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Fin de saison (end of summer) is a perfect time to visit Perpignan in southwest France, even if that notorious tramontane puffs sand in your face on the beach or blows you off your bike. This northwesterly wind is in fact a milder version of the infamous mistral which I well remember interrupting langorous summers in Provence. Luckily the tramontane only visits occasionally, blasting the sky a clear blue to leave a toasty autumnal sun and golden light.


I started writing this while police were besieging the two Charlie Hebdo murderers: their last stand. The tension was high voltage – though sometimes it felt like the final act of a bad movie. Yet what has emerged from the blood, horror and grief is a sure sense of Parisian identity, anchored in solidarity – expressed in yesterday’s historic march. Unfortunately it looks like relations with the Muslim community will be put on trial in the absence of the killers themselves, now dead. But the point of this blog post is other.


Miaow – or rather miaou as the French put it. Hidden away between the faubourgs of the 9th arrondissement is Aristide, a spanking new, state-of-the-art cat hotel. Yes, you’ve heard me right – Paris’ very first hotel pour chats. So there’s no longer any excuse! Take your feline friend with you on holiday, park him / her at this cosseting hotel and visit him daily for a welcome tickle or simply to check on his volatile state of mind.


On a brief Parisian foray last week, I found myself having breakfast daily in the company of hundreds of chimney-pots – here’s the view I woke up to every morning from the back terrace of my friends’ flat – with Sacre Coeur gleaming white in the distance. Stunning, but that’s not all.


So there I was trying to save precious time, beetling along to meet a friend, but experiencing serious hunger pangs. I was near the Canal Saint Martin, a waterway in the 10th arrondissement and an area that has been climbing the scale of cool for some time (see my blog of over a year ago). Yet the neighbourhood still manages to preserve that timeless feel of Paris that we all know and love so well.

New Year in Paris gave me a breath of Gallic obstinacy. It’s one year since I was last there, but little seems to have changed. A few new hip cafés and frock shops near the Canal St Martin, the Place de la République about to be reincarnated as an immense, traffic-free plaza – that’s about all I clocked. Otherwise it felt very same-ish – and with leaden skies bouncing non-light off the greige Haussmannian stone, wasn’t exactly inspiring. Even the inventive graffiti had a burdened air about it —

It sounds like a contradiction in terms: Black + Mirror. How can a reflection be black? A mood can be black, a colour can be black (though, yes, I know they say black is not a colour), but how can you look into a ‘mirror’ and see your image in black? But I have just seen it in Paris, in an emotive design by Martin Szekely in his exhibition at the Centre Pompidou (“Ne plus dessiner”).

I’ve just indulged in one of my little jaunts back in time to a city where I lived and loved for around 18 years. That was a while back, but on every return it’s all so utterly familiar that it could have been yesterday. A cliché I know, but oh so true – I feel like I melt seamlessly into the rhythm. And at this time of year, although none of those quintessential café-terrasses is functioning, the winteriness and fast-approaching ‘fetes’ give it a more mellow atmosphere. And Paris brasseries just beckon you inside.

It’s ridiculous how rarely I make use of Eurostar. St Pancras station is only two stops away on the tube and the journey to Paris, my hedonistic home for 18 years, is less than three hours away. The reason, I know, is that it’s all too familiar, so I give my heart and soul to more exotic destinations. But last weekend was the man’s birthday which, he being a Francophile, made an excellent excuse to hop the Channel. It meant we could also see how la crise – the rather mild Gallic term for recession – is shaping up over there.

The best is inland, by far. The Cote d’Azur had its heyday a few decades ago, and now it feels distinctly stuck-in-a-bling-rut. Over-bronzed Bardot lookalikes with taught lifted faces are still, somehow, the norm. Even the boutiques of Cannes’ rue d’Antibes seem to cater for a particular kind of fussy glitz that (luckily) doesn’t exist anywhere else. Yet nothing can change the spectacular topography, however many neo-Provençal villas dot the hillside and apartment blocks rim the towns, and if you’re lucky enough to find that perfect restaurant with a view, it’s close to heaven.

, DrFrance is part of me and the last week or so sometimes felt like a travelling déja vu. My ‘holidays’ were in fact a manic race from the south of France to the north. En route we scooped up Provençal sun and rain as well as endlessly twisting roads to a lost monastery, now a convent (where I opened a little wooden shutter to pick up a phone & ring the Abbess but chickened out – that would mean the end of my globetrotting life).