Sunday, June 28, 2009

Paris Gay Pride Parade

Paris Gay Pride Parade

The 2009 Paris Gay Pride Parade drew an estimated 700,000 people out on a warm summers day to celebrate and recognise the rights of all gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people. France’s first gay pride march was held in 1981, and had an immediate impact as homosexuality was decriminalised the following year.

Paris Gay Pride Parade

The theme of this year’s event was the 40th anniversary of the Stonewall riots in New York and included a very special guest in Liza Minelli.

Liza Minelli at the Paris Gay Pride Parade

Not only is Liza Minelli an obviously well loved icon of the gay community but she was a particularly relevant choice because it is generally considered that Liza Minelli's mother Judy Garland was an inspiration for the gay community and the Stonewall riots, which occured on the day of the Judy Garland's funeral.

Liza Minelli at the Paris Gay Pride Parade

Either way, Liza Minelli was a good choice for helping to start the parade, which slithered its way from Montparnasse (where we gathered to watch the start of the parade) along Boulevard St Germaine and Boulevard St Michel and ending up at the Bastille. It was basically the same route as for the May Day parade.

Paris Gay Pride Parade

We've also attended the Mardi Gras in Sydney and the parade in Paris is much more overtly political, with most of the floats having a political message or perspective.

Paris Gay Pride Parade

The Sydney parade is much more about the participants dressing up in extravagent costumes, checking each other out and just having a good time and in the time honoured aussie tradition, any political message will be dripping in satire.

Paris Gay Pride Parade

That's not to say that the floats in Paris and the particpants were all staid and only considering their political position ... there were a lot of people dressed extravagantly and most of the floats were overflowing with people dancing and celebrating and I'm sure looking forward to a long day and a longer, harder night.

Paris Gay Pride Parade

The floats seemed to go on forever, with their booming music and gyrating bodies ... and messages regarding the rights of gay people in the workplace, safe sex, the discrimination of gay people in France and overseas, the rights of same sex parents, the ever present AIDS concerns ...

Paris Gay Pride Parade

Like the Mardi Gras in Sydney there were people lining the streets for the length of the parade, cheering and supporting the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender community of Paris.

Paris Gay Pride Parade

And I'm sure they partied long into the night ... there were certainly many people from the parade celebrating in the Marais throughout the night as well.

Paris Gay Pride Parade

And if you want to see many, many more interesting photographs from the Paris Gay Pride Parade, check out my friend Jean-Pierre's Paris Gay Pride Parade photograph page

Friday, June 26, 2009

La Fête de la Musique

La Fête de la Musique isn't this way

After the intrusion of the anarchist riot and the overt police presence in our quartier, which continued thorughout the night for many, many hours after the rioters had left, the annual La Fête de la Musique in Beaubourg finally got under way.

I had searched the web site and discovered that many of the bands playing my preferred styles of music were based around the Marais and Beaubourg, so we decided just to wander the streets here and see what would unfold.

Oi Punk at La Fete de la Musique

The first group we stumbled across were in the oi punk vein, there was audience participation (or a friend of the band got up to sing a song as we arrived) and they played the genre rather well, we only caught four songs but they were fun and well played.

We continued wandering around the streets of The Marais and I bought myself a street beer. We found a few very popular areas where apartments were surrounded by people listening to the music booming from the upper levels. They were just straight dj'ing, no mixing or anything fancy, just playing songs loudly, like a juke box ... and they were the most popular? We left them to it.

Indie Rock at La Fete de la Musique

Further ambling led us to a square with a cool young group playing cover versions of popular indie bands, such as The Strokes and The Arctic Monkeys, as well as some tunes in french ... I am hoping they were originals. They weren't too bad, although the lead guitarist could have used a distortion (or fuzz or overdrive or something similar) effect pedal for his guitar solos ... they sort of disappeared in the sound of the band.

Darren Hanlon plays La Fete de la Musique

We continued our walk and in the distance heard a familiar tune commencing ... lo and behold Darren Hanlon was playing! We arrived to hear his final tune, Punks Not Dead ... sadly wishing we had arrived earlier (this hadn't been advertised, so we didn't know ... WE DIDN'T KNOW!!!) ...

Elizabeth and I continued our ambling but found only doof heads and disco queens in large groups, standing on the street listening to music booming from apartments that could be played on the radio, if the radio was turned up loudly enough ... not really what I expected from a day celebrating music?

By this stage Elizabeth had had enough, so I walked her home and grabbed a cold beer from the fridge - there's always cold beer in the fridge wherever I am living - and headed out again, through Beaubourg and towards Chatalet this time.

a cute bass player and more cover versions at La Fete de la Musique

Chatalet was full of world music acts, which isn't really my thing, but on the walk back I found another young band, again playing cover versions. They were very cute, with a few little mistakes here and there, but were very well supported by the growing crowd.

This was one of the things I really enjoyed about La Fête de la Musique, it was supporting many young bands, giving them a venue and a new audience to play to and the experience of playing live.

The Arkitekts play La Fete de la Musique

I continued back to the Marais and just over the road from our apartment I found the band I most enjoyed on the evening The Arkitekts. A three piece with Tom Bass working very hard on bass guitar and keyboards, Vortex on drums and with their main man on guitars and vocals David Law.

They played an interesting mix of slightly goth, slightly grunge, slightly epic guitar rock ... maybe think The Doors meet Bauhaus downstairs at a avante-blues jams in a prog rock squat. I enjoyed their set thoroughly and probably spent an hour of the evening enjoying their tunes ... I even bought the CD.

The Arkitekts play La Fete de la Musique

After the sun had finally set I decided to take my CD home, and collect another beer before one final wander through The Marais in search of some tunes. The Arkitekts were still playing, so I enjoyed a few more of their tunes and off I wandered.

There was music at The Lizard Lounge where Darren Hanlon had played earlier, but it didn't really ring my bell. I found another band playing punk tunes, to a very appreciative sing-a-long audience, but their set ended too soon after I arrived.

La Fête de la Musique

After that it was pretty much just dj music with lots of seventies and eighties music (not even disco). This group above here were grooving to The Boys Town Gang version of Can't Take My Eyes Off Of You and then You're The One That I Want from Grease, which was my cue to escape.

Cox Bar in The Marais

By the time I wandered past the Cox Bar in The Marais it was well and truly disco hour, which most everyone else seemed happy about ... the streets were still packed.

they were pissing on the streets

But the rivers on the streets were urine and it was time for this guitar lover to head home. But it had been an enjoyable night, if a bit light on for rock music.

Monday, June 22, 2009

There's a riot going on

Paris anarchist demonstration

The annual La Fête de la Musique in Paris is a celebration of all things musical, but at least in our neighbourhood of Beaubourg it started out as something completely different.

Created in 1982 and running every year since, La Fête de la Musique is a free event, open to amateur or professional musicians. It contains participants from all musical genres and as such is aimed at a large audience, working to popularise musical practice for young and not so young people from all social backgrounds.

The musical events were scheduled to commenced at 3pm, so a friend of mine, Jean-Pierre, and I arranged to meet up at that time at a venue in Beaubourg which was meant to have bands commencing at that time. Sadly they were a few hours behind schedule (even though the day hadn’t even begun) and even the DJ hadn’t been set up.

My Electro Kitchen

Another reason Jean-Pierre and I arranged to meet early was to conduct our weekly French-English conversation. Jean-Pierre is holidaying with his family in New York soon and wants to improve his English and obviously I want to improve my French language skills.

So we decided to wander around the Centre Georges Pompidou and the nearby streets, drinking a café at the always very popular Café Beaubourg, watching the street performers and basically watching the world go by. Jean-Pierre is also a very talented photographer, you can see some of his work here, so he was also taking the opportunity to capture some moments.

the magic hasn't really started yet

As we wandered around we could hear loud bangs and see wisps of smoke from the direction of Chatalet. About 10 minutes later a group of several hundred (700 according to the police) demonstrators made their way past us towards Rue de Renard. They were travelling with flares and smoke grenades, which made for an interesting spectacle, but we certainly weren’t expecting what was to come.

Paris anarchist demonstration

After the excitement of the demonstration, Jean-Pierre and I decided to go and listen to some music and headed back to the alleyway where the bands were meant to be playing. There was a dj in action, so we hung around there listening to the tunes and waiting for Jean-Pierre’s family who were planning to join us on our walk through the musical world of La Fête de la Musique.

Paris anarchist demonstration

In the meantime I had received a text from Elizabeth telling me that there was now a riot going on outside our apartment, with a government building being attacked by the demonstrators.

Paris anarchist demonstration outside our apartment

Elizabeth was safely tucked away in our apartment watching the show and Jean-Pierre was looking for his family.

By this time there was a helicopter hovering above, although we couldn’t hear any noise above the sound of the dj. By the time Jean-Pierre’s family arrived, only minutes later, the demonstrators were hurtling their way through the alley where we were gathered.

I caught a small amount of this on video, but they were lighting fires and knocking over everything in their path on the way down the street, so I thought it prudent to put my camera away.

After the demonstrators had rushed through, and we all had stood around a little flabbergasted and comparing opinions on what had happened, we were suddenly surrounded by the riot police, who were of the mistaken belief that we were the rioters they were searching for.

photo courtesy of Jean-Pierre at

It took them several minutes of being scoffed at by our group, who were obviously gathered to enjoy the music, before they stormed off, leaving the fires and minor devastation left in the alleyway by the anarchists to be managed by the organisers of the music event.

George Pompidou Centre after the demonstration

As we made our way back towards my apartment we could see some of the devastation left after the riot and were constantly blocked and redirected by the police and realised that there wasn’t going to be any music in our little corner of Paris for some time yet.

can't get home this way

After the demonstration was well and truly over and all of the participants had scattered to various parts of Paris there remained a high police presence in the area

... too late one thinks.

Anarchist demonstration in Beaubourg during La Fete de la Musique ... the aftermath ... Rue Du Renard and the view from our apartment

But the damage assessors were on the job very soon afterwards. By this stage I still hadn't seen any live music.

demonstration aftermath outside our apartment

And as I post this blog entry it is almost 24 hours later and none of the smashed windows have been repaired yet.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Free things to do in Paris everyday ... visit the parks and gardens

Parc des Buttes-Chaumont

There are always numerous free things to do in Paris, some organised as one-off events such as the annual Nuits des Musees or the free entry to select museums on the first Sunday of each month.

But there are also a large number of free activities across Paris which one can enjoy every day of the week.

One of my favourites is a visit to the many parks and gardens for a walk amongst the flowers or a read, a nap or a play of the guitar on the lawn. Take along a picnic lunch or dinner and you can pass many enjoyable hours for next to nothing.

playing guitar by the Seine on a sunny afternoon

The only trouble with the latter is that many of the lawns in Paris are not for sitting on, they are only for looking at. You will see the signs, "Pelouse Interdite" or "Keep off the Grass" as we know it in english.

Pelouse Interdite at Luxembourg Gardens

But there are also some grassed areas where one can sit, such as this one at Luxembourg Gardens right next to the "forbidden" area. I'm sure people would pay attention to the signs even if there weren't security regularly patrolling the area.

Pelouse Autorisee at Luxembourg Gardens

It seems bizarre to have a long stretch of lawn dotted through a park of "white chalk" paths strewn with the occassional spare metal chair and to have the grass forbidden.

enjoying a sunny day beneath Sacre Coeur, Montmartre

But there are many parks where one can enjoy a little sit on the grass, such as the large parks on the periphery of Paris, Bois de Boulogne and Bois de Vincennes; the park in the middle of the square at Place des Voges; Champ de Mars beneath the Tour Eiffel; Parc des Buttes-Chaumont; a section on the edge of the Tuileries near the Louvre; on the hill in front of Sacre Coeur; behind Chatelet near the beautiful church Saint Eustache, the Square du Vert-Galant on the edge of the Ile de la Cite ...

homework on the grass near St Eustache and Chatalet

There are also numerous paved (or cemented) areas along the Seine or the Canal St Martin where one can relax as the water flows nearby. It's not quite as comfortable as lounging on the grass, but it is always nice to watch the ebb and flow of the Seine.

But if the concrete is too hard and the grassey spaces too infrequent, there are the numerous benches and chairs in the Luxembourg Gardens, the Tuileries, the Square du Vert-Galant on the Louvre end of the Ile de la Cite.

Square du Vert-Galant, Ile de la Cite

Not to mention the dozens of tiny green spaces which are dotted across Paris, all inviting in the warmer summer months.

But if you do decide to relax on the lawn, just watch out to make sure a dog (or more correctly, its owner) haven't left behind a small gift on the grass.

Place Des Voges

Thursday, June 18, 2009

You too can speak French, in one easy blog post

Cathedrale Notre-Dame de Paris

I spent a few hours today wandering around the ever more heavily touristed streets of central Paris. Ostensibly, I was in search of traces of Roman Paris, and sadly few of these exist today, but that is the subject of a future blog post. Either way, simply wandering around Paris on foot is always an enjoyable experience.

I found myself in the Ile de la Cite, around Cathedrale Notre-Dame de Paris, and also in the Left Bank around Boulevard St Germain and Boulevard St Michel and was a bit surprised (and frankly a bit disgusted) to hear several groups saying, in rather loud american accents "like, they can speak english, you know. They do it on purpose!".

Don't just assume that everyone throughout the world speaks english. You will be amazed how easy it is to make some minimal effort to learn some of the language ... the locals will appreciate it, and even if they still can't communicate with you in english, at least they can tell you as much, and you can understand, in their native language.

When travelling you are in a foreign country, after all, that includes a foreign language as well as foreign cultures, and surely that experience is a large part of the joy of and reason for travelling.

Cathedrale Notre-Dame de Paris and more tourists

I firmly believe that anyone who has sufficient education to work and save enough money to travel to France (or have a rich enough daddy or mommy to pay for them to travel) can learn a small handful of phrases in french (or for that matter to learn some basic phrases for any country they travel to) which will make the stay that much easier and more enjoyable for everyone involved.

It's really not that hard to learn a few key phrases in the french language and to show some basic manners (such as being friendly) when travelling. I am continually amazed how rude some tourists can be.

As such, I have decided to post some key words and phrases here to help anyone considering visiting France but who has no french language skills.

Here you have a word or phrase in english; the equivalent word or phrase in french; and the phonetic spelling (i.e. how it is pronounced) in french:-

english = can you speak english?
french = parlez vous anglais?
sounds like = parley voo onglay?

english = thank you (very much)
french = merci (beaucoup)
sounds like = maresea (bokoo)

english = please
french = s'il vous plaît
sounds like = silvoo play

english = hello (daytime)
french = bonjour
sounds like = boenjooh (barely pronounce the "n")

english = hello (evening)
french = bonsoir
sounds like = boenswa (barely pronounce the "n")

english = goodbye
french = au revoir
sounds like = orvwa

english = excuse me
french = pardon
sounds like = pardonh (barely pronounce the "n")

english = yes
french = oui
sounds like = we

english = no
french = non
sounds like = non (barely pronounce the final "n")

english = can you repeat that (more slowly)(please)
french = pouvez vous repeter (plus lentiment)(si'l vous plaît)
sounds like = poovay voo repetay (ploo larnteemont)(sil voo play)

I hope those ten words and phrases are of some assistance to someone ... anyone.

A visit to Paris at least once in your life is quite an experience and one which I highly recommend.

Just try to learn the smallest amount of language before you do, or at least don't assume everyone speaks english.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Champagne and Reims

Cathedral of Notre-Dame de Reims

Sunday was our 12th wedding anniversary, so it provided us with an excellent excuse (not that we really needed one) to spend a weekend in the largest town of the champagne region of France, Reims (pronounced to sound like France).
Reims is only a 40 minute TGV ride from Gare Paris Est and we spent over two days in the area travelling only by foot, walking around the town centre and to the two caves we visited, plus visiting several other tourist sites and enjoying the ambience of the town.

We arrived after 2pm on a very warm Saturday afternoon to find our hotel room, at the Best Western Paix Hotel in the centre of town, not yet available. They offered to store our two small bags in the interim and we ventured out to get a feel for the town. We quickly found ourselves gazing upon one of the most famous of the Gothic cathedrals of the Middle Ages, the glorious 13th century constructed Cathedral of Notre-Dame de Reims.

Cathedral of Notre-Dame de Reims

The cathedral itself is built upon another church built in the 5th century and recently roman ruins have been uncovered. It has suffered at the hands of man and nature, suffering immense damage at the hands of the Germans in the opening days of the first World War, it was also neglected for some time and has suffered several fires and natural disasters.

We slowly wandered through the cathedral and then made our way back to the hotel to finally check-in to our room, which had a lovely view towards the cathedral and over much of the town.

It was then time to walk up to Mumm for our first cellar cave visit and degustation. Because my french language skills are quite average, we decided to opt for the english tour of the Mumm caves.

first video on the Mumm tour

This meant that we were treated to a couple of short videos in english (one at the beginning and yet another during the tour in the caves) and a guide who took us rather quickly, but certainly not impolitely, through some of the corridors of the Mumm cellars. It was a rather warm day and so the 30-odd minute walk through (only some) of the 25-odd kilometres in the chilly limestone caves at a depth of around 15 metres was rather enjoyable.

There was an interesting and informative overview of the process of making champagne, from grape variety and selection, what makes a Grand Cru or a vintage, through to the various aging options and requirements and the lengthy process of maturation and extraction of the sediment, followed by further fermentation until the champagne is eventually made available to the public.

sediment forms due to the fermentation process

This was our cue to make a beeline for the degustation room to taste two very nice Mumm champagnes, the Cordon Rouge and Cordon Rouge Vintage. We both prefered the vintage champagne and it gave us a nice little head-spin for our sunny early evening walk around Reims, visiting some of the roman ruins and enjoying the architecture and the ambience.

Mumm degustation

Sunday was our 12th wedding anniversary and the day we decided to visit the Pommery cellars. As we had already taken a tour in english the previous day, this time we requested a tour of the cellars and caves in french.

some of the bottles of Pommery champagne doing their thing

The french tour was lengthier, with no boring video to sit through. We wandered through the chilly caves for an hour or so. The Pommery cellars are also filled with contemporary art, which provided an interesting adjunct to the tour, which consisted of much of the same information as the tour the day before.

musical sparrows, the first and last room of the Pommery tour

This time we were even deeper in the limestone subsoil beneath Reims at almost 30 metres and wandered through some of the 18 kilometres of caves, including some gallo-roman chalk pits.

amongst the caves on the Pommery visit

Once again we were treated to a degustation at the end of the tour and this time chose and shared four different champagnes, "Blanc de Blancs", "Blanc de Noirs", "Brut Rosé" and the "Grand Cru".

We were also chatting with our tour guide and when we mentioned it was our 12th wedding anniversary that day she also gave us each a glass of their "Cuvée Louise" made from the vineyards of the jewels in the Champagne region and described as "an absolutely pure wine which quintessentially conveys the wine-making expertise of the Pommery champagne house".

Pommery degustation

They were all very nice indeed and after purchasing a bottle of their "Wintertime" / "Blanc de Noirs" we happily ambled through the streets of Reims, slowly making our way back to the hotel for a late afternoon swim.

This is a short video of one of the galley's contemporary art exhibitions which caught my attention, a room full of Les Paul guitars, Marshall amps, Electro Harmonix "Big Muff" distortion effects and lots of birds (and, sadly, lots of bird poo). But how cool!