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March 30, 2006

Guerrilla Gardeners

I've just listened to a cool interview on BBC radio 2 (hoorah for internet radio) about guerrilla gardeners who sneak around at night gardening on waste ground and other public areas like roundabouts etc.

There's probably a dodgy side to it (already people are phoning the show saying don't plant trees on roundabouts!), but it sounds great to me!

Here's their website Guerrilla Gardeners.

Apparently they have lots of tactics, including 'seed bombing' where they just chuck a load of seeds out of the car window. I think I've seen something similar in Paris, although it only seems to grow pigeons...

March 26, 2006

Tours of Paris

A while ago I started writing some articles. One of my ideas for an article that never quite reached fruition was to describe some of the different ways to walk around Paris (and walking is the *only* way to see Paris). Rather than waste all that inspirational spittle, I'll slap it out here just for the sake of it, and maybe a real article will appear one day in the distant future...

The Arago Medallion tour

arago2.jpg This is my favourite walkabout when you're not bothered about the tourist attractions. Paris used to be the world's meridian line (until the Brits decided otherwise!), and one of the guys who helped create the line was a french astronomer called François Arago.

arago1.jpg In 1994 an artist called Jean Dibbet laid about 130 or so bronze medallions into the pavements along the line of the meridian, right across Paris. The actual number of medallions isn't clear, and finding a map to the exact locations is almost impossible, even on the internet. This is the first reason I like this tour - it's completely up to you to find the medallions, like a city wide treasure hunt.

The second reason I like the medallions, is that it'll take you through all sorts of backstreets to find them - the north-south meridian line makes no apologies for being a totally straight line. Each medallion has north and south marked on it, and the direction is the only indication of where the next medallion is.

The medallions are across the entire city - you can find them in Montmartre, down through central Paris (a few in the jardin du luxumbourg), ending finally at the parc Montsouris. I've never actually tried doing the entire thing in one day, and it probably isn't that feasible. However, doing just parts is cool enough, and will get you seeing areas of Paris you'll never of thought of trying.

The Amelie tour
Ok, so this isn't a do it yourself tour, since there's plenty of websites describing it and you can even get leaflets from the tourist office. Basically it's the locations of the film 'Le Fabuleux Destin D'Amelie Poulain' (or just Amelie to the rest of the world) and it takes you around the beautiful Montmartre, and not just the Sacre Coeur area either. Montmartre is much larger than most tourists give it credit (seriously, it's not just the big white church folks), and the residential streets are some of the prettiest in Paris.

At the moment there's plenty of people doing tours of the Da Vinci Code book, but even though I enjoyed the book, and it does take you to some nice sights (St Sulpice is worth the trip), you'll be following the BigMac of tours compared to the fois gras of the Amelie tour. Try to get a little bit of french culture while you're here... (perhaps what bugs me the most about the Da Vinci Code is the lack of geographic accuracy that would have been obvious to anyone who's stayed here - police cars driving up the Tuileries and the US embassy totally somewhere else - must make the tour guide's life a bit tricky).

Monsieur Chat

If you look up to the roofs of Paris, you might see some graffiti of this cat. Keep looking up and you'll see it all over the place. Not so many that it's a real mess, but enough to be fun when you spot a new one (hmm, the opposite effect of Starbucks!). I'm not aware of any maps on the internet, but there might be one or two. The cat most likely to be seen on a hoilday trip will be the one opposite the Pompidou centre. In fact, last summer an artist painted a giant M. Chat on the courtyard in front of the Pompidou, but my photo's were a bit lame, so I haven't put one here. Possibly the only thing wrong with this tour is that the cats are all the same, so it might be a bit dull to chase them down just to see them, but it's kinda fun just to keep your eyes open....

Space Invaders

Similar to the M Chat graffiti, Paris is also plastered with space invaders. I vaguely remember an interview with the artist, who felt that ordinary graffiti looked unoriginal, and wanted to stand out a bit.
There are hundreds of space invaders throughout Paris (and other cities now apparently). Many are quite obvious, but most are hidden slightly. My favourite is at the Place du Chatelet - it's camoflaged against the sandstone of the monument there, and goes unnoticed by everyone even though it's in plain view.

There are lots and lots of maps on the internet, but again I don't think I'd want to wander around *just* to see space invaders - just keep your eyes open. In looking for these kind of things, you'll notice a lot more about Paris than just croque monsieurs and the Eiffel Tower.

March 26, 2006

Storage room

um, don't bother reading this. I wanted to keep this somewhere where I won't lose it easily....


and don't bother asking what it does either... If you're geeky enough to see what it does, then feel free to use it (you deserve it!)

March 18, 2006

Away again

I'm off to the UK for another trade show, this time is sunny Harrogate. Except it won't be sunny of course, it'll be snowy and cold :-(

Anyway, normal service will resume late next week. Thursday maybe.

March 17, 2006


I've had a few gardens in the past, ranging from a students pile of bricks and beer cans, to a long luscious garden filled with fruit trees and flower borders.

However, this is my garden now:


I can't believe it survived the winter, so it could be worse. Last summer it was fantastic, but I can't find a picture anywhere (must have taken some, but I'm not so good at filing them!).

Everyone else in Paris does red geraniums (too easy), but I have multicoloured pansies which I think look better. I just wish they had a more manly name!

March 14, 2006

Beer on tap

BBC news is just on a roll today!

'Woman said she thought she was in heaven when she turned on the kitchen tap to find a plentiful supply of beer'


I was about to blog about this story about blind hamsters having their sight restored by nanotechnology, and was going to try and be witty by wondering what the hamsters wanted to see first with their new vision (New England Autumn, Grand Canyon, Paris Hilton's video?), but once I read the story properly, it's too amazing to take the piss out of!

The severed optic nerves were injected with nanites that grouped to form a grid structure, allowing the nerves to regrow. While it's not the mini robots of science fiction, this is the first time I've ever heard of nanotechnology actually do something useful. Past the stage of conjecture, and into reality (even if only in the lab)! Fantastic!!!


The other week a Starbucks appeared suddenly just down the road from me. It was incredibly quick too - one minute it was a rather pathetic supermarket that left the bars on it's windows even during the day (umm, inviting!), the next it was a very modern looking Starbucks. There were already laptop tapping people staring out of the window with bored expressions - sometimes when I see things like this I just can't seeing it all like a game of Sims - click of a mouse, starbuck appears, then little people appear from nowhere and walk in, buy coffee, open laptop, unless of course, the people were actually delivered with the Starbucks franchise kit, and the owner needs to place them in strategic marketing-optimised positions (but make sure the coffee odour street fan is on first!).

Anyway, I remember when the first Starbucks appeared in Paris (back in the heyday of 2004!), and everyone was both astonished and disappointed. This wasn't anti-american sentiment, but more a anti-commercialism feeling. Coffee in France isn't about the coffee (which isn't very good), but the standing at bars with a cigarette, or sitting on a terrasse with a cigarette, being social and being French with a cigarette. Starbucks is about walking around with a cup in your hand (never never never do this in France!!!), or sitting in an AC enclosed space being irradiated by wi-fi.

So, now there are 19 Starbucks here. The invasion hasn't been as quick as expected, but it's still rolling along. I'm not sure it'll reach the saturated state of London (more there than Manhatten!), but it's getting there. One day Champs Elysées, Rivoli, bd St Germain and bd St Michel will be mirror images of all the other major cities, one big StarbucksNerosSubwayMcDonaldsUnoTacoBell...

March 13, 2006

Virtual Paris

Here's a cool site if you want to visit Paris without leaving your desk/armchair/starbucks drip;

It's actually part of the french yellow pages website, and has a picture of (almost) every building in a whole bunch of French cities. Just plug in the address, and there you are. You even have direction buttons so you can walk down the street.

The only not-so-great part is that all the pictures seem to have been taken at six in the morning, and everything has a fairly lifeless and drab appearance; I used it a bit while trying to find an apartment to rent, but in the end gave up since a) everywhere looked horrible, and b) most apartments don't actually face onto the street - I'd turn up at a place with a beautiful front entrance, only to be led through a maze of passages and courtyards to a 20 sq meter dump overlooking a restaurant's outside toilet.

Anyway, for anyone that wants to burgle me, here's my place - rue d'Enghien - the fifties style laundromat on the ground floor has modernised since the photo, and now looks fairly 80's-ish.

I did try to find some nice tourist views, but the photographer must have had a stiff neck - here's the view of the Arc de Triomphe de la Porte St-Denis which is just down the road from me (the link misses slightly - press the turn 180 degrees arrow!):


This is a fantastic arch, which I always admire every time I go to Monoprix for more cheap wine. It's just a shame you can't stand under it due to the smell of tramp pee and the menacing mob of pigeons.

I then tried Place des Victoires, but this time the photographer took an aversion to looking inwards at the cool statue in the middle, and all you get are the posh buildings around it.

Of course though, they did manage to get the Eiffel Tower right...


March 12, 2006


Here's my recipe for a french TV show -

Pick any topic, doesn't matter what it is, as long as you can make a trailer that might draw people in. Cobble together a bunch of 50 second scenes that are vaguely about your topic (not too many! About 5 minutes worth will do). Fill a tiny studio with a big table and put a bunch of C list celebs around the table. Add an aging but coiffeured host. Pack in a mob of the public (again not too many, toilet paper is expensive! About 30 will do).

This part is important! Make sure the pretty members of the audience are sitting in the front row right behind the celebs. Also make sure they know when the camera is on them!

Intermittently show the scenes, and then let the celebs talk in between. They are probably supposed to talk about the scenes, but that's not obligatory. They don't even have to wait for each other to finish, ego = airtime here folks. In fact, make sure the show's host has a really really really big ego, and let him talk over everybody. The show should last an hour if you want to keep it short...

And that's french TV. I kid you not. The insidious virus of reality TV has made a big splash of course, but the tried and tested (and cheap) formula above is still the king of the airwaves. Heavy politics, avant garde cinema, video bloopers, all are suitable fodder for this beautiful format.

A few years ago they managed to produce a 5 hour special with Céline Dion. 7pm to midnight! Repeated on sunday in case you missed it too...

March 10, 2006

Parc des Buttes Chaumont

If there's one benefit of working for yourself, it's that when you have a slow day you don't have to stay at the office and pretend to work. Sometimes it's just better to go and do something more enjoyable than try and stretch out a bit of unenthusiastic work.

Unfortunately today's whim of the moment made me cycle out to Parc des Buttes Chaumont and jog around it a few times. I have no idea why, but once the idea was there I had to go. For those that don't know, the park of the chip butty is one of the best in Paris (in my opinion), while being relatively unknown by the tourists - Luxembourg is head and shouders above all the rest, followed by Montsouris perhaps. The Tuileries is a desperate dust bowl of rude waiters, with it's only redeeming feature being the fantastic sculpture, and the little boats the kids sail on the pond thingy.

Buttes Chaumont has a man made mountain in the middle, which is really bizarre, but pretty cool at the same time. The concrete blocks are all carved to look like natural rocks, and all around the park are fake waterfalls. Even at the side of the pavements are mini concrete fences made to look like wooden branches.

To run around it however is not so pleasant. What was I thinking? The whole thing is just one big hill!!! Every now and again I try to take up running, and it usually only lasts a month (um, perhaps). I'm just not very good at it. Oh well, who needs exercise anyway...
Buttes Chaumont

March 6, 2006


8am on my bike Sunday (very early check in at an apartment!), and the streets were empty - It was fantastic! Clear blue skies, empty roads and Paris to myself. Well, almost - there was already a queue at the Louvre. If you want something for nothing, it's worth getting up early for (apparently - not a personal philosophy that one...)

Then today while trying to get from A to D, I got caught up on a narrow road behind a lorry. There was a van parked vaguely at the side, and the lorry couldn't get round. I guess that it had been like this for a while before I got there, since they'd actually given up on the beeping stage, and a gang of blokes had gathered around the van and actually *lifted* it off the road and further onto the pavement! The lorry then moved forwards about a hundred yards and started unloading (taking it's turn to block the road). I'm glad I don't have a car sometimes.

Later I passed another cyclist actually getting a ticket off the circulation police! Possibly for speeding, who knows. Although ten minutes later I got yelled at by some police for trying to go down a one way street the wrong way. Surprisingly loud voices the police have - especially when they're all carrying automatic weapons...

March 4, 2006

Pulp fiction

While at the airport I picked up a paperback called 'The Traveller' by John Twelve Hawks (I guess Hawks sounds tougher than drummers drumming), and while I'm about to slate it, I'll still admit I'm quite enjoying reading it!

I'm not going to slate it for the way it's written, as it's perfect for what I bought it for (to kill hours of mind-numbing waiting around in airports, although frankly I'd rather be sitting by a pool with a large G&T reading it, which also nicely describes this kind of book). What really annoyed me was that it was so desperately trying to be marketable. Here's a quick list of suck-ups to Hollywood in the book:

* Set in LA, with some 'exotic' scenes in Paris (of course)
* Lots of fights with samurai swords
* Car chases with explosions
* Beautiful (but deadly) heroine (Alias anyone?)
* Secret societies (surely not like Da Vinci code)

It was the Los Angeles setting that really did it for me - I reckon I know every freeway through the city now, and I've never even been there! Mr Twelve Toes is clearly begging for the film of the book, I'm surprised he hasn't described the heroine as Jolie-esque. As if it isn't tiresome enough that every American blockbuster is set in LA, now it seems that books are going to be as well...

March 2, 2006

Home sweet home

I've just got back from Barcelona, which was a fantastic place! Even though most of the time was spent working, the company I was with still managed to take me on a whistle-stop tour of the city, which was great since this was my first ever visit to Spain!!!

europe.jpg While I was there it struck me how at ease I felt, even though I can't speak a word of Spanish. I can't even count to ten, although I could just about manage no hablo espagnol, although only because I've seen people on american TV say it. The feeling of not being a total outsider contrasted quite strongly with my visits to the States, where I feel very much the foreigner. It's hard to put my finger on why though - I'd always assumed that language was one of the bigger culture shocks, but perhaps I'm wrong about that. Somehow I can't get completely comfortable with the way American waiters introduce themselves by the first name, as though they expect to become lifelong friends, or how the cities have no real centre, but are sprawling patches of motorway, roadside restaurants and shopping malls. Of course, there's also the jetlag - having your bodyclock completely thrown out of the loop probably doesn't help either, and would definitely be a subconscious unease. Maybe if I stayed in the States more than a week it might make me feel a bit more settled there.

When I first arrived in France, there was an awakening into realising that I'm a European. Not the dull Brussels European of measuring bananas and giving farmers money for empty fields, but a sudden realisation that despite leaving the UK, I was still home somehow. That feeling seems to extend to Spain and Italy, and, I should imagine, plenty of other countries on the continent, but no further. How strange that it's so indefinable?