Sunday, December 20, 2009

Mes excuses...

Hello bloggettes -
Not a day goes by when I don't think of this blog. It sits in the corner of my mind's eye taunting me, lamenting how I neglect it, sobbing that I don't bring it flowers anymore - and you'd have to admit it has a point.
I notice my last entry was November 20. A full month ago. An appalling effort for anyone hoping to participate in the blogging zeitgeist.
Suffice it to say, my silence has been for a reason. And that reason is sound.
On the professional front, I am sweating on meeting a deadline for the new book. With my editors expecting a squaeky clean manuscript in their hot little publishing hands by the end of January, I am tippity-tap tapping away on the keyboard every hour that the good Lord gives me.
On the personal front, there has been a new addition to my little family - and if any of you out there are parents, you'll know how even the smallest addition to a family can make a large impact. Sleep is something I now only dream of. It's a magical land that I think back on with fondness and recall wistfully.
And so dear bloggettes - excuse the hiatus. I'll be back - as soon as the diaper demon releases me from its clutches. Think of this as less of a goodbye, and more of an au revoir...

Friday, November 20, 2009

Spring-ing into another Beaujolais Nouveau

There's so much to like about my new quartier. The Louvre and its most famous tenant, Ms M. Lisa, being my new next-door neighbours (she's as quiet as a mouse, and as demure as you like), the Seine and its soul-soothing qualities being but a hop, skip and jump away, and the profusion of great restaurants, cafes and food havens that happily call this arrondissement home.
Last night was Beaujolais Nouveau night in Paris. It's the night for all the wine makers in Beaujolais to foist the fruits of their 2009 harvest on unsuspecting Parisian palates. On BN nights of yore (for, in ten years here in Paris, I've had more than my fair share of Beaujolais Nouveau), I've been so overcome with bonhomie and a feeling of goodwill to all men (a state my wife commonly refers to as "offensive drunkenness") that I've barely been able to recall my exploits.
Last night however, I remained relatively sober - the better to be able to relate my adventures last night in the quartier.
The much-celebrated Paris-based Chicago foodie, Daniel Rose, has gone and opened a new epicerie across the street from me (there goes the neighbourhood). It's a spin-off from his wildly successful 9th arrondissement eatery, Spring.
Spring - The Epicerie, had its grand opening last night. Well, as grand as a 50m2 space can pull off. There were food and wine lovers spilling out onto the pavement as everyone happily tucked into the free booze to wish Daniel well on his latest venture. The Epicerie - packed to its freshly-painted rafters will all manner of delicious, distinctly artisanal French foodstuffs - is but a taster of things to come in the I-Should-Be-So-Lucky 1st arrondissement. Sometime next year, Spring Mach II will be opening on the nearby Rue Bailleul. Le tout Paris' tastebuds are quivering in anticipation...
Mr Rose cut a cool figure last night, reclining on the stairs of his new venture, resplendant in a ye olde epicier blue coverall, while Paris's fooderati flapped about him.
Once we had toasted the Rose, our party headed across the street to the trusty ol' Le Garde Robe wine bar for a bit more BN guzzling. The wines on offer from the makeshift kerb-side counter were excellent - defying ten years worth of experience with BNs which were, in retrospect, undrinkable.
Across the street, O Chateau's Olivier was welcoming crowds of wine enthusiasts to his subterranean wine tasting emporium. If you're in the market for a crash course in French wines, this is the man to see.
With our stomachs swilling with BN, it was decided nothing would sate our hunger like a session at Chez Denise. Somewhat full from the bread and saucisson I'd been munching at Le Garde Robe, I sat at our table, with its red-and-white checked tablecloth - and scanned the menu for something 'light'. I may as well have been looking for something non-fattening in a patisserie. Chez Denise is renowned for its meaty menu. Meals come in three varieties: meaty, extra-meaty and heart-stopping. My initial instinct was to go with Coq Au Vin - the closest thing on the menu to a salad. But when one of my dinner companions asked if I would share a cote de boeuf, I heard the words "I'd love to" spilling from my lips. I blame the wine.
The steak was delicious, the frites were sinfully good and the BN just kept flowing. Not even the sight of a few ample-bellied, red-faced, extra-large human heart-attacks at nearby tables was enough to put us off our feast. We were in the throes of a BN bacchanalia - what's a few hardened arteries between friends?

Below: Daniel Rose in epicier mode

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Early morning on the Pont des Arts

There was a time - and it doesn't seem that long ago - when I would be one hundred times more likely to see sunrise over the Seine at the end of a big night painting the town rouge. This morning, I experienced dawn's crack on the arm of my 18-month-old son, as we scarpered from the apartment to give his long suffering mum a precious extra hour's sleep.
It was cold, the Pantheon was shrouded in early morning mist and the normally buzzing streets were deserted. My little man and I stood on the Pont des Arts for as long as the cold allowed, watching the occasional boat sluice its way up the river. The Seine was as still as the proverbial mill pond. The city was shaking itself out of its slumber and preparing for itself for another crisp, late autumn day. And I thought about the time in my life when sunrises were only ever the backdrop to a scurry home after a big night out. And as fond as those memories are, I found myself relieved those days are (mostly) behind me. They were a pleasure to experience and I don't regret a second, but neither do I need to relive them. And while initially the prospect of dragging myself and the little fella out of the warmth of the apartment and into the cold filled me with dread, I soon discovered early morning Paris offers up a world of delights.
Does it mean I'm getting older? Probably. Does it mean I have matured? I hope not. At least not too much...
And just because I like the photo, see below a snap I took the other night from my other favourite Parisian bridge, the Pont Alexandre III. You've got to hand it to the old dame Paris, she sure does scrub up well.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Public Service Announcement: Tourists to Paris! Beware the gold ring scam

So I was walking through the Tuileries this morning, on my daily consitutional stroll, when I saw a couple of tourists looking quizzically at a woman who had just handed them a gold ring.
What I knew, and they clearly didn't, was that they were about to be ripped off. They were about to be taken for a ride, scammed, cheated out of money. And so, donning my good samaritan hat (because I hate to see tourists in Paris being taken advantage of), I intervened and informed them they were about to fall victim to one of the most popular tourist scams currently infecting Paris.
And so it occurred to me to blog about it, in the event it saves any tourists currently in the City of Light - or any planning a vacation here soon - from being ripped off.
The scam goes something like this.
You will be walking along the street/through the gardens, engrossed in the beauty of your Parisian surroundings, when out of the corner of your eye, you spy a person bend down and pick something up. That person will make a loud exclamation, indicating how "surprised" they are. They will then approach you, holding up a gold ring, and ask if it belongs to you. You will say no and they will continue to feign surprise before insisting you take the ring. They will then ask for a sum of money - presumably in return for the gold ring they found, but have magnanimously handed over to you. A gold ring which, coincidentally, is a piece of polished plastic.
Now, I don't really understand how or why this scam would work. Why would people take a ring that wasn't theirs and then hand money over to the stranger that found it? It doesn't make sense. But given the number of times I have seen it unfolding on the Paris streets (especially in high-traffic tourist areas) it's a scam that obviously does work.
Tell your family, tell your friends. Tell anyone planning a trip to Paris to beware the gold ring scam...

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Writers At The Residence - a night at the British Embassy

Greetings Bloggettes.
Firstly, apologies for the infrequent nature of these postings. I am working feverishly to complete the manuscript of book two, am working to meet a fast-approaching deadline, and hence haven't had time to blog. My humblest apologies.
I tend to go into a bit of a tunnel when I am in writing mode. I put the blinkers on, turn off the phone, disconnect the internet, desist from looking at email or Twitter - and just try to focus.
I did surface briefly last night, however, to participate in a charity fundraiser at the British Embassy here in Paris. It was such a good night and for such a good cause, that I have even broken my self-imposed blog embargo to share a little bit of it with y'all.
I was part of a panel of Paris-based authors for an event at the UK Embassy called Writers At The Residence. Organised by UK Ambassadress, Lady Westmacott, to raise funds for the excellent local charity organisation, SOS Helpline, the event also featured fellow scribblers Heather Stimmler-Hall (Naughty Paris Guide), Alex Lobrano (Hungry for Paris), Stephen Clarke (A Year In The Merde), Charles Timoney (A Certain Je Ne Sais Quoi) and Michael Sadler (An Englishman Amoreux).
Before an attentive, generous audience of some 200 British, American and Australian expats in Paris (plus a handful of indulgent French) - and in a room of the Embassy that re-defined the meaning of the word "sumptuous" - the panel members (yours truly included) yammered on for an hour or so about French stereotypes, the worldwide fascination with France and the state of the French food industry.
From Heather we learned the French reputation as excellent lovers was not always deserved (she tactfully declined to reveal how she knew this), from Alex we gleaned that France is still the world capital of inventive, innovative cuisine, from Charles we learned how his French colleagues gather at his office door at 5pm every day in anticipation of him "taking tea" (as all good Englishmen should), from Stephen we heard how proud his mother was that the French word for "pooh" had become his trademark and from Michael we were treated to the spectacle of an old-school raconteur in full flight.
A rollicking good time appeared to be had by all (at least from where I was sitting), plenty of money was raised for the SOS Helpline and no-one got hurt (except, perhaps, for the collective dignity and pride of the French nation, so insistent were the parries and thrusts from those of us who make a buck poking fun at or otherwise highlighting the apparent absurdity of some of their quirkier habits).
Heather was moved to remark after the event that the six of us ought to take our show on the road. So there it is people: we're available for hire. Weddings, parties, bat mitzvahs..

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Samson & Delilah - a cinematic tour de force

As an Australian in Paris, I'm about as far removed from my sunburnt homeland as it is geographically possible to be. But that doesn't mean the heart-strings don't occasionally twang for the wide brown land. Bouts of nostalgia for Australia come in regular waves (more regular, in fact, the longer I live here in Paris) - and there's often nothing I like better than to take a break from all this European refinement and haute culture and lose myself in the raw, unwieldy, unchecked majesty of my sprawling country of birth.
One such bout of nostalgia sent me off to a cinema on the Left Bank last week to see a press screening of the Australian film, Samson & Delilah. And while it would be difficult to describe the experience as uplifting, I challenge anyone to go and watch this excellent film and not come away having been moved by it.
It's a simple, yet powerful tale, masterfully told. First time writer/director, Warwick Thornton follows the film's two protagonists, a pair of Aboriginal kids living in a run-down community in Central Australia. Against a backdrop of neglect, a most unlikely love story plays out - one that speaks as much to the resilience of Australia's Aborigines as it does to the casual cruelty with which they are forced to live everyday.
The portrait painted of modern Australia and its relationship (or, rather lack thereof) with its indigenous people is shocking. You feel the sense of hopelessness with which these kids confront their futures - lives stunted even before they have had a chance to begin. And yet, and yet - Thornton doesn't let the credits roll without offering up a glimmer of hope.
The performances are inspired - especially that turned in by Delilah (Marissa Gibson). You can count the lines of dialogue on one hand. In this film, the power lies very definitely in what is not said. And the cinematography is sumptious, making it a well-deserved recipient of the Camera d'Or at this year's Cannes Film Festival.
The film's designer, Daran Fulham (of Syriana and Blood Diamond fame) deserves a special shout out for creating an on-screen ambience you can practically smell and feel. The grit practically falls off the silver screen.
It will be interesting to see how this film plays to French audiences. Paris movie-goers are famous cinephiles, so there's little doubt it will be lapped up for its many cinematic virtues. The French are also unusually interested in the plight of Australia's Aborigines. Many is the time I have been quizzed by locals interested in the Aboriginal story. If the French media dedicate any air time or column space at all to Australia, it is more often than not to explore the Aboriginal predicament. Samson & Delilah will doubtless go some way to feeding that fascination.
You can always tell you've been to a good film if it haunts you for days afterwards. Samson & Delilah has enormous haunt potential. And while it may not be the kind of film to make an ex-pat Aussie like me hanker for the homeland, it is a vital story, expertly told - and a movie to make this Australian proud of the talented folk his country has a happy habit of producing.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Top tips for a budget pig out in Paris

One of the great joys of living in Paris is the seemingly inexhaustive supply of amazing places to eat. I’ve been here ten years, and until yesterday, thought I had a relatively good handle on the gastronomic pleasures to be sampled and supped in this fair city. But then the most recent edition of Olive magazine arrived in the mail. Olive is food and wine magazine published in the UK by the BBC. The good folk at Olive had asked me to contribute to an feature they were preparing for this month’s issue on navigating your way around “Bargain Paris” - the best places to eat and drink on a budget. Why they assumed an author and journalist would know how to live cheaply in the City of Light, I cannot begin to imagine. I managed to deflect the slight that I am a cheapskate long enough to churn out 800 words of sterling copy on the subject of cheap eats in Paris – almost every one of which is now appearing in an Olive mag near you.
What I discovered this morning as I read through the article, was how little I knew about the broad range of amazing eateries that hide out in this city. The article also features eating-on-a-shoestring tips from fellow Parisian foodies/bloggers/dwellers, Meg Zimbeck, Adrian Moore and Olivier Magny.
Between the three of them, they know a treasure trove of great little cafes, boulangeries, bistros and brasseries where your euro will stretch that little bit further. From Meg’s contribution, I almost had to change shirts after reading about the white chocolate pain au chocolat in the boulangerie Blé Sucré in the 12th. Adrian’s enthusiastic appraisal of Frenchie, the hip new resto off rue Montorgueil had me reaching for the phone to make a reservation, and Olivier (the only French man among us and whose company 'O Chateau' does excellent “Discover French Wine” courses) shared a couple of secrets from his leeetle black book, including restaurants Le Reminet and La Biche Au Bois.
Which goes to show it doesn’t matter how long you have lived here in Paris, or how well you think you know the eating scene, new and interesting places are always coming across your radar. So while my waistline may not thank you – Meg, Adrian and Olivier – my stomach definitely does. Merci.
Oh – and in the interests of fairness to the Olive folk, I will hold off until the end of the month before letting you all in on my top tips for budget eating in Paris ..

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

McDonalds' at the Louvre? It's a tempete in a teacup

So McDonald's have announced plans to open an outlet in the Caroussel du Louvre, the shopping mall underneath the world's most famous temple of art and culture. Quelle horreur!
If the world's press is to be believed, the French are up in arms at the prospect of le Big Mac fighting for floor space with Caravaggio and Da Vinci. According to reports in newspapers all over the world today, les francais are set to take to the streets to stop this most heinous development from taking place.
Which strikes me as rather odd.
France is the second biggest market for McDonald's outside the grand ol' US of A. According to the CEO of Maccas in France, "les restos McDo" (as they are affectionately known here in France) open at a faster rate in la belle France than in any other country in Europe, and the McDonald's store on the Champs Elysées is the most profitable outlet of the hamburger and fry empire in the entire world.
Now, I'm no great fan of the Golden Arches. I find their food frankly hideous and would rather eat cow dung than feat on a McValue Meal (unless of course I have a hideous hangover, in which case, all bets are off). But I can't help but think this apparent mass-outrage on the part of the French - as represented in the international media - is a little exaggerated.
When it comes to fast-food, the French are voting with their hip-pockets. Dominos Pizza sells more than 12 million pizzas in France every year. France is the second biggest market for take away pizza after the US.
As Mike Steinberger, author of the recently published "Au Revoir To All That: Food, Wine And The End Of France" points out, the reality of French eating habits sits at odds with the perception of a nation obssessed with food and one that only sups on the finest produce, lovingly prepared according to time-honoured traditions.
I can only speak from experience. Yes, the French eat exceedingly well. Yes, the French are obsessed with food in a way few other nations are (which is undoubtedly one of the great delights of living here) and yes, on balance, the French - collectively - have a much better diet and much healthier eating habits than people in most other Western countries (a combination of readily available, excellent fresh produce, a disinclination to eat processed foods and a healthy lifestyle marked by three meals a day with no snacking in between). But to believe that France and the French are immune to the fast food scourge that is sweeping the world would be simply naive. That's the funny thing about globalization - it has a nasty habit of being, well, global.
As for McDonald's at the Caroussel du Louvre, it's perhaps worth pointing out that the Maccas in question will take its place next to a raft of other fast-food outlets which have been operating under the Mona Lisa for years. Pizza, pasta, salad bars, doner kebabs compete for the tastebuds and wallets of the thousands of tourists who pass through there every year - there's even an all-you-can-eat Chinese buffet. The Caroussel du Louvre itself is a hopped-up shopping mall - about as tacky a place in central Paris as it is possible for there to be, stuffed to its gills with Swatch stores, Tie Racks and souvenir stalls. If Maccas is going to be situated anywhere near the Louvre, it really couldn't be in better company.
(Cartoon credit: Cathy Wilcox - via the Brisbane Times)

Monday, October 5, 2009

Review: Quai Quai -- I say oui, oui

It's hard to know what I get more excited about these days. The actual event of sitting down and eating at a restaurant or the fact that I am out at all.
With an 18-month-old doing a convincing job of otherwise filling my every waking hour, plus a book deadline looming (note to my editor: I'm working on it Vanessa - really I am .. even as I type this blog entry, I am forming winning sentences for the book..) it's usually all I can do at night to collapse in front of the telly with a plate of re-heated leftovers from a meal we cooked three nights previously.
Which is why Saturday's visit to Quai Quai - the dead-groovy restaurant perched conveniently on the Pont Neuf - was such a delight.
The Missus and I broke bread with a fellow Aussie couple, and our consta-companion Julien - a Parisian of exceedingly good taste who has been my gastronomic guide to the City of Light for as long as I have been here.
The decor chez Quai Quai depends where you are seated. The restaurant straddles a block, meaning it has two entrances and two distinct dining rooms. One is all romantic-intimatey with muted lighting and cushioned bench seats and a tasteful brown and lime-green interior design motif. The other is more canteen-esque, with simple, mismatched furniture, distressed wooden doors and more muted lighting. We were seated in the rambunctious part of the restaurant (even before we had opened our mouths..) and settled in for a three-course adventure.
The menu is, by bistro standards, both extensive and eminently affordable. Entrées start at around 7 euros and peak at 15. Mains run the back-pocket gamut from 17 euros to 35. A dessert will set you back anywhere from 7 to 12 euros.
The trio who recently opened this eatery are also responsible for Cinq Mars, the equally hip little eatery behind the Musée d'Orsay. They've created menu that is at once traditional and modern. Contemporary twists on ye olde French bistro favourites.
I kicked off proceedings with sardines marinées - which were delicious. The Missus opted for ricotta de grand-mere avec tomates confites, which was presented in a glass pot that could have been style-over-substance were it not for the fact the ricotta was creamy and the tomatoes were plump and juicy. Un demi canard avec sauce champignons was next on my eating agenda, and what a delight it was. After ten years in Paris, I've eaten my fair share of canard, but this dish was prepared and presented in an inventive, attractive way. The Missus went with the lamb, which was okay, without being remarkable. For dessert, I couldn't go past the millefeuille aux framboises, a tasty confection of pastry, raspberries and fresh creme anglaise. Mmmmmmm. The Missus allowed herself to be tempted by the pain perdu - which while tasty, was perhaps a little heavy going for an end of meal option.
It was all washed down by several bottles of a very good red wine - the name of which I will post once I have consulted with Julien.
The service was attentive and friendly, the restaurant was packed with groovy young things (ourselves not included) and the bill was reasonable. Perhaps the best part of the meal though is stepping out the door, onto the Pont Neuf, and taking a post-prandial stroll as you stare up river and drink in one of the most beautiful views in the world.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

A tale of two quartiers

They say that moving house is one of the most stressful things you can do. What rubbish. It’s easily the most stressful thing you can do. It’s three days after the fact here in Parigi. I packed up my small tribe and moved them three arrondissements to the west at the weekend, trading the down-at-heel but oh-so-groovy 11th arrondissement for the well-turned-out and ever-so-slightly-snobbish 1st arrondissement. The reasons for the move and the rationale behind the choice of new neighbourhood are too tedious to go into here. Suffice it to say a fast-expiring lease, a proprietor who wanted his apartment back, the looming threat of homelessness and the convenience of friends offering up their recently vacated space near the Louvre all conspired to make ma petite famille the newest residents of Paris’ eminently chic 1st arrondissement. Rue St Honoré, no less. I figure if you’re going to be bourgeois, you might as well be bourgeois in Paris. Parisians do an excellent line in bourgeois.
And so it’s farewell to the gritty mean streets of Oberkanmpf. Au revoir the Polish clochards who used to camp out with their flagons of rosé on the Boulevard Richard Lenoir. Bye bye to the Canal St Martin and the clutch of cosy cafes that line it. Auf wiedersehn to the wonderful collection of commercants that lined our former street, rue Oberkampf, and who kept us in cheese, meat, chocolates, baguette and croissant for the past four years. And it’s hello to the Louvre, pavements lined with tourists, the market street of rue Montorgueil, Palais Royal and Les Tuileries.
Much as we will miss Oberkampf, it’s exciting to have a new quartier to explore. I have grand plans to get a season pass to the Louvre and make regular weekly visits (how much do you want to bet I get the pass and never go?). With Palais Royal and Les Tuileries as his backyard, our little man is set for a once-in-a-lifetime experience his little mind has no way of processing and properly appreciating. We now have the arduous task of setting about the quartier sampling every fournisseur of fine foodstuffs within striking distance of our new abode. We’ve got to find a boulangerie worthy of our daily custom (there’s one across the street which claims to be the official supplier of breadsticks to the Elysée Palace – but then my friend Jules reckons they all claim that), a boucherie to call our very own and a market for the sourcing of fresh fish, fruit and vegetables.
I’ve already settled on the café where I will be putting the finishing touches to book numero deux. It’s drenched in afternoon sunshine, has electrical outlets a-plenty (for the laptop), seems to be extremely tolerant of impoverished writer types setting up for the afternoon and sitting on a single coffee, has straight-backed chairs and serves ginger biscuits with its affordable-priced coffee. Result! And the fact that it happens to look onto the Louvre and across the Seine doesn’t hurt.
Bourgeois Bryce? It doesn’t have such a bad ring to it afterall.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Vive les non-prudish francais!

Say what you like about the French, but you have to take your hat off to their no-nonsense approach in the fight against AIDS.

SIDA, as the acronym is written in France, continues to be a major preoccupation of French medical authorities, with more and more creative ways being dreamed up all the time to educate the populus on its prevention.

Last month, the city’s streets were adorned with city authority-ordained posters depiciting the condom as “man’s best friend” and “woman’s best friend”. In a city which has a collective dog obsession, in a metropolis where dogs are happily accepted in restaurants and pooch-owners lavish untold amounts of attention and money on their mutts, the campaign is a clever reminder of the effectiveness of the the humble condom in the protection against the AIDS virus.

Then yesterday, when exiting my local neighbourhood pharmacy, I came across the Tetu-sponsored series of adverts, which struck me with their cheekiness and impact.

“The condom protects against AIDS” proclaims one of the posters, featuring the beaming face of a septugenarian. “Odette – 13874 condoms”.

It’s simple, it’s shocking but most of all it’s fun. The humour inherent in the posters takes nothing away from the seriousness of the subject matter. In fact, I’d argue, by turning AIDS advertising on its head – ie: by no longer hammering people with the doom, gloom, grim-reaper messaging – and instead playing up the fun side of sex (because yes, from experience I can faithfully and happily report it can be fun) the message conveyed is all the more effective.

In the same campaign, a photo depicts a teenage boy with a look of marvel and excitement on his face. “Kevin. One condom already,” the caption reads.

The brains trust behind the campaign is the French gay magazine Tetu, which launched an international campaign calling for fresh ways to convey the condom message.

“We received an impressive array of submissions from people of all ages,” explains Tetu’s Luc Biecq. “After much consideration, the jury selected this campaign. With a condom, there is pleasure, joy, the happiness of being able to love, freely, without exclusion.”

I love this about the French. The lack of prudishness when it comes to talking about matters as basic as sex. We all do it, the posters are saying - we might as well admit it and make sure we’re doing it safely.

Bravo, I say.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

All aboard! Showgirls and books in Foyles St Pancras promotion

Shameless self-promotion alert!
For anyone who happens to be passing through St Pancras station in London in the next month or so, be sure to drop into Foyle's bookstore. Not only will you be bowled over by the style and grace of the place, you can also pick up a copy of my book, A Town Like Paris AND score yourself an exclusive 2-for-1 ticket deal for the Lido.
For any of you English folk who are jumping on a Eurostar and popping across the Channel for a leeettle taste of Paree, a night at the Lido and a copy of my tome could well be the perfect accompaniments for your mini-break (if I say so myself).

Did I mention there's even a 'Bryce Guide To Paris' in the back of this edition, with a list of all my favourite Parisian bars, cafes and restaurants?
For the uninitiated, the Lido de Paris is a world famous cabaret venue on the Champs Elysées. It also happens to be where my lovely wife high-kicks her heart out each night for a living (two shows a night, six nights a week ... count 'em).
To mark the release of "A Town Like Paris" in the UK, the Lido has banded together with Foyles to present this exclusive offer.
If it wasn't for the fact I've read the book a few times and seen the Lido 72 times (I know, tragic isn't it? The things one does for love) - then I'd be hot-footing it over the Channel myself and grabbing me a copy of the book and Lido 2-for-1 voucher.
Don't just sit there? Get thee to St Pancras! What are you waiting for?

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Gimme Shelter ... any day of the week

In what must surely qualify as the worst movie ever made, Kevin Costner’s baseball flick “Field of Dreams” is based on the premise “if you build it, they will come”.
In the case of Kevin, it had something to do with the ghosts of long-dead baseball greats gathering together in some stadium he built in the middle of a cornfield to play one last glorious game of ball. I don’t remember all the details of the film, I was too busy curled up in agony in the corner of the living room, tormented by the thought I was wasting a precious hour and a half of my life watching the damned thing.
And while the film annoyed me, it’s tag line stayed with me. “If you build it, they will come”. It’s a tag line that obviously spoke to the Club Med creative minds behind Paris’ newest hip hotel in Paris – Mama Shelter.
The place is so modern, so new, so oddly located, so shiny and so deeply design-daahling, it’s the antithesis of your prototypical Paris hotel.
Stuck out on the fringes of Paris, not far from the péripherique in the down-at-heel (but gradually gentrifying) 20th arrondissement, Mama Shelter is a neighbourhood anomaly. Interior designed by Philippe Starck, it has all the hallmarks you’d expect of the ubiquitous designer. Polished concrete walls, low lighting, oversized lamp shades and lots of black.
I recently treated the Missus and myself to an overnight getaway at the hotel. I know, it sounds odd to take a mini-break in the city in which you live, but when you have a 16-month-old otherwise taking up your every waking moment, five uninterrupted minutes with your spouse huddled under a freeway overpass would be a luxury.
We stayed in the suite (don’t look so shocked – the hotel distinguishes itself for offering modern, comfortable, designer rooms at very reasonable prices), and enjoyed a super comfy bed, a small but perfectly formed living area and a terrace. The view from the terrace across the high-rise, low-rent apartment blocks and Ibis Hotels lining the peripherique is hardly the most inspiring – and it should be said that if you are coming to Paris for the first time or want to look out your hotel window onto a typically Parisian vista, this ain’t the place for you.
Rather smartly, the folk behind the hotel have turned Mama Shelter into a self-contained destination. The downstairs bar and restaurant area is huge and open plan. By night, the u-shaped bar, the full-size ‘babyfoot’ table and the top notch DJs keep a sleek crowd suitably lubricated and entertained. By day, the restaurant does good modern French at reasonable prices. We tucked into a couple of faux filets and a bottle of Crozes Hermitages over lunch on the restaurant terrace – giving as it does over a disused railway line – and could not have been happier. The rhum baba and moelleux au carambar for dessert didn’t hurt, either.
But it is probably the Sunday brunch that deserves the biggest wrap. In a city where a thimble full of scrambled egg and mini-pancake with fruit salad is considered “un brunch” – and will set you back 25 euros – Mama Shelter’s 39 euro, all you can eat Sunday brunch is a revelation. The food was truly excellent. Inventive, fresh and plentiful. I can’t remember the last time I encountered such good service in Paris. The house policy in Mama Shelter seems to be “let them sit and linger” rather than “quickly turn the table”. And the ambience created as a result was just about the warmest and most welcoming I have encountered in a long while.
It’s not the most obvious place to stay if you are headed to Paris for a once-in-a-lifetime visit, but if you’re popping over for a mini-break, or like me, treating yourself to a little holiday in your home town (weird, I know, but that’s the way I roll), then you would go a long way to find a better destination than Mama Shelter.
Two thumbs up.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Ten Tips On How Not To Look Like A Tourist In Paris This Summer

It’s August in Paris. And the way I can tell is because the city is almost completely devoid of Parisians and packed to overflowing with tourists.
The tourists you can spot a mile off. They dress differently, behave differently and comport themselves differently.
And while I would never argue that people should be anything other than what they are, sometimes (especially in Paris) it helps if you are able to blend in with the locals.
Not only will you be afforded marginally better service in the three cafés and restaurants that are open in the city in August (well, maybe not, but you’ll at least be given the benefit of the doubt fractionally longer by recalcitrant wait staff), you’ll also make yourself less of a target for the shysters who lie in wait to harass, rip-off or otherwise cunningly relieve you of your hard-earned travel dollars.
So, in the interests of ensuring you get as much out of your Paris experience as possible, I humbly present a list of ten tips on how to not to look like a tourist in Paris.

1. Don’t wear white sneakers

I know they’re the most comfortable shoes you own and I realise you will be doing a lot of walking while here in Pareee, but nothing screams “tourist!” more than a pair of bright white Nikes or Reeboks. When was the last time you saw Christian Dior send white sneakers down the catwalk? Try to find a comfortable walk shoe in leather – or go with a sandal. White sneakers are a particular no-no for ladies. The only time any self-respecting French woman would don a white sneaker would be to play tennis or go to the gym (which is about once in a blue moon).

2. Don’t wear TEVA sandals
(or any variation thereof).
Yes, I know I suggested a sandal above as an alternative to a white sneaker. But there are sandals and then there are TEVAS. The latter are fine if you are at a beach or backpacking through the Greek Isles, but they will only betray you as a tourist on the otherwise elegant streets of Paris.

3. Don’t wear hiking boots
See my comment above in the white sneaker entry about sacrificing comfort for style. You’re visiting The Louvre, not scaling Everest. The most testing terrain you will encounter in Paris is the white gravel surface of the Tuileries. Do you really need carbon-fibre soled, waterproof clodhoppers to conquer the rues of Paree? I think not.

4. Don’t wear sun visors or baseball caps
I know they’re practical because you can shove one in your backpack at the start of the day, but I’d say two things here:
1. the sun in Paris is really not that strong. You want full-force furnace UV rays? Visit Australia. A simple sun-screen should serve you perfectly well.
2. it’s going to ruin your hair – and no Parisian would ever step out in public without a carefully coiffed do. Even Parisian men who sport the scruffy, voluminous hair look spend hours in front of the mirror.

5. Don’t wear your camera around your neck
Wear a camera around your neck and you might as well accompany it with a large sign that reads: “I also have a large wad of euros in my wallet”. Either invest in a compact digital camera or get yourself an elegant shoulder bag to keep your camera in.

6. Invest in a pair of designer sunglasses
Sporting a pair of sunglasses that really only belong on a ski slope will betray you as a tourist faster than you can say “sacré bleu” (which, by the way, no French person ever says…). Sporty sunglasses of the multi-coloured, reflective and wrap-around variety will only draw unwanted attention to you.

7. Try to avoid wearing a backpack
It’s tough, I know, when you are going to be out all day, trudging about the city, taking in sites, to not have a carry-all on your person. But backpacks that feature water canteens hanging off them or elaborate clip and elastic systems will mark you as a tourist. You want to blend in? Get yourself a nice leather carry-all – or, if you’re a lady, one of those bottomless pit handbags.

8. Don’t wear a fanny pack
People don these monstrosities under the perverse belief that their wallets and passports are safe if carried within them. They might as well paint a bullseye on them while they’re at it. Nothing screams “steal me!” like a fanny pack.

9. Don’t carry a guide book
By all means take a guide book with you on your wanderings, but don’t walk down the street with it in your hand.

10. Keep your voice down
You’re not in Kansas any more (and lest my friends in the great state of Kansas take offense to this, let me point out I am using this phrase in its metaphorical sense rather than its literal sense). The French are a quiet, relatively understated people. They don’t feel the need to shout when they are in conversation with a neighbour. They don’t yell across Metro carriages or scream at one another in a bus. I know the experience of being a foreign city can sometimes be disorienting, unsettling or even exciting, but try to keep the voice down when you are talking to one another. You’ll make more friends among the Parisians and attract far less attention.

Oh – and number eleven (and this is probably the most important one) try to at least learn a phrase in French. Even if the only thing you learn is “Excusez-moi, je ne parle pas francais” you will be amazed at the difference with which Parisians will treat you. It’s a beautiful language with a noble heritage. The French are very proud of their language and feel like it’s under seige. At least do them the courtesy of acknowledging they have their own language by using even a sentence of it. Imagine how unimpressed you’d be if a French person bowled up to you in your home town and started spouting French at you, arrogantly assuming you would understand them. Besides, you will be amazed at how quickly a Parisian will warm to you if you at least make an effort with their tongue. Give and take, people. Give and take.

Now get out there and enjoy.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Review: La Société: The Costes-ification of Paris food continues..

The latest salvo in the Costes brothers campaign to flood the French capital with uber-stylish yet ultimately disappointing eateries comes in the form of La Société. Housed in a former jazz club next to Café Flore and across the rue from l’eglise St Germain, it’s a spectacularly beautiful looking restaurant. Clearly no expense has been spared on the interior design and furnishings. I was there the other night with a group of friends. It was all muted lighting and white leather banquettes and honey-brown lacquered walls and marble accents. It practically screams “money”! What a shame then that no attention has been paid to the menu. I’m all for sticking to a winning formula, but just once I would like to visit one of the Costes family’s ubiquitous Paris properties and not be forced to choose between a salad of haricot verts (shoot me now), mandarina crispy duck (always more crisp than actual duck) and a club sandwich (which at 20 euros is frankly ridiculous). Two of our party had carpaccio for entrée, which looked like it might have been okay had it not been smothered in a kind of salad cream. I opted for “le thon facon nicoise” – which was essentially a fancy nicoise salad, with admittedly well-cooked and very fresh tuna steak. But at 32 euros for a bit of salad and fish, you can’t help but wonder what they’re spending the money on. Then you notice the wait-staff and it all becomes clear. An exquisite example of French womanhood, to a person, they seem to have floated direct from a catwalk to a Costes near you. And while their waiting skills are apalling, one suspects they haven’t been hired to provide a running commentary on the provenance of a steak or the suitability of a wine. And while it’s true that man cannot live on bread alone, a little less style and perhaps a tad more substance would make La Société a wholly more satisyfing eating experience. But then, taking a look around at the bling-and-cosmetic-surgery obsessed crowd of fellow diners, you get the distinct impression that people are here to be seen, not fed.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Montana: where the cool kids hang

It’s not often that I get out to nightclubs nowadays. Quite apart from being a dad, and being on the wrong side of 37, I don’t much like to suffer the indignity of clearly being the oldest person in any given room.
But when a mate is about to get married, and the wife selflessly hands you a 24-hour pass out to help said mate celebrate his last days of being an unmarried man, it demands a bit of an extraordinary effort.
So it was that I found myself recently striding to the door of Montana – the newest, hippest bar/club in all of Pareeee.
Now, I’ve encountered some tough doors in my time, but nothing has ever compared to the steely reception we received when we bowled up to Montana. Tucked behind Café Flore in the otherwise preternaturally dull 6th arrondissement, Montana is guarded by a team of burly gorillas under the sway of a 16-year-old fashion victim. It took some convincing before the waif would let us pass, but once inside, we began to understand that selective door policies definitely have their benefits. Especially if you can get past them.
Montana is the latest establishment in the ever-growing stable of cool-kid haunts owned and operated by Paris graffiti artist-turned-entrepreneur, Monsieur André. He’s made a packet for himself by buying up interesting old bars and turning them into dens of beautiful-people iniquity. He launched his Paris bar empire with Le Baron, in the 8th arrondissement, a former brothel that, about four years ago became the place to see, be seen and dance ironically to hits of the 80s.

The Montana interior is textbook André – a kind of red-velvet boudoir meets punk-rock with a touch of biological textbook theme. You know, that old classic. The ground floor bar area is tiny. All the better for huddling up to the gaggle of perfectly formed folk who are either movie and TV stars or look very much like people who should be movie and TV stars (it was dark. If there was someone famous in there, I was none the wiser).
The cocktails are ludicrously expensive (20 euros a pop, excuse me?). Even a beer will set you back 12 euros. But you can still get a bottle of Moet for a comparatively reasonable 180 euros. Downstairs is where the action is. It’s a tiny space – no more than your average cave voutée (a typical, Parisian stone lined basement), expertly decorated and with just enough room for a DJ to spin a mix that segues effortlessly from Amy Winehouse to Flashdance.
To any of you beautiful young things who were there the other night and wondering who the old fella was dancing like a madman in the corner, it was I. And I thank you for your forebearance.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Chateaubriand: substance and style in equal proportions

Let’s get one thing straight from the outset. I’m not a nouvelle cuisine kind of a guy. Whether it’s because I actually like to feel as though I have eaten when I go to a restaurant, or because my palate is not so refined as to appreciate the subtle flavours of half-a-parsnip with a side order of air, I’m not one to recommend restaurants where style is more important than substance. Which is why it surprises even me that I can call myself a hand-on-heart, card-carrying member of the Chateaubriand fan-club.
Ever since this unassuming eatery set up shop in Paris’ relatively non-descript Goncourt quartier, it’s been on the receiving end of all sorts of good press. If you gave the place nothing but a cursory glance, you’d be forgiven for thinking the lavish praise heaped on the resto has been largely due to the stylish art deco interior and an employment policy of only engaging dark-haired, slightly scruffy, intensely Latin-looking waiters with five day growth. People seem to like a pout with their Paris eating experience – go figure. But get yourself a table at Chateaubriand, as I did on Friday night with a group of friends, and you soon discover that this is one Parisian bistro a la mode which is not simply floating along on a cloud of mousse, jus and undue hype. Or, to mix metaphors completely, this particular Emperor definitely has clothes.

Each Friday night, chef Inaki Aizpitarte presents a set menu that simultaneously pays homage to his Basque roots while hinting at his bold sense of gastronomical adventure. There’s no choice. If you want to eat at the restaurant, you get what you’re given. Basta. It’s a bold business strategy, and, given there was standing room only in the room on Friday, one that appears to be working.
For 45 euros per person we were treated to a five course “taster meal”. The menu is prepared so that each dish finely complements the next one, and builds in a pleasant palate crescendo. We started with an amuse-bouche, which, to be honest, left me cold. A few cubes of sardine, some finely sliced radish, a few other shavings of similarly raw legumes and a cold jus of some description. It wasn’t the most promising harbinger of things to come, but nor was it offensive. I’m prepared to give Inaki the benefit of the doubt and say my palate isn’t sufficiently sophisticate to appreciate whatever he was trying to do with the amuse bouche.

Things started looking up when the next course arrived. Described on the menu as “mackerel, green vegetables, cucumber water” (whatever that may be), it was delicious. Not least because of the “salicorne” – a type of seagrass – the raw cornichons and almonds with which it was served. Next came the “lotillon au foin, carottes” a finely balanced dish of white fish and fresh vegetables. I love a bit of lotte in my life – it’s a fish with a fantastic texture, cooked to airy perfection by Mr Aizpitarte & Co. (forgive me if I , keep gratuitously keep dropping his name into this blog entry – I just find Basque names with their x’s and z’s and general unpronuncability brilliant). Easily my favourite dish of the evening was the pigeon (and there’s a phrase I never thought I’d utter). We were gravely informed at the start of the meal that the pigeons were sourced direct from the (apparently) reputable pigeon farmer, “Paul Renault”. I’ve no idea who Paul Renault is, but his name was whispered with such reverence by our waiter, I can only assume he is the king of pigeon farmers. Though I can’t help but speculate the provenance of the pigeons was emphasised lest any of us clearly uncouth diners worried Mr Aizpitarte had spent a profitable couple of hours pigeon collecting down at the Pompidou Centre or Les Halles. Wherever the pigeons came from, they were extraordinarily good. Served with finely sliced beetroot, a bitter radicchio-type leaf vegetable and cranberries, it was melt-in-the-mouth good.
Things went a little downhill in the dessert department, when a promising-sounding “fraises chantilly” came out as a bowl of strawberries swimming in cream. I guess it was nothing less than what was advertised, but it seemed a kind of clumsy, heavy exclamation point on which to end an otherwise delicately balanced meal.
Overall, an excellent meal. And one that even managed to sate the Showgirl’s impressive apetite. And believe me, in the words of Bananarama, that’s really saying something.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Happy Birthday France

You've got to hand it to the Frogs. They sure know how to put on a show.
It was Bastille Day in Paris this week and the city once again threw itself into an uncharacteristic frenzy of celebration and happiness.
Proceedings began - as they traditionally do - on the Monday night (the 13th) when the collective forces of the French fire fighting
The Showgirl and I had the good fortune to be invited to a friend's home in the Australian Embassy to watch the traditional Bastille Day fireworks. As luck would have it, the Embassy looks directly over the Eiffel Tower. We're talking so close you can almost see the whites of the eyes of people as they go up in the elevators.
And so we stood, champagne in hand, and watched god only knows how much of our taxes explode in a kaleidoscope of colours against the backdrop of the world's most famous landmark and the world's most beautiful city.
That it also happened to five years to the day that the Showgirl and I had met, also at the Australian Embassy at a function for the Ambassador, only made it all the more special.
Though I still think the best bit about the entire night was the fact we didn't have to sit through the Johnny bloody Halliday concert on the Champs de Mars to see the fireworks. I mean, what does it say about the state of contemporary music in France that a man who dominated the music charts 1960 is still top of the pops in 2009?

My Big Fat Greek Holiday

Faithful bloggettes. Sincere apologies for the radio silence. La famille et moi have been gallivanting around the European continent - variously taking advantage of early summer cheap deals and attending weddings of friends.
The last week of June saw la famille Corbay disappear on our very own Greek odyssey. After ten years in France, and more Euro mini-breaks than you can poke an Easyjet at, neither the Showgirl nor I had ever been to Greece.
And so we packed up the Little Big Man and trundled south. Our ultimate destination was the idyllic island of Amorgos, in the Cyclades. But we couldn't pass through Athens and not stop to doff our cap at the Akropolis.
Athens is a dive of a city. A baking hot concrete jungle, from which we couldn't wait to escape. We did the Parthenon - which might have been a spiritual experience were it not for the millions of cruise ship tourists with whom we walked the hallowed mount and the almost complete lack of infrastructure that the Greeks, in their infinite wisdom, have decided to create around what must be one of the world's most famous tourist sites. I can only assume they have purposefully gone for the pared-back, untouched look - to add a touch of authenticity to the experience. You've got to admire a city that invites the world to come and see one of the wonders of the ancient world but then cannot be bothered to put even a fence or walkway around it.
But I digress.
We then spent a glorious week of sun-worshipping on the beautiful little island of Amorgos. Perched out on the eastern fringe of the Cyclades, Amorgos is hard to get to, but defnitely worth the journey. It was the setting of the Luc Besson film, The Big Blue (or Le Grand Bleu) and exceeded all expectations. We ate like kings, we swam, we slept, we read and I wrote. Lots. The locals could not have been more welcoming. I can highly recommend it. And if it's a comfy hotel you are looking for, with all mod-cons you cannot go past the Yperia Hotel, in the port town of Aegiali. Ask for Adonis, and tell him Bryce sent you.

Friday, June 19, 2009

There's no question who wears the pantalons in the Chirac famille

So Jacques Chirac, former French president and famed ladies man, has been finally busted by his long-suffering spouse, Bernadette.
As widely publicised in the media today, the old Casanova, famed almost as much for his extra-marital romantic liaisons when in office as for his political achievements, was caught out by his wife yesterday during a public engagement in Correze.
Pants-Man Chirac is seen in this YouTube clip to be openly flirting with a younger blonde woman while his wife performs the public speaking duties at the rostrum barely four feet away.
Bernadette's withering look, mid-speech, appears to stun the former Prez back into line, giving perhaps a moment's insight into exactly who wears the pantalons in the Chirac household.
And yet what amazes me - as it has done for the entire ten years I have been living here in France - is the fact that Chirac's infidelity is widely celebrated in France, where infidelity is still practiced as a national sport.
Chirac himself has made no secret of his infidelity, admitting publicly that he has loved "many women" in his life "as discreetly as possible".
And while I would never seek to make a moral judgement on the way people choose to live their lives and the manner in which they choose to conduct their marriages (each to their own, I say), it's nontheless curious to see what some might consider one of the worst French stereotypes (all French men cheat on their wives) being reinforced and celebrated with such nudge-nudge, wink-wink gusto.
My own personal experience is that, as with every country, marriages come in all different shapes and sizes here in France. There's probably no more infidelity here than in any other country in the world. The French just care less about hiding it. And maybe that's healthier. But I can't help but think French women are the losers in all of this. Stoic, long-suffering, but ultimately cheated. My only hope is that Bernadette has been busy with a few extra-marital adventures of her own.

Who doesn't like a bit of street grit with their poulet?

The world is understandably fascinated with French cuisine. It sits right up there at the top of the world's gastronomy ladder as one of the most refined, accomplished, complex and proud culinary traditions. And for good reason. For centuries, French chefs have been setting the pace in international cooking circles, and while new world competition has emerged - and is fierce - French cuisine still manages to serve as a benchmark in cooking excellence.
More than just technical competence with the blending of foodstuffs and flavours, the French food dominance stems from the national obsession that is eating in France. Your average French person, be they a good cook or not, will go into raptures about a steak they had the other night or the texture of a comte cheese they consumed after dinner. Food occupies a central part of all French peoples' lives, to the extent that living is just the stuff they do to kill time between meals. And it makes for one of the great joys of living here.
The French relationship with food is such a tactile and intimate one. You'll see customers at the butcher's feeling a cut of beef for tenderness or old ladies in line at the market fondling a salmon steak or squeezing a goat's cheese to check it for "ripeness". It's also a relationship that is delightfully devoid of the the kind of borderline anal, hermetically-sealed, health-and-hygeine approach that we have to food in countries like the US, UK and my homeland, Australia. At home, all foodstuffs are packaged in styrofoam and plastic wrap, kept in spotless supermarket freezers or served by vendors wearing gloves, hair nets and using tongs, as if the food they are serving is somehow toxic and untouchable. And while there is certainly some comfort to be drawn from the fact the food you are buying at least APPEARS to have been hygienically prepared and handled, there's something earthy and honest about the French approach.

Take for example the chicken rotisserie at the butcher's shop on my rue. It sits there on the footpath, day-in, day-out, with plump chickens turning slowly, sending a heavenly aroma up the street. Cars, buses and motorscotters fly by on the busy thoroughfare that is Rue Oberkampf, kicking up all manner of dust from the street. Pedestrians scoot by, pushing prams with wailing babies, coughing, talking, laughing and sneezing. And still the chickens turn, separated from all of this by two flimsy glass doors. At the base of the rotisserie, and basting in the fat of the chickens above, sits a pile of new potatoes, bubbling away. During winter, it's the job of the chicken lady to ward off the more enterprising members of the homeless contingent who live down on the boulevard Richard Lenoir and make occasional raids on the rotisserie, scooping out as many potatoes as they can before they are chased off by a carving knife-wielding butcher.

In my home country, this butcher shop would be closed down. A phalanx of clipboard-carrying Public Health And Safety officials would descend on the butchery and slap a condemned sticker on the old rotisserie, labelling it a grave threat to public health.
And maybe it's not the cleanest, most hygienic way to prepare roast chicken. But I challenge you to find a more tasty poulet anywhere in the world.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Anne Frank The Musical: Fun for all the family

Every now and then, whilst wandering the streets of Pareee, I come across something so mind-bogglingly hilarious I can scarcely believe it's real.
Take, for example, Anne Frank: The Musical.
Now, I should preface this blog entry by stating up front that I haven't seen this production, and hence, am not in a position to give an opinion one way or the other on whether it makes for a rollicking good night at the theatre. I should also state up front that I am among that minority of the population who read her diary and found Anne Frank plain annoying. While I would never seek to belittle or diminish her plight - or that of the Jewish people more generally during WWII - I found it hard to get past Ms Frank's whiney teenage tone. Important contribution to history and the literary canon: yes. Enjoyable read: not so much.
So to then discover that some enterprising Parisian theatrical impresario has concocted a musical based on the Diaries of Anne Frank just leaves me scratching my head.
Quite apart from the fact that there cannot be much in the way of scene changes (they lived in a hermetically-sealed one room apartment for God's sake), I can't begin to imagine how you fashion a musical number out of the Frank family experience.
Are audiences leaving the theatre humming the tune to that show-stopper "Sssh! The Germans Are Coming!"? Or are they being moved by the pre-interval power balled "Not Beans For Dinner Again!"?
We can only hope it has Mel Brooks' paws all over it. His "Springtime For Hitler" musical-within-a-musical in the hit Broadway show and film, The Producers, set a new standard for Nazi-inspired musical theatre. And as a genre, it has been sorely underserviced ever since...

Saturday, June 6, 2009

Introducing les NoPos ... Les Nouveaux Pauvres

If you've lived in Paris for any period of time, you've probably come across "les bobos" - that peculiar breed of Parisian who, despite their bourgeois background make an active effort to live as bohemians. Hence the moniker 'bobo' - les bourgeois bohemes.

These are people who have had an excellent education, a comfortable upbringing and hold down good jobs with respectable salaries yet who prefer to cloak themselves in a veneer of bohemia to improve their street cred. There's nothing cool or even remotely artistically credible about having parents in the 16th arrondissement and a family holiday home in Cap Ferret. And so they slum it in ateliers and lofts in the 10th and 11th arrondissements, smoking hand-rolled cigarettes and wearing designer trainers with their H&M jeans.

For as long as there will be aristocrats in France (and let's face it, despite a big-ass revolution back in 1789 and a concerted campaign of head lopping, the aristos are alive and well in la belle France), there will be "bobos". But since the global financial meltdown, a new subset in French society has emerged. A subset of which I am proud to be a member.

They're called "les nopos", or les nouveaux pauvres (the new poor). Unlike les bobos, whose down-at-heel lifestyles are a denial of their healthy bank accounts, les nopos lead lives of indulgence they simply cannot afford. Their bank managers may be phoning every other day, their credit cards may have been cancelled and their daily lives may be a tightrope walk across the abyss of bankruptcy, but they continue to lead lives of relative excess, working on the theory they may be dead tomorrow.

Les nopos as a social construct were first brought to my attention by my good friend, the ever stylish Esther Loonen. As well as being one of Paris' most celebrated new children's fashion designers (Lili And The Funky Boys), Esther and her hubby, Jules are the Showgirl's and mine partners in newly impoverished Parisian crime. Despite the ever present spectre of financial disaster, we forge ahead, eating at a restaurant here, organising a modest little European mini-break there. It's not exactly Marie-Antoinette, let-them-eat-cake excess (that's the exclusive preserve of people who actually do have money to fall back on, and besides, our deeply instilled Protestant work ethic would never allow for that kind of completely irresponsible behaviour), but there is a certain cavalier fatalism to it all.

Sure, the pile of available euros seems to dwindle with every passing day. Yes, unemployment in the Euro zone has climbed to an historic high. Of course, working as a writer in one of the world's most expensive cities while supporting a wife and child is akin to madness. But what are you going to do? Sit around at home eating lentils? Spend the day nervously watching movement of the global stock markets? Life is short. If you're going to take time each day to count anything at all, it should be your blessings, not your savings.

No, global economic crisis or not, I refuse to be bowed. I reject the recession. I am a proud, card-carrying member of les nouveaux pauvres. Vive les nopos!

Now, where did I put that Greek Island travel brochure?