Wednesday, 14 December 2011

(Lots of) New stuff at the apartment

The posts on this blog have become so few and far between that an apology would seem ridiculous.

Many of you might not know, but as well as looking after our two apartments I do actually have a job which keeps me pretty busy, and as part of it involves being on the web a lot, it's sometimes difficult to find the time and motivation to write here.


Since the last post, many things have changed/evolved. There was a "massage café" nearby that I wanted to write about. Then it closed. There was a sweet/interesting little shop that did sculpted busts much like you see in museums. It closed too. It seems that by the time I get round to writing about the neighbourhood, everything has changed! Shame on me.

At the apartment, there have been some changes and improvements. We bought a new vacuum cleaner. Yay! In line with our eco-policy, it uses 25% less electricity and 80% of it can be recycled. Emptying the dust out of old one was like some fiendish puzzle, but with this one you just pull the collector. Simple. A thing of beauty it is indeed.
However, you probably won't be using it at all; we've changed the cleaning policy at the apartment. Up until now, guests could either choose to clean the place themselves before leaving, or pay extra for cleaning to be done for them. We thought that people would look after the place better if they knew they would be tidying it before departure.

However, despite making valiant efforts (most of the time), extra cleaning was always required afterwards, and in the end we had to hire a cleaning lady to help out (I just don't have the time). We bore the cost of this for quite a while, but experience has shown us that all our guests take very great care of the place, and many would prefer not to have the hassle of cleaning up before they go, so now the cleaning fee (currently 50 euros) is obligatory for all new bookings.

(I have to say, we were also slightly concerned about the number of people who used our soft, colourful bamboo towels to clean the bathroom. With bleach. This gave them a really nasty tie-dye look that obliged us to replace them each time.)

Also, we were recently away on holiday in an apartment, and the cleaning fee was more than a night's rental, so we think the charge is pretty reasonable! It just about covers the costs of cleaning, and we don't make a profit on it.

In other news, we've replaced the cable TV box for the latest version available (took 6 months to arrive, then didn't work!). The main difference is a swank new menu when you switch it on, funky new rubber remote, web browser access for those who haven't got a laptop with them, and - the main attraction - Blu-ray playback.

Now, at last, we have HD video in the apartment. Hurrah!

Also, as part of the renovation of the building's stairwell, the electricity supply has been updated and the water supply has been changed too. This meant that the cleaning lady couldn't vacuum one day and had to clean in the dark (no electricity), and another she had to clean the place without any water (using her own bottled water no less). It also meant a fantastic amount of dust. Hopefully no other major changes will be necessary.

We've also replaced the rug in the living room (it was starting to look a bit dull), changed the continental quilt for a fluffier, warmer one, and changed all the pillows (they had gone a little flat). The pillows and quilt both use fibres produced with reduced CO₂ emissions and have no feathers in them.

Oh, and in the kitchen, we've added a toaster (about a year after one guest suggested we do so). Sorry we didn't get round to that a little quicker...

Next addition should be the funky new Dyson heater. We already have their cool air fan, but the new edition both heats and cools, meaning we could swap two machines for one. I think the design of it will go well with the apartment - it just screams 21st century phallic, don't you think?
Despite being horrifically expensive, it'll be blowing hot and cold your way sometime soon.

Friday, 1 July 2011

Time for a supermarket update

(Pssst! If you don't want to read through all this,
just click here for a map of the nearest supermarkets,
then click on any symbol to get the opening hours)
Time for a supermarket update? Time for an update full stop, I would say.

The blog's been very quiet for the last three months, partly because Spring is our busiest time and partly - to be frank - because were weren't feeling very inspired. But enough about about us. We'll be fine. A few recent guests at the Great Apartment have asked me where the nearest supermarket is. I did an article about them all a couple of years back, but a lot has changed since then. For some reason a whole host of new supermarkets have sprung up recently.

Can people really be buying more food than they used to? I doubt it. However, one company, Casino, has been trying to take control by opening up stores wherever possible. They own four different supermarket chains, have a 60% share of the market, and out of the eight supermarkets near us, five belong to them.

One other belongs to the Carrefour group, who has a 20% share in Paris. That means that 75% of our local supermarkets belong to just two companies, which is probably why prices are so high.

The other recent evolution is in opening hours. It is now possible to shop from 7am until midnight at the various supermarkets in the area. I pity the poor people who have to work there, but if you need something late (or early) you'll always find somewhere open.
The worst place to work would be Carrefour City (formerly Shopi) at Arts et Métiers, open from 7am until 11pm every day except Sunday (9am - 1pm). I've never bought anything there, but it looks pretty modern. I though it was hilarious that the manager has won a "people's choice" award, hanging at the entrance, because one of the employees told me that it's awarded by Carrefour themselves. Talk about giving yourself a slap on the back.
If you want a Franprix supermarket, there are three to choose from, one of which only opened a few months ago (in place of an old bonneterie). Two of them are within 80 metres of each other, which is just ridiculous. They're not particularly hip, but they do have a decent range. For basic shopping, they'd probably be my choice.

While taking the photo of the one above, the manager came out and aggressively told me I didn't have the right to take photos of his shop, and asked me what it was for. You get this argument from time to time in Paris, as if you were a terrorist or some sort of industrial spy, and it really annoys me, especially when the person immediately starts shouting at you. So I told him that from the pavement I can take photos of whatever I like, and that it was none of his business why I was taking photos. Idiot.
Looking for somewhere slightly more select? The Monop' (mini Monoprix) opposite the Pompidou Centre has products you won't find in the other supermarkets, but the prices will be slightly higher. They're open until midnight, which can come in handy.

There's a much bigger branch of Monoprix at Réamur Sébastopol, spread over two floors, but it can get very, very busy at the checkout on the food floor upstairs. Their prices don't seem to deter people at all! Although nothing particularly special inside, it is housed in an amazing building that we've mentioned before...
You can read the article about the building here. Finally, I can recommend our local organic supermarket Lemo. It's part of a chain of organic stores, has a decent range and the prices aren't excessive. We buy quite a lot of stuff there for the apartment. They have reasonable opening hours (every day except Sunday from 10am - 8pm) and it's really close. Plus, they are super nice, which in this day and age is something to be encouraged :-)
So here's the map of the supermarkets nearest to the Great Apartment (or click here to see it bigger). Shop wisely, OK?

Wednesday, 30 March 2011

New flowers at the Great Apartment

As usual, the flowers come and the flowers go. Despite some unseasonably warm weather, the narcissi that I bought a couple of weeks back refused to flower, going soft and mouldy. Charming. There goes 3 euros.

The tulips have fared a little better. A delicate pink colour, they won't last long, so enjoy them while you can.
And I decided to splash out on a Hydrangea, in the hope that it really does thrive the shade, as I have heard. I used to think these were real old lady plants, but I've warmed to them recently, perhaps because I'm becoming more of an old man myself!

I love the colour, and they give a good structure to the whole window box, so hopefully they will flower for a while. I wonder if my scraggly geraniums will make an effort sometime soon too?
I do try to make an effort with the flowers at the Great Apartment. Hopefully some people notice :-)

Tuesday, 29 March 2011

Midnight in Paris

Woody Allen was all over Paris last summer, filming his new movie Midnight in Paris, and the press was all over Woody (mostly because the president's wife Carla Bruni has a cameo). The trailer - with copious amounts of accordeon - is just out, and you can see it below (go fullscreen and 720p for the full ooh-là-là).

The poster is a Photoshop disaster that mixes the banks of the Seine with "The Starry Night" by Van Gogh, a painting that depicts the sky as seen from his window in the town of Saint-Rémy-de-Provence... 700 km from the capital.

It's also common knowledge that much negotiation was needed in order to have the film based here, and that new tax credit laws clinched it (the next Sherlock Holmes movie was largely filmed here for the same reason). Conditions include spending a minimum of one million euros, and - in Woody's case - that the film title contain the word "Paris"!

I also note in passing that the official site is rather than, because a certain Michael Borodynko snaffled the domain (just three months ago) before Sony Classics thought of reserving it. Lucky he didn't buy both of them, eh?

Anyway, the film/movie will be out in France on 11th May 2011, a week before the 'States even! Check out the trailer below. Très picture postcard, but intriguing. And Paris looks amazing (which of course it is)!

Sunday, 13 March 2011

An amazing new venue just opened two minutes from the Great Apartment

This is something that I've been waiting for (in a state of excitement) for quite a few years now; a new venue for electronics arts, especially music, has opened just two minutes away from us (here). It's called La Gaîté Lyrique, and it's amazing.

Even the story behind the building - a mix of 19th century baroque and bang-up-to-date modern - is an extraordinary one. Originally a theatre from the late 1800s, over the course of 150 years it became a venue for operettas, then a circus school, was partially demolished in the 1980s to be an indoor amusement park (which closed a few days later), and was left abandoned for over a decade.

It's now a huge building (9,500m²) on seven levels (five of which are open to the public) dedicated to all things electronic, with one small and one large modular space (each panel of the floor can be raised independently), an auditorium with an HD projector and surround sound, a large exhibition space, a ressource centre, a videogames area, a shop (next door), a café, rehearsal spaces... For me, it's the most interesting project that Paris has seen for years.

Upcoming events include a festival with Berlin as its theme, a DJ Spooky weekend, and a host of concerts including Dan Deacon, Architecture in Helsinki and José González performing with the Göteborg String Theory.

Here are a few photos (I especially like the historic foyer that they've kept), and I've written an exhaustive article about the place on the HPRG blog here. Be sure to check it out!
Loads more photos, info and films in my article here.

Tuesday, 22 February 2011

The Canal Apartment gets colorized (sort of)

Here at the Great Apartment we don't often mention the Canal Apartment, our other apartment, but here's a quickie for you.

Last summer, Dulux Valentine sponsored the painting of three walls in Lyon, Marseilles and Paris, filming the whole thing and making a young, trendy video out of the 'event'.

The Paris section took two days and was filmed from a multitude of angles. It just so happens that the wall chosen is 4 seconds from the front door of the Canal Apartment.

The video was supposed to be ready in July, got pushed back to September, and then of course I just forgot about it. But now I've remembered! I'll spare you the full film, but here's the half with our nearby wall in it (hint: it's the tall one. The short fat ones are in Lyon and Marseilles!).

If you want to see the whole thing, check out (what a ridiculous name...)

Strangely enough, the wall - once ripe for graffiti and bill sticking - has stayed more or less intact ever since. If you come stay with us at the Canal Apartment, there's no way you can miss it.

Monday, 21 February 2011

We have James Bond's iron

So James was like "Look, I want you to have my iron" and I was like "James, are you sure?" and he was like "After saving my ass back in Sudukostan? You deserve this iron", and I was like "OK bro, that's cool. Thanks. Love you man".

Actually, the story isn't quite as exotic as that. Our original iron was kinda basic, had an old school bakelite surround and - inevitably - got dropped and broken. So now we have this deadly black monster from Philips. It's the GC4491 bitch, and it's (wait for it)... for MEN!

Yep, secret service male guests of the Great Apartment, get your ironing arm pumped and ready; this baby is for YOU. So much so that one ridiculously virile specimen has even posted his own unboxing video on Youtube. Get ready to geek out.

The press release makes for amusing reading, comparing the iron to an Italian sports car and mentioning its metal plate made of Anodilium (which sounds kinda supahero, but turns out to be a registered Philips trademark meaning 'metal').

We actually chose the thing because you can put it directly back in its box after use without it melting anything. Perfect for us dumb men! Hurrah!

Monday, 24 January 2011

A lesson in logic:
our guests are cool, ergo we are cool.

Let's face the facts: I have never been cool.

Short-sighted at 16, a regular at computer club, home-knitted sweaters, didn't smoke. Just not cool.

So it's with a certain pleasure that I greet the cool, creative types that sometimes come and stay with us at the Great Apartment and Canal Apartment. Not that other guests are less cool, in fact the vast majority of guests and just ridiculously lovely, but sometimes you get a whiff of a designer brand name in conversation or from an e-mail address, and that makes us feel all fuzzy inside.

For instance, we once had one of the co-founders of Eley Kishimoto to stay. At the time, I hadn't heard of the brand, but since then I've seen it around a lot, namely through collaborations with Eastpak, Bearbrick and delish Belgian beer Duvel. You might recognise their iconic flash design.

They also do a range of lovely-looking wallpaper that I'm keeping in mind, and if you wear the beach shorts they designed for Orlebar Brown, you will be instantly gorgeous. And £150 lighter. True!

Then there were the seamstresses for very very cool brand Acne Studio that came for fashion week. After sewing madly for 25 hours non-stop to make the new collection look good on their weedy male models, they went out partying all night and got to bed at 6am! Before checking out at 7am! Oh to be young again... Perhaps if I were, their clothes would like good on me too.

We have also been hosts to James Benjamin Franklin, a painter from the New York area who really has an original style of milky-looking paintings depicting slightly surreal or unnerving scenes. Some people might find them creepy, but we thought they were ace! He turned out to be extremely personable, and when we were invited to his exhibition opening in Paris, we were delighted to hear that he'd sold a painting straight away. Excellent!

And let's not forget the impeccably-executed, retro-style simplicity of Miller + Goodman's amazing wooden blocks. They came to stay with us for a trade fair, and we were proud to have them; their stuff is great for inspiring kids' creativity, and beautiful to look at to boot. They deservedly won a Parents' Choice Gold Award in 2010 for their Playshapes.

As well as an exclusive collection for the Tate Gallery in London, they have a giant block puzzle for all nostalgic adults to proudly display at home, are rather proficient in animation, and also possess a slightly mysterious website, deliciously called Oh, and they were super nice too.

So as the years roll on, the more people we'll meet and the more cool-by-osmosis we'll become. Finally. Can't wait!

Friday, 14 January 2011

Les Bains Douches - the sad and faintly ridiculous story of our local nightclub

Ah, the night is a fickle mistress. Whereas once the aura of Paris made it a centre of nightclubbing as hot as New York, those days are long gone. The heyday was probably during the 1980s, first with Le Palace, the Studio 54 of Paris with stars lining up to get in (Andy Warhol, Grace Jones), and a notoriously nasty door policy that involved humiliation and sometimes even begging. When that closed in 1982, the second temple of clubbing - Les Bain Douches, just 30 seconds from the Great Apartment - stepped in. With an upstairs restaurant and a downstairs dancefloor, the club soon became the place to be, and a stylish semi-private concert space for people like Prince, and Joy Division.

Believe it or not, I even mixed there a couple of times, in the restaurant! At the time it was run by Claude Challe, who went on to build a reputation at the Buddha Bar. "Take them on a journey," he would tell me, as everyone around me just ate and talked, far more interested in themselves than the music. I had to beg for a drink during my five-hour mix, and they paid really badly.

After the hedonistic 80s, the Bains Douches came back into fashion during the nineties when David Guetta and his wife Cathy took over. I (vaguely) remember a number of great nights out there, and some extremely decadent after parties. When the Guettas moved on in 2003, it was the beginning of the end. Worst of all, the owner of the place had a falling out with the management company, and a tug of war began with one not paying the rent, the other starting legal proceedings to get them off the premises... the club regularly opened and closed for months at a time, Tuesdays became student night (no more supermodels and Hollywood stars), the rest of the week was almost exclusively gay... no-one really knew what the club was like any more. And people stopped coming.

Then in June 2010, things came to a head, disastrously. The management company decided to do some demolition/renovation/soundproofing work (depending on which story you believe) inside the basement club. Unfortunately (or stupidly), they didn't check with the owner, and they didn't worry about removing some load-bearing walls. Cracks started appearing on the building, and the club was immediately closed by the police for "grave and imminent danger". Idiots!

Interviewed at the time, the manager said that they would reopen no later than September after doing the required structural work. It's now January 2011 and they are still closed. A poster on the door says "Club night cancelled," and there's no news on when they'll be back.

In the meantime, the clubbers amongst you can 'dance to the beat' just a short walk from the Great Apartment; the Social Club (here) has a great line-up (at time of writing, they're expecting Fatboy Slim, Andy Weatherall, Trevor Jackson, Kenny Dope, The Glimmers...) and the Rex Club and its amazing sound system (probably the best in Paris) is not much further (here).  More techno-based, their line-up in the next couple of months includes Kenny Larkin, DJ Deep, Caribou, Radio Slave, Jeff Mills and Grandmaster Flash! And it's much more fun going out when you know that home is just a few minutes away on foot.

(And if all those names mean nothing to you, don't worry: there's more to life than clubbing)