An A-Z of Paris in autumn

A seasonal cornucopia of things to do in the French capital

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Autumn A-Z

'I love Paris in the winter, when it drizzles,' crooned Ella Fitzgerald. 'I love Paris in the summer, when it sizzles.' The First Lady of Jazz may have had a taste for the French capital in all seasons, but anyone truly acquainted with the city knows that autumn is when it comes into its own. Parisians, who abandon their city en masse during its long hot August, have always had a special relationship with September's la rentrée. In theory, it's the 'back to school' season of pressed uniforms and new pencils, but it also represents a wider reinvigoration of intellectual and artistic life – leaves might be falling, but the city blooms into a fantastic array of cultural events that continues for months. Our A-Z selection of the best things to be doing in Paris this season gives you 26 more reasons to enjoy the city in autumn...

The autumn alphabet

A

A is for • Africa

Food & Drink • The best African cuisine in Paris Fancy some spice and exoticism on your plate? Whether you’re hankering after a chicken tagine, a spicy merguez couscous, succulent strips of biltong or tangy Ethiopian pancakes, Paris delivers in spades. 'African food' isn't exactly a hard and fast concept – we've featured everything from the Middle Eastern aromas of the north to the cured meats of the south. But with the exception of the Maghreb, it's clear to us that these countries are unfairly overlooked in the melting pot that is the Parisian restaurant scene. Time to wise up, with our updated guide to the finest African meals the capital has to offer…

B

B is for • Ballet

Stage • The Rite of Spring In 2013, Stravinsky's pulsating modernist ballet celebrated the centenary of its hugely controversial world première. A year later, the celebrations have yet to abate: this autumn sees not one but two new, and wildly different, productions. In October She She Pop, an all-female creative collective hailing from Berlin, will give us a typically cerebral staging as part of the Festival d'Automne. Two months later, the experimental Italian artist Roméo Castellucci will direct a spectacle that dispenses with dancers entirely, replacing them with a swirling cloud of ground animal bone (we kid you not). Stravinsky may be long dead, but his anarchic spirit continues to inspire.

C

C is for • Cannes

Film • Heavyweights from Cannes 2014 are released In the film world, the end of summer means the beginning of awards season, which means a new load of hits from that year's Cannes. The 2014 programme was one of the strongest in years, and the coming months promise some quality cinema. Autumn releases to watch out for include precocious Xavier Dolan's über-hipster dysfunctional family romp 'Mommy'; Andrey Zvyagintsev's knockout political drama 'Leviathan'; the no-less-unpronouncable Abderrahmane Sissako's meditative study of West African jihadism 'Timbuktu'; and Naomi Kawase's love-it-or-hate-it coming-of-age tale 'Still the Water'. 

D

D is for • The Dark

Exhibition • Nuit Does the thought of stumbling around in the night, arms outstretched and ears pricked up to detect the smallest untoward sound, fill you with dread? If so, then you can take comfort in the fact that most animals are as useless in the dark as you are. Take the scutigera centipede, who will often resort to shedding some of its legs in order to continue moving through to the small hours. This is only one of the many absorbing revelations of this exhibition, which aims to shed some light on the mysteries of the dark. Its dial set firmly on 'family-friendly', 'Nuit' deftly interweaves sections on animals, outer space, and children's bedtime stories. Bonne nuit indeed…

E

E is for • Episode

Shopping • Second-hand and vintage shops There's oodles of vintage to be found in Paris – if you know where to look. Dépôts-vente are second-hand stores where you can drop off your good, high-quality old clothes and, once some else buys them, recoup a percentage of the profit. Ressourceries are semi-permanent car boot sales where you can pick up everything from clothes to furniture and household items. Our fave vintage shop du jour is Episode, a branch of the Dutch chain, where you'll find some real bargains if you're willing to rummage. If your wallet is feeling the pinch after a summer of dissipation, you could do worse than shop here for a while.

F

F is for • François Truffaut

Film • François Truffaut retrospective This mammoth retrospective, which commemorates the 30th anniversary of Truffaut's premature death from cancer, covers his output as director, screenwriter and producer. A parallel season looks at the New Wave filmmaker's immeasurable influence on subsequent generations of French directors, including current Cannes darlings Olivier Assayas and Leos Carax. And as if that isn't enough – though, frankly, it probably is – the Cinémathèque will also be curating an exhibition of the paraphernalia that Truffaut accumulated during his working life: letters, sketches, annotated scripts and the like.

G

G is for • Gastronomy

Food & Drink • Fête de la Gastronomie In 2010, UNESCO classified France’s gastronomy as 'an intangible cultural heritage of humanity', but governing bodies have historically done very little to actively promote the survival of the country’s culinary traditions. Three years ago, however, a step was taken in the right direction with the inauguration of the Fête de la Gastronomie (which takes place this year on September 26–28). In Paris, this means a programme of events that bring together food professionals and the general public – from cooking demonstrations and recipe competitions to special lower-priced tasting menus in top restaurants. Better start working up an appetite…

H

H is for • Homework

Food & Drink • Cafés for la rentrée For a city with a thriving population of students, academics, stressed freelancers and budding writers, Paris doesn't exactly abound in good public work spaces. Around the peak early-autumn period of la rentrée, the city's libraries tend to fill up quickly and sprout queues of frustrated scholars that snake around the block. Traditional cafés and brasseries don't exactly rise to the occasion, what with their lack of internet and unforgivingly small tables. So for the benefit of all those with a MacBook in hand, a deadline on the horizon and an urgent need for caffeine, we’ve rounded up the best cafés in Paris with free Wi-Fi and proper table space. Bring on the emails.

I

I is for • IAM

Nightlife • IAM The fathers of French rap turn 30 this year, and celebrate with the release of what they claim will be their last album, followed by this one-off gig at the Olympia. If you've never heard of them, rest assured their stature in the homeland is akin to the Wu-Tang Clan's in the States (as if to cement the fact, they've collaborated extensively with the Clan). Their discography is a sprawling network of group and solo efforts, all united by smart production, savvy lyrics and a strong political thrust. Catch them in November – it may be your last chance.

 

J

J is for • Jazz

Nightlife • Jazz à la Villette The Jazz à la Villette festival is one of the most hotly anticipated events of the back-to-school season for musically-minded Parisians. Every concert is unique, a meeting between different artists: jazz, funk, hip-hop, blues and world. The programme for this year's edition at Parc de la Villette features the usual blend of established masters and up-and-coming talent, boppers and fusion artists, swing bands and free jazz quartets, Western and Eastern traditions. Usual suspects Mulatu Astatke and Roberto Fonseca share the billing with newcomers like Melanie de Biasio and Laura Mvula. Appetite whetted? Click here for the full programme.

K

K is for • Kids’ shops

Shopping • The best kids' shops in Paris Looking to tart up your tots for their first day of school? Wanna stock up on jackets and mittens in preparation for winter? Running low on, ahem, weeble dolls? Our guide to the ten best kids' shops in the capital is for you. From the cute pastel designs of Milk on the Rocks to the retro accessories of the dubiously named Loulou Addict, the crêpe blouses of Soeur to the plastic dinosaurs of Le ciel est à tout le monde, these emporia for the prepubescent cover every base. Just be prepared to shell out over the odds.

L

L is for • The Libertines

Nightlife • The Libertines Carl Barât and Pete Doherty's band of grungy indie roughnecks will be taking to a Paris stage yet again for one exclusive night at the Zénith. Their show in London this year was their first full-scale reunion since they broke up a decade ago, so it looks as though the well-publicised animosity between the band's members seems to have cooled – although it's kind of a strange time for them to get together again, what with Barât's new band, The Jackals, just beginning to mount their own musical campaign. Whatever the circumstances, you can be sure that these shows will be a blessing for the Libertines' legions of fans, who most certainly can still stand them now.

M

M is for • Marcel Duchamp

Exhibition • Marcel Duchamp: La peinture, même It's easy to forget that this self-styled 'anartist' – the man whose work sounded the first death knell for painting – was himself, at the outset, a painter. Here's a reminder, then, from the Centre Pompidou: an exhibition of around one hundred of Marcel Duchamp's early paintings, including some very rare works on loan from the States. Little known in Europe, these works speak to the classical and post-impressionist influences that Duchamp channelled in his formative stages. Keep an eye out for his epochal 'Nude Descending a Staircase'.

N

N is for • Nuit Blanche

Arts & Stage • Nuit Blanche During the Nuit Blanche festival, held every year from 7pm 'til 7am on the first Saturday in October, the city blossoms into a fantastic harvest of art, music and theatrical events. It's an unmissable time to visit, or for resident expats to shake off their post-summer sloth and get out and enjoy the city like true Parisians. The decade-old Nuit Blanche is a free dusk 'til dawn carnival of arts and culture inspired by St Petersburg's 'White Nights', where music and the arts keep the population entertained throughout the long summer evenings when the sun never sets...

O

O is for • Oenophiles

Food & Drink • Where to drink wine in Paris As bars fold up their parasols and take down their cocktail menus, the capital's tipplers and boozehounds retreat indoors and its wine cellars come into their own. No doubt about it: autumn is the season of the grape, and Paris is bursting with atmospheric bars in which to sample the summer's vintage. Our comprehensive guide to the city's wine bars is a good place to start looking; if you'd rather degust in your own home, our list of the best wine and spirits shops should set you in good stead. Santé!

P

P is for • Pina Bausch

Stage • Two Cigarettes in the Dark A cubic apartment decked out in white velvet. Men in black tuxes. Women in sleek wedding dresses. Such are the stylistic parametres of Pina Bausch's minimalist chamber piece, which takes its name from a Bing Crosby song about lost love. A product of the German choreographer's most austere phase, 'Two Cigarettes in the Dark' channels a melancholic ennui through the resigned limping and desperate prostrations of its small cast. Beethoven, Purcell and Monteverdi are among the composers called upon to underline the tragedy of it all. But this being Pina, humour is ever present, in the form of the odd burlesque scene and bawdy dialogue.

 

Q

Q is for • Quidam

Stage • Quidam The world's largest circus troupe returns to Paris this autumn with its latest spectacle. 'Quidam' tells the story of Zoe, a young girl who tires of the banalities of the adult world and retreats into the wonders her own imagination. Nothing original, granted – but the Cirque du Soleil's stories have always served as pretexts for scenes of breathtaking acrobatic dexterity. Olympic athletes, expert stuntmen and professional dancers decked out in zany costumes come together to do beautiful things with their bodies, while diabolos, Cyr wheels and various other carnivalesque contraptions fly overhead. Tickets may cost a pretty penny, but the Canadian company never disappoints.

 

R

R is for • Roland Topor

Exhibition • Roland Topor Author of a bookshelf's worth of darkly hilarious novels? Check. Co-founder of the Panic Movement? Check. Mastermind of the world's weirdest kids' TV programme, 'Téléchat'? Check. Set designer for Jérôme Savary and György Ligeti? Check. Animator on 'Fantastic Planet'? Check. Actor in films by William Klein and Raoul Ruiz? Checkmate. Trying to synopsise the career of the surreally prolific Roland Topor is about as impossible as attempting to transcribe the stream-of-consciousness ramblings of a poet with Tourette's. The Galerie Anne Barrault is nevertheless giving it a shot, with this admirable exhibition centred on his visual art.

S

S is for • Smoothies

Food & Drink • Paris's best juice and cold drinks Ever since Californian new-agers decided that smoothies are an essential component of a spiritually balanced life, cafés have sought to cater to those who'll only take their fruit blended. Needless to say, we approve of this trend – so much so that we've sniffed out the best juices and smoothies, alongside the finest iced coffees and bubble teas, that Parisian establishments have to offer. As autumn draws in and the sun retreats, you'll be needing a new source of Vitamin C; what better alternative than a glass of freshly squeezed OJ?

T

T is for • Techno

Nightlife • Techno Parade For 16 years now, Techno Parade has been flying the flag for French dance music in the form of its annual citywide rave. Every autumn, close to 300,000 Parisians join the procession of DJ booths as it inches its way through the streets of the Right Bank. The fusion of house, techno, dubstep, hardcore and drum 'n' bass makes for a veritable carnival of club music – Paris's best, in fact. With DnB heavyweights Dirtyphonics at the helm, this year's edition is shaping up to be a big one. As ever the focus is on homegrown musical talent, albeit this time with a special showcase of Franco-Vietnamese artists. It's the last of the summer raves. And it's free.

U

U is for • Ukiyo-e

Exhibition • Hokusai at the Grand Palais When you say you're a fan Japanese ukiyo-e (woodblock prints), what you probably mean is you like the works of Katsushika Hokusai. Ever since his finely detailed illustrations of 19th-century Japan began to filter into Europe, Hokusai's style has more or less imprinted itself on the Western consciousness as the look of Japanese art – consider his 'Great Wave off Kanagawa', which is the go-to picture for publishers or poster designers looking to imbue their product with a touch of the Orient. Three cheers, then, for this retrospective of his prints. Expect some 500 works on display, and ample historical context on well-presented placards. 

V

V is for • Vampires

Guided tour • Ghosts and Vampires Q: What should you do in Paris if you're after a night of shock and disgust? A: Try paying the bill in a Saint-Germain restaurant. Or, failing that, sign up for a Ghost and Vampires walk with the Mysteries of Paris tour company. Starting outside Notre-Dame and ending up at Les Halles, the walk is a whirlwind introduction to the ghoulish history lurking beneath the stones and behind the locked doors of the Right Bank. By the end of the night, you'll have been acquianted with a room of drowned children, baths of blood and murderous barbers, inter alia. Indeed, the theme of the tour isn't so much Ghosts and Vampires as Murders and Suicides.

W

W is for • Westerns

Film • Sergio Leone retrospective Epic gunfights. Epic running times. Harmonicas on the soundtrack. Trains. Horses. Scowling hitmen with beards. Few cinematic languages are as distinct as that of Sergio Leone, the late Italian maestro of the Spaghetti Western. The seven movies that he helmed in his forty-year career form a coherent set: centred as it is on the Spaghetti Western genre, an homage to the Hollywood Western which is itself founded on the shaky fables of the Wild West, his oeuvre is preoccupied with nostalgia and myth. The Cinémathèque Française will be screening all seven, as well as several films that he scripted.

X

X is for • Xinh Xinh

Food & Drink • Xinh Xinh Looking for a Vietnamese restaurant in the 13th arrondissement, most Parisians will head for Chinatown. And yet just a few hundred yards away, opposite the Hôpital de la Pitié-Salpêtrie, is the sign for Madame Tran’s Xinh Xinh, possibly the most authentic joint of the lot. She serves up traditional cuisine from her homeland that’s a million miles from the same old Cantonese rice and sauce dishes. Paris's Vietnamese restaurant scene is more exciting than ever – just check our newly updated guide – and Xinh Xinh is one of the best of the lot. A better place to warm up on a blustery autumn evening we can't imagine.

Y

Y is for • Yard

Food & Drink • Yard Run by a culinary supergroup that includes chefs from Au Passage and Bones, Yard promises – and roundly delivers – good things. The good things in question include a range of carefully prepared dishes, an interesting selection of wines and artisanal beers and fair prices. The food is the stuff of experienced chefs, deftly tailored to the season and at times creative. The set menu (around €30, or €18 at lunchtime) changes daily; we were treated to a creamy gaspacho, followed by a tuna steak seasoned with tomatoes and capped with a lethally good grilled peach and fromage frais combo. One of our best finds in recent months.

Z

Z is for • Zadkine

Museum • Musée Zadkine This is one of the most intimate museums in Paris, a rare peaceful corner where you can also get a good dose of modern art. It's an ideal destination for those looking to dodge the autumn rush of tourists to the Louvre and Musée d'Orsay. The former studio of Russian-born Cubist sculptor Ossip Zadkine was converted into a museum in 1932, and has always had a particular charm, conserving the spirit of the place where the sculptor and his wife, painter Valentine Prax, lived for more than 40 years. A recent renovation has cemented this success. Don’t miss the garden planted with stylised bronze statues (including the famous ‘Monument à la Ville détruite de Rotterdam’).


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