Paris July 2011
On the back of finishing my degree in French and Spanish at Bristol University I find myself once again in the French capital, this time tucked snuggly under the wise “old” wing of one John Lichfield – 14 years as Paris correspondent to the Indpendent.
I’m his assistante for five weeks. One week in, I’m ecstatic and utterly exhausted. I’ve written about Sarko and the Queen, l’affaire DSK and Christine Lagarde, I’ve interviewed Alexander Lebedev and reversed some of my opinions on Nick Clegg.
Internship aside, I’ve fallen for le Parc des Buttes Chaumont. It’s small and surprisingly obscure – people know of it but few seem to have been. For a city-center park les Buttes Chaumont is astonishingly undulant – which makes for serious all-terrain jogging – with the bonus challenge of dodging the dogshit. I love the exuberant greenery and ghastly mock-rock cliff-faces. It’s full of shady nooks and low, leafy passageways and the highlight to me is the odd little temple which towers above a very murky, man-made lac. Peeping through the trees from here you spy an unusual view of the back of the Sacré-Coeur basilica standing tall and brilliant white over the rooftops of Montmartre.
Being summer, there are joggeurs galore – every shape, size, sex, colour and degree of expertise! Millions of naked, screaming children and hyperactive dogs leap about in sprinklers and fake waterfalls, scattering geese and attracting pigeons. Beggars, clochards and SDFs (sans-domicile-fixe) build secluded, ramshackle shelters amongst the quiet, concealed shrubbery. Drunks convene on wooden benches to rant, rave and make merry while young West-African nannies stroll about with blond, pink-faced babies strapped to their backs or squealing in ornate prams.
I’ve heard the odd American twang and clusters of Japanese pensioners shuffle through periodically led by guides waving little yellow flags and the other day a bewlidered Scandinavian stopped me on the bridge and asked for directions to a passport-photo booth (!) but otherwise, the park seems a pretty local hang-out – and local meaning residents of the 19e arrondissement.
Gangs of kids share joints and lovers make-out in the grass. It’s the only place so far where I’ve seen the oh-so-conservative young parisiennes shed their jeans and knee-length skirts to spread in the sunshine alarmingly unclothed! And of course there are plenty of middle-aged, leather-skinned, budgy-smuggling French gentlemen slathered in St Tropez bronzing oil.
The gates are locked at sunset. I got trapped last night and had to enlist the help of an amused young Egyptian couple to spot me as I scaled the iron railings. I’m now tempted to go back after dark with a flash-light as I’ve always been curious about nocturnal activity in city parks.