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Working as an au pair in Paris, Poppy Pearce explores the city in her free time. She documents her favorite finds – exhibitions, restaurants, boutiques, day trips – in an exclusive Bonjour Paris column. Find previous editions here.
The month of February is often associated with love due to Valentine’s day falling on the 14th. Red roses, heart-shaped boxes of chocolates, and sentimental cards flood the high street with it becoming impossible to book a table at a restaurant mid-month. While Valentine’s day is traditionally a celebration of romantic love, for this month’s column, I want to focus on other existing forms of love. According to Greek philosophy, there are seven types of love. These other incarnations of amour do not get the recognition they deserve, and in my opinion, can often be even more important than romantic love. So the theme for my column this month is non-romantic things in Paris that I love, and why I love them. Enjoy!
Restaurant of the Month:
42 Rue Du Chemin Vert, 11th
Monday: 11:00 A.M. – 7 P.M.
Tuesday to Sunday: 11 A.M. – 10:30 P.M.
Metro: Bastille (Line 1, 5, and 8) or Bréguet-Sabin, Richard Lenoir (Line 5)
One thing I love above anything is our beautiful planet: the only one known to harbor life within the emptiness of infinite space. I love that it houses an astonishing 300,000 plant species, over 600,000 species of fungi, and about 10,000,000 species of animals. I love that we are still yet to discover over 95% of our oceans and that there are still uncharted rainforests and mountains. I love the evolutionary intricacy of nature: coral reefs and bees and snowflakes and eyes. I love our guardians, the trees, who act as natural climate regulators and store our overproduced carbon dioxide. I love the awe-inspiring art that our planet creates: the starling murmurations and the northern lights and the bioluminescent shores and the rainbows.
We as humans are so lucky to have the opportunity to experience life on our planet. Yet Earth is currently undergoing a triple planetary crisis: climate change, pollution, and biodiversity loss. In the long term, and if change is not soon made, Earth’s fragile ecosystems will be thrown off kilter and we will see an even further decline or complete disappearance of biological diversity.
Every one of us has the power to make a difference, no matter how small and insignificant it may feel. Over the past few years, whenever January comes around, I hear the phrase Veganuary. This year, I thought I would look into it further.
Changing to a vegan diet prevents the deforestation, soil degradation, and greenhouse gas emissions caused by the production of meat and dairy, slowing global warming and securing our food supply while reducing our individual carbon footprints by 78%. Only 29% of global food-related greenhouse gas emissions are associated with plant-based diets, whereas meat and dairy products account for 57%.
While being vegan in a country renowned as the land of dairy may seem difficult, more and more vegan restaurants, cafes, and boulangeries are opening around the French capital. Recently I asked one of my vegan friends to take me to her favorite restaurant in Paris: Aujourd’hui Demain.
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Situated in the 11th arrondissement, this venue is a mecca for vegans and non-vegans alike. The menu is extensive, offering brunches, lunches, dinners, desserts, patisseries, cakes, and delicious drinks. Attached to the resto/cafe is the concept store where you can purchase anything from clothing and cosmetics to groceries and cookbooks, with everything within the store being vegan and ethically sourced. Aujourd’hui Demain also hosts regular events such as film screenings, pop-ups, tastings, and book signings.
On this trip, I ordered the “Forest No-Mozza.” I wanted to try vegan mozzarella, as I was curious as to how the consistency of the cheese could be recreated without dairy. It did not disappoint. The meal consisted of toasted sourdough topped with vegan mozzarella, pan-fried Shiitake and Portobello mushrooms, truffle oil, Gondino no-Parmesan, arugula, and confit garlic. The combination of flavors was fantastic and the presentation was excellent.
My friend ordered the “Kaesar Salad,” which was a vegan version of the classic Cesar salad, hence not including anchovies, chicken, or dairy, and instead featuring breaded “Chicky” fillets, Gondino no-parmesan, and no-Bacon shavings. This was also fantastic and had just the same iconic taste as the original.
To share, we ordered a portion of the Man ‘N’ Cheese Chori which was creamy and moreish. To accompany our food we each had a peanut butter iced latte which was heavenly. The tiramisu was perfect for sharing for dessert.
I was so impressed by my meal at Aujordhui Demain and I will definitely be returning soon. We are fortunate to live in a world where eating vegan is becoming more and more accessible, and more and more delicious.
Café of the Month:
47 Rue de la Montagne Ste Geneviève, 5th
9 A.M. – 7:30 P.M. Tuesday to Saturday
Nearest Metro: Jussieu (line 7) or Cardinal Lemoine (line 10).
Another thing I love to do is to read. How can finite words create infinite stories? It is an enigma to me. Yet in the internet age, changes to global communication and information access now mean that we are facing the peril of a severely reduced attention span. It’s a deluge of short and snappy headlines, text messages, and social media posts, while books are summarized in five-minute YouTube videos. And we’re missing out on the benefits and enjoyment of long-form reading.
Reading books opens up the endless boundaries of learning. One can learn about coding, nature, history, or how to start your own business. Or, one can become completely absorbed in another universe provided by a convincing fiction book. Whatever book you read, “it is to the mind what exercise is to the body,” as Joseph Addison once wrote. Regular reading stimulates the brain and maintains strong and healthy cognitive function, as well as reducing stress and improving our capacity for empathy and emotional intelligence. And, on top of all of these amazing factors, reading is extremely entertaining and provides a portal to boundless other worlds. And plus, the information found in books written by skilled writers and academics is likely to be a lot more useful than the information on a 20-second TikTok by someone who is simply interested in the topic.
My perfect Sunday morning is spent at a café with an espresso, a patisserie of some sort (preferably a pain au chocolat aux amandes), and my book.
Paris has an incredible array of cafés, but my favorite type of café is a café-librairie. The combination of a café with a bookshop/library is unparalleled and provides the perfect setting for reading, studying, or remote working.
The lanes around the Panthéon in the 5th arrondissement house many such cafés due to their proximity to the Sorbonne and the university students. On Rue de la Montagne Ste Geneviève, sprouting off Place du Panthéon, you will find my café of the month: TRAM Libro-Café.
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TRAM Café is divided into two sections: the café and the library. The café gives great aesthetic pleasure, with beautiful flower arrangements on each table, natural light flooding through the large windows, and elegant fairy lights. A selection of delicious cakes, cookies, and patisseries line the bar where one can order a hot drink, glass of wine, or imaginative soft drinks.
Not only is the café wonderful for a simple coffee and patisserie, but it also offers a lunch menu, a tea time, and an early apéro. On the lunch menu, you will find what I believe to be the best Croque-Monsieur in Paris – and that is saying something! The toasted sandwich uses the finest “Prince of Paris” ham and is paired with comté and truffle salt, and provides the perfect lunch to accompany your reading session.
The library is well-stocked and contains a wide array of books from fiction to nonfiction, classic to contemporary, and you are able to simply read the books or purchase them. The librarian is lovely and very knowledgeable about the curated literature of the TRAM library. The establishment, like Aujourd’hui Demain, hosts regular book signings, with authors such as Sophie Galabru and Rodney Saint-Éloi gracing the Rue de la Montagne Ste Geneviève site.
Day Trip of the Month:
As much as I love the life, energy, and fun of living in a city, sometimes I miss the rolling green hills of my village in England. My village, or rather my hamlet, has 12 houses with the average age somewhere near the 70 mark. Living in Paris has provided me with everything my younger self thought I was missing: the noise, the people, and the action, and I wouldn’t want to be living anywhere else at this stage of my life. Nonetheless, my soul still craves the occasional submersion in green and reconnection with nature and animals. I am a huge animal lover. Being an only child, I was kept entertained by my many weird and wonderful pets, including rescue chickens, rescue horses, hamsters, guinea pigs, rabbits, fish, dogs, cats, and even a singular 18-year-old sheep! After spending the rather gray month of January in Paris, a friend and I decided to leave the metropolis last weekend and take a trip to the splendid rural town of Chantilly.
The Château de Chantilly is one of France’s greatest cultural heritage treasures. It was inhabited by Henri d’Orléans, Duke of Aumale (1822–1997), the fifth child of King Louis–Philippe, the last King of France, and Queen Marie–Amélie. The duke’s will bequeathed the chateau to the Institut de France, making sure to preserve the castle in its original splendor. Not only is the architecture impressive, but the museum inside, the Musée Condé, houses “the second finest collection of paintings in France after the Louvre.”
The 7,800-hectare estate of the Château de Chantilly is divided between the château, the gardens, the large stable yard, the racecourse, 6,300 hectares of forest, and 250 leases (individual residences, hotels, golf courses, etc).
Chantilly is known as the capital of the horse. Within the town, you will find the Museum of the Horse, which explores Chantilly’s extensive history of horsemanship. There are also equestrian shows in Chantilly. On our walk around Chantilly, we came across plenty of horses, either resting in the fields or being ridden around the grounds of the château.
Chantilly may also ring a bell due to the legendary Chantilly cream, the sweetened whipped cream that you will find in delicacies such as profiteroles and eclairs. The chef of the Château de Chantilly, Vatel, is commonly claimed as the first creator of this whipped cream in 1671. However, this has since been disproven. It wasn’t until the 18th century that “Chantilly” became synonymous with “cream”, thanks to the serving of the sweetened dairy by the Baroness of Oberkirch during a feast at the Hameau hosted by the Prince of Condé.
The town’s main street has many fabulous boulangeries and tea rooms, such as L’Atelier de la Chantilly (48 Rue du Connétable), where you can sample this delightful treat. And if you want to take it one step further, you can participate in a Chantilly Cream cookery class within the kitchens of the château for 17€.
My friend and I went on a lovely 10-kilometer walk around the château, through the forest, past the hippodrome and the museum of the horse, around the temple de Diane, the Great Man’s Bridge, and the Island of Love, before returning to the train station. It was the perfect distance and took just under two hours. We stopped opposite the chateau to eat our picnics and the view was a marvel. Below is a map of our walk so that you too can see these wonders.
It took 25 minutes to reach Chantilly from Paris Gare du Nord, and it was a free journey thanks to my Navigo pass. Simply take the RER D for 26 miles to its second-to-last stop and you will arrive in the center of the town.
Exhibition of the Month:
Arab World Institute (Institut du Monde Arabe)
1 Rue des Fossés Saint-Bernard, 5th
Tuesday to Friday – 10 A.M – 6 P.M
Saturday and Sunday – 10 A.M – 7 P.M.
Nearest Metro: Jussieu (line 7) or Cardinal Lemoine (line 10)
Exhibition running from the 27th of September 2022 to the 19th of March 2023.
My interest in the Middle East and the Arabic language began when I was in school. I remember watching a documentary about the Arab Uprisings and becoming fascinated with the politics, religious dynamics, and languages of the region.
After studying Arabic at my university’s incredible Institute of Islamic Studies, my interest in the Middle East only grew. I spent the summer of 2021 living with a Jordanian family in Amman and attending language classes in the capital. I was fortunate to be able to visit Petra, one of the seven wonders of the world, as well as the Dead Sea, the Sea of Galilee, Wadi Rum, Aqaba, and Umm Qais. The culture of Jordan is rich, with many Arab nationalities merging due to the Syrian and Palestinian diasporas seeking refuge in the country after the conflicts in their own. Experiencing this culmination of Arab identities further opened my eyes to both the beauty and the struggle of being a woman in these countries, and led me to question how attitudes toward identity and gender vary across the world.
Upon seeing an advertisement on the metro, I was eager to attend an exhibition at the Institut du Monde Arabe (IMA) called “Habibi: Les Revolutions de l’Amour” which focused on the work of Middle Eastern LGBTQIA+ artists.
Since the Arab Spring in the early 2010s, waves of pro-democracy uprisings have spread across the Arab world, influencing Middle Eastern politics and amplifying positive attitudes towards liberalism. This shift in society has allowed space for the progression of LGBTQIA+ activism, opening dialogue on subjects such as individual emancipation, the freedom of bodies, and the freedom to love whoever one wants to. However, homosexuality in the Arab World is still undoubtedly taboo, and at worst a crime punishable by death, and this gender and identity struggle is documented within the exhibition.
Many mediums – such as photography, painting, video, performance, literature, and animation – are used by artists to represent the fragility between sexuality, religion, and identity within the Middle East.
The works show the joy of loving and being loved, but also the fears and risks that accompany experiencing this love within that specific time and space. Many of the works are contemporary, drawing upon the use of dating apps, social media, and the navigation of virtual relationships in a region where the physical manifestation of these relationships is dangerous. Other works draw upon classic imagery, such as Quranic quotes, and reinvent these works through a feminist or decolonial interpretation.
My favorite piece was “A Hand’s Display” by Lebanese artist Omar Mismar. The work is a graph that maps the holding and unholding of the hands of two gay lovers, while in the car roaming the streets of Beirut. Each unholding of their hands is documented with the reason why they had to release their grips, which makes for an interesting look into the socio-political attitudes toward homosexuality within Lebanon.
Many of the artists, such as Iranian Alireza Shojaian, have an affiliation with Paris having attended the historical school of fine arts, Beaux-Arts de Paris, or having worked in the city. The intersection of cultures is hence another topic portrayed within the exhibition and elicits a thought-provoking examination of the attitudes towards sexual and gender identities in France compared to the Arab World.
I was entirely engrossed in the exhibition and I made sure to read every placard of information. It is important to be made aware of the dangers of love for the LGBTQIA+ population not only in the Middle East, but even here in France and everywhere else around the world. While Valentine’s Day will be a proud and open display of love for many heterosexual couples, couples of other sexualties around the world will still have to hide their love until a time comes when they will finally be accepted.
Hidden Gem of the Month:
30 Rue René Boulanger, 10th
Tuesday to Saturday – 6 P.M. – 2 A.M.
Nearest Metro: République (lines 3, 5, 8, 9 and 11)
I have been lucky to have made such wonderful friends since arriving in Paris. My one worry before moving to the capital was that, not knowing anyone here, it would be difficult to make new friends in such a large city. However, thanks to Facebook groups, WhatsApp group chats, and the sociable nature of nights out, it was surprisingly easy to meet a myriad of lovely people.
I have created a web of friends for whom I feel great platonic love, and it has shown me the importance of the close bonds of affectionate friendships. My experience in Paris would not be the same without my friends or our endless adventures exploring this new city that we now call home.
On a recent night out with friends, we sought out one of Paris’s famous speakeasy bars. Sometimes known as a blind pig or blind tiger, a speakeasy imitates features of bygone bars that illegally sold alcoholic drinks. In the 1920s, during the Prohibition era of the United States, when alcoholic drinks were forbidden from being produced, imported, transported, or sold, speakeasy bars rose to popularity. Alcohol was thought to deteriorate health, promote crime and corruption, cause social issues, raise the tax burden through jails and poorhouses, and cause societal difficulties. So alcohol was banned for 13 years, and people had to become imaginative.
And imaginative these speakeasy bars are. The entrances are well camouflaged, with the exteriors resembling anything from grocery shops to laundrettes. As a result, my hidden gem of the month really is just that: hidden.
It was through the drum of a washing machine that my friends and I entered the speakeasy, Lavomatic, in the 10th arrondissement. Disguised during the day as an operational laundrette, when the clock strikes 6 P.M., this inconspicuous laverie transforms into a swanky bar. After entering through the washing machine you are greeted by a dark staircase lined with funky neon masks that glow in the UV light. At the top of the staircase is the bar, which is dimly lit, with pink neon lights making the room rose-tinted. The tables are small and intimate, and some chairs are in fact swings, making this a fun and original lounge. The drinks menu is extensive. The cocktails are creative and well-prepared and the staff are eager to create your perfect drink for you. The venue is the perfect spot for a hip trip with friends or a romantic evening with a partner.
Seating is limited, which makes for a cozy ambiance, so make sure to arrive at the opening hour if you want to avoid a potential queue. Lavomatic also has a sister bar, L’Épicier, which can only be entered by pulling on a box of cous-cous on the shelf of a disguised grocery shop.
Lead photo credit : Château de Chantilly, Oise department, France, as seen from northwest. Photo credit: Jebulon/ Wikimedia commons