When it's 4 o'clock in the morning and you've got your bedfellow's breathing, the birds blethering, your bladder bursting and your brain bludgeoning, you can hardly say you're getting a good night's kip. I would have added 'the baby's bawling' but that would have been an artistic alliteration too far - he's sleeping like an angel, not that I've ever met one, but I've been led to believe that when they're out, it's for the count.
This all reminds me of Gilbert and Sullivan's Nightmare Song from Iolanthe (vaguely reasonable You Tube version here to give you an idea), although love unrequited is about the only thing that isn't robbing me of me rest right now, would that it were...
Unfortunately I'm too old for that now I reckon, and as I was harrumphing and hallucinating to myself in bed just now I got to wondering what on earth I would use as a picture to go with this little nocturnal rant (it's daytime now, and I ain't feeling much better).
Well how about this: another major reason for losing sleep for practically all Parisian school children and students: the dreaded Maison des Examens. It makes Gellert Grindelwald's Nurmengard seem like Euro Disney, doesn't it? For this is the place... (did you guess...?) where all Paris and a few surrounding areas converge for a few hours of pure hell.
Also known cheerfully as the Service Interacadémique des Examens et Concours (SIEC), the acronym of which must be pronounced sardonically close to 'sick' I assume, this shudder-inducing citadel was just around the corner from where I lived in Arcueil for a few years and I passed it often.
Seeing the fingernail devouring, fag-fuming masses mingling nervously outside always made me thankful that with age also comes a great reduction in the number of tests to be sat, although the odd one does still creep up now and then, and it's never pleasant.
My greatest challenge these days though is to try and put a smile on my face when Sab Junior's two-tooth grin appears next to my pillow at 6 am with a nappy full of digestive byproducts just heaving to be changed. But that needn't concern us here... (it's still miles better than SIEC, any day).
Ahh, there's nothing like getting up nice and early (not always easy, I know), grabbing your camera, and heading down to the banks of the Seine to catch a glorious Brucerise over one of the world's most famous rivers.
And as you can see this is nothing like a glorious Brucerise over one of...etc. That's because I completely mistimed it. I mean utterly.
Even though I'd gotten up at some ridiculous hour and had been waiting for what seemed like a million Earth rotations, I unlucked out. Maybe it was the season. Or simply my brain. But old Brucy took it into his head to rise slowly (and nontheless impressively) in front of a Paris brick wall!
He even rubbed salt into my bleary eyes by ironically choosing a road named after a bridge which doesn't even exist - not this side of the Alps anyway...
Oh well, what can you do? There's no arguing with The Brucefather after all; well, I wouldn't want to anyway, not when he's got that sort of expression on his face. It could have been an uglier wall I guess. Or a prettier one, admittedly.
I asked him if there was any reason for screwing up my Seinrise quite so completely, but he remained stoic and uttered... not a word. It was as though I was talking to a cardboard cutout or something. So I quickly grabbed a nearby violin and peeeeed in it. Don't ask me why. It must be a French thing.
Thanks for nothing, Brucy. I'll make sure I'm pointing my lens in the opposite direction next time you come begging me for a publicity shot to revive your sinking career, so brood on that, baby! Have a nice day.
And here we are on the outskirts of Paris, as seen from the RER Line DD (for Dangerously Dodgy), a twilight zone of abandoned factories and processing plants, inhabited by shady itinerant types and graffiti gringos...
Here you can see one of the old coal processing plants with the typical conveyor belts high up between the installations presenting a particularly dehumanised silhouette against the suburban skyline.
No, I'm kidding, it's the Louvre. Look, you can see the last remaining vestiges of it on the right, just opposite the Pont des Arts, before it gets swallowed up by corrugated iron and scaffolding. Funny isn't it how classical French architectural elegance has become a complete industrial eyesore, and nature has been relegated to an ironic image on a poster.
On a related topic, I almost considered actually going into the Louvre last week, which would have been the first time in about 15 years or more. Although the streets are my playground, I'm becoming aware of some serious gaps in my knowledge of the city, in my kultcha, quoi, and I think a trip or two into the hallowed realms of the glass pyramid and beyond will be called for soon.
I'm particularly interested in the remains of the old Louvre fortress, probably more than fancy chairs and antique clocks and wall-hangings, as I explained recently on this blog. I'd even enjoy getting inside that under-renovation south wing more than looking for armless wonders and mildly amused Japanese-encrusted icons. I'll keep you posted.
A gorgeously grimy image you might be saying to yourselves, or perhaps, yes, we're aware that you've got a few fancy iPhone apps, but that doesn't make your photography the best thing since broken baguette you know...
Whatever your point of view, here's what I'm offering you today, and whether you appreciate the aesthetics or not, you can't fail to be interested by the actual place, if you're into Parisian metro history that is.
If you ignore the spanking brand new bright yellow anti-terrorist bin for a while (which does complement the alarm sign nicely though), you'll notice something interesting about this particular platform: the attractive ceramics on the wall.
Now don't get me wrong; I'm not a ceramics freak, but this one is different. Not only is it a welcome change from the usual characterless borders to ads on most platforms, it's not actually bordering an advert at all. It's bordering the name of the station. And that station name is not in the usual enamel but is actually constructed from tiles like the white ones we are so used to. Which is unusual.
What's more, down in the corner of the ceramic border is a prime example of history winking at us, as the French would say. The design is an 'N' and a 'S' entwined and take us back to the days when the metro lines had names, not numbers, and there certainly weren't 14 (or 16) lines to choose between.
Indeed, there was competition between companies, the ones which were building the new routes, to try and get you to use their line, hence efforts to jolly up the stations with fancy tile work and the like. Of which this fine example.
I won't tell you which station or line it is - it would be far more fun to discover for yourselves, don't you think? You can also look out for colour coded tiles too, and try and see what the difference between brown, blue and green motifs might be. Oh, and what 'NS' means too - I can't tell you everything, now can I? Happy hunting.
This is a self-portrait, and so should really appear here, which it will in due course, but it was also taken in one of the high temples of Paris photography, the Maison Européenne de la Photographie no less, oh yes.
There you can generally see between three to five very interesting exhibitions and may well be tempted, as in any self-respecting modern art museum, to remark loudly to yourself well within earshot of anyone who happens to be passing 'Reminds me of my formative years', or 'Hopelessly naive, but not totally without merit', and of course the classic 'My three-year-old could do better than that with her eyes closed'...
One doesn't do the above, obviously, in proper art galleries, especially if you wish to be taken the slightest bit seriously by the owner, along with asking the price (indicates you need to) and asking for a discount (indicates utter lack of class).
The latter can be done, certainly, just not like that. Anyway, I'm getting of topic. here's me (can you guess which one?) in this venerable place, grudgingly admiring or mentally ripping to pieces pictures of bleary prostitutes or wasting aids victims or self-harmers or whatever other delicate themes they've chosen this time.
It's not always that bleak and at least one of the exhibitions should give you some sort of light relief from the grinding grief, but there is a certain leaning towards the tragic...
If anything, it's good to expose yourself to the work of others from time to time I think, but the danger, as an artist, is that you end up spending too much time 'absorbing' their efforts which gives you less time for your own. This means you produce less yourself, adding to the disheartening fact that others are having exhibitions and you're not, which affects your productivity even more...
So all that to say that I hardly ever go to exhibitions even if I love them when I do. Am I satisfied with what I'm producing myself? Of course not. You can't win!
Who needs galleries when you've got the street?
The line between graffiti and street art has blurred, although the two extremes certainly still exist.
There also seems to be a definite distinction between the graffiti which does try to say something however disenchanted and violent that may be, and what are called 'tags', which are people names or street signatures, slapped more or less artistically on a given wall or railway carriage. Some of them are very beautifully done indeed, but they are still just names, which doesn't interest me as much as works with a message. Of course, the people who did them probably don't give a shit what I think, as I'm probably far from their target audience, but that's another story.
What we see here is one of the blurry ones. In all honesty, there is nothing like the skill involved in some of the fancier 'tags' I just mentioned. But then there is a message of peace and love man, without signature at all, which makes us think and even lifts the spirits. It's crudity makes it all the more endearing and it's brightened up a hell of a boring wall.
Those who would argue against the right to exist of even this may say that for a start it's not very 'well done' and that if any old Jean, Ric or Larry were allowed to do this, think what the city would end up looking like. A good point. But not everyone does do this, and there seems to be a natural equilibrium of tolerated 'nice' stuff and rapidly removed unpleasant or political or violent stuff.
I don't know about other cities because I rarely visit anywhere else, but I can say that the street art of Paris is a living, breathing, pulsating thing, which is forever changing and innovating and it's a pretty cool world to be part of.
There's a really great Gregos piece coming up here shortly, and I'll be doing something with him too which I'm excited about so watch this space. Or hit the streets. Or preferably both.
It's difficult to know just how authentic some of these great shop signs actually are. This one seems to be desperately trying to be taken as old but I'm pretty dubious. It seems more Pirates of the Caribbean than Passage de la Convention to me. It looks great though and is tucked away in one of those little passages in the artisanal area between Bastille and Nation.
The happily tapping chappy is obviously an upholsterer, and although I was musing a while back about how on earth these places manage to keep cloth under their bums, The Family had some old chairs redone the other week, and looking at the prices I start to see why.
It's a fairly old métier these days, and the specific, if not particularly transferable skills needed to do a good job are no doubt considerable. Like getting the stuffing just right, banging in a ton of tacks just so and not actually damaging the woodwork in the process. Plus keeping the certainly demanding clients happy. The latter could do with a bit of a relooking too come to think of it. The woodwork I mean.
I'm including a couple of pics of two of the newly garbed items, which cost the kingly sum of more than a thousand euros a piece. The guy did turn them upside down to show us that he'd even replaced the bottom bit of cloth too, so I guess it was worth it.
The baby accoutrements are courtesy of my sixteen month old son, who is considering these late additions carefully, and assessing the likelihood of getting yelled at if he decides they would be a good place to rest his half'masticated banana and saliva treat for a few minutes.
I'd have bought myself a nice big sofa from Conforama or something for a tenth of the price personally, and been much happier than perched on these awkward things, although we are assured that the stuffing will settle down after a year or so, depending on the amount of derrière time they receive.
Louis XIV wouldn't you say, what? Sorry, just trying out some of my newly-found ignorance still fresh from my visit to the Musée Carnavalet last weekend. I saw some there that looked a bit like these anyway. Can't say they do much for me functionally or aesthetically, but each to their own, eh?
How politically correct, or probably not, this would be considered if it appeared in Dior's or Yves Saint Laurent's latest 'Restoration Chic' collection is difficult to say.
But whatever the ethical considerations, if you cast yourself back to the early days of the 19th century, you'd have seen this impressive, nearly life-sized enseigne outside a famous watchmaker 'Au Nègre' (at the sign of the negro) as you strolled along the Boulevard Saint-Denis. I didn't even know there was a Boulevard Saint-Denis, but there was and there is and I do now and that is where you could procure one of the popular clocks très à la mode just like this one only smaller for your interempire desktop or mantlepiece. Nice.
It reminds me of another fine example of different times and different mores slap-bang in your face in the streets of Paris, in the form of the surprising, building-wide 'Au Nègre Joyeux' (at the sign of the happy negro) panel. This used to advertise a chocolate factory, complete with its painting of a white female aristocrat being tended by a manically grinning servant but that will merit a ramble all of its own one day soon.
I learnt yesterday that slavery was only abolished in the USA exactly one hundred years before my birth, in 1865, although it was outlawed earlier over here, in 1833 for Britain and 1848 in France.
How far we've come in just a couple of hundred years, although a lot of the frequent unrest in the Parisian suburbs, and the hot topics discussed on the television talk shows, can easily be traced back to some of the more dubious chapters of our not so distant past.
Another example of politically correct angst and hand-wringing was the 'French cultural icon' which is the old advertising slogan and image for Banania, the wildly popular children-targeted chocolate and banana flavoured milky drink. The packet and adverts depicted a widely smiling Senegalese infantryman uttering a supposedly pidgin French expression for 'it's good' (y'a bon) and used to grace every breakfast table in France. It's been radically modified now though, as accusations of racism and creaking colonialism started to seriously hurt the product's image... and profits.
The old cliché of the 'friendly but stupid' African had run its course in 20th century France and was no longer à la mode. It was well and truly time to remettre les pendules à l'heure as the French so aptly say: time to put the clocks right.
Nice to see one of Gregos' faces in the 4th just round the corner from the Musée Carnavalet which I visited for the first time this weekend. Can you believe it? seventeen and a half years in Paris and I had never been to the only museum which is actually dedicated to the city I love? Incredible! I didn't like it much.
OK, let's qualify that. I arrived near closing time, and only had time to do a limited part of it, consisting of the first floor in the main building. The bits I saw covered the 17th and 18th centuries principally, including the reigns of Louis XV, Louis XVI (no time) and someone called Madame de Sévigné, whoever she was. Just kidding, hahaha, obviously I know who she was..., tuh!
Unfortunately, I was hoping for a kind of cool living history book, not with interactive displays or anything, but lots of information in easy to understand bite-sized chunks, and perhaps some reconstructions of street scenes or hangings or the plague or something to liven things up a bit.
I got furniture. Really old and really lots of it. And clocks. Tick tock tick tock, look at me, I'm an old clock. Maybe in some of the other areas I didn't have time to explore, like the section on the French revolution or the prehistoric and Roman period might be more interesting.
So I'm not giving up hope or making final judgements just yet; let's just say I was expecting something... different. I'm sure I'll get into it after having explored it fully, but right now the expression on Gregos' face on the rue des Minimes might then be a fair reaction to my first visit.
I should say that I did like the first room, which was devoted to fantastic old street signs which have lost their original buildings. I liked the sleepy cat sign and the impressive old elm from near Saint-Gervais, and a superb deer from 1745 but I missed the famous Chat Noir, depicted on my all-time favourite Paris poster - next time!
Anyway, back to Gregos, the guy who is slowly but surely changing the Parisian streetscape with his multicoloured painted facecasts, including a smile, a kiss and the most common and popular, the sticking out tongue. I'm meeting up with him today for a joint project so soon you'll be able to see his face with my infinity squared paintings on the streets of the city for yourself - how about that!
As a matter of interest, in this photo you can also see another current street art phenomenon particularly prevalent in the Marais. It's top left, and consists of an upward-pointing arrow with a picture of someone famous on it, and the words 'Above' and the name of the artist or actor. I saw about four or five on just this one stroll, and I remember 'Above Brad' (Pitt) and possibly 'Above Brel'. Was there an 'Above Clooney'? Maybe. What else? Go see for yourself!
There's a new job in Paris these days. Not new to the history of mankind or anything like that; I'm sure they've been doing it in Tokyo for decades. But relatively new to France. And that's the job of wearing a Bright Red Jacket (BRJ) and telling people to Get The Hell Back (GTHB) from the edge of the platform when a train comes in. Which is fortunate, because I find that after 45 and a half years on this planet I'm still never quite sure when to actually step off; is it before or after the train's arrived again? Personally I find having an 18 and a half-year-old loudly remind me is very helpful indeed.
But seriously, I'm a bit ambivalent about this. For a start, most people do get back from the edge of the platform when a train comes in. If you've seen the size of an RER up close as it thunders towards you and then looked down at your shoulder and considered rationally which would come off the worst in a tackle you generally shuffle humbly back a few steps.
I know it might be exaggerating for effect, but it can sometimes seem that these people are only there when you don't need them; calmly strolling down a half-empty platform not even near the edge just to have some dork in daipers shout at you to Move Back, like you're wearing an 'I'm Stoopid And About To Jump In Front Of The Next Train' T-shirt, well, it can be a bit irritating.
They do have an official job title actually. It's written on the back of their jackets and it is this: Régulateur de Flux.
The French like regulating and controlling things, and now, whenever a flux is getting a bit out of hand, these guys (and gals) are there to sort it out. I can think of quite a few flcuks who could do with regulating, like moronic football fans (as in: "Football fans who are moronic..", and not: "Football fans, who are moronic,...", obviously) and Saturday night stinkers and gangs from the suburbs, but that's not what we're talking about here.
This unruly flux is probably something to do with the traffic - the train traffic, that is - and in particular not letting it get messed up with the proverbial person under a train. If you've ever been at Les Halles on line A of a morning I concede that they play a very useful role indeed. What a nightmare that can be.
They haven't fully adopted Japanese tactics yet though, of physically shoving and cramming people into the carriages already bursting at the seams. I can't quite see that approach working over here, what with our personal space issues and handbag dogs and slimy pervs and whatnot. Line 2 up in the 18th in a heaving rush hour anyone? No, I didn't think so. You can forget line 13 in the north-west too; it's a one-way ticket to the dark side...
Given the choice between this, and the other career option I've been considering lately, Conducteur de Crottemobile (the guys who drive those funky little green buggies up and down the Champs Elysées scoopin' up the poopin'), I'm not sure which I would choose. I think in the end I'd have to go for the more glamorous job title; Régulateur de Flux is OK, but Scatman des Champs sure does have a certain je ne sais quoi to it...
I've going plaquing crazy at the moment, don't ask why. Can't seem to get enough of the things.
It's like I've suddenly entered another world, like I've opened a long forgotten room in my brain - the kiddie collecting chamber, where you suddenly get a crazy for something, however useless or ridiculous and just have to have themm all.
God knows I've collected some stupid things in my time. I remember roaming the central reservation of a two-lane highway near our place in the suburbs of Perth as a 9-year-old looking for a certain type of matchbox I think it was. I did cigarette packets that year too, if I remember correctly.
Stamps were a classic one I guess. So many Saturday mornings spent down at the local market buying little piecs of paper with perforated edges which I would discover about 30 years later, yellowed and all stuck together in that same old green plastic album.
I did drinks cans too. And the ring pulls from them. And coins, but that never lasted long.
And then music came along. That lasted a good few years, that one, in the grand old days of vinyl. But that wasn't pointless - that was for the music, that was! CDs followed, and then I kind of lost the collector's spirit, thank goodness, until now, that is.
Now I believe, quite sincerely, that I have to at least have taken my own personal photo of every curious plaque worth noticing in the whole of Paris. Now how stupid is that?
Stupid. So having got that out of the way, let's start with what I reckon, in all my enthusiastic and endearing naivete (it is endearing, isn't it?) is one a beauty. One of the rarest of its kind in all of this big capital.
No doubt someone will gently tap me on the shoulder one day soon and say 'By the way, I hate to be a bore, but you know there's a street in the 17th with seven of those plaques, don't you...?', shattering my illusions to be the last great white plaque hunter.
This is perfect Paris Quiz fodder I think, so I won't say any more about it, but I would love to hear about any of your own personal favourite which you might have spotted on a Parisian wall near you. We could share discoveries, and hey, why not start a club for all the other sadoes who wander round the streets with our necks craned for hours on end when normal people are watching Claire Chazal or bemoaning the price of baguette these days...
More pocket-sized tales from your friendly neighbourhood nerd tomorrow folks; now, where did I put that anorak...?
Quite a few years ago, way back in the 90s, which is way back for me in any case, Paris used to have a significantly shitty reputation.
The brunt of numerous jokes and no doubt steaming fodder for a million expat blog posts and slippery slidy poems, the city's streets were a minefield of the brown smelly stuff.
Do you remember those cool little green pooper-scooper vehicles which used to go up and down the Champs Elysées, gobbling up the crap like there was no tomorrow? I can't remember for the life of me what they were called in French, either officially or humorously, so if anyone can help me out...
Anyway, the whole point of this post is to defend Paris streets and to say that things ain't what they used to be as far as doggie-doos is concerned. They're still there, of course, and hundreds of thousands of pooches still do their thing, for sure. Now though, thanks to a massive awareness campaign about the fact that it might, just possibly, not be very nice to nonchalently let your canine crap in the middle of the street, right outside someone's home, and the incentive, both practically (little plastic bags available), legally (fines-a-gogo), and psychologically (people now look at you like sh*t if they see you ignoring the business) there's much less slip-sliding away going on.
Back when the mother of my daughter was in Paris, she used to kill herself laughing with my repeated skating-without-skates antics, and it's true I did have a bit of a reputation for hitting the heavy stuff regularly in those days.
Nowadays, thankfully, most people do the shite thing and clear up after themselves. Hence scenes like the one above which are commonplace, a crouching Parisian, little inverted plastic bag on hand, deftly grabs the grot with one hand, cradles cell phone in the other (careful not to forget which hand..!), whilst the offender looks on ambivalently.
I've never quite managed to dissociate an owner letting their dog crap in the street, and that particular human dropping their trousers (or hitching their skirts) and doing the deed themselves. I really can't see much difference, which is why I've always been pretty agressive , at least internally, towards those who didn't seem to give a sh... And more often than not it was extremely well-dressed and evidently 'sophisticated' rich b*tches who seemed to think it their republic-given right to soil their own sidewalks. Well, their neighbours'... There's be plenty of tut-tutting to be done if they found a big steaming crotte outside their front door, but the glorious irony of it never seemed to reach above the Hermes scarves: go figure, as one of my favourite American English expressions advises. Go figure indeed.
How the mighty have fallen. I was going to make this a quiz question and maybe I still will, as I'm not sure how many people who are interested in Paris posers actually make it to my ramblings here, but can you guess where it is? I mean what it is? Or used to be? One of the most glamorous of the Paris department stores. A true monument. A uniquely beautiful city landmark. Possessor of a gloriously panoramic, lesser-known and free view from the roof...
You've probably got it now. La Samaritaine, that proud bastion of the moyen-bourgoisie (not quite as posh as Galeries Lafayettes, Printemps or LBM I always felt) and folks like me who bought our art supplies there from time to time at inflated prices before we knew any better.
It was opened in 1869, just a year before the fall of Napoleon III and the horrors of La Commune de Paris (erm, oops!), and had been losing money since the 1970s. But it was still a shock for the whole of Paris, and especially its employees, when it closed suddenly in 2005 on the pretext that it didn't meet safety standards.
The plans are to reopen it in the rapidly approaching 2013, as a mixture of offices, boutiques, hotels and subsidised housing, although wrangles between the owners LVMH and the store's founders aren't moving things on any faster.
In the meantime it's rapidly becoming a photo-op for all the wrong reasons, not to say an eyesore, right next to Pont Neuf, which is a shame as this venerable lady surely deserves better than this.
Things will change though, no doubt, so if you do want to immortalise a piece of classic Paris from the last gasps of the Second Empire before who knows what horrendous transformations are imposed, grab your grimiest lens and take a walk along Quai du Louvre from Ile de la Cité and say 'Hi' to the grand old dame on the right for me.