Coypu Revisited

I finished working yesterday lunchtime, and took a lazy afternoon in Edmond de Rothschild park in Boulogne-Billancourt (same suburb as the Albert Khan park I wrote about previously). I wanted to rendez-vous with my old friends the coypu, and within minutes of arriving Papa Coypu jumped out of the pond to say hello… Well, hello and do you have any food for me? It’s hard to befriend a coypu without some nutritious snack lurking upon your person (raw carrot being a particular favourite), though M. Coypu made do with my stale bread.

rothschild jardin, boulogne, paris park


After bashing the living daylights out of my rock hard bread against the stones below, I proceeded to throw the crumbly debris into the water, whereupon the usual array of wildlife soon engulfed us. The slender black shadows of carp glided beneath the water keen to partake in the feeding frenzy; smaller catfish rose up between the multitude of ducks and geese, and pigeons were content to keep at a distance, nibbling on the deposited crumbs of the bread massacre. Those poor terrapins were once again at the mercy of all, pushed back under the water at every opportunity.

terrapin, goose, coypu

An elderly couple tried to sacrifice their granddaughter to King Coypu, dangling her little naked legs perilously close to this aquatic rodent. In actual fact, these coypu are very gentle and timid. One little girl even tried stroking one, and another man enticed it to pull circus tricks using just leaves as poorly disguised food.

coypu in France

Eventually two baby coypus came along with Maman Coypu.

Maman coypu

Whilst they generally ruled the pond, and received a larger share of food than any of their neighbours, it didn’t stop the odd goose from trying to have a peck.

coypu boulogne, paris

rothschild parc, coypu

coypu and geese

wildlife in paris parks

I know some consider coypu to be pests, but I’m rather taken by these critters. To disguise my blatant bias, I will end with a couple of moorhens and a mummy duck.

moorhen paris

paris ducks

Albert Kahn Park, Boulogne

Albert Kahn is one of the prettiest parks in Paris (well technically Boulogne-Billancourt, but you can still get there by bus or metro from Paris même). Considering it’s almost on my doorstep I haven’t visited it nearly enough (only once prior, in 2008). My favourite park is still Bagatelle in Bois de Boulogne (especially when the roses are in full bloom), but Albert Kahn is a very close second, and much easier to find.

albert kahn park, paris

albert kahn, japanese garden, bridge

I went yesterday (the park, just like the Paris’ museums, is free on the first Sunday of the month, however the entrance fee is only something like 1,50 euros). Navigation of the park becomes a lot trickier with the addition of a pushchair. At one stage we were lifting it across a series of rocks on the path when a park attendant politely told us pushchairs won’t allowed in this part of the garden. We’d actually just worked that out for ourselves (not that it was signposted or stipulated), following our brief off-road endurance test.

flowers, paris park

The park was establish by Albert Kahn (a French banker and philanthropist), and was used as a meeting place for French and European intelligentsia until the 1930s. Albert Khan ended up bankrupt into the 1929 Wall Street Crash, after which the garden became open to the public.

albert kahn

Monsieur Kahn was also well known for his ambitious project to take photographic snapshots across the planet, sending photographers to every continent to record images following the new invention of colour photography. The collection became known as “The Archives of the Planet”. There’s a nice little exhibition centre at the garden entrance that was not there in 2008, featuring illuminated colours photographs from the early 20th century, and some film footage too.

albert kahn jardin, boulogne billancourt

As you might expect from a Japanese garden, it is meticulously cared for, and features different areas, each with their own mood and flavour. There are narrow wooded walks, a formal English garden, flat grassland and streams, hills and bridges, ponds and Zen sculptures. If you’re a tourist on a tight schedule and you like gardens, this really has something for everyone, and would be my recommended ‘must see’ park.

japanese gardens, paris

albert kahn, paris, parks

jay bird

Expat vs Immigrant – is it just semantics?

Why is it we do not hear the term illegal or legal expat, and is there really any difference between the terms expat and immigrant? I’ve pondered on this issue previously, but decided to take the time to think about it in a little more depth.

An expatriate comes from the Latin ex patria – ‘to be out of your native country’, and an immigrant is ‘a person who migrates to another country, usually for permanent residence’. The definitions and terms seem quite interchangeable however.

Perhaps a generalisation in the motives behind the move could explain the difference? An expat is generally moving sideways in an economical sense, trying out a country before deciding whether to remain. An immigrant often seems to be moving upwards, possibly severing their ties to their homeland to a greater degree. There are of course plenty of expats moving to better their circumstances with no intention of returning, and immigrants taking a lesser wage, who may equally be unsure as to how long they intend to remain.

Is expat just a term used amongst people (primarily British, American and Canadians) themselves; whilst the French will consider all foreigners immigrants?

Why do the words ‘immigrant’, ‘alien’ and ‘foreigner’ all evoke a sense of negativity? Can we blame the media for this connotation? Take the Polish in England. The majority only moved temporarily for work with no intention to stay, but who refers to them as expats?
Has immigrant or foreigner become synonymous with people who take the jobs of the ‘natives’, scrounge on the welfare system etc. etc. Do ‘immigrant’ and ‘foreigner’ denote tones of desperation whereas ‘expat’ speaks of lifestyle choice? The term alien seems to fare no better, although when Sting sang about a legal alien in New York it seemed quite poetic, almost quaint.

I have lots of questions about the semantics, but ultimately I think it comes down to prejudice and snobbery. I’m personally quite happy to refer to myself as an expat, immigrant or alien.

Striped Onion Johnny Shirts – latest Paris vogue

Three weeks back, I returned from a visit to the UK and started seeing those stereotypical ‘Onion Johnny’ blue striped tops. Initially I thought the tourists were flooding in, but then the more I ventured around Paris, the more I saw, and those wearing them were actually French. Over the past three weeks this latest vogue is gathering in momentum. I imagine it won’t be long until the beret and French cravat make a come back!

onion johnny, striped tom, paris vogue
Photo by Penningtron.

That’s just reminded me of an incident on the metro last year, when Madame Grenouille started moaning about how all the youth of the district now had ‘black berets’. I scratched my head, and retorted, ‘but I haven’t seen anybody in a black beret’. It then dawned on me that she had actually said ‘blackberries’.

Lucian Freud Exhibition, Pompidou Centre Paris

Whilst Madame Grenouille took care of Bébé Têtard yesterday, I visited the Pompidou Centre in Paris with her opera singer friend, to see Lucian Freud’s painting exhibition. Now aged 88 and described as a living master; I’d seen one or two paintings by Sigmund Freud’s grandson in the UK, but never so many of his works congregated beneath one roof. At 12 euros a ticket, the entrance isn’t cheap (although you could use it to visit the other exhibitions inside the Pompidou Centre), but I was eager to visit, especially having missed J M W Turner’s art exhibition at the Grand Palais the other month.

lucian freud, pompidou paris, freud exhibition
Copyright, Lucian Freud

“They” describe Lucian Freud as one of the most (if not the most) important living masters, but I’m not sure who “they” are supposed to be. I can think of a number of living artists who are arguable better in technique, skill and draftsmanship than Freud, but then the subjective nature of art is a fickle thing. I think where Freud succeeds is in his distinct, intense and personal interpretations of his subjects. Some of the earlier draftsmanship and academic technique of his youth gave way to a different thick impasto style of painting. Some of the first paintings I saw had inaccurate distortions in perspective, but Freud made it work. Rather than a painting that was mechanically correct, the size of the paintings (which can’t be appreciated via a book or on the Internet) sucked you in with their warped perspective of everyday items be it a sofa or a plant pot. Some of the anatomy was also out, but give me impasto skin tones over a new breed of artist who meticulously copies all aspects of a photograph, any day of the week.

two plants, lucian freud, pompidou paris
Copyright, Lucian Freud

Lucian Freud himself comes across as bashful and very reticent in actual life, though his paintings certainly do not, and whilst not controversial in an Egon Schiele erotic sense, Freud is in no way conventional. Certainly a worthwhile visit. The exhibition closes on the 19th July.

sue tilley, lucian freud painting, france, paris
Copyright, Lucian Freud

E.Dehillerin – Paris’ Oldest Kitchen Shop

Looking out of the window of the Alsace restaurant, where I sampled my first proper Choucroute Garnie, lies Paris’ oldest kitchen shop – ‘E.Dehillerin’, now 190 years old. On my full belly of fermented cabbage, Mme. Grenouille (who once upon a time went to catering school, and also worked in one of the Eiffel Tower’s pricier restaurants) said we should take a look as the shop is very interesting though a little on the pricey side.

E Dehillerin, kitchen shop, paris kitchen, oldest kitchen shop in paris
E.Dehillerin: 51, rue Jean- Jacques Rousseau – 75001 PARIS
View on Google Street Maps

I should have probably picked up on the fact that the majority of people inside the shop were tourists; coupled with the lack of price tags on any of the items. As you step inside, they have those wonderful copper cooking pots, that you can picture hanging in a stone country kitchen near a roaring fireplace. We did enquire on the price of a particular knife, and the salesman seemed to just pluck a magic figure out of the air, to which I grimaced and whispered ‘keep walking’… I daresay you’d receive more attention if you are a professional chef and not a tourist or clueless amateur. The products are of a very high quality though, and if you venture downstairs, it feels like you’ve wandered into somebody’s old storage cellar, unchanged for the past 190 years. We bumped into an American couple down there who started talking to us when they overheard Mme. Genouille telling me I really should see Julie & Julia with Meryl Streep, and then the conversation changed to the correct way to cook a boeuf bourguignon!

dehillerin kitchen
Photo Credit: Travelingmcmahans

Choucroute Garnie – Alsace

Choucroute comes from Alsace – that little elongated, squashed up blob on the right of France, squeezed up tightly against Germany and poked from behind a little by Switzerland. I’d tried a little sauerkraut from the market, but was taken to an Alsacian restaurant in Paris for the full experience. Of all the foods I would normally wish to try, shredded cabbage, left to ferment by various lactic acid bacteria, wasn’t my first choice. Sometimes French experiences must be tried first hand (with the exception of eating snails).

taverne karlsbrau paris, alsace restaurant, choucroute garnie, alsacian

The French have had this dish since around 1648, and it doesn’t follow a fixed recipe which means your fermented cabbage can be served with all manner of meat and usually a couple of boiled tatties. Our huge dish came with an assortment of sausages, potatoes and ham, far in excess of what two people could finish.

choucroute, paris alsacian restaurant

So… What did I think about the Choucroute Garnie experience? Comme Ci, Comme Ça seems an apt way to put it. Filling; not bad; worth trying, but forgettable too… I was assured this wasn’t the best choucroute dish Parisian Alsacian restaurants had to offer.

choucroute restaurant, fermented cabbage

Paris Erotica and the Orsay Museum

paris erotica, 1970's kitsch erotica, erotic, paris, orsay museum

If you were to take a recent visit to Paris’ Orsay Museum, you might be forgiven for thinking you’ve entered the museum of erotica. Courbet’s L’Origine du monde, couret, origin of the world, L'Origine du monde, nude, erotica parishas long been displayed here: an unbashful painting of the female genitalia, whose focal point doesn’t leave much to the imagination. However, perhaps the French are a little more prudish than you might think – when Jacques Henric released his novel using the painting for the cover of his work in February 1994, police entered a number of bookshops to remove it from display.

If Courbet’s painting doesn’t do it for you, perhaps this bit of 1970’s Kitsch erotica is more to your taste?! When it comes to domination and subservient fetishes, you can’t do much better than this unique table or chair. With a piece of glass and inflatable doll (or a very co-operative girlfriend) I dare say it wouldn’t be too much effort to create your own – it would certainly make for a talking point when you invite your friends over for dinner.

orsay erotic art, paris erotica, 1970's nude chair

I hadn’t been to Musée d’Orsay for a good year or more, so it was nice to see new paintings on display (alongside a few of my favourites that appear to be part of a more permanent collection). The architect Hector Guimard (from the French art nouveau movement) has a number of buildings close to where I live and is well known for the Paris metro entrances.

hector guimard, art nouvelle, paris, orsay museum

hector guimard, architect

I did have the misfortune to dine in the museum. A good friend from England was visiting with his girlfriend. We were all starving, so didn’t have much choice but to visit the Orsay restaurant. Despite the grandeur I wasn’t expecting much, despite the extortionate prices, and as it transpired, my expectations won’t exceeded in the slightest. They forgot one meal, and the rest was cold and tasteless. Still the room was rather pretty… not much compensation.

orsay museum restaurant

narrow house, paris, museum orsay
A very narrow house on the way to the Orsay Museum.

orsay museum statue, sculpture

Paris winter snow and the Arc de Triomphe

paris in snow, champs elysee, arc de triumph

Paris has been hit by the cold front again, with a little frosting of snow today. It rather pales in comparison to Old Blighty, but we city dwellers relish the scenic snow-coated city (well I like it anyway). I have to credit Mme. Grenouille for these photos as she took them early this morning on her way to the office, whilst I took care of Bébé Têtard.

paris in snow, champs elysees, arc de triumph

I got to sample the icy streets of Auteuil, though didn’t exert my rights at the zebra crossings, as the roads looked a little slippery, and cars here won’t stop for you regardless of the season.

paris in snow, champs elysees, paris winter, arc de triumph

Paris New Years 2010

Whilst the TV broadcasted video from around the globe of all the major cities celebrating 2010, what do we see of Paris – some twinkly lights on the Eiffel Tower that go off every hour regardless of New Years; I didn’t see or hear a single firework. Whilst I’m not one to celebrate Pope Gregory XIII’s calendar, Paris has never-the-less been pretty cheap this year.

paris city hall, 2010, new years
Paris City Hall

pompidou centre paris, 2010, paris new year
Pompidou Centre

Mme. Grenouille’s Opera singer friend invited us over for a meal to see in 2010, so with Bébé Têtard in tow we caught a bus (all public transport in Paris is free on New Year’s Eve) and went to meet them in the 3rd arrondissement, as they live just a couple of minutes from the Pompidou centre, which itself is next-door to the main city hall.

1st January, 2010, paris new years

Monsieur Opera’s partner (a relation to Dominique de Villepin, although I didn’t pry to ask in what way), is also multi-talented and fluent in Russian/English; they played piano whilst we were entertained with a private opera. Monsieur Opera’s last performance was at Notre-Dame, but unfortunately I missed out on that having to look after Têtard. Their slim build masks the deep and powerful baritone voice – it was a privilege to behold, although I had to move out of the room with Têtard whose little ears weren’t so well accustomed to the loudness.

notre dame, new years, paris, 2010, jan 1st
Notre Dame, 1st January 2010, 2:30am.

notre dame new years, paris

Their talents also extend into cooking, and from some fantastic starters, we went onto foie gras with fig, and later pork, sweet potato and chestnut, finishing with a homemade Charlotte aux noix.

foie gras, new years meal

We always knew calling a taxi would be tough given the date, but had believed the metro would be operating all night long. When we got there it was closed! We tried the other lines, but met with the same fate, and faced the prospect of wheeling Bébé Têtard more than an hour across Paris, through the cold and crowds of merry celebrators.

camel in paris, new years, 2010, january 1st
This poor old camel was drawing punters into a restaurant opposite the Pompidou Centre

Paris is a lot more civilised than my memories of British cities at night, and whilst I did have to wheel around a couple of reservoirs of puke, and saw a tourist picking themselves off the pavement, there were no skirmishes or testosterone driven hordes rampaging the streets. People were queuing by the dozen around single taxis however, but by pure luck, we found one that had just dropped somebody off, and banged on the window before they made off. I managed to get to sleep by 4am.