Since the days of the French Revolution, the French have always been obsessed with the concept of Liberty. Covering all aspects of freedom – from their drive towards “Liberté, Fraternité, Egalité“ to Sartre’s ominous “Hell is other people” – this is a take on their contradictory relationship with “the Other”.
The Meaning: Liberté = liberty
God invented Parisians so that foreigners would be totally baffled about what French people really are, suggested Alexandre Dumas, junior. Parisians’ notorious reputation of being self-centered and impolite towards outsiders has long been a public secret. A survey held in 2010 in a French national news’ magazine found that Parisians were seen as “arrogant, snobbish and self-obsessed” – a species which certainly thinks of itself as a race apart. Well, they’re Parisians, in the end, and their motto “I’m Parisian and I love nothing” has not been coined by chance! Fortunately, Paris is big enough to allow other non-Parisian actors perform on its international stage and that’s what makes this city larger than life. Let’s flip the coin and see what’s to be found on the other side!
Thank God there’s always “the other side of the coin”, where Paris is not just a self-sufficient hermetically closed eco-sphere of French-ness, but a kaleidoscope of diverse, picturesque and heterogeneous micro-cosmoses, which even Parisians now begin to approach with precautious curiosity. Mad about sushi, the image of their fellow New Yorker and the idea of backpacking through South America, metropolitans have begun to open up to the outside world. In its modern take on “liberty, equality, brotherhood”, the City of Light demonstrates a globalized tolerance towards the many unexpected foreign cultural niches, intriguing for the accidental visitor and the hereditary Parisian alike.
Other than being the city of the Eiffel Tower and the Champs Elysees, Paris is also the place to savour so many other flavours of the world – enjoy delicious oriental pastries, meditate in a Tibetan temple, eat a herring à la Nordique, try an Ayurvedic herbal massage, have tea like the British, read Bukowski in a beatnik bookstore, decrypt mysterious voodoo rituals, light a candle in an Orthodox church, participate in a traditional Indian or Tropical festival and so much more… Taking a tour of Paris’ 20 arrondisements equals taking a mini-tour around the globe, for the cultures and flavours of the world present themselves to all keen urban adventurers. So, let’s see what’s on the menu…
Welcome to Chinatown, or Paris’ “little Asia”, the largest Asian quarter in Europe, which first began to single out as such during the 50s when a large amount of Indochinese immigrants fleeing their homes following WWII, have settled there. Hosting several Buddhist temples, the biggest Asian supermarket west of China (Tang Frères) and the main Chinese New Year parade, Paris’ Chinatown is a land of many wonders. To explore the face of Paris’ Asia, go try a cup of fashionable Taiwan bubble tea (Bubble House, 45, Avenue de Choisy), play a game of mahjong in the Square du Temple, peek into the Notre-Dame-de-Chine, the first Catholic Chinese church opened in 2005, gape in front of the window displays of Chinese-glazed roasted ducks, get a revitalizing foot massage to fine tune your “chi” /or “flow of vital energy”/ (Institut Yung, 22, Rue Caumartin) and enroll in a class of qi gong to fight the stress and improve your overall wellbeing in Les Temps du Corps (10, Rue de l’Echiquier).
You don’t need a U.S. visa to experience “the American dream”- it’s pretty much doable in Paris itself. Want to master the dance moves of Harlem and Broadway or “kick it old-school” and tap like Fred Astaire (Swingtap School; 21, Rue Keller)? Or live the life of a modern cowboy after a quick visit to “El Passo Booty”, a shop selling original moccasins, cowboy hats, sheriff badges, bandanas, bolo ties and other Wild West paraphernalia? (79, Rue Saint-Denis)? To feast on the best burgers in Paris, some blueberry pancakes and bottomless cups of coffee, dine like the Yankees in a real American diner (“Breakfast in America”, 17, Rue des Ecoles). Entertainment-wise, clap in rhythm with “When the Saints come marching in” sang by the toga-dressed black singers from Gospel Dream in the unusual ambiance of a French church (http://www.gospeldream.fr/)
To appreciate the sweet breeze of cordialidad, we’re heading South to enjoy our fair share of bohemian “dolce far niente”! For a real feel of Brazilian fiesta, head to the party temple of Favela Chic (18, Rue du Faubourg du Temple), a hot, loud and sweaty dance floor (and restaurant!) where you can celebrate the carnival of life to the rhythm of Brazilian and Latin music. Feeling nostalgic about the long, smoky nights of Havana? You can “pipe dream” about them, cigar in hand, seated in the leather sofas of the sala de fumadores (smoking room) of Cubana café (47, Rue Vavin), the last wharf of ardent cigar smokers who can intimately cozy away with their passion in this Cuban-inspired décor. To top the pleasure of your cigar with a glass of good rum, go to the legendary La Rhumerie (166, Blvd. Saint-Germain), where practically all roads lead to Rum! Enjoying your Coco Punch and Fried bananas on its exotic terrace equals a journey across Guadeloupe, Martinique, Réunion and all the French tropical islands, whose culture it proudly celebrates.
The Nordic face of the capital is no less rich in opportunities. To get the groovy and swingin’ look of an eccentric British gentleman from the 60s, try the trashy and colourful creations of Mr. Tim Bargeot (3, Rue de Turbigo). After getting all dressed up, how about some tea and sticky toffee pudding in the English-themed café Rose Bakery? (46, rue des Martyrs). For a Robin Hood-inspired attire, visit the Maison du Kilt (14, Rue de Maine) where you can choose from Scottish tartans, Celtic melodies and present-day daggers. Did you know that Scandinavians are nuts about candies? With 150 types of licorice, lollipops, marshmallows, and – of course – the famous magical Merlin’s pills (which help you see life through rose-tinted glasses, be a champion or learn to fly), the unusual and charming “Karamell” shop speaks well of their addiction! (15, Rue des Martyrs) Finally, for a scent of Ireland, buy an Irish Turf Peat Incense from the Comptoir Irlandaise (157, Blvd. Voltaire), because, as a true Irishman once put it “If you’ve ever been warmed by a turf fire, while sharing stories, music and good cheer with family and friends”, you’ll never be able to live without it!