Thursday 29 October 2009

Something for the Weekend? (30th October/1st November)

One month comes to an end and another one begins as we slip ever closer to winter. Halloween falls on a Saturday and makes a comeback, but the average French person is still more concerned with the 1st of November - traditionally a day off work - falling on a Sunday!

Please add any events or activities you think should be promoted or which you would like to promote yourself in the comments, and let me know
if you have any events in the coming weekends you would like to promote.

Although the French have generally given up celebrating Halloween, the fact that it falls on a Saturday this year has been seen by most of the bars and clubs around Paris as an opportunity not to be missed. Is there anything particularly exciting being organised anywhere though? Well, in the afternoon you can get yourself made up as a zombie and join others for a walk around the city
. In the evening, the Batofar is reopening after two weeks of renovations with a Halloween themed evening, including heavy metal concerts in the evening and DJs later on. This floating venue near the Bibliotheque Nationale will also feature a mini-museum of horrors and the screening of a selection of gory films for its Beat the Boat event.

Mixmove Sessions
Being a DJ or a musician in the electronic sphere is a serious business today, and this new date gives them the chance to meet, discuss, learn how to promote themselves and try out new equipment. For the casual visitor, it is an opportunity to get a closer look at this fascinating world, and also the recent and very interesting GFO Barbara building in Barbès. Live music events will take place in the evening.
30th and 31st October
Centre Fleury Goutte d’Or Barbara Paris
1 Rue Fleury, 75018

More Modern Art
After the FIAC circus last weekend, the ‘GMAC’ (Grand Marche d’Art Contemporain) offers a more leisurely outing. Of course this outdoor event alongside the basin and the Place de la Bastille is not at all on the same scale, and the creations are surely less interesting, but this time people might actually be buying art rather than watching other people buying it.
From 27th October to 1st November
Place de la Bastille

La Fête du Slip
Think you look good in a pair of y-fronts? If you’ve got the balls for it, this weekend at the Galeries Lafayette you can get yourself photographed wearing a pair of Calvin Kline boxers and enter an international competition. The winners will earn themselves a modeling contract and a holiday to South Africa.
Friday 30th and Saturday 31st October
Galeries Lafayette

Shopping for Charity
If you want to go shopping this weekend and not feel guilty, the place to go is the Espace Showroom in the 8th arrondissement. Twice a year, an organisation called Arcat runs a charity sale of much-reduced designer clothes and accessories, which have been donated by the creators concerned. Entrance costs 2 Euros, and this plus the proceeds of all sales goes to charities working in the fight against HIV and AIDS. Expect to find gear from Antik Batik, Isabelle Marant, Princesse Tam-Tam and Lollipops amongst many others – if you get there early enough !

29th to 31st Oct 2009
L'Espace Showroom 30
30 Rue de Lisbonne 75008

Tuesday 27 October 2009

Paris People - Jesse Vernon

What persuaded an established musician to give up home comforts and start anew in Paris? Jesse Vernon of Morningstar explains why he chose the city to pursue his career and how he is surviving in the digital age.

The digital revolution in the music industry has left many artists spinning, but for others it has opened new perspectives. Jesse Vernon though is from the old school, an artist who just loves being up on stage and sharing his music. Indeed, to get the full Morningstar experience, you really have to see Vernon and his musicians play live. The group is essentially his solo project, with a changing line up of hired musicians according to where he is playing, but it is his onstage persona and his posse of backing singers which creates the spectacle.

As Vernon bounds around the stage it is as if Buddy Holly had joined up as the seventh member of the Monty Python team. Seeing upwards of fifteen backing singers alongside him is equally as surreal, but the overall effect is warm and charming. Vernon is no newcomer to strangeness though as he was previously a member of the mildly successful Bristol band The Moonflowers who often took to the stage dressed as flowers.

He tells me that he came to Paris originally "for the adventure", but this is not the only reason.
"Actually my record company (Microbe) is based in Paris” he explains. The choice of coming to Paris was not made by Jesse Vernon alone though. His girlfriend, Kate Stables, is also a musician, running a band called This is the Kit (who have also released an album via Microbe), and it was very much a joint decision. They have been living in the city for four years now, and combine playing music with bringing up their young daughter. The situation is even more complex as they often play in each other’s bands. Wouldn’t it make things easier if they just formed a group together I ask? “No, we support each other when we can but we also have our own different styles” explains Vernon, “and anyway, we would have so many more problems with babysitters and things”.

Vernon's style is certainly different, but how does he explain the large on-stage choir? In fact, its creation was more as answer to some of the practical issues of playing in Paris. “There are a lot of small venues here, places that will pay me 50-60 Euros per show, but I can’t afford to pay professional musicians with that. However, going up on stage with a choir enables me to offer something a bit more original than just a man and a guitar”.

His interest in choral harmonies dates back to his time in The Moonflowers, and he has been running various choirs for ten years. In Paris it was initially a way to earn some extra cash, but as his time has become more limited, he has now had to almost incorporate them as part of his group. He gives free lessons, but in exchange they will appear on stage with him at his concerts for no fee. Seeing the group live, it was clear that the singers were delighted to be there with him.

As Morningstar, Jesse Vernon has released three albums, and a fourth is finished but not yet officially available. It is a tricky subject for Vernon, and one that highlights some of the problems confronting musicians at the moment. “I can sell the CD at my shows” he tells me, “but there has been a problem and the distribution won’t be until January now”. Wouldn’t it be easier to bypass the record company altogether and use an online service like iTunes? Vernon hesitates - “Perhaps in the UK where I don’t have a distributor, but I don’t want to upset my record company here. It’s a partnership and they have helped me a lot in the past”.

A track from Vernon's latest album.

So is it easy to be a professional musician in Paris today? “Paris is anything but easy” Vernon tells me. “It can be so difficult to organise anything. In Bristol I would phone two or three places in the morning, see who had any slots available then organise a show for the same evening. Here everything takes so much longer”. Vernon has also seen a huge rise in the number of bands around on the circuit recently too making it more difficult to make his mark in the city, but he has always had favourable reviews, and the popular Télérama magazine recently highlighted him as the standout act in a festival organised in the city.

Between delays with albums and problems finding gigs that pay a decent rate, how does he manage to survive? Firstly by working hard, (as well as playing as Morningstar and in This is the Kit, he also plays in a French band called Hyperclean), and secondly through royalties. A few years ago his record company put forward one of his songs for an advert for female sanitary products, and it was used for three years in a row. "It wasn't enough to survive on, but it certainly helped" he tells me.

What will the future bring for Jesse Vernon and Morningstar? The day after meeting me he is already rushing off to Toulouse to play a concert in somebody's house, and in the weeks to come he will be off touring around the UK with Hyperclean. It's a hectic, unorthodox lifestyle, but Paris remains his rock - for the moment. "We won't stay here forever" he tells me. “We came to France for the adventure” he continues "and we love it here, but who knows what will happen in the future". We should make the most of such original artists whilst they are still here!


Sunday 25 October 2009

Rainy Days and Sundays

Paris is a Northern city that thinks it is in the South, a Latin soul stuck in the wrong climate. Magnificent when the sun is out, it is a little less appealing when the skies open. There is an art to adapting to rainy skies and cold snaps, and Paris has never had that knack. The city of fashion is just not interested in doing warm and comfortable sweaters and sensible footwear.

Why this should be when Paris has over three times as much rain as London is a mystery. The city is a show-off, always presenting her best side to passers by and keeping nothing aside for a rainy day.

It rained on Saturday. Inner-city blues.

Sunday. Never has a day been so aptly named. An extra hour in bed, and waking up to blue skies. Paris will be back to her best again, presenting her finest angles to the low lying sun.

Thursday 22 October 2009

Something for the Weekend (23rd/25th October)

The autumn half-term holidays begin in France, meaning another relatively quiet weekend in Paris. Nevertheless, here are a few suggestions to keep those staying in the city warm as temperatures begin to drop.

Please add any events or activities you think should be promoted or which you would like to promote yourself in the comments, and let me know
if you have any events in the coming weekends you would like to promote.

The star of the weekend with enormous events at the Grand Palais and the Louvre as well as a host of more minor spin-offs is undoubtedly the FIAC (Foire Internationale de l'Art Contemporain – contemporary art fair). However with an eye-watering and elitist 28 Euro entrance ticket, this seems to me more like the very worst kind of commodity fetishism. Perhaps more interesting therefore is the lower-priced and more accessible Slick event organised at the same time at the 104 Arts Centre.
From Thursday 22nd to Sunday 25th October

The Paris Burlesque Festival
Paris has always been intrinsically linked to the burlesque, but it is only very recently that it has become fashionable again. The Bellevilloise has long been associated with this art form, offering both lessons and performances, so it is no surprise that the first edition of this festival should take place here. Over the four days of the festival you should expect the unexpected, ranging from photo exhibitions and films to updated versions of peep shows. A piano bar will create the necessary atmosphere for the shows, and DJs will ensure that the party continues long into the night. You can even sign up for striptease lessons yourself!
From Thursday 22nd to Sunday 25th October
La Bellevilloise
19-21 Rue de Boyer, 75020

Mark Eitzel

Whenever my favourite artist comes to town it is always an important event for me, but this time it really will be different. For over 20 years he has been producing critically acclaimed by criminally overlooked albums both as a solo artist and with his band the American Music Club, but each time he has played in Paris, he has always brought his guitar along. This time he will be accompanied just by a piano, and will be playing in the intimate and cosy Sentier des Halles club. Eitzel always offers a humerous and self-deprecating stage presence which makes his dark songs and soulful vocals all the more surprising and effective.
Sunday 25th October, 7.30pm
Sentier des Halles
50 rue d'Aboukir ,75002

For those into shopping, two events this weekend. Firstly the re-opening of the self-proclaimed ‘largest computer equipment shop in the world’, Surcouf on the Avenue Daumesnil. Some kind of large ‘meteorite’ will fall outside the shop, and early visitors will be able to pick up the pieces and claim a number of gifts. Surcouf state that prices will be as low as on the internet, but will they be as low as the neighbouring Chinese traders?
139 avenue Daumesnil 75012

The second event is the start of a new monthly rendez-vous known as the Pop-Up Shop Oberkampf. This large space on the Rue St Maur will offer the products of little-known designers at competitive prices.

113 rue Saint-Maur 75011
Saturday 24th from 2pm to 8.30pm and Sunday 25th from 11am to 7pm

Tuesday 20 October 2009

The Theatre de Belleville

The evolution of a city is a gently flowing stream, turning over old stones and rolling them down to new positions. As fashions change and tastes diversify, buildings are transformed or pulled down and newer models spring up in their place. The city always wants to display its most modern face, but often clues are left behind which betray the past. Such is the case with the Theatre de Belleville.

Little pictorial evidence exists of the original theatre built in 1826 on the Cour Lesage off the Rue de Belleville, but by all accounts it was a magnificent building both inside and out. This was a time when Belleville was one of the suburbs of Paris, a place of leisure where Parisians went to enjoy cheaper entertainment and more relaxed licensing laws, and the theatre became one of the most important in the region.

It was particularly popular amongst the working classes, and the theatre repertoire reflected their tastes. Vaudeville, historical plays and melodramas were the most successful, keeping audience numbers high for many years. So popular was the theatre in fact that when it was badly damaged by fire in 1867, the necessary money for repairs was very quickly found.

The theatre continued to thrive into the twentieth century until a new competitor came along that would prove more dangerous than fire - the cinema. The theatre stuggled to adapt and keep up with fashions, until in 1932, Paul Caillet, the owner at the time, decided to demolish the old theatre and put up a new building in its place. Using the most modern art-deco styles of contemporary architects, no longer could it be said that the Theatre de Belleville was behind the times.

The new building incorporated not only a theatre, but also apartments, a dance hall and a garage. However, the new venture wasn't the success that Caillet had hoped for. The theatre was certainly one of the most modern around, but it lacked the charm that its regulars had always appreciated. Soon it found itself sharing the auditorium with film screenings, and by the end of the 1940s, cinema pushed drama out of the building forever.

However, even as a cinema it was not a great success. There was too much competition in the neighbourhood (there were upwards of 30 cinemas in Belleville and Menilmontant in the 1950s), and the theatre de Belleville was too large. The end came in 1962 when it was sold off and transformed into a supermarket. It hadn't finsihed its evolution yet though, and today the supermarket itself has become a chinese restaurant.

So what is left today of the theatre? The attractive art-deco building still stands with its impressive central column. The two lowest levels still show the form of a cinema frontage, even if they have been decorated in a more chinese style today. What is left is one final clue. Although the theatre became a cinema, a supermarket and a restaurant, the pharmacie at the beginning of the street saw no reason to change. And that meant that there was no reason to change its name either.

Sunday 18 October 2009

Signs of the Suburbs

One of the biggest differences between France and the UK or US is the role of the suburbs. In Britain or the States, the inner city has traditionally been synonymous with low incomes and crime, whereas the opposite is true in France. The city centre is the domain of the rich, and it is the 'banlieue' or suburb which has the negative connotations.

Parisians rarely venture out into the suburbs. Many though are obliged to quit the city on a daily basis to go to their place of work, but even on these occasions they are whisked in and out by car or train, and spend as little time as possible in this neighbouring environment.

I am one of these people, taking a train each day away from Paris. My morning commute takes me beyond the city limits, over the peripherique and across the Seine, out into another world. As I leave Paris, the heights of the buildings drop, and I can begin to see a broad skyline, punctuated with the straight lines of the overhead power cables.

Entering the world of the suburbs does not mean fear for me, but often a kind of ennui. With a few rare exceptions, the suburbs of Paris are not attractive places. They are scruffy, the result of inexistant urban planning. Fast roads send cars thundering through what were their historic hearts and viaducts carry streams of trains through industrial estates or over back gardens. And yet there is something endlessly fascinating about these places if you scratch through this opaque vision.

It is the raggedness that gives these places their charm. Paris with its strict planning rules and its facade of wealth makes for a very homogeneous picture which in itself can become dull. The suburbs, with their tower blocks neighbouring quaint houses and Parisian style Haussmannian buildings makes for a much more disorderly spectacle. As you walk through the suburbs, you literally never know what will be around the corner.

Often it is the car that has dictated how these towns have developed, and as a result they are not particularly pedestrian friendly. Nevertheless, taking a walk here gives many rewards to the curious. Even the street signs are different here. Collapsing against a wall, a crumbling relic in solid stone and cracked enamel from several decades ago.

Pasted around the town, an affiche for an upcoming event. In Paris, this poster would have been laughed out of town for being so uncool, but here it is a celebration of a local community. Those that will attend this event care little for the snobbery of their more illustrious neighbours, and simply want to meet friends, eat some traditional foods and dance to the music they grew up with and have always known.

It's a sign of the suburbs. Defiant, unfashionable, proud, untidy and authentic.

Thursday 15 October 2009

Something for the Weekend (16th/18th October)

A quieter weekend this time in Paris, although the scent of burning candles will be in the air. For some unexplained reason, several birthdays are being celebrated - to which you are all invited of course! Other events include an exhibition, a ‘flair’ event and a somewhat grimmer anniversary.

Please add any events or activities you think should be promoted or which you would like to promote yourself in the comments, and let me know if you have any events in the coming weekends you would like to promote.

Happy Birthday Point Ephemère!
The Point Ephemère alongside the Canal Saint Martin is celebrating its 5th birthday this month, but the birthday party is this Friday night. If you have never been before, this is the moment to check out this unusual and unusually well-situated venue which operates as a bar, restaurant, concert hall, night-club and rehearsal space. If you have been before, now is the time to go again. If you go regularly, you won’t need reminding!
Point Ephemère
Quai de Valmy
Metro Stalingrad
Friday 16th

Happy Birthday Baron Samedi!
The Baron Samedi bar is a younger sibling and will only blow out two candles this Saturday evening. Situated on a quiet street at the lower end of Belleville, it has managed to build itself a reputation as the ‘local’ for everyone in the area. The owners are fantastically friendly, and the regulars will also draw you into their conversations. It offers regular events to keep people coming back, including poker nights, themed crosswords and northern soul DJ sets. More on this bar and its owners soon!
Baron Samedi
12 Rue des Goncourt, Metro Goncourt
Saturday 17th, 9pm

French Flair
Remember Tom Cruise in Cocktail? Apparently this activity is known as ‘flair bartending’, and this Sunday evening you will be able to see the 20 of the best bartenders in competition to become the Champion of France on the stage of Le Reservoir! It should be quite spectacular, and the venue is a nice place to go at any time.
Le Reservoir
16 Rue de la Forge Royale, Metro Ledru-Rollin
Sunday 18th, 8pm

Salon de la Photo
The Salon de la Photo is the biggest photography show in Paris, featuring just about everything connected to the subject. You’ll find exhibitions of top photographers, some of whom you’ll be able to meet, and the widest possible selection of equipment and media.
Porte de Versailles
15th to 19th October

Top tip: For a free ticket, click here, choose ‘amateur’ then enter the following code: PGPC9. Fill in the form and you should receive a printable invitation by e-mail. (Offered by

Secrets and Lies
Not all anniversaries are happy events. This Saturday marks 48 years since what has become known as 'the 17th of October massacre' took place. In 1961, during the tail-end of a conflict between France and Algeria, a demonstration of Algerians living in France and protesting against night-time curfews degenerated into pitched battles. The French police had been targetted over the previous months by radical Algerian groups, and many today see this day as the moment the French authorities took an extreme and bloody revenge. Many protestors died, but the exact number has never been revealed nor exactly how they met their death (although several were known to have drowned in the Seine).
This is still a very touchy subject in France and a story with many murky elements. Perhaps the full story will come to light for the 50th anniversary. In the meantime, annual commemorative events take place across the city to ensure that people do not forget, including this manifestation near Saint Michel.
Pont St Michel
Saturday 17th, 5pm

Tuesday 13 October 2009

La Java

Tucked away at the back of an attractive, but now little-used 1920s shopping arcade is La Java, one of the oldest nightclubs in Paris. Follow the art-deco curved iron staircase underground, then take a wander back in time.

It's 1923 - the jazz age, but Paris is dancing to another tune. The immigrants from the Auvergne have brought their own style of music with them known as the Musette, built around the notes of the accordeon. The workers who have come from this region want places to meet, drink and dance to this music. Within a few years, hundreds of small venues spring up across the east of the city where most of these workers live.

One of these venues is La Java in the Rue du Faubourg du Temple. The Java also happens to be the most famous type of dance associated with the Musette, a kind of speeded up waltz invented in Paris to enable people to dance in the tightly packed spaces of these small clubs. The venue was almost certainly named after the dance, advertising to prospective clients exactly what they could expect from a night out there.

Although the club sits in the heart of Belleville, not the most salubrious part of town, it is situated underneath a recently built shopping arcade and it manages to attract quite an upmarket crowd. The success continues into the 1930s, and now the walls are witness to the beginnings of a new breed of artist. Young singing stars plucked from the streets of Belleville take to the stage and take the Musette in new directions. Edith Piaf makes her debut here as a young girl and Maurice Chevalier is a regular. From here they will take on the world.

In this same decade jazz does finally arrive, played on a guitar in a manouche style by the scarred fingers of Django Reinhardt. The public come in ever increasing numbers to this small place which has become known as an initiator of new styles, but after the rise must come the fall. The end of the decade sees war break out, and the venue will see many years of decline.

In the 1960s and 70s, the venue becomes a popular hang-out for gangs and wideboy criminals, with Mesrine being a regular visitor. Hidden away underground and out of sight, and probably after greasing the palms of a few local policemen, illicit gambling is the main centre of commerce keeping the venue alive. It continues trading, plodding into the 1980s, until an unlikely saviour appears.

The city's Latino crowd adopt the venue, and it becomes one of the hottest salsa clubs in the city. Young dancers from across Paris come each weekend to sway to the sounds of leading DJs and furious live bands. Men of all ages who have mastered the salsa swing come to find young girls to dance with, but with their adroitness and wide smiles they are never short of partners.

Today the venue has been cleaned up and renovated, but the history is still written on the floor and walls. La Java is displayed in the floor tiles as you enter, and the walls are painted with scenes of an imaginary Belleville where the stars seem to glitter in the lights. The sounds have changed though, and you’ll be more likely to discover alternative rock bands or stand-up comedians early on in the evening, then a more eclectic range of dance music after midnight.

Take a drink at the bar then sit down in one of the booths. The venue is thoroughly modern now, but it is still easy to picture yourself in any one of these snapshots from 80 years of a very rich history.

La Java
105 Rue du Faubourg du Temple, 75010

Sunday 11 October 2009

Into the Wild

In Paris it often seems as if every part of the city serves a purpose. Each square inch has been measured, divided up and is owned by somebody or some entity. A walk through the city takes you across the face of the mapped, but is it still possible to become an explorer and discover the untrodden, the abandoned, the unclaimed or the unused?

Glimpses of this wilderness do still exist, alongside railway lines, in the corners of hospitals and behind factories on the city limits. In these zones without roads, pavements or street furniture, it is still possible to find a kind of non-activity amongst the hustle and bustle of city life. Buildings that have ceased to serve a purpose and are now waiting for their next life, windows broken and doors hanging from hinges. External walls are crumbling to the ground, now little more than canvases for street artists.

It's always fascinating to walk in these zones, on the edge of the what was and the what it might become. These buildings will eventually be pulled down and live again. Wood may burn, but stone and brick are collected, cut to size and form the building blocks or a new construction. When the Bastille prison was demolished, much of the stone was used to build the Pont de la Concorde. From a solid fortress, the stone became something that eased access.

Is it morally decent though to celebrate the beauty of the abandoned in a city which does not have the necessary infrastructure to house all of its inhabitants? Often these spaces find lodgers, squatters who slip into the gaps between greedy owners and frustrated developers. The purposeless finds a new purpose, and the buildings and wilderness come back to life. Later the squatters will be moved out, the space will be claimed, cleaned up, developed and mapped. The possible will became a bland new reality, where even nature gets landscaped into submission.

Thursday 8 October 2009

Something for the Weekend? (10th/11th October)

Paris gets all nostalgic this weekend, with a retro garage sale, a vintage design market and a festival which turns the clock back 100 years.

Please add any events or activities you think should be promoted or which you would like to promote yourself in the comments, and let me know
if you have any events in the coming weekends you would like to promote.

A Garage Sale…in a Garage!
An enormous and ancient bus station near the Place de la Nation is due to be renovated shortly, but in the meantime the RATP public transport company have decided to open the doors to the public for a giant vide-grenier (garage sale) for one weekend only. Alongside the traditional moth eaten furniture and cracked crockery, you will find a whole selection of ‘vintage retro-Paris’ activities including shoe-shiners, old-fashioned photographers and traditional barbers! The event will be accompanied by jazz and rhythm and blues music and will be open until midnight on Saturday.
Saturday 11th (8am to midnight), Sunday 12th (8.15am to 8pm)
18-20 Rue des Pyrénées 75020 (Metro Porte de Vincennes)

A Walk along the Canal
The Bassin de la Villette hosts the 10th edition of the Puces de Design this weekend,
an event which is more for looking at unless you have a fat wallet. Giving you another reason to take a walk along the length of the canal is the installation of the artist Michel Quarez. From the Port de l’Arsenal near la Bastille all the way to Bobigny to the North-East of the city, the artist has placed 2,000 posters of various sizes, all featuring the same little cartoon character (pictured above). Organisers say that any additions people want to make to the posters are part of the event, so feel free to be creative! If you walk beyond the Parc de la Villette, admire the recent and very successful renovation of the 19th century Moulins de Pantin. Previously they were used for the transformation of flour for dough and bread, but they will shortly be home to a branch of the BNP bank – so once more used for the creation of dough and bread!

Fête des Vendanges – Montmartre
Yes, Paris produces wine, and no it isn’t very good. Nevertheless, it gives the residents of Montmartre another reason to dress up like Piaf or Montand and take to the streets. This event is always a little cheesy (nice with wine), but can be fun. Expect events in bars and shops, outdoor markets, parades on the streets and a grande finale involving fireworks.

Out of the Blue Festival @ La Java
For those looking for something calmer, the first edition of a
new festival in Paris over three nights may be up their street. Actually, it’s taking place in La Java up my street so I have no excuse for not going. The goal of the festival is to promote little-known 'post-folk' musicians who are producing intelligent soundscapes, including Trespassers William, Jason Edwards, Kid Loco, Heligoland, Glissando and the excellent Morning Star.
Friday 9th/Saturday 10th/Sunday 11th
La Java, Rue du Faubourg du Temple, M° Goncourt or Belleville

Ports in a Storm
A curiosity or a sign that the depressed French are looking back to more traditional, homely comforts during the current financial crisis? In the west of the city, the
Salon de Mariage will welcome those looking to get hitched (including more unorthodox civil ceremonies!), whilst to the east, the Animal Expo show will give them the opportunity to choose a family pet. This domesticity isn’t finished yet though – next weekend sees the ‘Futur Maman’ exhibition and the Salon du Chocolat!
Saturday 10th and Sunday 11th October.
Porte de Champerret and Parc Floral

Tuesday 6 October 2009

A Latter Day Saint

Think of Paris in the 1960s and the first images that spring to mind are those of left-bank barricades and crowds of chanting students. Wander a little further along the riverside though to the Boulevard de l’Hôpital and you will discover the setting of a much quieter revolution from this period.

It’s a warm Friday evening in September as I walk along the boulevard. There’s a crowd of students here too, but these are from the School of Medicine opposite and are quietly enjoying the happy hour prices at the Ménagerie bar. I haven’t come here to sit with them on this broad terrace though, but to visit the neighbouring Saint Marcel church.

It’s not easy to be without religion in France. Although it is a completely secular state, most French people still have some early indoctrinations of faith running through their veins. They are intensely proud of their secular, republican state, but in contrast, this also shows how powerful they believe religion to be. As a child, I went to a Church of England school in a country where the monarch is also the head of this church, and yet I felt none of this influence on a daily basis.

The decrees and culture of religion are largely an irrelevance to me, but curiously I have always found churches to be fascinating places. It is impossible to have an interest in history or architecture without having a certain knowledge of religion, and the three combine wonderfully in the Saint Marcel structure.

At the beginning of the 1960s, this site was home to Saint-Marcel-de-la-Salpêtrière, a neo-gothique structure dating from 1856. The state of the building reflected the condition of the church at the time. Dusty, old-fashioned and threatening to collapse. In the streets, messages such as “If God existed it would be necessary to abolish him” were written across walls. What relevance could there be for this institution in a world become modern?

The answer for the Catholics was the Vatican II, and the solid reflection of this council in Paris was the construction of the Saint Marcel church. The structure by the architect Daniel Michelin was completed in 1966, a year after the second Vatican council ended. In the place of gothic flamboyance, Michelin built purity and austerity. The structure is a simple one, a rectangle of layered concrete with a triangular glass-fronted spire encasing a staircase attached to the front. Climb up this staircase to reach the nave, situated on the first floor. Inside, there is a deliberate limiting of colours and textures; soft woods and glass in blues, greys and autumn coppers and golds.

There are other modern churches across Paris, but this one has a particular significance. Saint Marcel is one of the three saints who are said to protect the city, along with Saint Denis and Saint Geneviève. Certain relics belonging to Marcel, a 5th century bishop, can still be found in the church today.

Visiting a church for me is always a little like visiting a hospital. I feel like an intruder, but the walls still feel heavy with significance. Generally there is a freedom of movement in these places as it is assumed that there is a purpose to your visit and that you will respect the rules of the institution after stepping through the door. Finally, there is always a protective blanket of calm and silence.

On this Friday evening a service is taking place. I wait discreetly on the threshold and wonder at the five or six souls who are clustered together under the nose of the Priest. In a city of hundreds of churches, why do people choose to worship here? Have the changes proposed by the church 40 years ago and the neat angles of this structure affected the way they live their faith? These individuals are clearly a hardcore, not people who put on their best clothes to meet the neighbours on a Sunday, so why have they chosen concrete and pine over ancient stones and dark-aged oak? I understand them. I’m not looking for religion, but if I was I think I’d find it more in a place like this.

Saturday 3 October 2009

La Nuit Blanche

A few shots 'en direct' from the Nuit Blanche. It's a lovely evening, albeit a little windy. There's a bright full moon in the sky which is celebrated in the East as being the roundest and fullest of the year, and which is giving a little extra atmosphere to the installations.

All of these photos were taken at the Parc des Buttes Chaumont.

Friday 2 October 2009

Something for the Weekend? (3rd/4th October)

This weekend, don’t expect to get much sleep. The first weekend of October is all about the Nuit Blanche, an arty all-nighter where bleary-eyed residents and visitors wander around the city, from temporary exhibit to temporary exhibit, until the sun comes back up. For those who do like their sleep, I have another few ideas for you.

Please add any events or activities you think should be promoted or which you would like to promote yourself in the comments, and let me know if you have any events in the coming weekends you would like to promote.

La Nuit Blanche
For this 8th edition of the annual all-night art festival, the organisers have decided to divide the city up into three distinct districts; the Buttes-Chaumont and 19th arrondissement, the Marais and Châtelet in the centre and the Latin Quarter across the river. As someone who resides in the North-East of the city, I’ll be concentrating on the first option, but in my opinion it is also the one with the most interesting selection of installations and locations. If you like the atmosphere of parks at night, got to the Buttes Chaumont and wander around the various creations, then wander down to the Piscine Pailleron which will also be hosting a special event. The swimming pool will be open too, so you can even go for a dip at 4am if you feel up to it!
The full programme can be found here

The night of the 3rd/4th October.
Various points around the city.

A Certain Ratio
If you want to ensure the success of a music festival called Factory, what do you do? Create a poster showing a pig covered in cucumber, or invite one of the original groups from Manchester’s famous Factory records label to open the festival? The organisers of this festival have done both, but it is the second decision that seems the more inspired. The group have been playing their angular ‘post-punk funk’ for over thirty years now, and are always worth watching live. Why does this show have to be so far out into the sticks though?
Saturday 3rd October
Le Plan, Ris-Orangis

La Subversion des Images
The latest exhibition at the Centre Pompidou brings together nearly 400 works of surrealist photography and collages, including work by Man Ray, Paul Eluard and André Breton. It’s a rare opportunity to see such a large and varied selection of material from this fascinating period, but ticket prices at 12 Euros seem equally surreal to me.
More information here

Until January 11th, 2010.

60 years of the RATP
Whilst you are at the Centre Pompidou, don’t forget to wander around the collection of photos on the piazza. Organised to celebrate the 60th birthday of the RATP (the Parisian public transport company), these photos are from the archives of the company and the Paris Match magazine, and were taken by such well-known names as Raymond Depardon, Henri Cartier-Bresson and Izis. The photos show how the inhabitants of Paris have interacted with public transport over the 60 years, and covers many significant events. The exhibition is divided into three themes; daily life, historical events and culture.
Ends October 4th

Take an Archibus
On the subject of public transport, has anyone taken an Archibus tour yet? Buses in Paris pass by some of the most significant and interesting architectural features in the city, and the Archibus leaflets will help you to spot them. My suggestion is that you take the Metro to Sully-Morland and visit the ‘Invention of the European Tower’ exhibition at the Pavillon de l’Arsenal before it closes (final weekend).
When you are there, pick up one of their Archibus tour leaflets, then hop on the relevant bus! If you can’t make it, you can always download a tour from here.

Le Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe
Want something more upmarket? Try Longchamp and the most exclusive horse-race meeting in the French calendar. Tickets are reasonably priced (4 Euros on Saturday, 8 Euros for the big event on Sunday) and even if you are not keen on racing it is still an excellent people-watching event.
It somehow doesn’t seem right though that it should now be known as the Qatar Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe.
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