Posts Tagged ‘Paris’


Walking around a big city with a knowledgeable local friend is undoubtedly the best way to see it – but if you don’t have a handy buddy, here’s the very best next thing – a date with a Greeter!  Which is what we had yesterday in Paris and what fun it was.

We met Jean-Claude outside the Lamarck-Caulaincourt metro station and set off up the back streets of Montmartre.

Like most people, I’d previously slogged up the hill to admire the view, the Sacre Coeur, the painters in the square etc, but hadn’t really been around the area that was until recently a village.  There are some beautiful little cobbled streets full of pretty houses which used to be run-down dwellings; these are now gentrified and so sought-after that they never get as far the local estate agent’s window.  One of the benefits of being with Jean-Claude is that he could tell us how much these were selling for and which actor was tucked away in that particular house with the stunning roof-garden. Fascinating.

Without our Greeter, we wouldn't have known this was the shop in 'Amelie'

Without our Greeter, we wouldn’t have known this was the shop in ‘Amelie’

How Does it Work? You email a couple of weeks before you get there, with your language and telling them which day you want your tour.  They then reply with a suggested Greeter and neighbourhood. If it’s not one you wish to explore, you can ask for a second suggestion.  Their Greeters, between them, offer French, English, Spanish, Italian and Portugese tours of many Parisian locations. 

Who are they?  Generally people who have nothing to do with the tourist industry – our Jean-Claude works in finance – but who love the area they live in and want to share it with visitors.  It is entirely voluntary on their part – you can, if you wish, give a small online donation for admin. They are 50/50 M/F, some retired people, others young pre-family types.

Other places?  It’s a global organisation that started in NYC back in 1992 and in Paris in 2007.  France now has the biggest network with  20 associations…but there are others in China, Croatia, Australia and so on.  Our nearest is the Marseille Provence Greeters association.  Details on www.globalgreeternetwork.info

Thanks to our Paris Greeter

Thanks to our Paris Greeter

Our walk was a great success.  Jean-Claude suggested 3 hours but, with aching feet after 2 hours (those cobbles!!), we dragged him off to a café for coffee where he introduced us to some of his local friends.

What a fun way to spend a morning in Paris!

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Reading novels set in France is very satisfying for us locals.  We recognise familiar characters, landscapes and situations.  But ‘The Provence Cure for the Brokenhearted’ is in a category of its own as it is set in the village of Puyloubier and has characters going in and out of Aix and even Trets!

It tells the story of a young American widow who comes to stay in her childhood holiday home in Puyloubier, with her autistic son and rebellious teenage niece.  And it’s the story of the beautiful old Provencal house which is ‘responsible for mending hearts’.

The author who lives in Florida came over to live in the village for 6 weeks to research the book – and has faithfully recreated the narrow streets, ancient houses, the vineyards and the shops right down to the Cocci market!  She has even added in an authentically described M. le Maire.

I did find the first part – 100 pages of plot-setting in the US a bit long – in fact the whole book could be edited more to make it tighter, but it’s enjoyable despite some longeurs.

And I really admire her industry – coming to Provence and getting such a successful book out of it.  12.90€ from Book In Bar.


Now to early 20th century Paris for our next novel.  ‘The Paris Wife’ by Paula McLaine tells the story of Hadley Richardson, a shy 28-year old, who met Ernest Hemingway in Chicago.  Married, she found herself moving to jazz-age Paris where the young couple lived cheaply in tiny neighbourhood apartments but were soon moving in the right artistic and literary circles.

This novel is typical of a new genre which resurrects people who have played a supporting role in history or in famous lives – books by Sarah Dunant and Tracy Chevalier have shone focus on women who had otherwise been forgotten.  Paula McLaine though has not had to invent her character – she has used Hemingway’s own writings, contemporary biographies and Hadley’s letters as a solid base for her reconstruction of the short but passionate marriage.  It left me wanting to know more about both characters – and read some Hemingway.

A good account of a charismatic couple and of Paris in its artistic heyday.




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Lots to do and see in Paris at the moment – Aixcentric had a quick trip this week. One of the high spots was the photographic expo by Robert Doisneau on the subject of Les Halles – a subject which had a surprise in store for me.

He had been photographing this big central market from 1930 to its demolition at the end of the sixties. With his typically creative eye, he focused on the characters amongst the stall-holders, the shape of the lovely old building, the reflections in puddles on rainy days, crisp shadows in the sun – somehow b&w photography and Paris just go together so well.

 Then, in colour, he recorded the sad faces of Parisians watching as the market buildings were razed to the ground in 1969. With the market and its mess cleared tidily into the suburbs, the coast was clear for developers to build a charmless concrete commercial centre and metro exchange. (more…)

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So M&S are moving back into France. The new 3-floor store on the champs-Elysées opened on Thursday to enthusiastic Parisians – big queues and sausages sold out within 90 minutes.

Read more: http://www.guardian.co.uk/business/2011/nov/24/marks-spencer-returns-paris-queue

They plan 3 more giant stores in malls, have launched a French website promising fashion deliveries to French addresses within 48 hours, and tantalisingly say that they have ‘plans for other stores outside Paris’.

Meanwhile in Aix, this week there have been long traffic queues due to blockades by the regular market-stall holders followed by confrontations at the Rotonde between police and various factions due to the Christmas market opening.

The Christmas market has now displaced the usual Thursday market which itself was displaced from its pitch around the palais de Justice because of security concerns.  My understanding was that the town authorities gave them the cours Mirabeau pitch and longer hours (up til 3pm) on Thursdays but no markets on Tuesdays.  Now their Thursday market has been moved to the Ave des Belges which they feel is too far away. 

I really feel sorry for them.  But then the Christmas chalet people have each stumped up 3,300€ to rent their pitches for the season and Christmas markets do bring in the tourists.  It’ll be interesting to see how the town authorities resolve this one in the coming days.

Meanwhile, I’ve got an idea for Marks and Spencers – there’s a lovely site waiting for you at the Rotonde now the tourist office has moved – wouldn’t that be great?

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