

Newspapers showing Obama as US President
Originally uploaded by jaimelondonboy.

Today is a day of rejoicing not only in America but in much of the rest of the world too. Goodbye (and good riddens) to George W. Bush. Obama is an extremely popular choice as the new US president. Let's hope he lives up to expectations. This is my favourite quote of the day:

"Dear rest of the world,
We didn't fuck it up.

Sunday 2 November 2008

Where to Watch the US Election 2008 in Paris

Peligro Cocodrilos
Originally uploaded by malias.

If Europeans could vote then there would be a landslide victory for Barack Obama in the forthcoming American election. Here in Paris I haven't yet met a single Frenchman who would vote for MacCain. But there is a kind of Irony, at least in France and Germany, in that abroad they support the left wing candidate but in their own countries it's the right wing that got elected (in Nicolas Sarkozy and Angela Merkel respectively).

Anyway Europeans cannot vote but they can take part in the election night parties that are taking place here in Paris. The "official" election night party is at the cinéqua, Bureau des Élections Américaines 02 avenue des Nations Unies 75016 PARIS. You should note however, that this event will set you back 120 Euros.

Elsewhere, if you're looking for more low key and affordable events you could try the all night party at the "Breakfast in America" American diner (rue des Ecoles, Paris 75005).

If you're looking for a more partisan crowd (if that's possible) then you could join the "Obama Campaign Victory Party" at Palais Maillot, 2, Place de La Porte Maillot. 5 Euros entrance.

Wherever you go it's going to be a long night but an historic one.

Sunday 19 October 2008

Americans Register to Vote in Paris

With the US election taking place in just a few weeks, time is running out for Americans to register their vote.

US Citizens are also entitled to vote from abroad. In Paris today tables were set up outside Shakespeare's English language bookshop to register Americans who find themselves outside of their country. Eavesdropping on the conversations of those in the queue it seems that sentiments lay exclusively with the Democrats.

Is that significant? If the election is close will it be Paris wot wins it for Obama?

Friday 17 October 2008

Cafes San Jose Paris

Here we have one of may favourite cafes in Paris.
It's called Cafés San José 30 rue des Petits Champs, 75001 Paris.

In general I fine the coffee in Paris cafes pretty disappointing. I have often paid up to 3 Euros for, a little cup of caffeinated muddy water. However, Cafés San Jose is a rare exception not only is the coffee first rate but it's cheap too.

An espresso will set you back a mere one Euro with a chocolate thrown in for good measure while a baby cappuccino served in an espresso cup is just 1.20 Euros.

You can also buy beans and ground coffee here as well as a wide selection of teas. As you enter you step back in time to an era when Edith Piaf was singing Non, je ne regrette rien in smoke filled clubs. But don't except a sofa of even a chair to rest your weary backside as this place is standing room only. If you want comfy couches and bucket sized coffee cocktails then head to Starbucks around the (every) corner, if you want a good coffee and a genuine Paris experience then now you know the way to Cafes San Jose.

Wednesday 1 October 2008

The Tamils of Paris

Little Jafna Paris
Originally uploaded by malias.

In the 10th arrondissement, between metros Gare de Nord and La Chapelle you will find Paris’ Tamil community which numbers around 40,000 people. This area has mistakenly been referred to as “Little India” but the vast majority of the Asians in the neighbourhood are Tamils from Sri Lanka. “Little Jafna” is the more appropriate name for the area.

Most of the Tamils came to France during the 1980s to escape the civil war raging in Sri Lanka. Many were granted refugee status. However, rules have been tightened since 1991. The neighbourhood is an interesting one to explore. Most of it is situated on and around Rue du Faubourg Saint-Denis, Paris 75010. If you want to buy a sari, bollywood DVDs (normally sub-titled in English) or souvenirs from the Asian sub-continent then this is the place to head to. It’s also the best place in Paris to get a curry and vegetarians need not be aware since many Tamils being Hindu are themselves vegetarians.

You can also visit the area's Hindu Temple, Sri Manicka Vinayakar, 72 Rue Philippe de Girard paris 75010 open every day between 9:30 am and 8:30 pm. Visitors welcome. And once a year during the festival of Ganesha Chathurthi which falls between the middle of August and the middle of September. The highlight of which is the Chariot procession.

Sunday 21 September 2008

Intolerance and Xenophobia

As I stroll through my neighbourhood in the 11th arrondissment in Paris near to the cemetery at Pere Lachaise, I pass several moslem run shops, and restaurants around Menilmontant, as I wonder further I see a Jewish synagogue and a number of Jewish North African outlets finally in just 15 minutes I arrive at Belleville with its large Chinese population.

I feel blessed that I live large and, despite a number of high-profile cases, a tolerant cosmopolitan society, the very same thing could also be said of my home town of London.

Unfortunately this is not necessarily the case in many other parts of the world. Living in a melting pot like Paris we are somewhat cocooned from an outside world where ignorance and intolerance is rife. On a recent trip to China I found myself in the touristy town of Yangsuo. Along the main drag stalls sold trinkets and other souvenirs and among them were a number of hand painted t-shirt sellers. Mixed along with t-shirts of Mr Bean, David Beckham there were other western "heroes" portrayed such as Osama Bin Laden and Adolf Hitler (see photo).

A recent survey by the Pew organisation as reported in the International Herald Tribune shows the extent of anti-muslim and anti-Jewish sentiment around the world. In Asia "half or more of the Japanese, Indians, Chinese and South Koreans surveyed said they had negative impressions of Muslims. " While negative atitudes towards jews ranged from 32% in India to 55% in China. In Europe "46 percent of the Spanish held negative opinions of Jews, as did 36 percent of Poles and 34 percent of Russians."

Overcoming fear and xenophobia is going to be a challenge and it's a fight that starts on our doorstep.

Thursday 18 September 2008

Journees du Patrimoine Paris

Statue of Female and Sky
Originally uploaded by malias.

This weekend (20th and 21st September 2008) are the journees du patrimoine (National Heritage days) a Europe wide event that offers the chance to visit many national monuments, museums, churches, gardens and important buildings free of charge. In addition a great number of interesting places that are not normally open to the public allow free access on these days only.

If you are in Paris this weekend then you'll have a couple of problems. Firstly you'll be spoilt for choice. The number of interesting places taking part is truly daunting. So chose well. Things that caught my eye include the 19th Century underground hydraulics of the Eiffel Tower and the Elysee Palace and some of the embassies (Russian, Swiss and Polish for example) that are only open on these days.

Second problem is the queues, a friend told me that last year she queued 4 hours to get into one building. This may be exceptional but be aware that you might spend much of these splendid days standing in line.

Monday 8 September 2008

Ramadan in Paris

Paris has a large muslim population. The exact number is not known because the French census does not ask about religion but it is estimated that in France between 5 - 10% are muslim.

A great many of the immigrants came in the 1960's and 70's to fill jobs at a time of a shortage of labour. But the muslin community in Paris goes back further. The Great Mosque in Paris' 5th arrondissement was built between 1922 and 1926 as thanks to the muslims who fought for France at the battle of Verdun in 1916 in which 28,000 muslim soldiers (mostly Algeriens and Morrocans) were killed.

At the moment there is the fast of ramadan and it's actually a good time to stroll through one of the muslin communitities in Paris. For example walk around the beween Metro Menilmontant and Belleville in the afternoon and it's very lively with many stalls on the streets selling North African ramadan special food for the end of the fast such as dates, ricotta style cheese, halva and much more. Many of the local restaurants do special "ramadan menus" which you can enjoy even if you're not muslim.

Monday 18 August 2008

Bad Menu Translations

Having dabbled in the black art of translation back in a previous career I'm always curious to see how signs, instructions, and notices are rendered from one language to another. I can hover over a packet of washing powder for 20 minutes trying to decipher the mode d'emploi in various languages. On holiday I'm forever photographing signs with bad English.

One thing I find particularly irritating are restaurant menus that have been over translated. I'm not referring to bad translations but rather over translations when the word or phrase would be more clearly understood if it wasn't translated at all. Examples of this I have seen recently are cappuccino being translated to "coffee with milk and foam" when it's known the world over as - cappuccino. I've also seen the familiar quiche lorraine turned into "ham and cheese pie" whatever that is and croque monsieur become "Welsh rarebit" (which is not correct).

On of the most bizarre examples of the genre I discovered recently at Charles de Gaulle airport. I went over to the café to grab a coffee and on glancing the menu I saw they were offering crescent milkbread pastry (see photo above) it was several seconds before I realized that what they were referring to in their mixed-up, nonsensical way was simply a humble croissant and the milkbread pastry with chocolate filling was none other than our old friend the pain au chocolat.

Translators like these should note that sometimes less is more.

Sunday 20 July 2008

Faber and Faber Creative Writing Course Paris

Paris has always attracted a large number of expatriate writers. Gertrude Stein Ernest Hemmingway, Paul Auster Richard Wright, James Baldwin, Samuel Beckett to name but a few have headed for the French capital in search of cultural enrichment and literary inspiration .

In my time here in Paris I have met so many aspiring writers eager to ply their trade that it seems that you can’t swing a baguette without knocking off a pair wire rimmed spectacles.

If you do have literary pretensions then there are many opportunities to read your work and share you experiences with other writers here in Paris. You could, for example, attend the open mic poetry and writing evenings at Spoken Word.

Even if you don’t live in Paris but you are serious about your writing you might like to make a special trip for the Inaugural Faber Academy Creative Writing Course (Thursday 9 October to Sunday 12 October 2008). An intensive 4 day course with tuition from Tobias Hill and Jeanette Winterson and taking place at Shakespeare’s bookshop.

Find out more details on Faber’s splendid new-look website

Friday 18 July 2008

Autolib Paris

Warning Idiot
Originally uploaded by malias.

Hot on the heels of the velib bike rental scheme in Paris. The mayor of Paris Bertrand Delanoë. has produced a new scheme to provide electric cars that can be picked up and deposited anywhere in the city and the outskirts..

The Autolib system as it is to be called will begin its operation at the end of 2009 and will involve 4000 carbon neutral electric cars when you pick up the car a computer will let you know of an available parking space at your destination. Some of the the details of the scheme are yet to be decided such as how much it will cost. One report says that the price will be around €200-€250 per month for around 60 miles of driving.

The reaction to the Autolib proposal has been mixed. On the one hand, the system is aimed to reduce still further the need for an individual or a family to own its own car in Paris. However, some, including the Green party, are more sceptical arguing that a car is still a car no matter how green it seems and people should be encouraged to use the Metro, buses and bicycles without clogging up the streets of Paris with yet more vehicles.

Saturday 12 July 2008

La Tour Saint-Jacques Paris

One of Paris' outstanding monuments has finally become visible after many years hidden from public view. The Tour Saint-Jacques (96, Rue Rivoli 75004 Paris Metro Chatelet) has been shrouded in scaffolding for the last 7 years for restoration before finally being revealed in all its former splendour on the 10th July. The tower is in the neo gothic style and is all that remains of the Saint-Jacques-la-Boucherie church that was built between 1509 to 1523. The church was paid for by the wealthy butcher wholesalers from the nearby Chatelet market.

The total cost of the restoration is around 8.3 million Euros. Once the work is complete there will be access the possibility of climbing to the top of the tower to enjoy a spectacular view.

Happy Birthday Velib

On the 15th July it will be one year since the Velib , the public bicycle renting system, was introduced in Paris. On the whole it's been a fantastic success and with oil prices soaring I can only see its popularity increasing.

Inevitably there have been a few teething problems but I think these will soon be overcome. Long may it continue.

Monday 30 June 2008

Toilets in Paris

I stepped off the train at Gare St Lazare on my first trip to Paris back in the spring of 1988. Armed with a few clothes, a pocket full of curiosity but little money, I trudged glary-eyed around the city taking in its splendour.

I wandered aimlessly for hours, when it started to get dark I sought out a hotel that wouldn't break my meagre budget. I found one near Jaures which would settle for my first night in town. The matchbox sized room contained little more than a small bed a rickety table and sink. After dumping my stuff there the landlady led me through the hotel, to show me the bathroom facilities.

She opened a door, I peaked in and saw an enamel plate on the floor with a fist sized hole in the centre of it. It was of course a squat toilet but I'd never seen one before in fact I didn't even know they existed. I was baffled and at a loss what too make of it. I knew virtually no French, I fished out the dictionary from my jacket and, hastily seeking an explanation I constructed the phrase. est vide! (it's empty!) Now it was the landlady's turn to look confused.

20 years ago squat toilets were a common sight. These days in Paris there are very few, the throne version being the norm. However, you can still sometimes find them in old cafes that haven't undergone renovation. So you can seek them out if that's your thing.

Saturday 14 June 2008

The Ramblas of Paris

This is a picture of Boulevard de Ménilmontant in the 11th and 20th arrondissement of Paris. Some people call this street (with just a hint of hyperbole) the Ramblas of Paris. It's one of the few streets in Paris which has 3 wide pavements, (one on each side of the road and one in the middle) is lined with trees and has cafes spilling out onto the street for the whole length of the road (in the summer at least). Take the Metro to Pere Lachaise and walk to metro Menilmontant and you'll see what I mean.

It's true it lacks some of the qualities of the original Ramblas in Barcelona, it's not as elegant or fashionable, it doesn't have all round good weather and it's nowhere near the ocean. Nevertheless, it's definitely an area of Paris worth exploring it has a lot of good cafes and restaurants and while you're in the neighbourhood you can also take a stroll around Pere Lachaise cemetry.

Sunday 1 June 2008

Annoying Ad (Part deux)

The European Championships start this week so no doubt your man will be spending a lot of time in front of the television watching football and getting wasted on cheap supermarket larger (dah! those men) but fret not ladies you can still play your part by keeping the house spic and span cleaning up with one of our new range of vacuum cleaners or making him a delicious ice cream with an ice cream maker from our store.

Does that sound strange? Well that's more or less what the new advertising campaign for Rue du commerce is saying with their "pendant qu'il regarde le foot" (while he's watching the match) currently on posters throughout the Paris Metro. It's 2008 isn't it about time we knocked these annoying ads full of dumb stereotypes from a bygone era into touch?

Tuesday 27 May 2008

Fetes des Voisins Paris

Headless Accordion Man
Originally uploaded by malias.

Do you live in an apartment block? Do you recognize the people in building but, apart from an amicable bonjour or a perfunctory nod, you have no contact with them. The old lady with the annoying little dogs, the man in the suit with the goatee beard, the young couple upstairs who play their music too loud. Would you like to meet these people and get to know who they really are? Have a drink together and share a glass of vin rouge? No? Not particularly? Well that's too bad because today you have that chance.

It's the Fetes des Voisins your chance to meet your neighbours (and perhaps get a few things off your chest). They claim that 5 million people will take part in France this year and another 2 million in 700 other European cities including Paris, Berlin, Dublin, Rome, Luxembourg, Birmingham, Porto and Ljubljana.

Could be great, could be terrible I guess it depends what your neighbours are like.

Monday 26 May 2008

Mahatma Gandhi in Adecco Ad

Here, spotted on a Paris street, is Mahatma Gandhi, Indian spiritual leader and revered pioneer of the non violence resistance movement being used in an advertisement by Adecco, the employment agency (or "human resource solutions" company as they prefer to call themselves these days).

This is an outrageous abuse of the great man's image. It seems incredible that his image has been used to further the profits of a multi-national corporation. What next "The Dalai Lama wears Kalvin Klein underwear", "Martin Luther King drinks, Nespresso"? I don't know how these companies get hold of the image rights but I wish they would stop. It's extremely annoying and disrespectful.

Friday 16 May 2008

Horse Meat in Paris

If a man eats a cow a pig or a sheep then why not a horse? But when Gordon Ramsay offered samples of horse meat to passers by on his TV programme there were gasps of horror throughout the kingdom culminating in demonstrators dumping piles of equine manure outside his London Claridges Restaurant.

This taboo against horse meat exists in the UK and the US but not in France.

In France horse meat was until recently sold exclusively in boucheries chevalines, it was forbidden for ordinary butchers to sell it but the government relaxed regulations in the 1990s and now you can even find it in supermarkets.

Nevertheless, the boucheries chevalines are still a common sight in the quartier. I can think of a least 5 within 20 minutes walk of my apartment in the 11th arrondissement of Paris. They’re easy to spot; many will have will have figures of horses heads (what else?) hanging above the premises (photo is of Au cheval du Marais, Paris 75004). In fact, sales of horse meat are actually increasing in France.

The meat is tasty and it’s high in protein and low in fat (50 per cent leaner than beef). It is even prescribed by French doctors as treatment for anaemia. So it’s not surprising that super chefs such as Gordon Ramsay are urging us to overcome our sentimentality and give it a go.

Although horse meat has become chic amongst trendy Parisians I can’t see it talking off in a culture like the Britain’s, so steeped in equestrian nostalgia. We grew up with Black Beauty and Cheltenham races and we drink beer in the Nag’s Head but if you’re paying a visit to Paris then you’ll have ample opportunity to have a give it a try.

Sunday 11 May 2008

The Picture of Durian Gray

The Picture of Durian Gray
Originally uploaded by malias.

The Durian season is here, if you're around the Asian districts of Belleville or the 13th arrodissement in Paris then you can find this smelly yet delicous fruit (In Asia it's referred to as "The king of fruit") at a Chinese superrmarket. They're kind of expensive but sometimes you've got to push the boat out.

It's a good time to eat the fruit and a good time for terrible puns too.

Friday 9 May 2008

La Nuit de Musees

Et tu Brute

Saturday 17th May 2008 is la nuit de musees (night of Museums). This is a 24 hour event mainly in France but several other European countries are taking part where the museums are open late into the night. Entry is free and many museums are putting on guided tours and special events just for the occasion. One such event is a video projection in the gardens of the Rodin museum but there are many to choose from.

In Paris and the Ile de France area 133 museums and galleries are taking part. Full details found on the website

So if the bars are noisy and smell on Saturday night make your excuses and go feast your eyes on a Renoir or a Da Vinci. It's never too late for a bit of culture.

Thursday 8 May 2008

Citron Pressé

Citron pressé is a favourite drink of mine, perfect for warm summer afternoons outside on the terrace. You can order it a most French cafés.

The ingredients are simple, freshly squeezed lemon juice, a little ice, a carafe of water and granulated sugar. You'll just get the lemon juice and ice in the glass the water and sugar you add according to how you like it.

Sunday 27 April 2008

The Worst of Paris Monuments

Paris, as any visitor will testify is a stunning city. Great monuments and statues adorn its palaces and boulevards. Museums are replete with works of conspicuous beauty. Nevertheless occasionally one comes across a relic from yesteryear that some might describe rather euphemistically as less than inspiring.

One such monument is the statue in Parmentier Metro station. The station is named after Antoine-Augustin Parmentier (1737 - 1813) who in the late 18 and early 19th Centry promoted the consumption of potatoes (amongst people). For some time potatoes were seen as food for animals. These days if you see anything with the name 'Parmentier' on the menu in a French restaurant it means the dish will be served with or made with potatoes (such as hachis parmentier). Great as he was as a nutritionist and reformer the statue of the eponymous hero on the station platform showing him handing over a potato to a grateful peasant on bended knees looks ridiculous.

An interesting life maybe but this is one Paris statue that won't make the guidebooks.

Monday 21 April 2008

An Invitation to Pere Lachaise

Harpist and Sky
Originally uploaded by malias.

One of my English students is a German tour guide of Paris who has lived here for 25 years. Ingelen gives tours in French and German and now wants to start offering English tours too.

In order to bring her English up to scratch she neds to practise and with this in mind she has offered to give some Paris tours in English for friends and fellow students.

Her first English tour will be of Pere Lachaise on Saturday afternoon 3rd May 2008. If you are in Paris on that date and you would like to participate in the tour then contact me.

The tour will last about 2 hours is absolutely free and I'm sure it will be fascinating.

Saturday 19 April 2008

Promenade Parisienne

Miss Stripey Socks
Originally uploaded by malias.

I had this idea of taking language lessons out of the classroom and into the streets where students can learn in real situations. I phoned up my friend (and French teacher) Hakim and together we devised Promenade Parisienne. A two hour French conversation course with the first hour on the streets of Paris and the second hour spent at a neighbourhood cafe. It'll take place every Sunday at a different location. More details here >> French Conversation course in Paris

I think it's quite orignal but whether people will take to it only time will tell.

Thursday 17 April 2008

Le Baron Rouge Paris

Le Baron Rouge
Originally uploaded by malias.

If you're in Paris on a Sunday morning might I suggest that you take yourself off to the Marché d'Aligre. A very lively and vibrant food market, with a great atmosphere. After trudging amongst the stalls for an hour or so dodging the over zealous traders thrusting free samples of melon or mango in your face you'll need a break and some refreshments.

Head over to Le Baron Rouge (1 rue Théophile Roussel 75012 Paris Metro Ledru Rollin). It's a great wine bar which really comes alive on Sunday as the market starts to wind down. Inside the bar you'll see stacks of barrels of wine. Here you can buy your wine in bulk by the litre. In days gone by this was how most Parisians bought their wine but now days its a rarity. However, Le Baron Rouge is one of the few places you can still do that.

You can of course just buy your wine by the glass and at reasonable prices. In addition they sell cheese, charcouterie and sometimes oysters on a Sunday to nibble on while drinking your wine. The bar gets full and people spill out onto the streets and rest their glasses and plates on car rooftops and even dustbins whatever is available. Whenever I have friends visiting me in Paris I always take them here. Very chaotic but very Parisian.

Tuesday 15 April 2008

The Place des Vosges

Place des Vosges
Originally uploaded by malias.

The Place des Vosges is one of my favourite places, it's the most beautiful square in Paris built by Henry IV between 1605 and 1612.

It's had a colourful past and was built on the site of the Hotel de Tournelles a royal residence where in 1552 Henry II was killed in a jousting tournament in its gardens. In her grief Catherine de Medici then had the whole Palace destroyed.

Today cafes, restaurants, art-galleries and tourist shops vie for business under its arches. You'll also find The Victor Hugo Museum there (at his old house).

True, in the last few years the Place de Vosges has lost some of its neighbourhood appeal and become very touristy but nevertheles its still a wonderful place to stroll and relax on a sunny afternoon.

For more details about the Place de Vosges and its history listen to the Podcast I recorded with two friends. Place de vosges audio tour.

Monday 7 April 2008

A Paris Boulangerie?

A tourist recently arrived in Paris passes a shop with a large boulangerie sign outside and feeling hungry to try some of the famous French patisseries he wanders in and approaches the assistant.

"Bonjour I'd like a pain au chocolat s'il vous plait" he asks in his best French.
"Non, monsieur we don't have any" comes the reply. The tourist is disappointed but he persists.
"Ok, I'll have a croissant au beurre"
"No we don't have any of those either"
"alright, a chocolate eclair?"
"Non monsieur"
"Tarte au pomme?"
"A baguette?"
"Absolument pas!"
The tourist is getting rather irate now "That's ridiculous! all over the world I hear how great the boulangeries are in Paris and I come here and you don't even have a damned baguette. How is that possible?"
"Because, monsieur, this is a shoe shop"

If you walk around the streets of Paris you'll find many shops fronts with old signs indicating "boulangerie", "Charcuterie" etc when in fact the shop inside sell something quite different. The photo above for example is a "Boulangerie/Patisserie" on rue Francs bourgeois in the Marais which currently sells clothes. This isn't because the shops are too lazy too change their signs but rather that many of these old facades are protected by the Patrimoine de Paris.

If you want to investigate more of these old fashion shop fronts in Paris (and elsewhere in France) then you can consult this list - Old shop fronts in Paris

Wednesday 26 March 2008

Sarkozy Speaking English

Nicolas Sarkozy is paying a state visit to the UK this week. He'll be a guest of the queen at Windsor Castle and will address both Houses of Parliament (in French). He won't have any difficulty communicating with the queen who speaks fluent French (let's hope he keeps his Blackberry in his pocket this time) but his British counterpart Gordon Brown unlike his predecessor, Tony Blair does not speak good French.

English is Sarkozy's bête noire. At the age of 24 he was rejected by the Institut des Sciences Politiques because he failed the English exam.

Apparently Sarkozy has finally realized that knowing English might be an important attribute for a politician on the world stage. So he has started taking intensive English lessons. Where he is taking them we don't know and I can categorically deny that I am his Professeur d'anglais in Paris.

If the Embedded video is anything to go by then President Sarkozy is in dire need of English lessons. If he manages to learn English then perhaps it will act as a beacon of hope to the millions of English students out there struggling with the language. If he can do it then anyone can.

Saturday 15 March 2008

The Paris Project (Version 2)

Have you got a movie in you? Ever dreamt of directing and staring in a multi-million dollar Hollywood production? well, keep on dreaming because I'm afraid, I can't help. However, on a somewhat smaller scale you might like to participate in The Paris Project, version 2 has just been released. Please have a look and try and guess the locations and the languages. If you are in Paris and you want to take part (version 3 coming soon) then all you need is a digital camera or phone with a video function. See the website for more details.

You won't earn millions but you might make a few people smile.

Wednesday 12 March 2008

The Jewish Neigbourhood of the 9th arrondissement Paris

A highlight to any visit to Paris is a stroll through the historic Marais district to the Jewish quarter around rue de Rosiers with its cafes, restaurants, bookshops, and kosher supermarkets.

This neighbourhood is well and truly on the tourist trail. The once impoverished area has been spruced up to such a degree that it's beginning to become just a little bit too chic with trendy fashion retailers and souvenir shops taking advantage of the deluge of monied foreigners in search of that special gift.

However, there are other Jewish neighbourhoods in Paris such as the one in the 9th arrondissement centred around rue de Richer and Rue du Faubourg-Montmartre, Metro Cadet or Bonne Nouvelle. It's far less chic than the Marais but no less vibrant and interesting.

The Jewish community started moving to this neighbourhood from Eastern Europe in the middle of the 19th Century. Today, much of the community is made up of Israeli and North African Jews. (the photo is of Chez Bob de Tunis rue de Richer). There are 12 synagogues in the area.

So one of these days you might want to abandon the hoards of tourists in the Marais and head for the 9th. Especially if you don't like crowds.

Sunday 2 March 2008

Vegetarian Restaurants in Paris

Originally uploaded by malias.

Life for a vegatarian in Paris is no bowl of organic cherries and although I've noticed that French restaurants are gradually putting a few more vegetarian options on their menus it's still far more difficult to satiate that meat free hunger than it is in London.

If you eat fish then you'll get by, if you don't then there are always the salads and cheese. If you're vegan then I guess you'll be going on a diet.

There are a number of vegetarian restaurants in Paris, but I'm yet to come across a really good one (if you know of one then please, please let me know). The Grenier de Notre Dame (18 Rue de la Bûcherie, Paris 75005) is not going to win any Michelin stars but a has a few tasty options. La Victoire Supreme de Cour (29 rue du Bourg Tibourg 75004 Paris) has a great atmosphere though the food is a little bland. Try Tien Hiang (92 rue du Chemin vert 75011 ) for Chinese vegetarian food.

Sometimes even the concept of vegetarianism is beyond the realm of understanding for some people here. Recently I was in a Japanese restaurant and glancing through the menu I didn't see anything I could eat. I called over the waiter asked him what he suggested, he stared at me incomprehensibly for a few seconds and then said boeuf ça va? (Is beef ok?). No, ça va pas!

Monday 4 February 2008


On days when things aren't quite working out right, when your pain au chocolat is a little too dry, when a smelly man in the metro stands on your toe and the waiter looks at you in a funny way, and you have to queue for 30 minutes in the Post Office to receive a letter telling you that your tax return is overdue and it's a cold drizzly day with no end to winter in sight. On these kind of days I often reflect that life's not so bad. I live in Paris, I've got a great boulangerie and a fromagerie opposite my house, I can walk to the Place des Vosges in 20 minutes and I don't do a 9 -5 any more (halle-bloody-lujah) in a job I don't like sandwiched between 50 minutes of stressful commuting either side. Yeah! life ain't so bad.

If you play the clip make sure the sound is turned up.

Saturday 2 February 2008

Brasserie des Petits Carreaux Paris

Having spent more than four years in France one gets used to the odd bit of impoliteness from waiters. After a while you tend to let it pass with a shrug of the shoulders.

But the other day I was subjected to rudeness that went far beyond anything you might come to expect even in Paris. The Place in question is the Brasserie des Petits Carreaux Paris,
(17, Rue Petits Carreaux, 75002 Paris Metro Sentier) and I was thrown out for merely saying bonsoir!

I wasn't drunk, nor was I was I heading a party of shaven headed football hooligans chanting anti-French slogans and I definitely wasn't defying the smoking fan. I came into the cafe just to grab a quiet drink with a female friend when I got accosted by the manager who raised his voice opened the door behind us and pointed outside. I can't understand why this stupid little man took a dislike to us perhaps it was my foreign accent, perhaps I'd contravened some unwritten rule of French etiquette who knows but whatever it was he took an instant dislike to me (or my friend) and asked us to leave.

So my advice is not to go to Brasserie des Petits Carreaux Paris. Unless you like being insulted by idiotic managers.

Tuesday 15 January 2008

Homeless in Paris

Don't Smile
Originally uploaded by malias.

A question that always puzzles me is why, in France and Paris in particular are there so many homeless people. France has one of the best welfare systems in the world and the taxes each individual has to pay is phenomenal.

Despite the arrival of Sarkozy France is still the most socialist of the western democracies. London on the other hand is a bastion of captialism with relatively low taxation and fewer safety nets for the poor. And yet there are far more homeless people in Paris than in London. On every street, on the metro, by the canal, in the parks they are everywhere. I can't explain this paradox. I hope someone else can.

Paris is an exciting place to live but what I know is that it's far more difficult to make a living here than most other places (especially London which is most familiar to me). If for example you have to rely on a salary as an English teacher (professeur d'anglais Paris) from a language school as many ex-pats do, it's difficult. At the end of the month your net wage doesn't go very far.

Monday 14 January 2008

French expressions in English but not French

Frogs Legs
Originally uploaded by malias.

Any educated English speaker coming to France, even if he has never studied the language before arrives armed with a wealth of French words and expressions such as bon voyage, bon apétit, coup d'état etc.

What they may find surprising is that many of these gallicisms are not actually used by the French themselves. When I apply some of these in conversation my words are met with shrugs on incomprehension on the part of my interlocutor. Haute cuisine, double entendre, venue, piece de resistance, risqué and nobody has used sacrebleu here since the 18th century.

Even stranger are French expressions used in English where the French use an English one. We say crème de la crème they say top du top. We say passé they say has been.

So when searching the mot juste make sure you don't commit a faux pas.

Thursday 10 January 2008

The Wallace Fountain

This is a photo of a Wallace Fountain you'll find 65 of this kind around Paris and another 20 or so of the smaller design. They are a design classic and familiar to anyone who knows the city.

They were givend to the city by Sir Richard Wallace a wealthy Englishman and philanthropist after the upheavel of the Paris commune in 1875 when many aqueducts and sources of drinking water were destroyed and many of the poor ended up having to pay for water.

Wallace wanted to provide a source of clean, free water for the citizens of Paris he also believed that this would combat the fight against alcoholism. The first fountain was opened in 1875.

The fountains operate from March 15th to November 15th. They are a great source of potable water to this day. I grew up in London and since I was a child the number of public drinking fountains has declined drastically so we're often forced to buy overpriced bottled water to quench our thirsts. This is the same from many other cities but in Paris thanks to Mr Wallace we can still drink for nothing.