This week I thought I had to go to Versailles to interview FAUVE, an agitprop pop/hip hop collective who are just about the hottest young band in France right now. I felt pleased to be doing their first interview in English and that they turned out to be a far more amiable bunch than I could have expected, and I was also relieved to discover the café I was after was on Avenue de Versailles in the 16eme and not actually the address Google gave me that was next to the palace. That could have been embarrassing.
Anyway, now we’ve got that humble brag out of the way, having been in conference with pretenders to French pop’s throne I finally got to walk in the shadow of the Sun King himself this weekend as we headed off for Versailles proper. I’ve wanted to go there since before I moved to Paris, and given that today was peasant’s day (free museums on the first Sunday of the month), we decided to take a trek out there. Clearly lots of people had a similar idea, and we found ourselves pushing through barriers, knocking past tourists and scrambling out of the station like 10 year olds in order to beat the rush, and it worked bloody marvellously actually.
A walk through la galerie des Glaces makes you realise why the Royal Family had to get their heads chopped off. It’s all ridiculously, detestably opulent, and it’s hard to gaze upon the chinless Madame Pompadour and not feel like killing them all yourself. It’s certainly worth a visit, though once you’ve seen one royal château you feel like you’ve pretty much seen them all. Versailles is naturally a cut above though, and as much as I enjoy living in la République française, it’s hard not to have a sneaking admiration for Louis XIV himself. I suspect a lot of French people feel the same. He was a warmongering, womanising, autocrat who lived far too long, mercilessly sapping the proletariat in order to live in the style he was accustom to, but he did have a certain flair and joie de vivre, and history records him as a very good dancer. Although you wouldn’t have told him if he wasn’t.
Indeed it’s easy to forget the fact that Royalty were reinstalled for a while, though the contribution Louis Philippe made to Versailles is positively tasteful compared with the monstrous war-rooms installed by his predecessor, the Emperor of France. You can only imagine how sore portraitiste Jacques-Louis David’s arms must have been, and as for his tongue, well he must have pulled a muscle every week.
Spare a thought for poor, stupid Louis Auguste who was guillotined in 1793, though since then it’s all been liberté, égalité and fraternité as far as the eye can see. Question is, if Versailles now belongs to the people, then how come it’ll cost you money to get in on any other day of the month you choose to show up? Is it a bit like RBS?Follow @jeres
In France, a grape is not a grape, it’s a raisin, and a prune is not a prune, it’s a plum. An olive is still an olive, but perhaps in solidarity with other dried fruit faux amis, olives on frozen pizzas are shrivelled, clenched fists of pure evil that don’t look anything like they do on the box where they’re plump and edible in appearance. I take it there’s a trading standards authority of some kind here in France, but presumably nobody ever sues because there’s too much paperwork involved. What’s more, these negligent manufacturers don’t even bother taking the stones out of the olives first, so you could quite easily lose a tooth biting into one if you weren’t paying attention; and surely the only silver lining here is the fact you do notice because they look so disgusting. These are the kinds of dangers you must face in your own home every day here, which is why trips away as often as possible are mandatory.
One of the advantages of living in Paris – apart from the clement winter we’ve been enjoying and the billions of other great things I’m always banging on about – is the fact there are trains that will take you to plenty of other places in mainland Europe (which is revelatory if you come from an island) and take you damn quickly too if you get on the right train. You can be in Brussels in under and hour and Amsterdam in a few with a company called Thalys; I’d quite like Thalys if the tight wankers opened up free internet wifi for their paying customers. Corporate meanness aside, trains and France are a majestic combination, and if you don’t believe me then think where the world would be without Impressionism, which happened because Paris’ panoply of progressive painters could suddenly travel to the south relatively easily, and there they would soon enjoy new adventures in light. The French actually adopted railways very late, thinking they didn’t need trains, and when they finally got them they went batshit crazy for them. Plus ça change…
And so we’ve been on some adventures, and hopefully there’ll be more to come. Weekends have been enjoyed in Brussels, Rome, the Loire Valley and most recently Amsterdam, where we went to see St Vincent (who was magnificent) and to check out some art. It’s interesting how differently I view the Low Countries to how I did back then when I had a job as an international photocopier in 1998.
I’d only fairly recently moved to London. I walked into Alfred Marks to perform an aptitude test and within half an hour a woman asked me if I had a full working EU passport. The next day I flew to Germany with some South Africans in ties armed with stamps and sets of staple removers to sift our way through hundreds of lever arch files which we would photocopy and take back home. The photocopier became my friend, and the job – as dull as it was – involved claiming back VAT for companies that had bought items within the EU and could now get reimbursed in this brave new Europe. Oh, and drinking Bavaria dry in the evenings, or wherever else I was posted to that week. I went to Monsanto and Nike and various nefarious other companies that didn’t seem quite as evil on the inside. An MD in the Black Forest gave me a funny handshake mistaking me for a Mason, unaware that I was on £4 an hour. The great thing was, all the travelling time was paid for and also you’d get 60 Deutsche Marks an evening food allowance. I discovered quickly that you could go to a bar of your choosing, warn the bar staff you would drink there exclusively until five o’clock in the morning, and they’d be more than happy to throw you a food receipt to cover all your costs.
I have thousands of misadventures to share with you, but I’ll level with you, I’m saving those for the autobiography. The thing that really struck me as strange was how different Amsterdam and Brussels were in 1998 than they are now, although I’m not talking about the places as much as the way I see them. I thought I knew Brussels well having stayed there for a month, but it turns out I knew the route that connected five different bars, all within close proximity of each other. Amsterdam – where I also worked for a month – is actually a tale of two cities and the first time I only got to see one. There’s the gorgeous side where we stayed at the weekend with the galleries and the cool shops and the treacherous bicycles and the amazing restaurants and the canals, and then there are all the clucking scumbags, the weed bores, the stag parties and the lowlifes that radiate from the station and out into the red light district. And you know what, I used to be one of those shitbags, and what a sorry little prick I must have been. I’ve not suddenly become bourgeois, I’m hopefully just less reprehensible.
16 years on we stayed in an apartment overlooking a canal above a Greek restaurant hired from a guy Claire found on Airbnb called No Fuss Gus. It beat the seediness of the Boatel I was assigned to that’s for sure. Claire was here a few years ago actually, and stayed at the Hotel CC. I hear it’s a bit like the Hotel BCC, but with less privacy.
Sustained rain finally came and settled on Paris this week – something I can’t complain about too much given how badly my Cornish brethren have been suffering this winter – but on Wednesday the sky cleared and Pont de l’Alma was as beautiful as I’ve ever seen it. I’m not sure why, but by chance I’ve been in that part of Paris three times in the last week. Next to the bridge is a monument Le flamme de la liberté (which is a bit like the Statue of Liberty without the woman) and an underpass made famous by the death of Princess Diana in 1997. I happened to be in Paris on the day of the funeral in 1997 with my friend Andy Carr, who’d somehow twisted my arm to go and watch U2 with him (honestly, he really had to twist the fuck out of it). It was my first time in the city and I had no idea then – as you don’t – that I’d eventually end up living here. I would have baulked at the idea at the time seeing as we’d just sat down to a pint and discovered it was a fiver.
Le flamme de la liberté - or the Flame of Liberty if you prefer – was adorned with flowers and tributes that day, some pointedly saying things like “the REAL Queen of hearts”, in anger at the REAL Queen who wasn’t very popular at the time. That’s the weird thing about Royalty, people actually think they know them, which made the creepy outpouring of mourning that swept the nation all the more bizarre. I won’t crap on about 1997 being a pivotal year in the nation’s regression but it was. I was just glad that I was in Paris for the funeral and didn’t have to sit through days on end of mourning and misery. Back in those days you didn’t switch the TV off so much because there was no internet as a substitute.
I went back to school this week and subjected myself to the normal kinds of humiliation that entails but thankfully was just bright enough to narrowly miss being put into the dunce’s group. The dunce’s group – to be fair – is for people who can’t speak any French yet, whereas I should be able to speak some having lived here 11 months. More on this soon, though I’ve got to run out of the door now without even doing any subbing on this shit as we’re heading to Amsterdam for the weekend!
As often discussed, Paris is a wonderful place to live in if you’re a luddite, though when the machines turn against you it can be an isolating experience. Some of the lights in the flat have stopped working suggesting a circuit board has blown, although I don’t know what that actually means and it might be something entirely different. Hang about, it’s just the fuse that has blown right? I realise I’m opening myself up to ridicule here.
It was pointed out to me on the phone this morning that this blackness has been pervasive in our flat for over three weeks now like dark matter, and it was also suggested that it clearly hadn’t even occurred to me to do anything about it. Which I have to admit is true. I’m all about allowing your living space to fall into disrepair and then moving out when it becomes completely uninhabitable.
It’s probably amazing to some that I’ve managed to live for as long as I have without ever changing a plug, but then you could argue that maybe that’s the reason I have lived so long. I know what happens when you mess with electrics in Paris – you end up blowing yourself up like pop singer Claude Francois, who was electrocuted to death in 1978. In fairness, Claude was taking a bath at the time when he reached up to do some fiddling with the socket. In fact, perhaps it’s baths in Paris that are dangerous and not electrics so much if you’re a singer? Just look what happened to Jim Morrison! You’ll not catch me singing in the bath and fiddling with a lightbulb as long as I live in Paris, that’s for sure.
My friend Kev was here recently and he showed me what needed to be done, though it involves standing on a stepladder and changing the fuse in up to four different boxes, and I can’t remember whether the fuse had to be 9v or 16v, or if it was 16v for one and 9v for the other three, or if it had anything to do with volts at all. As complicated as this all sounds, it’s easier than ordering a pizza here.
In England if you order something from Domino’s you can track it from the time they throw extra jalapeños on top to the moment it arrives via a smiley man in a crash helmet. Here it can take up to three days to arrive and when you phone the outlet to warn them that if it doesn’t come soon you might starve to death or sue the place if you pull through by eating your own faeces, they will then obviously deny any knowledge of an order and tell you you’ll have to wait another 45 minutes to an hour. Just as you’re about to start tucking into your own fingers, the doorbell rings. The moral of the story here is never order Domino’s, because it’s the one food that still tastes fucking disgusting even when you’re ravenous.
None of this even comes close to how annoying iTunes is. I’m going to have a real whine now so please stop reading if you hate moaning, cos I know I do. I wrote a blog a while ago about how I’d changed my iTune (hur!) about the company when they’d assisted me quickly and efficiently. Well that was a mistake, because they’re actually complete fucktards. Like how difficult a concept can it be that a man might move somewhere other than the place he was born in the EU? Could you not set up your billing infrastructure to account for eventualities like this? Is it so unusual that a person might relocate to another country? I just want to buy a Cubase program for my iPad, could you stop being utter fuckwits and allow the transaction please? Or if not could you at least reply to my email you turds? What sort of parochial myopia is this? Just because you think the World Series is the world and only 36% of Americans have passports you assume we’re all bumbling inbred rednecks who’ll only ever leave the house when we die when they have to take the roof off to winch us out. Look at the bigger picture you fucks.
I did warn you.
While I might have been living in Paris nigh on a year, I hadn’t even really seriously considered visiting the Louvre until this week. I dropped by in the summer to use the lav (note to self: much better maintained than McDonalds) and was overwhelmed by the amount of people in ugly shorts shouting loudly about waffles and ice-cream. This brief experience scared me off a bit – though January is a great time to visit anywhere I’m discovering, especially in a popular city like Paris. So we went along to the famous glass pyramids on Wednesday (that headline wouldn’t have worked had I written about it yesterday) and I’m not quite sure why the prospect of the Louvre had never felt enticing before but there we were. Once inside it dawned on me, what’s not to love? (Or should that be what’s not to Louvre? Oh do fuck off.)
Should you need convincing of da Vinci, if you like van Eyck or van Dyke, if you’re avid about Jacques-Louis David or queer for Vermeer, then the Louvre is definitely the place for you. Actually for a lot of people it’s all about the Mona Lisa which will explain why a whole army of people shot straight past St. John the Baptist, La belle ferronnière, The Virgin and Child with St. Anne et al in order to squeeze a peak at the world’s most famous painting protected by a barrier and a writhing sea of flesh and cameras; they weren’t far off a human pyramid themselves. For me the androgynous St. John is far more rewarding – and deserted – and getting to see Théodore Géricault’s The Raft of Medusa up close was a particular highlight, especially as I’d never really noticed the minuscule ship on the horizon they’re all supposedly going batshit for. The ones who aren’t dead anyway.
After doing what was essentially a generic ‘Greatest Hits’ tour printed from the internet, we couldn’t help but breakout and check out the Dutch (and Flandrian) Masters on the second floor. Three hours later we were visually sated but physically bloody starving, a tad exhausted, a touch overwhelmed but ultimately… impressed.
The thing that’s quite easy to forget about the Louvre is the fact it was a Royal Palace before Louis XIV – who famously said ‘l’etat c’est moi‘ – got bored and moved his etat to Versailles instead, so along with all the famous works of art, you’ve also got long, sumptuous walls and remarkable ceiling frescos wherever you go. We actually visited Rome this weekend just gone (a little birthday treat from ma puce), and if I’m honest I’d have to say I was more impressed with the Louvre surrounds than I was the Sistine Chapel, which is a little underwhelming given its fame; that is undoubtedly the reason because actually it’s an incredible undertaking when you think about, and I had to keep reminding myself of that and ticking myself off for not being bowled over. “Why isn’t your gob smacked?” I said to myself more than once.
For my money I was far more enraptured by Bernini’s baroque high altar in Saint Peter’s Basilica, and another Bernini – the erotically-charged rococo masterpiece The Ecstasy of Saint Teresa in the Santa Maria della Vittoria – probably the most exquisite little church I’ve ever laid my eyes on. In fact this last week those eyes have beheld some of the truly great works of art and architecture from the Italian Renaissance onwards and I can’t help feeling awed and somewhat blessed. Such inordinate man-made beauty makes it easy to understand why 15th century peasants who couldn’t read or write or spell proper would have been so servile and terrified of god and so malleable under the manipulative two-pronged jurisdiction of church and state. With very little else to look forward to, Sundays must have seemed like the Back To The Future trilogy screened end to end every week.Follow @jeres
There’s a daily national newspaper in France called L’Équipe which devotes its entire coverage to sport, without room for a cryptic crossword or even some arbitrary breasts. Today I went downstairs for my morning allonge and noticed this publication on the bar with the headline “Ressuscités!” and a big picture of a man with his arms outstretched holding a punctured football in one of his hands. Ressuscités is French for ‘resurrected’ and when that word is used concerning a man with outstretched arms it’s usually in reference to Jesus – so implicitly we’re already considering the gravity of this front page headline and the religious connotations of its image, if subconsciously. Then it dawns on me, that isn’t a punctured football at all. The men in the picture are partaking in Handball.
Handball? On the front page? A slow news day in Sportingland surely! Or maybe Handball is really important here in France. Maybe the whole nation didn’t fall asleep watching West Brom v Everton last night like I did because they were all crowded around the telly and hooked on Handball like it was horse. Why? Because one presumes the French are good at it.
Fact is, a whole nation’s sporting agenda and how the media covers it is based on what said country can hold it’s own in, to the point where it often becomes duplicitous. It’s like when during the Olympics British publications put Dressage on the back pages; any visitors must be pissing themselves because there are only about three countries that even deign to take part. Highlighting Golds in equestrian events is essentially imperial propaganda, put there to make us feel great as a people even though most of us are too fucking common to even think about riding a horse ourselves. How can we take an event seriously when inbred royals are put forward and essentially regarded as athletes? What is this, the 15th century?
I’d like to say I’ve been a West Brom fan my whole life but it wouldn’t be true. I took an interest in the club when I was seven after we moved to Dudley. My mother’s fiancé was an Albion supporter despite being a Geordie (or maybe a Mackem) and by rote I became a Baggies fan too. We moved back to Cornwall some time later and I had to change allegiances to Liverpool or face being kicked in by Whiffer, a kid at primary school, but by then my head had been turned by pop music and the possibilities of hair and girls anyway. In that order. I was quite a confused child. Anyway, it was during my early 20′s that I became obsessed with football and it only seemed right I revert back to my former patronage having only converted to save my own skin from one of Whiffer’s kickings. I have been to some games on and off over the seasons, including a play-off final that Albion lost, but I always feel like a fraud sat among all the sheet metal workers from Smethwick who’d live and die for the club and who would have gladly taken a kicking from Whiffer and no doubt bled blue and white.
Most seasons I buy membership with the prospect of going to games in mind (but rarely actually going to any games). The last couple of seasons I haven’t bothered; last year I was too skint and this year I was skint and in Paris.
That all said I still do consider myself a supporter, if not a very committed one. The recent controversy concerning Le Chesnay local boy Nicolas Anelka’s ‘quenelle’ celebration has depressed me though. A good friend of mine who’s been a card-carrying Liverpool fan his whole life felt he’d had enough of football in 2012 because of the Luis Suarez racism row, and I feel I’m in a similar situation now thanks to the former French international (capped 69 times no less).
Let’s be clear, this blog is hardly J’accuse, but I feel aggrieved the club didn’t take any action and I’ve wanted to write something about it for a while. How can I support a club that fully backs a player making an anti-Semitic gesture, an inverted fascist salute? My hunch – like sponsor Zoopla’s hunch – is that West Brom should have suspended the player pending the FA’s inquiry rather than keep playing him. The verdict is announced tomorrow, and I hope the club says ‘thanks for your two goals, now au revoir sunshine’. I should have probably delayed my judgement until then, but given that Nicolas himself said it was performed in solidarity with Dieudonné M’bala M’bala, his friend the “comedian” and well-known anti-Semite, I really can only anticipate one verdict.
The Baggies earned themselves a valuable point last night against a decent Everton side, but right now I’m finding it difficult to care whether they stay up or go down. So disillusioned am I that I might even give Handball a go.Follow @jeres
As a direct competitor to Paris Match and destination for the one in a million butterfingers who type the URL they’re actually looking for into their browser incorrectly – and because there are so few music outlets that will pay me money for news reportage with gags in these days – it seems appropriate that this website comment on a grave story of huge political significance that’s got the whole of France talking. It’s a story about hurt and betrayal and the plight of a couple of robots who’ve allegedly let their country down with selfish behaviour… no, I’m not talking about Francois Hollande and Julie Gayet, I’m talking Daft Punk obviously. Silly.
When the Victoires de la Musique nominations were announced yesterday, gasps were heard all over the shop. I know I convulsed at the news so if anyone was in earshot of me they would have heard a massive gulp followed by some wheezing and hyperventilating as I failed to come to terms with the terrible announcement. As I work here alone during the day, I’m pretty sure nobody would have heard me unless they’d crept into the flat with the intention of burgling the place but then snuck out again when they heard my obvious distress (and didn’t want to compound my terrible day yet further because they’re nice burglars really. Deep down). I digress of course.
Oh God, I’m here all by myself. What if I fall on an upturned pen?
Anyway, Daft Punk have not been nominated for a sausage. Même pas une saucisson. How could this be? The biggest international musical export France has ever known not being recognised by the Gallic equivalent of the Brit Awards? Answer: they withdrew their own nomination in all categories.
Why this is, nobody is exactly sure. Daft Punk are keeping mums thus far. Some have charitably suggested it’s to give others a chance. More likely it is the fact les chemises behind the Victoires de la Musique – who have made the Brits’ hierarchy look like carefree hipsters in the past – are yet to have given Guy-Manuel de Homem-Christo and Thomas Bangalter even the steam off their piss in all the years they’ve been at it, and so this annum and with maximum leverage, the electro duo are taking their ballon home as punishment. If that punitive measure weren’t enough, they’ve also lifted their own strictly imposed appearance embargo to star at the forthcoming Grammys. Va te faire foutre!
To be fair to the corporate bods behind the ceremony, they’ve pulled out one or two surprises this year in the categories. Stromae (who’s Belgian) is nominated everywhere, while Christine and the Queens, Cats in Paris, La Femme, Gesaffelstein, Kavinisky etc all got nods alongside the irrefutably fusty Eddy Mitchell and Johnny Halliday. Well what were you expecting, miracles? Interestingly, Lilly Wood from Lilly Wood and the Prick is up for best female performance (against Zaz and Vanessa Paradis), but no love for The Prick in the men’s unfortunately.Follow @jeres
Bonne année mes enfants! Apologies for the tardiness, I’ve only just got out of bed.
I left the palatial surrounds of Paris and headed back to England over the festive period, and lo and behold I discovered a terrifying land of gnashing teeth and abject misery, cast asunder by divisive rule. Privatised services don’t work, policemen can shoot you when they feel like it and patrician overlords and captains of industry don’t have to apologise any more because they don’t care what you think you little oik. EDF failed to give us electricity on Christmas Eve and some of Christmas Day, First Great Western failed to produce an appropriate train like the one we had booked for four freezing hours on a platform at Reading Station, and not even God held back, emptying his bowels and spraying the coast like a drunk urinating behind a parked lorry. I’ve resolved only to go back when absolutely necessary.
These Tories are dreadful aren’t they? They’re not even pretending to be nice any more. I suppose that’s a blessing in a way; Tony Blair not only pretended he was nice, but he also pretended he wasn’t a Tory. At least we know where we are with these cunts. As for the police, well I’m no authority but they seem to be getting pretty heavy. The last time I had any dealings with the Old Bill I was being shouted at by a Bobby with a snarling dog on match day in Tottenham. I wasn’t going to the match, I lived there for some extraordinarily illogical reason I can’t even begin to fathom now. A whole legion with batons and shields and dogs were making their way down my road, and the chieftain cochon started oinking at me discourteously.
“Get in the garden!” he screamed, like the plod in Withnail and I who tells Withnail to get in the back of the van.
I stood there, confused. My legs didn’t move.
“GET IN THE GARDEN!” he reiterated, angrier.
“B-b…” I stuttered. “But it’s not my garden.”
He thought about this for a second. Suddenly he changed his tone. “If you wouldn’t mind stepping into this garden for a moment then we can all come through and then you can be on your way, sir. Thanking you kindly.” Or something along those lines.
Anyway, I duly obstructed their path no longer. Thankfully I’m not black, otherwise he would have shot me.
Since I’ve been back in Paris, people have been tres gentille; they’ve even lightened up in the arsey boulanger for some reason (perhaps they’ve accepted the fact we’re not going back to our homeland). I buzzed the postman in this morning who ran up two flights of stairs with a package, and sweating as he was (he’s a big lad) and panting like a chihuahua, he shook my hand firmly and said “bonne année mon ami!” If there wasn’t a package between us we might have hugged. I live in a world where there are absolutes. Paris is dreamy. London is anathema to me now. Truly, it’s much easier this way.
The city of Paris that Picasso arrived in in 1900 was regarded as one of the cultural epicentres of the world – as it is today – though back then it was also a hive of naughtiness and a magnet for the debauched (whereas now it’s more a magnet for people in bad shorts and rucksacks holding maps up the wrong way shouting about the fact they haven’t eaten a cheeseburger for at least an hour). I’m very interested in perceptions of the city I live in and am currently looking into the way Americans view Paris and how that connects to a bygone era when all the bohemians escaped prohibition and took off for Europe. It’s a romanticised image that might just be a weird simulacrum, I dunno, I’m investigating. It’s easily done, getting strange ideas in your head; I’m not sure what I was expecting when I first started heading here five years ago; smoking poets in bars and yéyé chanteuses on every corner? Let’s hope not. I think I was just looking to get away and it was conveniently situated right across the water. It still surprises me most days that I live here now.
The days of people going insane on absinthe and laudanum in the artistic enclave of Montmartre are most likely just a distant phantasm, but no doubt some people still think that kind of thing is pervasive. Well I’m sure it is if you turn over enough stones, but not in my Paris. When I was working in Brussels for three weeks at the end of the 90′s I found some of the wildest nightlife of any city I’ve ever come across, probably because I was looking for it. Boring old Brussels eh? It’s always the quiet ones.
Stood outside a café on the Rue de Rivoli yesterday I was approached by a sleazy gentleman who came up to announce “les affaires sont bonnes!” as he rubbed his hands together cockily. What business was he in? I wish I’d never asked. “The girl business,” he said. “The business of LOVE”. Oh right. “I’m just waiting for my girlfriend,” I mumbled, which he maybe didn’t believe because he kept standing there. Claire eventually came out of the café and spooked him and he went away quickly enough, looking as though he’d just been wedgied by the vice squad. That’s about as seedy as life has got since I’ve lived here you know. It’s a far cry from Picasso’s Les demoiselles d’avignon to be honest.
I had two major surprises recently though, and you’d better brace yourselves. Firstly, and I appreciate what a dick I might sound here, but I discovered that I fucking love quinoa. We went for a meal at Le Potager du Marais, a vegan restaurant on Rue Rambuteau just behind the Pompidou. This is the finest restaurant in ze whole frickin’ vurld, and I cannot recommend it highly enough. The staff are magnificent too, and they humour me with my tragic French. Anyway, so I ate quinoa and it was a taste revelation – god knows what it is but whatever it is I’m sold. God, I don’t know if you’re responsible for this stuff, but if you are then I believe.
The second surprise was more of an epiphany, and the epiphany is this – people are always saying how hard it is to be a vegetarian in Paris. Au contraire mon frère, the choices are actually staggeringly good. There’s a whole blog in this, but I’m about to get a Eurostar back to England for Christmas. It’s a total myth that needs to be debunked though, the idea that you can’t survive in Paris without meat; it’s as good as London or Amsterdam, you just need to know where to look. And I know where to look, so ask me if you’re having problems.
I’m going vegan for a few weeks in January as an experiment. If it works out then I might continue. I’ll be doing some fromage dommage in the meantime.
People like moronic lists don’t they? Here’s a list of ten things you’ll be hard pressed to find in Paris:
1. Charity shops
I’ve no idea why there are no charity shops in Paris, in fact I’ve never seen one in France come to think of it. I hope it has nothing to do with France being an uncharitable nation (that can’t be the reason can it?) so just how people dispose of their unwanted bri-nylon shirts and well-thumbed Jilly Cooper novels here I couldn’t be sure. There are places where you can pick up cheap vintage threads – I can think of a couple of excellent shops in the Marais where I’ve bought chemises of distinction for as little as €5 – and le marche aux puces de Saint-Ouen is the mightiest flea market you’re ever likely to get lost in though the gear there is pricier than your local Scope or Sue Ryder. Maybe when the economy finally goes down le chiottes as it keeps threatening to do then we’ll see a few emerge across the city. People will be poorer but it’ll give old people something to do.
2. Ready meals
I’m not saying there aren’t any ready meals in Paris, but I’ve never eaten one and I’ve never seen anyone else eat one either. There isn’t a ready meal culture, and it may come as a surprise too that there’s no self-righteous, proselytising tosspot TV chef equivalent telling everyone what they can and can’t ingest, and actually living in a country where Jamie Oliver doesn’t dictate government policy somehow seems the sane way to go when you’ve detached yourself for a while and are merely observing from afar. Not having a preaching cockspanner with a fat tongue breathing down your neck doesn’t mean everyone eats healthily though – there are more nasty McDonalds “restaurants” in France per square kilometre than anywhere outside of the US. But if you’re just popping out for a Pot Noodle then you’ll go Robert Falcon Scott AWOL I’m afraid. There are ready meal dishes in fridges as far as I’m aware but the ones I’ve seen actually look edible and they’re more expensive also. There is a shop called Picard which is like a posh Iceland. This shop would be rammed with aggressive warlords in England.
If you want milk then buy some cheese. I gave up ordering milk in my coffee very quickly because I got bored of people looking at me like I was an idiot. Nothing marks you out as a tourist more than café au lait.
4. Your local shop
I kind of miss my local shop. There are shops – of course there are shops – there’s an alimentation generale right near my house where the shopkeeper calls Claire “ma copine” because he knows how much it annoys me. But the one stop shop where you could buy a bottle of Lucozade, a bag of crisps and a chocolate bar (the breakfast holy trinity) as well as a paper and a packet of fags doesn’t really exist. You have to get them all in separate places although you can get a coffee, buy some smokes and put a bet on all in the same place – which would have been heaven if I still smoked.
God doesn’t hold much sway in France any more. He has his moments though.
6. The Burka
It’s a political hot potato, catch!
7. Fags on a Sunday
Despite being a secular country, France is contradictory in that it upholds plenty of Roman Catholic holidays (there seem to be hundreds of these) and Sundays are still sacrosanct. In Essex this latter fact is demonstrated by men washing their cars, whereas in Paris they close the road by the Seine so people can roller-skate across it with Beats by Dre wrapped around their noggins, and the authorities shut most of the shops for some reason, most annoyingly the ones that sell cigarettes. When I still smoked this drove me mad, though I soon twigged that you could still get them at big train stations like Gare du Nord or Gare de l’Est. If you’re out in the sticks then you’re fucked.
There aren’t many celebrities in France, and I should know because I spot them all the time in London, whereas in Paris I had to content myself the other day with being starstruck by the Isabelle Adjani Bateaux Mouche floating down the Seine. The other vague possibility could be that I don’t spot any of them because I don’t know who any of them are aside from Francois Hollande and that chap from Rapido. I do somehow see Nicolas Godin from Air everywhere I go mind you.
It’s a really bad place to go if you’re a vegetarian but I still love Nandos and I know that makes me a hypocrite, and just this morning I was actually craving a Nandos veggie burger and chips. The next time I find myself in one which will no doubt be at Christmas I’m going to have to resist the temptation to chop out a line of Peri-Peri sauce and hoover it up with one of their drinking straws.
10. TVs in pubs and bars
Hoorah! If you want to watch telly watch it at home mate. Although I did walk past The Frog and Rosbif on Rue Saint Denis the other day and noticed three depressed avoirdupois Anglo Saxon males staring up from their beer at The One Show with the sound down. The Frog and Rosbif often reminds me why I left England when I walk past it.Follow @jeres