Monday 16 July 2018

My Parisian Pride: Why the French capital is the most magical city in the world for me

Social media star Rob Kenny tells us about his pride experience in Paris last week, and how to do Paris Pride like the Parisians do

Rob Kenny at Paris Pride
Rob Kenny at Paris Pride

Rob Kenny

Anyone who knows or follows me will roll their eyes reading me rant and rave again about how “Paris is my favourite city in the world”.

There are countless reasons why Paris is so magical to me, but gun-to-my-head top reasons; the most basic and commonplace building in central Paris makes most other buildings, anywhere, look like understated barns. In a similar London manner, there is too much to do and see for one person in their lifetime. The style of the Parisians is, of course, unparalleled and genuinely inspires me to live my life better. Leading me in nicely to my final (main) reason; they live their lives better. I adore the French way of life. There is never not enough time to sit outside a restaurant with friends eating gorgeous food and drinking gorgeous wine, and they’re dead bloody right.

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Rob Kenny on the day of gay pride in Paris last weekend

I’ve been lucky enough to fall into the most amazing group of Parisian gays over the past few years, some of whom I now call close friends. Aside from my love of Paris and all of its style, I find it so refreshing to completely submerge myself in other cultures from time-to-time. It keeps you on your toes from becoming numb to what you find normal and I find it a huge inflammation to the senses. This group of Parisian gays are everything you would want them to be; effortlessly stylish (in that perfect French minimal-cool way), dramatic, avid partiers (while still boasting job titles like being on the ‘Artificial Intelligence team’ for Chanel, no less). They are also noticeably loyal friends and so much craic. Whoever started the rumour that Parisians are rude, was not a gay man and did not attend Paris Pride.

It was ideal for me that from the moment I arrived to my friend Amin’s apartment in Montmartre on Thursday night I was able to just follow the crowd and trust these stylish Parisians that they knew how to enjoy the best Pride weekend in Paris possible. Looking back now post-trip, there is no way any tourist would have found out how to do it in quite the same way.

Thursday night was a very chilled affair. We all had work the next day, including myself. I work for Publicis Dublin, the Irish office of the worldwide French Publicis Groupe (advertising and communications giant), whose head office happens to be on the Champs-Elyseés in Paris. After work I was adamant to make it to my favourite men’s shopping area in Paris, near Filles du Calvaire. An unexpected sale in both Sandro & Acne Studios had me in flying form before meeting the group for wine in a stylish bar in the Marais (the main gay area in Paris – think London’s Soho).

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Embracing pride on the streets of Paris.

Friday night also wrapped up relatively tame, after finishing off at a dinner party in one of the gay’s apartments in central Paris at about 1am. Everyone was genuinely committed to being fresh for the big Pride parade the next day. I had a silent laugh to myself at how this would definitely not happen with my gays in Dublin. All of us already together drinking wine on a Friday evening? We would have been arriving to that parade late and dehydrated. But apparently not in Paris, the parade is too important not to be in perfect health for. Something I would later understand.

The morning of the big day Amin and I covered his apartment in gay pride flags and hosted the group for a champagne brunch, before it was time to hop on the metro and head into the parade. No one had mentioned to me in advance just how big Pride was in Paris. Walking up the hill from the metro station to join the parade, decadent central-Paris buildings and hotels surrounding us on all sides, the noise (and colour) of the parade started erupting. I actually started screaming, wrapped in my giant gay pride flag, when we finally reached the side of the parade. As stereotypical as it sounds, it was like an explosion of glitter, dance-pop, heels, angel wings and giant multi-coloured floats. We immediately joined in, dancing and singing along as we walked. The day, and this is true for Pride parades everywhere, evokes this amazing feeling of belonging among the gay community. 50 year old men in drag danced alongside lesbians and muscly, topless twinks, and everyone in-between. In what felt like this huge, quirky society of love and acceptance.

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Paris during Pride

After three hours of dancing, singing and sweating under the French summer sun, I dragged a few of the guys out of the parade for a much needed cocktail break. Perched outside a 5 Star hotel lining the strip of the parade, we sipped espresso martinis while still dancing along to the various float’s music, staring in complete awe at the colourful, unconstrained crowd of over 500,000 gays, their families, colleagues and friends. Yes, all of these amazing people were out to dance and have a good time, but it is crucial to remember that we were also all there to make a stance to the wider society about love and equality for all, irrelevant of anyone’s gender or sexual orientation. There was also a haunting minute of silence held for all of the gay community who has died from HIV.

After re-joining the parade and marching with pride to the end, some of us went for dinner in ‘Derriere’, a French townhouse that has been converted into a stylish restaurant. Happily fed, we then met the rest of our group at the side of the river Seine. Sitting here until sunset, the entire riverbed became this enormous garden party for 20-something gay Parisians and their girlfriends. This is when I first started to notice the inevitable gay-scene social clicks. There was a lot of double kissing and familiar chatting with fellow river dwellers.

That night we danced until we bled at an enormous secret club night, ‘Flash Cocotte’ – a house music club night that apparently consistently moves location across Paris and you have ‘to know someone who knows someone’ to know where the party is next.

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Rob Kenny at Paris Pride

There was no rest for the wicked as we groggily woke up on Sunday, arguably my favourite day of the pride trip. Parc des Buttes-Chaumont becomes a gay man’s paradise every single

Sunday in Paris, of course especially the Sunday of pride weekend. One particular hill of the park, which looks over a beautiful view of the city and surrounding parkland, becomes dotted with hundreds of groups of gay men and their pals. Most of whom arrive prepared with their own pick nick (sic) and blankets. We lay there for hours chatting, listening to music, and drinking rosé under the summer sun. While beautiful French men checked each other out from the safety of their own spot in the park. Setting the scene for what was still to come.

From 6pm onwards the park hill begins emptying, as everyone moves on to ‘Rosa Bonheur’ a brilliant little gay bar nestled alone within the park. The large outside seating area surrounding the bar becomes the Sunday place-to-be among Parisian gay men, with hundreds there to socialise. Come 1am It certainly didn’t feel like Monday morning work was looming in Paris, as the crowd were dancing on the tables and hooking up on the dancefloor inside. My whole Sunday in Paris had me smiling ear-to-ear, with what felt like the perfect summer’s day for any young gay man.

The surprise shock of my €100 taxi to Charles de Gaulle airport on Monday afternoon was not even enough to deflate my spirits, still ecstatic from the experience of my Parisian Pride.

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