Monday, 22 September 2008

Parisian Staples

To finish my bumper week-long (but alas posted late) éloge to Paris, here's a selection of my favourite things there that I've particularly relished this past week:
Colette and its brilliant range of expertly-selected apparel, media and accessories
Using the Vélib system
Wandering aimlessly through the Tuileries and across the Seine
Being able to watch A Bout de Souffle on a big screen at last
The finest pastries and macaroons in the world
Beautiful, well-dressed citizens
An atmosphere of civility

The Staple - Parisian Delights #3

La vie Parisienne

So owing to some uninteresting hardware issues here, I've unfortunately not been able to blog quite as much as I might have liked. Sat here in the Eurostar terminal (on the floor, bien sur - chairs are obviously not aesthetically pleasing enough for Gare du Nord), I'm struck once again by a love for Paris. I still can't place my finger on exactly what it is, but if pushed, I'll say the atmosphere of civility. There's something exceptionally correct about working a legal number of maximum hours (35 per week) with a legally imposed hour's lunch break, having your company pay for your lunch, having a reasonable amount of paid holiday and a healthy respect for how and how not to work. Added to this is the idea that an afternoon spent in a cafe en bavardant is an acceptable weekend activity, and not spending every waking hour not in work down the pub (though don't get me wrong, I love doing this, it can be a little heavy on mind, body and wallet) makes for a particularly serene experience. Yes, this was more of a holiday than a business trip, but it just feels right here. It feels like priorities are in the right place in Paris, and as I sit here surrounded by British tourists fretting about passport control, the time, the weather and how to spend those last damned Euros, I find myself wondering if I should just stay after all. Parisian life is the epitome of a Staple - not just parties and gigs (though that's there if you want it) but a more fulfilling, pleasant and civilised way of spending your days. Paris, je t'aime.

The Staple - Parisian Delights #2

Vélo = Liberté

Paris' public transport system, despite its frequent strikes and curious but easily identifiable odours, works. The Métro is frequent, stops near everything and costs half the price of London's. The buses, while rarer, run for miles and always have enough space. Late-night taxis are impossible, but that's because the system is so well-regulated that it has practically eliminated the illegal minicab element. Overground services are also well-run, timely and cheap by British standards. Best of all are the Vélibs. The name comes from a compression of vélo (bike) and liberté (freedom; the first bastion of French culture, from Liberté, égalité, fraternité) and is so simple that it's hard to understand why it's not been thought of or adopted more widely. The premise is that locked around town at certain points are thousands of bikes, and all you need do to borrow one is let them check if you have €150 in your bank, and pay a daily charge (the princely sum of one euro, or 60p) and then you're off, free to cycle at leisure wherever you want. The only catch is that you have to return the bike to get back your deposit, but this can be at any other Vélib point in the city. Its marvellous. Coupled with this iniative has been a brilliantly implemented and constantly circulating system of cycle lanes, running the length and breadth of Paris. While the bikes are not particularly pretty, they are practical (think Ford Fiesta, rather than Aston Martin) and well-designed. I borrowed one for an afternoon, and despite Paris' awful reputation for terrible driving, I survived. It all seemed rather bohemian cycling around with a plant tucked into the basket...and from a roadside vantage, people-watching was much more fun. Paris by bicycle is a definite must-do when in the city.

The Staple - Parisian Delights

Vive Paris

I have, of course, blogged about my love of Paris before. It is, despite its smelly tube, tiny flats, lack of parks and a thousand and one other badnesses, my spiritual home. Last week I had the pleasure of reporting from this different urban metropolis, and believe me, the pleasure was all mine. After a trip which has been over 6 months in preparation and thanks to a lovely Anglophile colleague in my company's Paris office, I'm was in la belle ville for a week, working (a little) and wandering (mostly). Eurostar aside (fires in the tunnel do not equal a Staple), this journey yet again reminded my why Paris is not just another city, it is an entire way of life. I'm staying in Anicee's small but beautifully formed studio, just around the corner from one of Paris' few parks, the Buttes-Chaumont. Just treading those streets again, wandering aimlessly and being able to walk from work to the rue du Faubourg St-Honore and browse in some of the most gorgeous designer boutiques in the world sans peur, drop into one of my top 5 shops in the world, Colette and pick up a huge stack of CDs and magazines, and then return back home, fling open the shutters and dine alfresco with a bottle of Leffe and a gorgeous sunset is really enough for me. Added to that my weekly shop here cost €18, and tomorrow will see me hitting both the (brilliantly-kept secret) APC stock shop and the cinema on the Canal St. Martin, and I am in living heaven. I hope to add some more to the 'Paris is amazing' debate as the week progresses, but one phrase which makes everything so appealing will definitely feature later on: 35-hour week. This week will be a special Staple of one thing: Paris. Seven essentials will follow come the weekend (and here's hoping that I get to go to the Technoparade...)

Thursday, 11 September 2008

The Staple - Grace Jones

Amazing Grace

As I've mentioned previously, my summer has been liberally garnished with festivals. Actually, strike that, my summer has been nothing but festivals. Eight in total, finally finishing last weekend with Bestival (aka the Mud vs. Glitter) and one of the most brilliant performances I've seen all summer: GRACE JONES. I believe I've mentioned before how brilliant I think she is, her songs mean a lot to me and she's one of the 5 or so artists whose music never leaves my constantly rotating 2GB iPod (NOTE: Must get a bigger one soon). I love her. So when we slid up to the main stage at Bestival at the same time as a 'Secret Act' I was mildly amused. The opening bars of 'Nightclubbing' came on and I thought it was a backing track, then on she strode in an utterly ridiculous cape and leotard. I went utterly bonkers - missing her at Secret Garden and Festival Hall gutted me - and it made all the mud, rain and welly rash worth it. It's not that often I TOTALLY lose it to music, but for Grace, I do. Singing every word, humming every refrain and hands firmly in the air, I was blissing out. Then she proceeded to play all the songs I love, have an increasingly more ridiculous costume change EVERY song and make me bawl with joy. Absolute highlight of the year. When you're at festivals, especially with adverse weather conditions, you need an act like this who life your spirits, and make it all worthwhile. Bestival was pretty bliss in itself, mud excepted, and with all the sea creatures bouncing around to Grace, this was the icing on my festival season. Other Staples that will make your festival:
Grace Jones
Black wellington boots
M&S Mini Flapjacks
A fleece blanket
Gold sequinned shrugs
A selection of waterproofs
A thick cashmere rollneck for ultimate comfort

Tuesday, 2 September 2008

The Staple - B Store Sale Shoes 2/2

...of B Store magic

So there I was, rifling through a basement of beautiful clothes and shoes, working out if Siv Stoldal sheer white trousers would be practical in the rain (guess what? No.) when I was directed by the lovely girl working down there to a black, double-breasted jacket. Immaculately-tailored and with only one set of buttons, this will fulfil my need for a smarter autumnal jacket. I can already see it lending a sense of occasion to going out as the weeks roll past. My final purchase was again in the shoe department. Having waxed lyrical about getting some hi-tops last week, these Bernard Wilhelm beauties bring out my inner Klingon. K'avok ch'a! They, like the silver ones, are the softest leather, and unlike all my cheap canvas shoes, actually provide some foot support, so I expect them to be good for some street-pounding in the rain. For only 35 quid! Also, they are not too over-the-top, despite the typically Belgian detailing, which means I can wear them without the ceremony which would be required of a pair of electricc-blue patent ones. In these credit-crunch times, such conspicuous elements will be frowned upon, and here I have the ultimate boots, comfy, luxurious, but also understated. Not a word used often about Bernard Wilhelm...As if I needed more love for bstore, it's now a definite Staple - coupled with the lovely staff (Matthew Murphy, if you're reading - Tesco is not the best supermarket!) and delightful feel of civility. Now to this week's other Staples:
Bstore sale shoes
A lovely garden party in Honor Oak (courtesy of Jasper)
The Churchill Arms in Notting Hill
Peter Moren's brilliant performance at the Fly this weekend
Bestival planning
A morning glass of cranberry juice
Douglas Coupland's novel JPod

The Staple - B Store Sale Shoes 1/2

A Double Helping...

Last week's ruminations on AW08 galvanized themselves when I was informed that I was getting paid before the weekend, and then by chance checking my email just before leaving the house on Saturday to find that one of my favourite stores was having a sale. And not just any sale either, but 80% off. And not just any store, but bstore on Savile Row. Once my mind was made up, I hot-footed it down there, literally running down Conduit Street so I could still make it to a fantastic garden party (cheers Jasper) later that afternoon. What luck. Two pairs of shoes and a jacket, of which the above pair of beauties were the first thing that caught my eye. It's often very frustrating for me in sales, as it's usually only the large sizes of jumper that are left, and they are always enormous. With shoes however, I am blessed (in a double-edged sword way) with size 11 stonkers. What luck, then, that the only pairs of silver Mario's that were left were in my size, and reduced from £165 to an 'I-can't-believe-it's-not-more' price of £40. And they are comfy and not too showy; the silver is a more muted, subtle affair, and despite my enormous feet, these don't look like clown shoes. I am known for picking up sale bargains, but this has to have been the winner. Two pairs of surprisngly practical shoes which I wore all afternoon and evening with trousers and shorts, even when cycling that haven't made a mess of my feet. The key is the soft, raw leather which has already moulded itself to my feet. I can see these becoming firm favourites as Autumn draws in...