Heron Island, Great Barrier Reef, Australia

Friday, 11 June 2010

I'm on another weekend home exchange in Paris. This time, my usual exchange partner is bringing a friend to London, and I've been offered the friend's flat.

It's in the 13th arrondissement, in south-eastern Paris. It's an ordinary residential district, and the immediate surroundings include the full complement of "proper shops" - bakers, patissiers, florists, as well as a wet fish shop (try finding one of those in London) and a surprising number of hairdressers. All the sort of thing that makes Paris so very much itself.

This particular area is also known for the Butte aux Cailles. Up the slope, you come to a sort of mini-Montmartre. Apparently (according to the helpful history notices the City authorities post around the place), this was the place where the first hot air balloon crash took place, hitting a windmill in the 1780s. Later, industrialisation saw the area sink into poverty, as it became known for ragmen and metal-bashing.

Nowadays, it still has little streets of two-storey cottages, some with gardens drenched in flowers.

As in so many other places, colonisation by the arty crowd has been followed by gentrification. Of an early evening, as rather older and more well-heeled folk peruse the menus outside distinctly upmarket restaurants, the earnest and scruffy-looking spill out of tiny bars down the side-streets.

But the influence of the artists remains much in evidence. This - I suppose one has to call it an installation - hangs over the middle of the road.

Elsewhere, Jeff Aerosol and Miss Tic compete to be the local version of Banksy:

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