Friday, October 22, 2010

Something for the Week (22nd – 31st October)

It’s the half-term holidays and, strikes permitting, I’ll be away for the week. For this reason, I’ve left you not with a weekend selection, but with some suggestions for two weekends and the week in between.

Unquestionably the biggest event of the weekend, but questionable in its positioning. Here’s why the event makes me squirm a little, but as a counter-balance, here’s someone who is enjoying it.

The FIAC also features a number of ‘off’ events, and you’ll find a useful list of those here. Not mentioned here though is the YIA Artfair (Young International Artists), a new event that aims to promote the work of a dozen or so artists under the age of 40. Once again though, its reserved only for collectioners, the press and cultural institutions, but if this describes you, drop them a mail.

Fete de la Science

Far more open and completely free is the Fête de la Science this weekend. See for a list of the events taking place around the Paris region, but highlights include a series of films at the Grand Rex cinema, a look at robots, including an artificial rat at the Institut des Systèmes Intelligents et Robotique (ISIR), and free entrance to the Musée des Arts et Métiers and the Cité de la Science at La Villette.

Paris 1950: The Golden Age of the Building
Another interesting exhibition at the excellent Pavillon de l’Arsenal, this time on the subject of constructions in Paris in the 1950s. The exhibition (photo above) examines a unique period largely ignored in the history of Paris architecture despite a remarkable inventivenes with new urban forms and new usages and an unparalleled affection for domestic arts.

Until Novemver 7th

Pavillon de l’Arsenal
21 Boulevard Morland , M° Sully-Morland

Brune, Blonde

Do gentlemen prefer blondes? This exhibition at the Cinemathèque Française investigates the subject of how the cinema (as well as painters, photographers and sculptures) has represented blondes, brunettes and redheads, and how hair has become a theme apart in film. Mixing film extracts, television clips, photographs and paintings, the exhibition is an aesthetic triumph.

Until January 16th 2011
Cinemathèque Française
Rue de Bercy, M° Bercy

Weekend de Lutèce
DJ by night, keen Paris history investigator by day, Sylvanie de Lutèce will be organising her monthly events this weekend. On Sunday, a visit to the remains of Roman Paris, and on Monday evening, a discussion on the subject in a friendly neighbourhood bar - with perhaps the visit of a couple of gladiators!

Halloween is something of an outdated event in France, celebrated mostly only in theme parks such as Disneyland and the Parc Asterix. However, as it once again falls on a weekend, with a public holiday the next day, expect several bars and clubs to use the theme to attempt to attract a few extra punters!

A good list of the currently organised events can be found here.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

The FIAC, or art as a commodity

A week or so after the end of the Paris Fashion Week and the Mondial de l’Automobile, another important business fair is coming to the city this Thursday (until Sunday 24th), but this time the commodity is art. The annual FIAC (Foire Internationale d'Art Contemporain) event in Paris has become something of a circus, but there is no denying its rising importance in the art world.

Based largely in the Grand Palais and in the gardens of the Louvre, the event attracts a large portion of the world’s most prestigious private art galleries who come to display their offerings to potential clients. The fact that one of the prizes being awarded at the event is the Prix Artfloor Platinum Mastercard should tell you all you need to know about the key resource required for visitors.

The FIAC is not just one event though, but also a series of smaller off events. A useful list of these can be found on the Vingt Paris website,
who also point out helpfully that “unlike the fashion world’s week of exclusive velvet rope spectacles, FIAC is open to the public”. Well, yes, this is true, but only if you have a spare 28 Euros to spend.

Hardly an inclusive event then, but one that instead seems to perpetuate the conception of modern art as play thing of the rich. In times of recession though, is art, like gold, a safe haven for battered capital? The Art Newspaper seemed to suggest otherwise in April of this year, but that shouldn’t stop investors from flocking to Paris this weekend. Let’s just hope they look at the works on display as artistic creations and not as a commodity with the potential to realise a substantial future increase in value.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Something for the Weekend (15th – 17th October)

A bric a brac of events this weekend, which is apt, as two of my recommendations concern outdoor markets!

L’Objet du Cœur at the Puces de Vanves

Another excuse to visit the Puces de Vanves flea market this weekend as many of the stall-holders will be displaying an ‘objet du cœur’, or something that has particular significance for them. These objects, which may be precious or modest, rare or seemingly banal, will generally not be for sale, but will instead give visitors the chance to strike up a conversation with the traders.

Puces de Vanves, M° Porte de Vanves

Saturday 16th /Sunday 17th, 7am – 5pm

Vide Grenier de la Folie Méricourt

On Sunday, a vide grenier (attic clearance sale) will be held in the Folie Méricourt district of the city, a zone between République and Bastille which is moving dynamically upwards. Although between 150-200 stalls are expected, it will also give visitors the chance to discover some of the interesting shops that have recently opened in the area. Several have promised to join in with the event including the Fargo record shop which will be selling second-hand/vintage music, clothes and books, and the Atelier Nadja Carlotti which will be handing out cake and tea to shoppers from 3pm!

Rue Folie Méricourt/Rue Ternaux, 9am – 7pm


Basing itself on the very influential South by Southwest music event in Austin, Texas, the MaMA (Marché des Musiques Actuelles) is comprised of 60 concerts in 18 different venues over 48 hours! As this is France, it will also include conferences and debates, but the principal goal is to help the French artists featured (most of whom sing in English) to sell as widely as possible. To this end, several of the concerts are reserved for music professionals only, but the spirit of the event should spill out into the surrounding bars.

Full details:

La BnF à l'heure anglaise
A very British weekend at the Bibliothèque nationale du France, where readings, projections and discussions will all be centred on British culture. Organised in association with Shakespeare and Co and Thé des écrivains, the event will feature literature – naturally – but also music, television, theatre and football!

Full details of the event can be found here.


Finally, this is the last weekend to see one of the strangest exhibitions in Paris at the moment. To celebrate its 40th anniversary, the SIIAP water sanitisation company has organised a photo exhibition on the theme of toilets around the world. Held outside on the Boulevard de la Bastille, the event features 46 large-scale photos of toilets from 31 different countries.

More details:

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Strikes in Paris

If you are planning to come to Paris this weekend, here are a few websites you may want to keep an eye on:

The Metro: (only available in French - the English section of the site contains no information about the strikes.

SNCF: (including Eurostar, Thalys...): (again, no English version, but just know that 'supprimé' is bad news!).

The airports:

Currently Eurostar trains are unaffected by the strike and the Metro is running almost as normal, but delays can be expected at airports and on the trains and buses between the airports and Paris.

You should also be aware that another day of protest has been organised for this Saturday (16th) which will mean many people in the streets, but also the possibility of some sites and museums being closed.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Finding a hotel with a heart in Paris

Finding the right hotel for a trip away is never an easy task. Although online searches can reveal the best prices, it is more difficult to be assured of reliable quality control. To fill this gap, Thierry Leclercq and his brother Jérôme left their jobs to set up Heart of Paris Hotels, a hotel reservation website featuring only establishments that they have personally visited and approved. Here I talk to Thierry about his motivations and about how you can get the best from a visit to Paris.

Why did you create Heart of Paris Hotels?
Both my brother and I have a long experience in online hotel reservations, but after working for hundreds of hotels located in 40 countries, we decided to concentrate on the place that we know the best - Paris. We also decided that we should not take all hotels, but only the ones which are well located and will in our mind give entire satisfaction to travellers.

How do you differ from other hotel reservation sites?
Above all I would say our hotel selection. When we visit hotels before featuring them, we put ourselves in the position of the traveller and ask "would I like to stay in this hotel?". Most hotel search websites take hotel information from databases provided by other companies and the information is not checked, meaning travellers can have bad surprises.

Some hoteliers are very surprised when I say we can't accept their hotel without visiting it first. They are even more surprised if we finally refuse their hotel. Since March 2010, we have refused an average of 2 out of 3 hotels.

How do you select the hotels?
First we check the location of a hotel which is very important to us. We won't send a customer to an area where we would not stay ourselves. Secondly, we look at the hotel website, and check forums and customers reviews. If a problem appears several times on an important point such as cleanliness or staff behavior, we immediately refuse the hotel. If we are satisfied by the information we read, we visit the hotel, meet the owner or a manager and take a decision. The manager must be motivated by the partnership with Heart of Paris Hotels. If we can't feel it, the best thing to do is to refuse the hotel because we are quite sure problems will happen with travelers even if the hotel is a good one.

What should people look for when booking a hotel?
Location, description, facilities, services and traveller reviews. However, you need to be very careful with reviews as some are written by the hotel itself and some by its competitors! The reviews on our site though are only written by genuine customers!

Of course the price is very important for many guests but you should also be wary of the discounts offered by the hotels. Discounts are calculated on the public rate basis, and some hotels use a high public rate that it is only ever charged for a few days per year, so it looks as if they are offering really great discounts. For similar hotels and rooms in the same location, I suggest travellers compare the room rates and not the discounts.

Is it still possible to find reasonable hotels and good service in Paris?
If you visit during high season, especially when there is a major exhibition, it is very difficult to find low rates, good service and great locations. During low seasons in winter and in August, you can find good prices in very charming and well located hotels. Weekends are often cheaper though and you can find very interesting rates.

Finally, what are your recommendations for the ideal Paris weekend?
Paris has so much to offer and it would be stupid to have a weekend ruined by a poor choice of hotel. I would suggest choosing a lively area as it is always more convenient in the evening to go back to the hotel without taking a taxi or public transport. Hotels are soundproofed so you don't need to worry about noise from the street.

Each traveller has different desires and expectations, which is why we offer hotels with such different atmospheres. We know that the atmosphere of the hotel very much contributes to a successful stay. Romantics will prefer hotels such as Les Grands Hommes, Hotel de Latour Maubourg, and L'Horset Opera. If you are more trendy, The Five, The Seven and Le Fabe, with their colours and light effects will be up your street. If you a fan of design and technology, I am sure the Design Sorbonne, equipped with a large screen IMac in all rooms, will delight you. There are also boutique hotels where you will feel at home, such as Villa Madame or Hotel du Bois.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Something for the Weekend (8th – 10th October)

It’s the battle of the districts this weekend as three parts of the city will be competing to attract the crowds to their events. Elsewhere, choose between quiet reflection or bawdy burlesque!

Fete des vendanges de Montmartre
It’s grape-picking time, and in Montmartre, with its tiny vineyard but magnified history, it’s also party time. Over a 5-day period until Sunday, the hillside will be the scene of street parades, markets, live music and activities for children. There may of course also be a drop or two of wine!

The full programme can be found here :

Quartier Libre, Bastille
Another famous district, another weekend of events. Described as ‘le premier festival artistique et culturel dédié aux artistes, artisans et commerçants indépendants du quartier de la Bastille’, the event promises a weekend of themed walks, photo exhibitions, fashion shows, food tasting and live music, all organised by the independant traders and artists in the newly proclaimed ‘Carré Bastille’ kingdom!

Find out more about the association and this weekend’s event here:

Portes Ouvertes artistes, Goutte d’or
The artists of la Goutte d’Or, the area alongside Montmartre which was heavily featured in the novels of Emile Zola, are organising their first open doors event for eight years. Once again, such an event is more about discovering a neighbourhood and pushing open the normally firmly shut doors, but there does seem to be at least one genuinely interesting event taking place. The St Bernard church will be the site of an installation of 3D art, with visitors needing to put on glasses to fully appreciate the experience!

Paris Burlesque Festival
From the 6th to the 10th, the Bellevilloise will be the scene of the second Paris Burlesque Festival. A big success last year in its first edition, this year it will have a circus/theatre theme in hommage to the travelling shows in which the Burlesque developed. The event mixes shows, striptease classes, exhibitions, films, debates and DJs!
6th-10th October
La Bellevilloise
19-21 rue Boyer, 75020

Nous ne notons pas les fleurs
I have been fascinated with the concept of the Bétonsalon, an art and research center situated within the Diderot University building in the new Paris Rive Gauche district, but have not yet actually visited the place! The launch of this new ‘event’ this Saturday could give me the opportunity to do so.

Organised by a duo of artists who call themselves bo-ring (Virginie Bobin et Julia Kläring), the project takes a quote from Saint-Exupéry’s Le Petit Prince as its starting point – ‘Nous notons pas les fleurs dit le géographe’ (We don’t record flowers said the geographer). Featuring contributions from a host of people (including the excellent Triple Canopy), the event, mixing films, conferences and performances, ‘reflects on the overturn of history by geography as the main tool to apprehend the post-modern world, through the open-ended metaphor of the desert’.

Vernissage Saturday 9th, 2pm – 9pm, then running until 15th January 2011
9 esplanade Pierre Vidal-Naquet, 75013
Rez-de-Chaussée de la Halle aux Farines

Journée mondiale contre la peine de mort
October 10th is the 8th World Day Against the Death Penalty, this year dedicated to the USA which executed 52 people and handed down 106 death sentences in 2009. To mark the event, a series of events is planned. Cities around the world will be displaying 100 posters from international artists calling for the end of capital punishment. Called Poster for Tomorrow, this event will be held at the Musée des Arts Décoratifs in Paris.

Other events in Paris include a photo exhibition at the entrance of the Parc des Buttes Chaumont by Caroline Planque, featuring the faces and stories of people associated with the condemned (partners, parents, priests…), and the biggest flashmob ever organised for this cause!

Full details of all events can be found here:

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Is French cuisine dead?

The Independant newspaper in the UK today published an interesting debate on the ever-popular subject of French food and its supposed decline. Arguing that the country's culinary skills are indeed in decline, food writer Rosie Boycott argued that "there's no doubt that something has really sagged in terms of French home cooking", and that "even the markets are more lacklustre than they were".

Arguing against the motion, writer and television presenter Jonathan Meades, who lives in France, pointed out that "there is an elemental contact between food and people. That has not changed. Nor has the extreme freshness of French food".

Both agree on one thing - "There are no fashions in French food. There isn't even much evolution". There may be little new to get excited about in the restaurant scene in Paris, but is that a bad thing when you can always rely on your old favourites?

Personally I'd put myself somewhere between the two parties. I disagree with Jonathan Meades's assertion that "English supermarkets seem pathetic compared to those in France" (has he really ever been to a Leclerc or a Carrefour?), but certainly agree with him about comparisons between restaurants in the two countries. Yes, as Rosie Boycott points out, you can often find a nice pie in a pub in England, but there are very few decent independant restaurants outside of London.

Rosie Boycott and Jonathan Meades will continue their debate on 12 October at King's Place, King's Cross, London N1, as part of the London Restaurant Festival. Perhaps they should try to do the same in Paris - I'm sure the reaction in the room would be quite heated!

If you are one of those who think French food was better in the past, check out Badaude's hilarious Cuisine de Meuh series. You may be surprised!