7 Things to Do in Paris Тhat Will Make You Feel the Spirit of Halloween

Happy Halloweek, fellow readers (all 17 of you! hi Mom!). If you, like me, were raised on a steady diet of Happy Meals and American pop culture, chances are that at some point in your life, you felt the urge to put on a scary costume and go trick-or-treating, but were too afraid that your local babushka will call the cops on you or that a group of neo-nazis will denounce you for being “anti-patriotic”. Yup, the early 2000s were a wild ride in Eastern Europe. 

But anyway, you’re all grown up now and have moved away from the Halloween haters, only to find yourself in Paris, where the predominant attitude to the holiday of the undead is…inconsistent, at best. While a lot of small children and their millennial parents seem to have fully embraced it and would dress up, carve pumpkins and even organize trick-or-treating events in their schools or communities, the spectre of the All Saints seems to have passed right through us unfortunate twenty-something souls. 

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Don’t get me wrong, a lot of people still have Halloween parties, especially since November 1st is always a holiday in France, but for the majority of people, it seems like just another casual excuse to party (or, for bars and clubs, to charge you extra for the same services). A lot of people don’t even wear costumes, let alone fully immerse themselves in the spooky holiday atmosphere. 

But fear not, cause I’m here to right those wrongs and bring the undead back to Paris. Here is a list I have compiled of the top 7 activities you can do this week in Paris (or any week, for that matter – Halloween is not a date on the calendar, it’s a state of mind!) in order to feel the spirit of Halloween.

1. Explore the Mysterious and Dark History of Some of Your Favorite Parisian Landmarks With “Sous les Pavés”

Sous les Paves Notre Dame

Photo: Sous les Pavés, Facebook

Uncover the mysteries of the infamous Père Lachaise cemetery with the help of a vampirologist? Find out all about the centuries-old legends of witches and ghosts haunting the Montmartre? Go on a night walk in the Latin quarter to learn about medieval Paris’s history of occultism, worship of the Devil and the danse macabre? No, I didn’t make this up while tripping on acid – these are all recurrent guided walks and visits by the collective Sous les Pavés that you can sign up for online! 

Since these tours are often organized and led by struggling actors with some vague claims of historical background, the authenticity of the presented information may be a bit dubious, but who cares? If you’ve seriously never wanted to get a taste of the darkness that lies beneath the City of Lights (again, not talking about an acid trip at an underground techno club) and the ghost stories that haunt its Gothic cathedrals and dark street corners, you’re either lying or you’re just no fun. 

The Sous les Pavés tours do come at a price though – no, not your firstborn or the blood of a virgin – but a relatively modest price of around 15 to 25 euros. Most of their guided tours this week are already fully booked, but the good news is that they do them all year round, so you can keep the Halloween spirit alive at least until Christmas. Alternatively, you can go through their events for inspiration, then do some research online and go chase the fantoms of Paris on your own for free. Just try not to get sucked into a satanist cult, or worse, a French decadent poet society, while you’re at it.

2. Finally Find the Time to Visit the Catacombs

Paris Catacombs Skulls

Photo by Travis Grossen

Is there anything that screams “chilling Halloween vibes” more than an 18th century underground ossuary which holds the remains of more than six million people who were taken out of their graves or sometimes even murdered and then buried in a dark long tunnel to address the city’s cemetery overflow problem? And if that’s not enough for these damned souls, their skulls and bones are now very publicly displayed as part of a popular tourist distraction to the same people who were shaking hands with Mickey Mouse or taking engagement photos at the Eiffel Tower just an hour ago. 

I don’t know about you, but if I were one of these poor 18th century suckers, I’d be rising out of my common grave and haunting the shit out of the tourists. And even if this doesn’t happen and the Catacombs turn out to be just like any other museum full of dead people, only poorer, at least Halloween would be a good excuse to finally get around to visiting this landmark, which, if you’re anything like me, you’ve likely been putting off since you moved here two years ago. Why not even get a bit wild and go to Versailles or the Bois de Boulogne while you’re at it? Gotta crunch those #cultured insta stories. 

3. Go to the WHSmith Bookstore and Café for a Very Potterhead Halloween

I don’t know about you, but for me, there’s no better time to do the annual Harry Potter marathon and reconnect with your inner Potterhead than Halloween. Okay, fine, maybe winter break is even better for that, but still, I feel like the potential of J.K. Rowling’s franchise for summoning your Halloween spirits is frequently understated. For these lucky wizard kids that live among ghosts, mythical creatures and a constant sense of mortal danger in a cool Gothic castle, every day is like Halloween and every dinner in the common hall is the Halloween dinner party you wish you were invited to. 

You may not be a wizard or a rich kid in a private British boarding school, but you can relive some of that magic in WHSmith, the British bookstore and café in the heart of Paris. Not only do the old wooden staircase and the walls and windows decor remind you of a gothic library, but the careful selection of books, gifts and curious objects will make you feel like you’re on a day trip to Hogsmeade. Finally, for the O.G. Potterheads, WHSmith has one of the best selections of Harry Potter souvenirs and merchandise, so you can go ahead and really geek it out. 

4. Go to a Real Vintage Store

Thrift and vintage shopping are equally great ways to refresh your wardrobe without ruining your bank account, blowing up your carbon footprint or financially supporting child slave labor (#SayNoToFastFashion), but the line between second hand and actual vintage  can be quite blurry. Often times, stores would try to pass off late 2000s items for vintage just to jack up the prices, which is not to say that the late 2000s weren’t an iconic era of its own (leave Britney alone!!!), but it can be kinda frustrating. 

Photos: TheGreenFan, Facebook

So this Halloween, why not go to a real vintage shop? You know, the ones that sell flapper hats from the 1920s and peignoirs that you can only see on the set of Mad Men nowadays. Whether you’re bringing your A-game to the Halloween office party by dressing up as Joan Holloway, or you’re just looking for some retro inspiration for your personal style, with a touch of imagination, going to a nice vintage store in Paris can feel like travelling back in time. My favorite one is TheGreenFan on boulevard Diderot: it’s warm, cozy and has a mysterious aura, so if I were to place my bets which Parisian shop is owned by a secret time traveller, it would be this one.

5. Watch the Rocky Horror Picture Show at Studio Galande

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Here is a special secret for all the pop culture-obsessed camp lovers out there (or is that only me? okay). The Rocky Horror Picture Show is a musical comedy horror movie from the 70s. Although it received horrible reviews, the movie became a pop culture phenomenon when people in New York began showing up to midnight screenings dressed up as the characters, talking back to the screen, singing along etc. The tradition was replicated in movie theaters around the world and in a lot of places, actual theatrical troupes would come in and act as a “shadow cast”, reenacting and lip-syncing live as the movie was showing on the screen. 

If you live in Europe, you might know about Rocky Horror from that emo teen movie The Perks of Being a Wallflower, but chances are that you haven’t actually participated in a live show. If you live in Paris though, you’re in luck, because the movie theater Studio Galande is the only one in Europe that is currently doing regular screenings, and they have one on Halloween night! 

 

Photos: Studio Galande, Wikipedia

6. Get Some Chillz at a Haunted House..or a Haunted Wax Museum?

You may have noticed from my previous suggestions that I’m not that big on getting actually scared on Halloween. Yeah, horror movies and shows are cool and all, but I already have enough day to day adult anxieties, you know? Still, if you are the type of person who enjoys jump scares and cheap thrills, you may want to check out Le Manoir de Paris, the only “official” haunted house in the City of Lights. 

Or, in case paying 35 euros to get tackled by failed camp counsellors and hearing French children scream isn’t your cup of tea (because honestly, same), you could check out the Musée Grevin, a wax museum that apparently has a special show for the Toussaint where the dead wax figures come to life or some shit. Personally, ever since I saw the 2005 slasher film with Paris Hilton, I’d much rather if wax figures didn’t come to life and pretend to have acting skills, but who am I to judge?

7. Go to an Esoteric Shop and Connect to Your Inner Mysticist

This last one may not be as traditionally spooky and halloweenish as the rest of the lot, and I understand you might have some reservations about going to a shop where a wacky lady who’s not Gwyneth Paltrow will try to sell you egg crystals, but hear me out on this, okay? The key to having a magical Halloween is all about the temporary suspension of disbelief. Sure, most of us don’t actually believe in witches and ghosts, but it doesn’t mean we can’t at least for a night entertain the idea of some form of mysterious forces interfering, if only briefly, with our otherwise boring and mundane lives? 

I personally nurture this, hmm, let’s call it supernatural optimism, by religiously reading my horoscopes and analysing my friends’ birth charts, but if you’re not surfing on that high plane, you might be ripe for a short visit to the good ol’ esoteric shop, my friend. And if by any chance you find yourself drawn to its mystical energy and are in the market for something more, know that I do free tarot card readings over coffee or Skype, just sayin’.

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That’s all, folks! Let me know what you thought of my ideas, as well as how you plan to stick it to the heretics haters and have a very Parisian Halloween. And one last thing: Halloween is all about not being afraid to show who you are, whether this is a 150 year old ghost of a Parisian suffragette or a shameless Slutty Pumpkin. You’re doing amazing, sweety! 

 

NИYA – the Bulgarian Artist You Want to Hear

First things first – in 2019 we’ve decided to talk not only about our travel experiences, but focus a little bit more on lifestyle and pretty much everything we consider to be worthwhile and potentially appealing – from book reviews, zero waste tips all the way to interviewing new hip artists… That said, may I present you Niya Petrova (NИYA) – the winner of The Voice of Bulgaria 2018 who just announced her first single “By myself”. In fact, I met her 2 years ago when she was singing at a friend’s prom and since then it turns out she has adopted the ‘why not’ mentality, which led her to auditioning and eventually winning The Voice! 

What’s her style? Well, the way she put it: “I would describe it as constantly changing. I get hooked on different genres depending on my current mood. These days though I feels it more like soul. “

 

“I get inspired by everything – starting from people, places, my travels, my work. I believe everything around us can be inspiring in the most amazing ways, if we only give it a chance.”

She told me that she’s happy to draw inspiration from her work as well. Apart from singing in bars since she was about 17, Niya works for two charity organisations – “Probudnik”, which focuses on supporting kids in risk, and “Single Step” – a well-know non-profit supporting the LGBT youth in Bulgaria. Inspiring, ain’t she? 

Her debut song “By myself” was shot in Jordan and isn’t the typical song produced for a commercial singing competition winner. Unlike many mainstream pop pieces, Niya’s single is authentic, enchanting and quite fresh, I would say. 

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“There hasn’t been a moment when I felt some kind of pressure to change who I am thanks to all the people around me. They were the ones who always supported me to be myself. Not staying true to my style and what I envision is not an option. Otherwise, it wouldn’t be real.”

That’s what she told me when I asked her about how she managed to stay true to herself… For Niya it seems unquestionable (and that’s how it should be), but most listeners who have encountered Bulgarian pop would understand my genuine appreciation of her rare wilfulness. She’s precisely the type of Bulgarian artist I would brag about to international friends and readers.

With “By myself” she wanted to show “what and how exactly goes through my mind at the time being” and somehow it just worked.

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“It’s great to see how the casual humming of a melody, some words written down and some thought put into from great musicians, transforms into a song.”

When I asked her what does she think should be next, she said “Only good things are coming! I hope to sing more original pieces and even dare to write herself, as well as more performances and… more from everything let’s put it that way!”

All and all, Niya is the type of person we need in the Bulgarian music scene! So, go listen to her new song and The Voice performances 😉

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Is Giving Flowers on Women’s Day Sexist?

March 8, afternoon. I am sitting in a Dablby café (hopefully a deliberate misspelling of “Double B”), enjoying my overpriced strawberry tea and the manicure I just got, because it’s Women’s Day and I am a woman, so I deserve to treat myself. As you are reading this, nine out of ten French feminists are throwing their laptops at the wall, getting ready to destroy me in the comments for compromising the real meaning of the holiday. Meanwhile, the Russian girl next to me is freaking out over the phone, because her boyfriend got her the wrong type of flowers. I’m starting to sense a bit of a cultural difference here. Let’s investigate.

Wait, so…Women’s Day is not just about the flowers?

Growing up in Bulgaria, I never reflected much on the origin or the significance of International Women’s Day. In fact, I didn’t even know it was international. The 8th of March for me was merely the second relatively important spring holiday, exactly one week after “Baba Marta”. And if the latter consisted in giving each other martenitsa (red-and-white bracelets and charms meant to bring good health and celebrate the beginning of spring), then Women’s Day was all about giving flowers and gifts to close female relatives, girlfriends and teachers. While in Bulgarian discourse, there was no specific association of the holiday with feminism or women’s rights, it did implicate a profound gesture of love and respect for women and womanhood as a whole, and a special consideration for the role of the mother. I can’t say for sure to which extent my young self was aware of these meanings, but she certainly liked this once-in-a-year opportunity to receive flowers for no other reason than being a woman.

This last notion is exactly what got me in trouble a year ago, when the 8th of March came around while I was studying in France. We were having casual drinks at a friend’s house, cause what else would a Sciences Po student do on a weeknight before midterms? As it often was the case, I was the only non-French person in the group and when someone distractedly mentioned that Women’s Day was coming soon, it instantly drew my attention. “Oh, you guys celebrate it too? With flowers and all?” Big mistake.

My seemingly innocent question was a mix of genuine curiosity and surprise, since I hadn’t seen more flowers and flower shops than usual on the streets, and those would have been hard to miss in a town the size of Dijon. As it turned out, no, they didn’t celebrate the 8th of March “with flowers and all”. International Women’s Day, as my French friends were eager to lecture me, was not some macho holiday whose only purpose is for men to once again objectify and reduce women to movie clichés by giving them flowers. No, the correct name was actually International Women’s Rights’ Day, a holiday of communist and feminist origins, and if it was to persist today, then it is for us to celebrate and promote women’s rights and speak out against gender inequality and stereotypes. So much for the flowers, then.

You and your roses can’t sit with us 

Just to make things clear, I was not at all against this newly introduced to me interpretation of Women’s Day. As a feminist, I do identify with and support women’s rights causes such as fighting for gender equality and against discrimination. I even felt a bit ashamed that I had never heard of International Women’s Day in the context of feminism and that this was not at all a thing in Bulgaria. After all, we could really use a Women’s Rights Day in our current political and social climate (*cough cough* the Istanbul Convention). It was simply not what I had grown up with.

This, I assume, was also the case for about half of our campus population, who come primarily from Eastern and Central Europe. This is why for the 8th of March, I had successfully convinced the Student Union to offer a flower to every girl on campus, in respect with the Eastern European tradition. It was a moderate success: many girls refused the flowers, even when it was me, a girl, giving it to them, citing feminist convictions as the reason. On the bright side, some of the guys accepted them, so that was one point for equality. That, or my cleavage game was on point that day. On the opposite side of the lounge, one of our feminist associations was taking pictures of people with printed out slogans such as “Je suis féministe”. Having just gotten a yellow rose each from the Student Union, my best friend and I wanted to support the other initiative too by taking a picture…with our roses. Naturally, we were not allowed to do so. Apparently, flowers did not go too well with the feminist brand.

This came as a disappointment to me, because while I was ready to embrace what for me was a completely new, feminist dimension of the holiday, I could not accept stripping it down from the inherent cultural context in which I had come to know and celebrate it, and flowers were part of it.

We take our petunias seriously in Eastern Europe

The tradition of offering flowers to women as a gift for birthdays, anniversaries, graduations and especially Women’s Day is deeply rooted into Bulgarian and other Eastern European countries’ culture. It doesn’t necessarily have to be a man giving the flower to the woman, it can be another woman or even child as well. Depending on the country and region, different sorts of flowers have different meanings and are used for different occasions, and sometimes there are additional rules and superstitions. In Bulgaria, for instance, giving a bouquet of six roses would be a major faux pas – even numbers are for funerals only, celebrations require an odd number of flowers.

Eastern European Tradition Giving Flowers for Celebrations

My great-aunt giving me a flower for my high school graduation

The custom of giving flowers is even more present in Russia, where it has been given a quasi-cult status. One of my neighbors at the dorm, an Austrian, complained to me once over dinner that a girl he had met on Tinder was mad at him, because he hadn’t greeted her with a bouquet on their first date. I was not even remotely surprised. Being extra and traditionalist is a discipline the Russians could easily win without any doping whatsoever.

But back to my feminist dilemma. I could see how to someone who hasn’t grown up with this cultural heritage would see the gesture of giving a flower to a woman as an outdated patriarchic tradition, a display of macho male dominance even. It’s what the slick alpha male lead would do in old movies to win the heart of the gentle leading lady/damsel in distress with no personality. Or, in a much more despicable to me French perspective, it’s what people “de droite” do (literally “of the right”, people who are thought to have right-wing or conservative political views). In the end, isn’t Women’s Day just another capitalist invention, much like Valentine’s Day, only created in order to sell flowers and greeting cards under the pretext of respecting and celebrating women?

Okay, that last statement was purely satirical (even though I have heard people seriously entertain the idea). But for all the cases against giving flowers on Women’s Day, I could not be convinced. To me, the tradition remains an important aspect of the holiday, and a beautiful gesture in the context of any other personal celebration. Apart from their cultural significance, what I like about flowers is that they are a universal gift, regardless of the social situation and income of the giver or that of the taker. A flower is always appropriate and well-received, be it a pot of petunias for your family friends’ new apartment, a last-minute rose with an attached envelope containing a banknote for your distant cousin or a bouquet of tulips stolen from your neighbor’s garden for your best friend’s name day you almost forgot about.

Flowers vs. feminism: Why not both?

But what about women’s rights? Here, I admit, Eastern Europe has a bit of catching up to do. Indeed, the 8th of March shouldn’t be limited to buying bouquets for your mom and girlfriend. We should use this day to draw attention to feminist issues and causes around the world, from demanding equal pay to fighting against slutshaming, verbal, physical and sexual abuse and all forms of discrimination. I believe that in Bulgaria and even in Russia some baby steps are already being taken in the right direction. Last year, for the first time I stumbled upon a Facebook event for a standup comedy/debate on feminism in Sofia for the 8th of March. This year, Bulgarian celebrity women along with the Bulgarian Women’s Fund made a video campaign destined to empower young teenage girls, touching on topics ranging from reproductive health to career opportunities. Even in Russia there is some activism. The Moscow Museum of Modern Art for example is having an exhibition of feminist art from the 2000s.

This year I am spending the 8th of March in Moscow. I woke up to champagne and flowers, bought by our Uzbek neighbor as a Women’s Day gift for all the girls on our floor. Then I got my nails done, so it wasn’t exactly a day full of feminist action for me. But two days ago, I took part in a video made by a group of international students which aims to promote women’s rights around the world, so I guess that counts for something.

My personal take on International Women’s Day? You can fight for rights and have the flowers. And while we’re at it, keep the champagne, too.