Tuesday, April 28, 2009
There has been an ongoing protest outside the Hôtel de Ville by the universities of Paris, a circular march being undertaken 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, since late February. Often there are only a handful of marchers present, always walking in their circle, but they are always there, undertaking their unique form of protest.
There have also been several other strikes in protest of the Sarkozy government’s planned reforms, specifically to the universities and hospitals.
Today there were widespread protests by students and lectures and the hospitals.
There is an article and some interesting comments from the Guardian here.
Today, as I walked home in the rain, I followed a group of marchers who made their way across the Ile De La Cite (which contains many of Paris' government buildings) to the Hôtel de Ville, where they joined the largest group of protestors I have seen there.
Within only a few minutes the first van loads of police arrived, perhaps a dozen or more vans in a loud convoy, and surrounded the square outside Hôtel de Ville. The protestors had spread and the circle was taking up much of the square. More police vans were seen to circle to other areas very close by.
As I observed what was happening a researcher from one of the universities who was walking in the circle started to explain why they were protesting and asked me to join them.
He explained, as we walked in the growing circle, that the circular protest of the stubborn, the "La ronde des obstinés" was in response to the reforms which are being forced upon the universities and hospitals.
Some of the universities were no longer holding classes, although at the university where he worked they were still holding classes and grading the student’s papers, but not providing that information to the university administration. However, his monologue was repeatedly broken by the ever growing presence of the police.
He also explained that there had been several occasions in recent times when police had detained protestors, although not yet in Paris. Apparently this is the most unsettled the university system ... this includes students, teachers, researchers and the administrative staff ... have been since the infamous May 1968 riots.
Eventually the police presence grew too much for him and the researcher decided to break from the circle to ask the police why they were there.
I remained walking in the circle for a short while longer then also broke to take some more photographs. At this time the riot squad turned up with their perspex shields and tear gas. The police presence now almost equalled the protestors, but everyone maintained their place, the protestors walking their eternal circle around the square, the police in line surrounding it and all was relatively peaceful apart from the occasional jeer from the protestors.
Eventually the police who arrived initially withdrew, leaving only the riot police surrounding the square. After an hour and a half I also withdrew and continued my journey home.
This is one of the things I like about the French, they stand up for what they believe in, day and night if necessary. The last public action in Brisbane which I participated in was to protest the invasion of Iraq and the war which followed. The first protest was attended by approximately ten thousand people, but the Australian government chose to send troops regardless of public opinion. The next public protest in Brisbane was attended by only several hundred.
As the La ronde des obstinés tourne toujours, I’m sure they will be there tomorrow. If you want to see them in action, you can watch on this web cam
Sunday, April 26, 2009
Saint Merri is a beautiful Gothic church less than a minutes walk from our apartment.
The current church was built between 1500 and 1550, although it stands on the site of a church built in the 13th century. In fact the bell tower houses the oldest bell in Paris, cast in 1331 which survived the destruction wrought upon Paris during the French Revolution.
But not only is this a beautiful church to wander through and wonder at, it also provides numerous, regular musical performances within its Gothic architecture. This weekend I attended two very different performances.
Friday night saw Ensemble La Balcon perform a number of interesting and experimental pieces using traditional instruments (violin, piano) and mixing the natural music, via the use of synthesised effects, with treated sounds. The set included an original composition and interpretations of pieces by Arturo Corrales, Arnold Schoenberg and Karlheinz Stockhausen. It was a very interesting and enjoyable performance.
Today I was treated to a wonderful performance of Bach's Suite Number 1 for Unaccompanied Cello by Delphine Biron. The timbre of the cello echoed throughout the spacious, and well attended, church. It was very haunting and appropriate for the space.
It is one of the many nice things about living in the centre of Paris that such wonderful cultural experiences are literally just a few steps away.
Sunday, April 19, 2009
It was a wet and cold afternoon, not a great day for wandering the streets of Paris, and it had also been a couple of weeks since we last visited an art gallery ... so, seeing as it is only a stones throw away from the apartment, we made a dash into the always interesting Centre Georges Pompidou.
The Pompidou Centre itself is a glorious postmodern structure, most famously recognised by the structures, escalaters and colour-coded pipes which are mounted on the exterior of the building. It also has a huge open area in the front which is often filled with people watching the various buskers, or the other people.
As well as presenting live theatre and music, and housing a huge library and cinemas, the Pompidou Centre also has two amazing permanent collections. Although the contemporary collection is closed until the end of May the modern collection is still open and it features artists such as Henri Matisse, Pablo Picasso, Georges Braque, Vassili Kandinsky, Francis Picabia, Marcel Duchamp, Salvador Dalí, Max Ernst, René Magritte, Alberto Giacometti, Andy Warhol .... and many, many more.
But our visit was to see two of the "temporary" exhibitions, Alexander Calder and Vassili Kandinsky
The Vassili Kandinsky exhibition is a joint project between the Centre Pompidou, the Städtische Galerie in Lenbachhaus in Munich and the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York, which hold the largest collections of the artist's works.
It presents a hundred of Kandinsky's finished (and two unfinished) paintings and provides an interesting overview of an artist considered to be one of the 20th century's key figures; both a celebrated painter and a published art theorist, Kandinsky is credited with painting the first modern abstract works.
Wassily Wassilyevich Kandinsky was born in Moscow in 1866 under the Czar, received a doctorate in law in Moscow then moved to Munich to study art. He returned to Moscow in 1914 and was in Russia during World War I and the Russian Revolution. Kandinksy returned to Germany in 1921 where he taught at the Bauhaus school of art and architecture when it opened in 1922 until the Nazis closed it in 1933. He then moved to France where he lived the rest of his life, he died in 1944 in Neuilly-sur Seine.
From his early watercolours and impressionistic works, not worlds away from the well known works of Claude Monet, through to the Russian-influenced folk art, celebrating his childhood and heartland and the creation and development of his abstract style, it was a very interesting and enjoyable exhibition with many large paintings.
Many of the works, especially the earlier ones created during the development of his abstract style, have meaningless titles such as "Improvisation" (Kandinsky's spontaneous paintings) and "Compositions" (his more elaborate works). For me this lack of definition only added to the abstractness of the pieces. It was a most enjoyable couple of hours, many of the pieces were like jazz music ... wild, with structure but also freedom; colours and space; busy and loose; complex and simple.
At a completely different level, the exhibition Alexander Calder Les années parisiennes (The Parisian years), 1926-1933, was much lighter and playful.
A "transatlantic" artist, Alexander "Sandy" Calder was born in America in 1898 and this exhibition concentrated on his "wire art" creations, including works depicting animals and the heads (and in a couple of instances the entire bodies) of famous personalities of the period (including 4 representations of Josephine Baker); his home made circus, including animals and performers, and also presents Calder's development of the mobile; it was a whimsical exhibition.
Calder is best known in France for the large mobiles and stabiles of painted metal exhibited in French cities and parks.
The exhibition presented many original works (no longer in motion) but in conjunction also presented many films and photographs showing the objects (in most cases circus performers and animals he created, often from found and recycled objects) being operated by Calder himself. As Elizabeth whispered to me during one of the film screenings, it was a bit "Miss Haversham-esque" to see a man, by the time the films were recorded more than 20 years later, playing with a toy circus he had created so many years earlier.
Calder created numerous little animals of bent metal, clowns and acrobats, ingeneous home made toys ... he is being celebrated as an artist as an inspired DIYer. A man who took base materials and primitive mechanisms and transformed them into true sculpture.
It was a much less cerebal exhibition than Kandinksy. After these two visits we spent an hour or so wandering through the amazing collection of modern art, but 5 or so hours later our heads were overflowing with amazing abstract art and it was time to leave.
I may even be tempted to put up with the huge crowds on a first Sunday of the month, when most of the museums in Paris, including the Georges Pompidou Centre, are open to the public free of charge, to wander through Kandinsky's amazing representation of the world one more time.
Saturday, April 18, 2009
That means "like a rabbit in the car headlights" and that is what it can often be like living in a foreign city.
Every now and again I feel comfortable with my language (in)abilities. I can usually negotiate the day to day activities ... buying baguette; visiting the supermarket; going to galleries; looking around the various music stores ... where the questions and responses tend to be the same ... one of your traditional baguettes please, and also a citron tart; i would like to buy these supplies; two tickets please; no thanks, i'm just looking ...
There are also those "just too late" moments when you realise, having walked out of an establishment .... "Oh, that's what they said to me". These are all learning moments and the next time (or perhaps the time after) when that phrase is presented I have heard it before and know the correct (or at least a) response.
But every now and again something happens and I fell like a rabbit staring into the headlights of an oncoming vehicle ... unable to understand what is happening, unable to respond or move. After all, I am meant to be an adult. Surely adults can converse with one another.
Apparently not in all cases.
This happened in class last week. It isn't quite tourist season yet and at Lutece Langue, the school where I am studying french, they placed me in a class which was above my level of knowledge and experience and in which I managed to understand and speak in during the first week. This was certainly preferable to starting with others with no french language experience. At least I've studied some french, albeit only for a year, in Australia, 5 years ago.
Unfortunately the second week was a completely different matter, they jumped into passe compose (not particularly difficult, but like anything you must learn it to know it) and the other students had already learnt these rules. Even after hearing the taped conversation played through twice ... and the tutor and the other students read out the text ... I still didn't know what was happening. I didn't know the rules to write down the correct answers. My eyes grew wider, my head grew ever more confused and then it seemed to just shut down.
The school were really good about this and we found a solution where I dropped into a lower class with a level of french more suited to my experience. This class started this week, as more students are slowly arriving, and I am finding it easier to understand while still learning lots of french. The school is also meant to be holding free conversation classes, but again due to the limited number of students this hasn't started yet. Hopefully next week, and I am looking forward to these sessions which will enable me to converse in and listen more to the french language.
And hopefully next time when someone says something to me in a format I haven't heard before, I may just have enough knowledge to understand, respond appropriately, and maybe even continue the conversation somewhat.
But I won't get too far ahead of myself just yet. Hopefully far enough to stay out of the way of moving traffic though.
Sunday, April 12, 2009
Today is easter Sunday, so in the french manner I wish everyone a "Joyeuses Pâques".
It was another lovely day in Paris, not yet warm but not too cold, sort of short sleeve shirt with jacket on / jacket off weather, as we took our walk along the Seine as we do every Sunday. It is particularly nice because Voie Georges Pompidou, which runs parrallel to the river, is closed to traffic on Sundays and is open for pedestrians, joggers, cyclists and skaters. It is a lovely walk right beside the Seine and today, while families across Paris were celebrating at home together, it seemed as if we had the road to ourselves.
In Paris for the last couple of weeks there have been amazing displays in the chocolatier's shop front windows celebrating easter. Along with the tradition, shared across the globe, of chocolate eggs, chickens and rabbits, there are also chocolate fish, bells, ducks ... all in numerous shapes, sizes and varieties of chocolate (dark, milk, white, orange and with such a variety of fillings and centres in the chocolate) ... it's all so good.
When we went for our walk it was surprising to see that the large amount of chocolates available for sale yesterday were already gone. There was still enough for our requirements though. There are also a large variety of cakes available for easter.
Easter is also the traditional time for celebrating the start of spring, so we spent some time wandering along Rue Du Rivoli buying chocolate and lovely, fresh spring vegetables for our evening meal. Asparagus are becoming more plentiful and are fat and rich in flavour, we bought some plump broad beans and peas and the tomatoes come in so many varieties and colours it's always hard to choose.
The chocolate we bought from several shops, wanting to taste the variety, but we bought all of the vegies from Primeur du Marais, our favourite verger in Paris. Not only do they have a large selection of always fresh and ripe fruit and vegetables, some which we've never seen before, but they include the little things in their service, like paying attention when they're packing and ensuring the tender vegetables aren't squashed. Sometimes it's the little things that count.
We also bought a bottle of Bourgogne, so have our own little feast this evening.
Is it time for dessert yet?
Saturday, April 11, 2009
One of the (numerous) nice things i like about where we are living in Paris is the proximity to Rue Des Rosiers in the Marais, which is only a 5-10 minute leisurely stroll away. This street, in a Jewish corner of the Marais, contains a large number of very nice take away (and eat in) cafe/restaurants with a heavy eastern european influence.
L'as Du Fallafel is undoubtedly my a favourite eatery on Rue Des Rosiers, I've had a fallafel from there every week since arriving. There is always a queue of people on the street outside, with ticket in hand, waiting for their take away meal and on weekends I don't even bother, the queues are so huge, spilling all over the (virtualy pedestrian) street. I'm on holidays, so can go there any time during the week.
It is quite a culinary experience ... pita bread over-loaded with grated lightly pickled red cabbage, freshly deep fried garlicky chickpea balls (and lots of them), warm fried eggplant, creamy hummus ... and don't forget the sauce piquant. The pita is so full of these edible goodies that you are required to eat at least half of it with a plastic fork before attempting to eat the remainder with the bread. MMMMMM .... thinking about this makes me want one RIGHT NOW!!!
But I had already become a creature of habit, to only eat fallafel from the same eatery every week. So last week I decided to try fallafel from another cafe, Chez Marianne.
Chez Marianne is a well respected restaurant in the Marais which we intended visiting for a meal one evening. Everything looked the same as at L'as Du Fallafel, the grated salad, the eggplant, the chickpea balls ... but what went wrong??
To start with ... the service, which made the always brisk (but also always busy) service at L'as Du Fallafel seem Michelin-starred in comparison. Then everything including the fried eggplant and chickpea balls was COLD?! It all tasted wrong, the salad even seemed soggy and was so bad we both threw most of it away rather than eat it. It seemed like such a waste, but it was that bad!
Needless to say we no longer intend visiting the restaurant at Chez Marianne, if they can't even make fallafel I don't want to try any of their more adventurous dishes.
And next week I will be getting my fellafel fix where I know the food is good, L'as Du Fallafel.
Friday, April 10, 2009
Bruxelles Sonic 2009 was billed as a night celebrating the Belgian electronique and Post-Rock music scene.
We arrived at la Maison des métallos early enough to wander around listening to the "environment sonore" created by Jerome Deuson, which was on a constant loop for the entire evening, and to wander around the various spaces of the venue.
The event proper began with The Aktivistv and Natalia De Mello, an audiovisual performance par excellence. The stage was completely darkened and an off key banjo/guitar sample skewed and slewed through the darkened room. A light clicked on a desk, and in turn on the screen behind the stage, and we were introduced to the audiovisual component of the set.
In real-time (apart from some minutes of pre-recorded video) Natalia De Mello manipulated her collection of items on the table including magnets and metal objects, compact discs, pen and paper to create stunning images which were projected onto the screen behind them. The accompanying soundscape was an interesting blend of organic samples and subtle electronica and the music and visuals worked very well together.
It was a mesmerising experience, childlike yet evocative. Undoubtedly the highlight of the evening. Bravo!
Next up was Christophe Bailleau who played a very dance-based set slightly reminiscent of Fuck Buttons but without being quite so manic and without their groovy old suitcase of toys.
With a DVD of his own images playing on the screen behind him, Christophe worked with a repeated layer of techno beat over which he manipulated sounds from what appeared to be an ipod, and something which sounded like a theremin, messing with the frequencies and throwing in additional sampled sounds to augment the underlying dance beat. Great fun even if no one in the audience was dancing.
The last band for the evening were aMute, which I expected to be the post-rock segment of the evening, as the first two acts fell firmly into the electronic genre. But the band leant more towards bland euro-indie and nowhere near post-rock, with no instrumental tracks. Their sound also didn't really suit the first two performances.
They also seemed to have sound troubles, with lots of feedback early in the set which never helps. But some were their own problems, such as not switching on the effect manipulating the vocals. If you're gonna have a lot of toys you need to know how to use them guys. It was kind of distracting.
So sadly it really wasn't my thing, a little bit psychadelic, a little bit melodramatic, and there seemed to be some wierd dynamics between the band members. The set included some nice guitar work, a great drummer, but a little too much posturing without the substance to back it. Although they can obviously play, I'm use to Aussie bands who, when they rock out, they really kick some ass. But aMute are apparently very sucessful, so kudos to them.
For me, the night belonged to The Aktivistv and Natalia De Mello.
Thursday, April 9, 2009
This week the Louvre are celebrating the 20th anniversary of the infamous glass pyramid designed by I.M. Pei.
I spent an hour or so tonight at the free public exhibition by american conceptual artist Jenny Holzer, who created Xenon projections of texts by the artist to light up the pyramid and the Louvre’s facade.
If you're in Paris at the moment, tomorrow night (Friday April 10th) is your last chance to see this work on such a grand canvas.
Monday, April 6, 2009
Glaz’art is a groovy music space in the 19th arrondissement (north east corner of Paris) which features all types of music but on Friday March 27 it presented a night of Post Rock and Noise. It is a small and skinny venue, and was very crowded on this cold Parisien evening, so securing a standing position with a view of the stage was very difficult.
One Second Riot are a two piece from Lyon, France who create one hell of a fun noise, consisting of drums and bass/vocals/synthesizer, plus a nice collection of movie soundtrack samples. They played a great collection of songs occasionally leaning towards the post rock, instrumental direction but with their sound more rooted in noise and punk. Quite disconcertingly, and unexpectedly, most tracks had english lyrics, as were the filmtrack samples which were played to complement the music.
With the bass player mixing it up between creating looped sounds from his (often distorted) Rickenbacker bass and creating blips and washes from his synth (or visa versa) and screaming and singing, it was a noisy, uptempo set and a great first rock band to see in Paris.
I enjoyed One Second Riot enough to buy their CD.
Mono are a favourite band who we last caught in Brisbane. They have been in hibernation for the last year working on the new album which they have just released and are currently touring in support of, Hymn to the Immortal Wind. Much of the set came from this album.
It was a tough gig for the band and for some of the audience. Unlike the event we attended at 104, which was very civilized, Glaz’art is a music venue not too dissimilar to the pubs I usually see bands in back home, and this can encourage all sorts of people.
Tonight there was a growing babble of noise from the bar at the back of the venue and a group of dickheads were constantly talking loudly throughout the entire gig, while standing quite close to the stage, and despite everyone around them trying to shush them, they didn’t give a shit and even seemed to enjoy this fact.
I don’t know if the band were aware of this, if they were they ignored it and put on a huge and long show.
When I last saw Mono in Brisbane in August 2007 it was a very *rock* performance with much (albeit controlled) posturing and gesturing, but tonight the boys playing guitar spent most of the evening seated. I’m not sure if this was because they were in the early phases of playing the new album and found this more comfortable, or to enable access to their effect pedals to tweak the delayed and sustained sounds, or what. But in the confined space of Glaz’art it made the difficult viewing even harder.
But luckily Mono are all about the music, and what cavernous music they played. Moving from moments of gentle guitar or piano so subtle they couldn’t be heard over the inane chatter of the dickheads nearby to thunderous delay on delay on delayed guitar with riotous drum and bass creating a sound to wake the gods.
After playing a number of new tracks the boys arose to play a few older tunes, to the huge approval of the crowd, and some rock posturing and gesturing ensued.
The gig seemed to end far too early, although it must have been close to a two hour set, and as is my want I bought the Mono t-shirt in celebration of my first favourite gig in Paris.
Then it was back onto the metro and back to Chatelet and our apartment, on the journey watching the Friday night revellers stagger around the metro stations en route or through the streets surrounding Tour St Jacques and around our neighbourhood.
Saturday, April 4, 2009
In an attempt to converse that much better (or, in fact, at all) with the locals, I started french lessons this week. I'm studying at Lutece Langue, a school aimed more at adults than many of the other language schools in Paris, which seem to be directed towards college students. Plus it's also only a couple of minutes walk from our apartment.
I last studied french in Brisbane about 5 years ago, for about a year, and much (most?) of that tuition was conducted in english. As one would expect, the best way to learn french is to only speak french and that is how the school is operating here. As such I am experiencing many "rabbit in the headlights" type moments, the ears are hearing sounds which the brain expects to be able to understand, but it's not quite there yet, some form of mild *panic* sets in ... the brain continues to whirl and the eyes grow ever wider.
There are only 4 other students in the group, from Japan, the USA and Australia and we're all at various levels of "beginner" and can only improve. The school also runs conversational groups which will be investigated soon in an attempt to speak (and understand) more and more french.
The weather in Paris is also starting to improve and so I spent some time during the week studying in the sun in the courtyard of the Centre Georges Pompidou. I hadn't realised just how many groups of tourists congregated in this space, along with the domestic tourists, although the prevalence of buskers does imply this fact At least I was only hit up for money once during my private study session in the sun.
It was also an attempt to get some sun to help kill off the lurgy which has been haunting me since I arrived. 5 hour walks in the chill air along the Canal St Martin or the Seine wearing inappropriate clothing are a nice way to pass 3 or 4 hours, but they obviously don't help to get rid of colds. Neither does standing in a chill wind blowing through an open doorway of a hot music venue so we can see Mono play (more on that gig soon).
But daylight savings has started here, so the days are getting *longer*, and the weather is improving every week.
All we have to look forward to is spring time in Paris (printemps à Paris ... c'est bon!).
Thursday, April 2, 2009
We've made our first gallery visit, spending a couple of hours wandering through the 170 paintings, sculptures and graphic works which represent some of the life work of Giorgio de Chirico. The exhibition "La Fabrique des Rêves" is being shown at the Musée d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris.
De Chirico is best known for the paintings he produced in the earliest stages of his career, between 1909 and 1919, known as his metaphysical period. This was undoubtedly my favourite part of the exhibition. This period screams loneliness, isolation, confusion.
There are empty squares in late afternoon sun, populated only by reclining sculptures, or occasionally tiny silhouetted figures in the distance with shadows stretching languidly, dominated by slightly askew architecture and arches while steam trains or sailboats move silently in the distance. Some of these later metaphysical paintings also included faceless mannequins, also occasionally located in lonely piazzas.
During this phase de Chirico was a darling of the surrealists, but not too long after WWI his style followed more classical influences and he fell out of favour with the surrealists and was even loudly ridiculed by some of them.
If you're interested in seeing some of de Chirico's art, check it out here.
Something I found interesting about de Chirico's later period was his willingness to revisit and repaint the famous themes, even straight out reproductions, of his earliest, most celebrated works. This was years before Andy Warhol, a spoken admirer, would recreate his own works repeatedly. There is also a Warhol retrospective currently running in Paris, although we caught the wonderful Warhol exhibition at GOMA in Brisbane last year.
These Giorgio de Chirico "reproductions" made up the majority of the paintings exhibited in the last room (along with a collection of rather bizarre self portraits, many in period costumes) and you could sense that there was no passion on these later reproduced works ... less despair, more haste. De Chirico was said to become a self-quoter, repainting his early works repeatedly, sometimes containing inaccurate dates, and shamelessly announcing at one point that money was his aim. I'm sure Dali also would have been proud.
This is the first Giorgio de Chirico retrospective in Paris in more than 25 years, and it was a fun way to spend an afternoon, wandering through "dreamlike metaphysical fantasies, with their eerily empty city squares and faceless mannequins ... precursors of the Surrealist movement of the early 1920s."
Wednesday, April 1, 2009
I thought as good a place as any to start blogging about this Paris adventure is to show where we're living, which is only a few minutes walk to either the Centre Georges Pompidou which always has interesting temporary exhibitions and a permanent exhibition which we haven't yet revisited; the administrative life of Hôtel de Ville with it's regularly changing public events in the square out the front; the huge metro and RER station and shops of Châtelet; the antiquity and the gaeity of the Marais and to the Seine where we have already spent many hours walking.
Look for the A on the map above and you'll get an idea of where our district of Beauborg is located.
Due to the time it has taken to get the internet set up at our apartment, the next week or two's worth of posts will be travelling back and forwards in time as I fill in the gaps of what has happened and what is happening.
We have already started finding our old and discovering new favourite places to shop for fresh produce and to experience life here and this will be discussed further in future posts.