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?