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It’s no secret that I love Belleville. I fully support the “Belleville Hills” t-shirts I’ve seen around the neighborhood the past couple of years, proclaiming pride in this area of eastern Paris. The colors, the people, the odors ! The ongoing construction projects and the racaille, or riff-raff ! They all make up this vibrant, working-class area I call (almost) home.
When summer finally arrives, there are two kinds of Parisians : those who invite others to visit their country homes, and those who are invited. Falling into the latter category means that I usually spend time every summer bouncing from one country home to the next, a French version of sofa surfing. But the term “country home” can seem ridiculously inappropriate – especially when I discovered just what one – or a few – might look like.
Who’d want to eat a sickly pink gelatin ring cake, or fluorescent bologna ? Or how about a brunch plate that looks nothing like you’d see in a magazine, but rather one you’d find at a diner somewhere in hell ? When you get a look at photographer Martin Parr’s Real Food, you might just feel like skipping your next meal.
On a blustery day last February, I navigated my bicycle down to the Seine River. Along the quai d’Austerlitz floats a slightly dilapidated barge, where I had an appointment with two architects, Michel and Julien. They’re in charge of restoring Paris’ first-ever floating monument, a river boat called the Louise-Catherine. The goal of our rendez-vous ? A private tour of this unsinkable memorial to fascinating times past.
Urban poetry ? Mirrors of a changing society ? A sense of helplessness, or a search for balance ? Fragmented and isolated figures, or just insignificant clowns ? Whatever Philippe Hérard’s street murals represent to you when you gaze upon them on the walls of eastern Paris, don’t expect him to tell you what they mean. He just paints them.
You, like people all over the world, might be popping a bottle of bubbly tonight. My man David-Nicolas will probably pick up a bottle or two of his favorite brand of Champagne, Ruinart. But did you know that not all sparkling wines, or even Champagnes, are created equal ?
Buckwheat crêpes, or galettes in French, are a staple of any Parisian household with kids, big or small. They make a great lunch, filled with ham and cheese, or quickly-sautéed mushrooms, or with any other filling you might have on hand. But for a more soigné meal, did you know they can also be filled with a soufflé ?
Does art imitate life, or does life imitate art ? Sometimes it’s hard to tell. One thing is sure : art reproduces what is in the depths of the subconscious mind, and that’s nowhere more evident than in the work of American artist Henry Darger. But when the line dividing art and life is indistinguishable, what you get looks a lot like the life of French-American creator Elizabeth R.
Many books have been written about how to dress like a Parisian. When I first moved to Paris, I thought I would just naturally soak up the local style, through fashion osmosis. In my mind, the process also included a fairy-like personal shopper, who would actually go into stores for me and do the dirty work. I’m pretty sure I’m not the only person who doesn’t like shopping, right ?
Ça roule, ma poule ? How’s my hen rolling ? Huh ? The last time I saw poultry roll was in a game of turkey bowling back in high school. Frankly, I thought the game was a waste of a good turkey – why roll poultry when you can eat it ?
We all know people who wear skinny jeans and lumberjack shirts, have a beard, or ride a skateboard. But put those things together, along with a penchant for free-trade organic foods, or a love of music and films hardly anyone has ever heard of, and you get the now well-known phenomenon known as the hipster. But what, specifically, does a Parisian hipster look like ?
Have you ever been insatiably curious about someone you see regularly in your neighborhood ? It happened to me last summer. I kept seeing a tall, beautiful, and muscular woman, who ran. And ran. (Apparently, she loved running.) She had a large unmistakable tattoo covering her thigh : the colored interlocking rings of the Olympic Games. What was this champion runner doing right in my neighborhood ?
Who in the world has ever heard the phrase “Put on your blues” ? Every manual worker and artist in France has, and they’ve probably used the expression themselves : Mets ton bleu ! It’s an expression that dates from the end of the 19th century, when the "blues" were born. Miners and other manual laborers in the Unites States had blue jeans, but in France, the bleu de travail is a whole other story.
What do a market gardener, an accordion player, a grumpy concierge, and a leather-clad hairdresser have in common ? They all, at some point, have shared in the legendary history of the rue de Lappe in Paris’ 11th district. In the late eighties, this street was known as a cut-throat alley, but today, despite the flux of party tourists and a regular rotation of residents, what remains constant in the rue de Lappe is the spirit of the bar-owners and the one remaining Auvergnat who calls this street home.
Have you ever been to the Hôtel Costes on the rue Saint Honoré ? If so, you would have stepped into the luxurious, plush world of sexy darkness which reigns throughout the hotel’s bar and lounge. Bohemian trappings like the baroque furniture and the rooms containing disproportionate amounts of red velvet have earned the Hôtel Costes a special place in the hearts of Paris’ most ardent aesthetes.
There was never a more unlikely source for a recipe than my friend Paul. The first time I met this guy, I wanted to drop-kick him into the Seine. The suede elbow patches on his tweed jacket, his moleskin pants, and the tiny round glasses slipping down his nose all belied the cracked and unhinged apartment door where he greeted me : Paul had just been paid a visit by the huissier, or repo-man.