Jardin des Plantes
The Jardin des Plantes was founded as a royal garden of medicinal plants. Nearly four hundred years later, its healing qualities are still at work. Located in the 5th arrondissement, this urban oasis covers 68 acres and is home to over 23,500 species of plants and nearly as many kinds of people. Many are sprawling on the lawns outside, enjoying the pleasant combination of personal space and public togetherness. Around the gardens are other activities, like a botanical library, a small zoo, a labyrinth, natural history exhibits and Mexican and Australian hothouses. We ventured into the Mexican hothouse and spent half an hour in the undergrowth of the lush tropical plants, being showered with a fine mist from overhead sprinklers.
Grande Mosquée de Paris
Also in the 5th is the Mosquée de Paris. Founded in 1926, it has been at the heart of the Algerian-Muslim community for close to a century. Despite its size and importance, the mosque isn’t easily stumbled upon and this introverted quality heightens the experience of it. We head inside to the bathhouse for a soak in the cavernous marble rooms and have some long-haul-flight-tensions pummelled out of us by a masseuse. It’s open to the public and the semi-shaded courtyard buzzes with people drinking mint tea, which we order alongside some sweets. A restorative experience on a hot summer’s day.
L’Avant Comptoir is a tiny bar where locals stand shoulder to shoulder eating casual French tapas-style dishes and choosing from a wide selection of French beverages. A few of their dogs fill the voids around their legs. The bar counter is made of zinc, a material that is cool to the touch but warm to the eyes. On it sit communal bread and condiments that create shared moments between customers. Needing to restore some minerals after the bathhouse, we sit outside and have some oysters from Cap Ferret on the Atlantic Coast. The freshly shucked shellfish transport us momentarily from the city to the sea in a way that only an oyster, or an oyster bar, can.
Palais de Tokyo
Palais de Tokyo is one of those places that we can (and often do) spend an entire day. At 22,000 sqm, it is the largest centre for contemporary art in all of Europe, but also provides spaces for working and relaxing. Plus, it boasts the best view of the Eiffel Tower, if you need to tick that off your list. Updated by local architects Lacatan and Vassal in 2002, the atmosphere and aesthetic are perfectly described on their website as a “rebellious wasteland with the air of a Palace, an anti-museum in permanent transformation”. Located in the 16th, Palais de Tokyo is constantly offering up fresh shoots within an old world neighbourhood.
Paris Duperré Basketball Court
Sandwiched between residential blocks in the 9th arrondissement, the Paris Duperré basketball court blurs the lines between recreation and public art. Custodian of the court is Stephane Ashpool, who has been training local kids there for years and who first decorated it in 2009, in partnership with Nike. More recently, Ashpool’s brand, Pigalle, has collaborated with Paris creatives Ill-Studio, whose 2015 update, inspired by Russian artist Kasimir Malevich’s painting Sportsmen, briefly took over the internet. Their 2017 update is more futuristic but no less impressive, capturing the energy and elegance of the game itself. On this Sunday it is busy: bodies and basketballs flying everywhere, the colours of the court seeming to push the players into hyper-speed. “From us to the youth… ” wrote Ill-Studio and Pigalle in a short Instagram dedication when they relaunched the court in June and what a gift it is. Not only have they created a place to play basketball, they’ve also demonstrated that if you care about a place you can turn it from ordinary to extraordinary.
With Merci being closed on a Sunday and Colette about to shut its doors for good, we decide to check out one of Paris’s next generation concept stores, Centre Commercial. Located on the Rue de Marseille, it sits along the likes of APC, Maje and Claude Pierlot. Its owners Sébastien Kopp and François Morillion also started the environmentally friendly sneaker brand Veja and they have carried this ethos into their store by only stocking labels that are prepared to be transparent about their production. They also use the space for politically provocative gatherings like the launch of Julian Assange’s book or a dystopian-themed event for a green energy company called Enercoop, where everyone wore boiler suits and gas masks. Even the name of the store (which in France means shopping mall) is a provocation. Inspired by urban theorist Mike Davis’s Dead Cities books and philosopher Bernard Stiegler, it is a comment on how important our consumer choices are in shaping the kind of future we want to see. It’s a future Sebastien and Francois are catering for in their shop Centre Commercial Kids, just around the corner.
In So Many Books, Mexican poet and intellectual Gabriel Zaid writes: “There are more books to contemplate than stars in a night on the high seas. In this immensity, how is a reader to find his personal constellation, those books that will put his life in communication with the universe? And how is a single book among the millions to find its readers?”
The answer to this question can be found in places like 0fr, an unassuming bookstore and gallery that connects the local with the global. The store’s slightly chaotic stacks include art books, cutting edge magazines and zines, the combination of which acts like a magnet for designers, artists, models, students and tourists, like ourselves, who might otherwise just be floating through space. Opened by brother and sister Alexandre and Marie Thumerelle in 1995, it is well worn and has the air of a family home. The name 0fr is shorthand for zero francs. In a New York Times interview, Alexandre elaborated on the name: “It means free. It means generosity. It means that you do things because you like them, not because you want something to happen afterwards.” This spirit is also conveyed through 0fr’s publishing imprint, which produces GuideParis, a publication that encourages people to explore the city and prove that Parisians aren’t as prickly as some would have you think.
In Paris, the freelancer habit of ordering a coffee and working for five hours in a cafe doesn’t really fly – Cafe Craft is the exception. Located in the hip Canal Saint-Martin neighbourhood, a popular spot for freelancers, the concept is simple: three euros per hour, either by consumption or by connection, with excellent espresso provided by local roasters Lomi. Designed by Léa Padovani and Sébastien Kieffer of Pool, the space feels clean, warm and well-arranged, the perfect place to organise your thoughts and do some work without feeling like you’re working.
About Study Tours
Study Tours are not intended to be city guides. Their purpose is to try and understand how different cities function, what kind of life they provide their inhabitants and what we might be able to learn from them. Think of them not as a comprehensive list of things to do but as a comment from a curious fly on the wall, delivered without an opinion of how the city ought to be better. All our Study Tours can be found here.
Study Tour by Lily Keil. Research by Shenaz Engineer. Editing by Chris Barton & Samuel Davison. Photography by Max Creasy.