Sunday, 27 November 2011
La Bellevilloise is a bar/cafe/restaurant and concert venue in the 20th arondissement, which used to be the working class distict of the city but has come up in the world and now sells its brand of shabby chic at expensive Parisian prices. It's an interesting area, though, with lots of hidden treasures and secret places to walk. We went for the Bellevilloise everything- you- can- eat brunch, a cosy way to spend a Sunday afternoon in December, especially if you never want to feel like eating again, but it would also be a fun place for a night out, as it has different areas with concerts and exhibitions as well as the restaurant part.
Le Bataclan is another concert venue, where I went to see the Irish-American trad/punk band Flogging Molly on Saturday night. It's a good size for a concert, with enough space for a large audience but not so big that you end up being too far away from the band. There were seats available on the balcony, then down in the stalls was the standing room/dancefloor section. I didn't know much about the music before I went but the concert was a lot of fun and there was a real atmostphere, with lots of audience participation, dancing, crowd-surfing and pogo-ing going on. Sometimes there's so much on in Paris that it's hard to choose what to see, but this is a venue I'll definitely be adding to my list of places worth checking out again.
Wednesday, 16 November 2011
But in Germany, I was destined to be disappointed. We drove south-west of Munich to the small and picturesque town of Fuessen (where the streets are lined with shops selling Lederhosen and you suspect there is probably a genuine market for them) and, at my request, our host agreed to drive us a couple of kilometres up the road to Austria.
Monday, 14 November 2011
Thursday, 10 November 2011
Not being particularly bothered about going to the cemetery to visit our dead relatives at the beginning of the month, Understanding Frenchman and I took a four day weekend and went to Germany instead.
We flew into Munich airport and a friend picked us up to drive us to his house near Augsburg and it was time for our first famously German experience: travelling at 180km per hour down the motorway. I've been to Germany several times, but this was the first time I had been on the open road in a car, and it was an excellent opportunity to gather further food to fuel my obsession with cross-cultural driving comparisons. (And yes, I understand that not everybody shares this particular interest. Hold out for the next post if you want to know about something less nerdy.)
My first impression was that it didn't actually feel that fast. Perhaps it's the design of the roads, or perhaps it's because German drivers don't sit up backside the of the car in front nearly as much as their Gallic neighbours, but it all seemed pretty safe. Also, unlimited is only the de-restricted speed-limit and their are lots of places where you have to stick to 120 or less. Finally, they have electronic signs which vary the speed limit according to the traffic, so you would never be able to do 200km/h if it was really busy or there was a traffic jam up ahead.
I wasn't totally convinced, however, that being able to travel at such high speeds was a massive benefit. The combination of stretches with speed limits, the fact you have to give way to a person who is pulling out in front of you means that you have to be able to accelerate pretty fast to take full advantage or the rule. My little Clio and all the similar cars I see on the roads in France would just never make it.
Which I guess explains why the Germans have a thriving automobile industry and tend to drive really big cars.
As the cold weather sets in and the nights grow darker, I have been buying carpets for my chilly flat, digging out my warm pyjamas, resurrecting a herbal tea habit and thinking a lot about French attitudes to comfort. I'm starting to notice that they're different.
It began with comfort food. The concept doesn't really exist here. Food is for fuel, food is for socialising, food is for pleasure, but it won't cheer you up on a dark night as you snuggle up on your lonely sofa.
And then coffee shops. When I was in my teens, Starbucks and Costa were booming in the UK precisely because you could spend your whole afternoon sprawled over a comfy armchair, chatting to your friends. In a Parisian coffee shop, you are nose to nose with your companions and elbow to elbow with strangers, sitting on a hard chair. It's great for intense intellectual conversation or people watching, but not exactly like the comfort of your living room with better beverages and no washing up. But then in France, the coffee is small, dark and energising and the women seem to have far fewer friends to catch up with.
And that made me think, perhaps the concept of comfort just isn't that valued here. The wordconfort exists, but it isn't often used with a spiritual connotation. I had to look up the translation for "cosy", perhaps because it's not a very common word. (It's douillet, in case you're wondering.)
Today, in search of some good old Anglo-Saxon mollycoddling, I abandoned my consumer and gastronomic principles and went to Starbucks for a caramel latte. But guess what?
Starbucks in Paris doesn't have any sofas.