Time is going terrifyingly quickly as always here, though the weather does not seem to be progressing along with it. During the end of the month Paris has been swept up in a bitterly cold spell – we even saw another dusting of snow. That being said, the weather did behave itself for my first visitor of 2013, Miss Ali Oates. Having been a guest at various places during my mini travelling spree in January, Hôtel Paris is now fully booked with reservations from mid-March to the beginning of April. Despite the chill, the sun miraculously surfaced almost simultaneously with Ali’s arrival at Gare de Lyon and graced us with its glorious rays for the whole weekend. That evening we had dinner in a cute little Italian/New York inspired restau called Méli Mellow on my road which I have been meaning to go to for ages. Serving pizzas, bagels, burgers and salads at a reasonable price in a laid-back and welcoming atmosphere, this is definitely a place I would recommend either for lunch or a less extravagant dinner out. Walking past the place at least twice a day, I can also say it attracts a lot of couples. Whilst myself and Ali with our bottle of wine were obviously having a romantic evening, we did agree that bagels are not the most practical dish to have on a first date… They were, despite the mess, very, very good though. Plus, Ali was also very impressed with the chef’s choice of music, who was making up for the fact that he was working on a Friday night with his rap playlist – this was possibly a little bit out of place (especially with the strong presence of lovey-dovey couples), but it definitely made our evening. After deciding it was a bit too late (and cold) to trek to my friend’s house party on the outskirts of Paris, we joined some fellow Warwickers for drinks at Bastille in the rather imaginatively named Yellow Mad Monkey. Whilst the bar definitely had a lively, almost Anglophone-like atmosphere, arriving after happy hour hit us hard – drinks were between 7/8 euros from my memory.
We dragged ourselves out of bed early the Saturday morning to make the most of Ali’s full day in Paris. Having already had several visitors, I now have what I call my standard ‘Sykes tours’ promenade, starting with a hike up l’Arc de Triomphe, a meander along Champs-Elysées, a loop around Place de la Concorde, a quick visit of La Madeleine, une petite pause in the Jardins des Tuileries and finally the end at the grand Palais-Royal and Le Louvre. After a picnic consisting mainly of pain au chocolat in the Jardins des Tuileries, we met up with another Warwicker Mairead for a visit of Le Louvre. I have been once before when here for a French course when I was seventeen, yet the vast and immense museum is the sort that I don’t think one can ever conquer in one visit. I actually managed to get a picture of the Mona Lisa this time without any tourists’ heads which was a winner! Plus, we also had a look around Napoléon’s apartments, which were very lavishly decorated and furnished to say the least.
After joining Emma for a quick hot chocolate at Bastille to warm ourselves up, we made our way to the Quartier Latin for pancakes in a crêperie I have already visited on rue Saint-André-des-Arts. Here we cracked upon a bottle of cidre – an almost given accompaniment when eating crêpes. We then all discovered something we never knew about Emma in a rather comical event, as the restaurant’s cat took quite a liking to our table, to the sheer terror of Emma who ran off shrieking, refusing to come back and letting her crêpe go cold until the cat had been removed. After meeting up with a group of my international friends, we had a drink in a bar before making our way to the Latin Corner for Caroline’s birthday (this has become a sort of tradition it would seem now!) In comparison to Cristina’s ‘sexy dance’ the previous month, Caroline’s was definitely more… spicier to say the least. I’ll spare you all of the gory details (I also don’t want embarrass poor Caroline!) Myself and Ali managed to cram a lot of touristy stuff into her last half-day here, starting at Père Lachaise (seeing as this is literally in my backyard I know where most of the well-known graves are almost by heart) before jumping on the metro to Montmartre for some lunch, another area I know pretty well.
After accompanying Ali to the station, I was straight off the 13eme to celebrate the Chinese New Year with Emma. Whilst we have both experienced celebrations in London’s Chinatown, we weren’t quite sure what to expect here in Paris. Having decided to have a bit of a nosey and pick up some groceries from the Asian supermarkets there, we were pleasantly surprised to see quite a spectacle. We should have known that we were in for an impressive display from the moment we entered McDonalds, which was absolutely heaving and laden with Chinese balloons and lanterns. The atmosphere that spilled out onto the street was also buzzing and bustling with a real sense of a community spirit. With Emma being of Vietnamese/Chinese origin, I was with an expert who was quite impressed by the event’s authenticity in comparison with the now rather tourist dominated celebrations in London. I could therefore also be given an explanation behind all the traditions and displays. Emma was surprised to see shrines with candles and incense on the street with clementine fruits, which I was told is a symbol of good fortune. We then excitedly followed the far-off sound of firecrackers in the hope to see a dragon dance.
Mingling between the densely packed crowd, we watched lions dancers perform around the local restaurants, which is supposed to bless businesses with prosperity for the upcoming year. Once the smoke had subsided, the music faded and the various mysterious creatures had retreated, the crowd began to disperse. Thinking that was it, we headed over to our usual supermarket, where we were told that all shops were closing for le grand défilé. Whilst slightly disappointed that we couldn’t do our shopping, we were intrigued to see what was to follow what had already been a very impressive display. The hour long procession along Avenue de Choisy was full of vibrancy, colour and energy, featuring traditional dress from various regions and some more dragon dances. The performers even insisted on a bit of crowd participation, as one boy cheekily broke away from his group and playfully prodded me with his horse head. Once the festivities died down, we finally got our shopping done and I tried a Chinese pastry – un boule de sésame. Being rice based and filled with a kidney or soya bean flavour, the texture and taste is very different from your average French croissant! I love trying new things each time I come to the 13eme with Emma, who can obviously recommend what’s best.
The end of February brought the sad news of my South Korean friend Kangha’s departure. Whilst this year is great for making friends from around the globe, it’s pretty hard to say goodbye when people leave. For Kangha’s farewell do we went to a Korean restaurant in the first arrondissement called Chikoja. The food was great and the portions were very generous – somewhere I would recommend for any fan of Asian cuisine. Being one of the very first friends I made here, Kangha was particularly hard to say goodbye to. Myself, Grégory and Kangha reminisced over how we had met at the first Apérismus in September – and the rest, as they say, is history. We then realised that we were la base du groupe (the core of our little friendship group), which was about to be broken. We had our emotional goodbyes in the metro – a standard place for drama in Paris. That evening I became more aware than ever about how quickly this year is flying by.
February is definitely a month of festivities here in France – this year I have learnt about so many holidays I didn’t even know existed. Linked to Mardi Gras (Pancake Day), La fête de Carnaval is a relatively widespread holiday across Europe where people go out in costumes, celebrating with parades with singing and dancing in the streets. On Mardi Gras I had seen several odd looking people sporting masks and daring makeup during my travels around the capital. I had asked myself what was going on, but brushed it to the back of my mind, thinking that one often sees bizarre sights on the metro. It was only was I was invited to next Carnaval– themed Apérismus event that it all clicked, and I was then filled in on the concept of La fête de Carnaval. The event took place in the suitably named Bar N’importe Quoi, where students gathered disguised in costume for the evening. Having come straight from work, I was a bit of a cop out and did not come in costume. Seeing that there were a few others also wearing normal attire, I didn’t feel so bad – that was until I saw how much effort some people had made. One of the girls had even shaved her hair in order to successfully pull off her get-up!
A busy and enjoyable end of yet another month gone in Paris. With my 21st coming up, March in Paris is bound to be memorable.
Méli Mellow: 55 bis, rue de Bagnolet, 75020 Paris
Yellow Mad Monkey: 8 rue de Lappe, 75011 Paris
Chikoja: Restaurant Lamen, 14 rue Saint-Anne, 75001 Paris
Bar N’importe Quoi: 16 Rue du Roule 75001 Paris