It is not often that I do something blog worthy on a Friday night, but happily this Friday night was an exception! For a few weeks now, I have been interested in checking out a place called Les Grands Voisins, a former hospital complex in the 14th arrondissement that has been temporarily turned into a series of boutiques, bars, restaurants and communal spaces by a group of French NGOs and associations. My friend Juan David and I saw a Facebook event entitled “Texas Couscous” that was scheduled to happen there on Friday night and, thinking we were in for some couscous with Texan seasonings and ingredients, we decided it would be the perfect time to go! (It turned out that “Texas Couscous” was the very misleading name of a musical group who uses marching band instruments to play covers of famous electro-pop songs, but we will get to that later…) 🙂
When Friday came around, I asked my friend Amélie is she was interested in going to Les Grands Voisins with us, and she not only said yes, she also offered to take me there on her scooter! 😀 Even though I had been on her scooter before, I still cannot get over how much fun it is to be driven around in one (plus there is probably no more glamorous way to leave work on a Friday night haha)! We arrived at Les Grands Voisins at around 6:30pm and, overwhelmed by its hipsterness, started taking pictures almost instantly. 😛
Walking around, there seemed to be an almost endless array of activities available at Les Grands Voisins. Not only were there shops, restaurants and bars, but there was also free sports equipment and games, a community garden and greenhouse, an urban campsite, artist studios and NGO office spaces. Les Grands Voisins also provides housing and employment for people who once were homeless, and many of them work to maintan the site and prepare and serve food in the restaurants. According to the calendar of events, they also seem to hold almost daily concerts, exhibitions, classes and farmer’s markets…they basically do it all! More than this general coolness, Les Grands Voisins seems to attract a crowd of all ages who are genuinely happy to be there, which was great to see and feel!
After taking a tour of the grounds, Amélie and I bought some delicious homemade limonade and chilled for a bit. Once it was time for her to go, I headed to the entrance to wait for Juan David, and while I waited I met a very nice women who volunteers there, and she gave me a map and a short history of the place (in French! I am still so happy when I can carry on a conversation with someone who isn’t already used to my accent haha!) She told me that the Saint-Vincent-de-Paul Hospital closed in 2012 as part of a city-wide effort to reform the hospital system, and that starting in 2015 community groups began to re-purpose it as a space for free events, restaurants and housing. All of this will come to an end in December, when the city of Paris is going to begin to formally redevelop it, so I would encourage you to come and check it out while you can!
Once Juan David arrived, I gave him the grand tour (we both agreed how cool it was and repeated this several times haha) and got some relatively cheap French artisanal beer. We also witnessed the moment when “Texas Couscous” started to play its marching band-style rendition of Daft Punk’s “Get Lucky”, which was actually more enjoyable than it sounds. 😛 Not long after I got very hungry, and luckily the main restaurant was selling Caribbean-style chicken and rice plates for only five euros! I could really get used to this hippie lifestyle! 😀
Les Grands Voisins looks even cooler when the sun goes down, so after dinner we took another walk around and snapped even more pictures. I can definitely see myself coming back to check out future concerts and events, I hope the weather cooperates this fall and winter!
The rest of my weekend was pretty quiet, although today I did take a little excursion to the Parc des Buttes-Chaumont, which is located in the 19th arrondissement in the north-east of Paris. I have been meaning to go there for so long and since it was a beautiful sunny day (and I wanted to work on my tan before I go to Nice next weekend!) it seemed like my moment had finally arrived. 🙂
You wouldn’t know it today, but the hilly and heavily forested Parc des Buttes-Chaumont, which opened in 1867, was once one of the most dreary places in Paris. At various points in its history, it was used as a place to display the bodies of convicted criminals, butcher horses, dump sewage and quarry limestone. When Baron Haussmann decided to turn this public health hazard into a park, it took thousands of people over two years to cart in several tons of topsoil, plant trees and vegetation, add artificial lakes and rivers, and dynamite the quarry to transform it into a beautiful mountain, complete with a Roman-style Temple de la Sibylle.
This Roman connection was very appropriate, because lately I have been reading “SPQR (a Latin acronym that means “The Senate and the People of Rome” and that still serves as that city’s motto): A History of Ancient Rome” by Mary Beard, a top-notch female historian from the UK. My love for Rome and ancient Roman history is fairly well-known, but lately I have begun to feel like I have forgotten a lot of what I learned when I studied abroad there during my junior year of college. This book contains so much more information that I was ever exposed to in school, but it is still a fairly easy read (and, in my opinion, super interesting!)
Once I felt like I was at risk of burning, I decided to leave the beautiful Buttes-Chaumont. On the bus ride home, however, I was suddenly consumed by a desire to eat a hot dog. The only hot dog places I remembered seeing in Paris were in the Marais, so I got off the bus and headed in that direction without thinking twice. 😛 The place I settled on is called Kraft Hot Dog and it was pretty tasty (I chose the avocado hot dog with honey mustard and fried onions, because anything that includes avocado is bound to be good)! All in all, it a wasn’t a bad way to end a Sunday afternoon in August! 🙂