It might be a bit stereotypical to focus on the Berlin Wall on my first post about the city, but I think you’re ignoring the elephant in the room if you don’t mention it.
This wall shaped everything in the city and in the divided country, for decades. The side you lived on dictated the car you drove, the clothes you wore and the rights you had. Being a member of Amnesty International, I can get a bit preachy about this kind of thing, but it was incredibly weird to explore the city without that boundary stopping you, yet knowing it was there all the time.
I was introduced to this quirky cafe by my cousin, who lives in Dalston and has a sixth sense for undiscovered gems when it comes to culture and eating out (she also introduced me to an amazing Turkish food chain called Tas, with baklava to die for). We headed over to the brilliantly-named Tina, We Salute You, for a seriously good coffee and some breakfast, and weren’t disappointed.
Even if the menu wasn’t worth talking about, you can hardly miss the unusual decor – I’ve never seen so many noses in my life, let alone mounted on a wall – as the cafe hosts art exhibitions which change every eight weeks. This means you never know what you’re going to find on the walls, which makes a change from the enforced kookiness of the artwork in Starbucks or Costa.
On my first night in Paris during a work trip, still getting my bearings and exploring the city with my boss, we stumbled across an in-store gig by a rockabilly band, Ghost Highway, which was a really unexpected introduction to the music scene here. I had no idea that there were many French rockabilly bands, or that they’d have such a hardcore following, but I’m really glad that we got to see them play.
Afterwards I did a bit of research about the rockabilly scene in France and it turns out that it’s definitely alive and well, with most bands adopting American names, such as Howlin’ Jaws, Curfew or Kathy and the Firebrands. One bizarre translation I learned along the way was that batterie is the French word for drums, which kind of makes sense but seems pretty violent as it reminds me of ‘assault and battery’ (“I’m afraid we’ve charged your son with assault and drumming, madam”, etc).
Rather than starting this blog with an introductory post that nobody wants to read, I’m diving in at the deep end with an unexpectedly cool place that I came across in central Paris. In the midst of high street advertising and desperate recession-bitten traders sat this artists’ squat, which occupied a beautiful old terraced block just minutes from some of the city’s big attractions.
I couldn’t decide whether it was heartening to see people fighting back against hard times, or whether it was pretty sad that they had (presumably) taken over someone else’s property. Either way, I was curious to see more. Each floor was divided into little sections holding several different artists’ work, from the more commercial pieces with business cards carefully placed in your line of vision, to the sprawling murals filled with rants against pretty much anyone and everyone and accompanied by stern signs banning photography.