Wednesday 28 April 2010

The New Zoo Project

Returning home after a few days away, I push open the door and see a giant gorilla in my kitchen. Ok, so not exactly inside the kitchen, but certainly filling the full frame of the window. I run to check the signature, but already there is no doubt. For as long as it lasts, I will now have a Zoo Project to look at when eating my breakfast in the morning.

The message is typical Zoo Project - a painting of a wild animal with a warning against wild humans (Gare aux Hommes), but if the words are a little tired, the gorilla itself is fantastic. Just as a little reminder, the artist(s?) behind the label works in complete anonymity, at speed and with brushes and paint, so to give the creature a mischievous glint in the eye and a wry smile - especially at this size - is little short of miraculous.

The patch of wasteland where this is situated is scheduled for development, with a five story building on its way, but how much happier I would be to look at this gorilla each morning and not somebody else's kitchen window.

Sunday 25 April 2010

Les Braves Soldats de 212 Rue Saint Maur

Alongside the lilac bushes and rusting bicycles of an unpolished Parisian courtyard is something much more surprising - a mysterious memorial plaque commemorating soldier victims of the First World War. Who put it here though and why?

The stretch of the Rue Saint Maur which cuts across the 10th arrondissement towards the Hopital Saint Louis is the domain of the worker. Apart from two or three solid Haussmannian properties, these are simple buildings with long, twisting courtyards spread out behind. The number 212 is a typical example.

Walk through the Porte Cochère and you enter a pastoral picture-book scene of 19th century Paris (if you can overlook the parked cars!). Here wispy bushes of lilac and fig push up against the crumbling stone walls and glass verandas of small workshops. Outside, rusting signposts give clues to the trades of previous owners.

Although several of these are now used by photographers or architects, the banging and whirring sounds from others show that some of these units are still used for manufacturing. Others sit empty, awaiting renovation into edgy, urban office space or loft-style apartment units.

The courtyard is dusty and decomposing, with an ivy-clad electricity substation to one side, but this is clearly an area undergoing gradual gentrification. How does it differ then from the place in 1914 that 25 men left and never returned to? Physically, the environment has not changed - the men could return today and still find their home or place of work. The changes have been more of a social nature, and it is surely the social balance at the time which helped to get the memorial plaque put in place.

What is the message on the plaque? “Ce marbre a été érigé par souscription des locataires et amis sous le patronage des propriétaires” A clear difference here is made between the locataires (those renting) and the propriétaires (the owners). The suggestion therefore is that the men killed were primarily workers, either living here in rented properties or working in the manufacturing units in the courtyard, and that the property and workshop owners felt compelled to commemorate the heavy price that had been paid by their men during the conflict.

What is not clear though is why this was done here and not elsewhere. Across Paris there must have been thousands of similar situations, but I have never seen such a plaque as this before. Does this suggest that here at least relations between the classes were exemplary? Regularly polished by the concierge who lives alongside, it remains in place today as an important reminder of sacrifices past. Perhaps she asks herself if such a monument would be put up here today.

Thursday 22 April 2010

Something for the Weekend (23rd – 26th April)

A Ronis retrospective, a history of prostitution and free books. These are just some of the things I will be missing this weekend as I head South for a few days, but there is no reason why you should too!

If you have any events or activities you think should be promoted or which you would like to promote yourself, please add them in the comments. Let me know also if you have any events in the coming weekends you would like to promote.

Les Lundis de Lutèce
After a brief musical hiatus, Sylvanie de Lutèce returns to the theme of Paris for her monthly historical investigation. The theme this Monday is ‘Maisons closes et la brigade mondaine’ – in other words, a look at the rich history of prostitution in Paris! The presentations are given in a joyous and friendly environment (a bar!) and are full of juicy anecdotes!
Monday 26th 8pm
Le Baron Samedi
12 Rue des Goncourt, 75011

Willy Ronis
Willy Ronis had already been working on this retrospective celebrating his 100th birthday before his death in September last year, and although he didn’t live to see the event, his iconic pictures will survive long into the future. This exhibition is a welcome opportunity to see a selection covering around 150 of the creations this essential photographer and humanist donated to the French state in 1983.
Until August 22nd
La Monnaie de Paris
11 Quai de Conti, 75006

La Fête de la librairie indépendant
This Saturday, if you purchase a book in one of the 450 independant bookstores across France taking part in this event you will be given a rose and a book celebrating the life of Adrienne Monnier, one of the pioneers of independant trading. Monnier owned "La Maison des Amis des Livres" a bookshop on the Rue de l'Odéon and is perhaps best known for editing and publishing James Joyce's Ulysses.
Click here for a full list of the bookstores taking part in the event.

Le Printemps de la Création
The people behind Paris par rues méconnues, an association who take groups on walks around lesser-known parts of Paris to meet artisans and creators in their workshops, also organise an annual Spring craft fair featuring the work of these artists. This year, the event is taking place at La Cartonnerie, a fascinating (half!)renovated paper workshop.
24th -25th April 10am - 7pm
La Cartonnerie
159 rue St Maur 75011

Tuesday 20 April 2010

On the 8.52

On the 8.52 always the same faces
Leaving the train at the same places
Together once more when the sun starts to drop
Picking them up again, stop after stop

The world passes by in colours and sounds
Graffiti and adverts, miserable towns
Hiding our faces in papers and tales
Making sure life stays on parallel rails

The view from the window is starting to fade
The everyday scratching our eyes like a blade
A daily procession, this prosaic trip
We continue in silence, hip against hip

Sunday 18 April 2010

The Word on the Street

Messages on walls are the voices of the invisible, but normally the stories behind them are screamingly obvious. Occasionally though you find something a little more enigmatic and melancholic.

On a large blank wall canvas, someone has sprayed “Refusons le monde de ceux qui ont” (loosely translated as ‘reject the world of those with’). Is this deliberately enigmatic? Was the author interrupted? Will they ever come back and finish the message? What was the message they wanted to share with the world?

The second message is a more classic attempt to sell some unwanted goods. However, the items for sale are rather surprising - two wedding dresses in two different sizes. The message doesn't tell us if they have ever been used or not.

Thursday 15 April 2010

Something for the Weekend (16th – 18th April)

Cows in a park, Shakespeare in English, a trip to Japan and an invitation to support your local record store this weekend in Paris. It's also the beginning of the Easter holidays in this region meaning that there'll be less Parisians in town!

If you have any events or activities you think should be promoted or which you would like to promote yourself, please add them in the comments. Let me know also if you have any events in the coming weekends you would like to promote.

Record Store Day
Originating in the US in 2007, this event has since spread worldwide. The goal in this electronic age is to give as much support as possible to a dying breed – the local record store - by uniting artists and traders working in the business. Several outlets in Paris are taking part, including Groove Store on the Rue des Dames in the 17th arrondissement which has planned a surprise event.
Saturday 17th
Groove Store, 29 Rue des Dames, 75017

On va voir les vaches
Paris may be associated with small dogs and large pigeons, but it is rare to come across much else from the animal kingdom here. This weekend though you will be able to experience the rather surreal site of six cows chewing the cud and being milked in Paris. Head over to the La Villette park for this excellent photo opportunity.
Parc de la Villette
Until Sunday 18th April, 10am – 6pm

In Love with Shakespeare
Watching films in their original language is never a problem in Paris, but the same experience in the theatre is a lot rarer. Occasional visiting troupes perform in English in parks or circus tents, but actually watching a play in English in a comfortable environment is an opportunity not to be missed. This is even more true when the plays in question are directed by Sam Mendes.
Theatre Marigny
As You Like It - 14th to 17th April
The Tempest – 20th to 24th April
As I publish, reduced price tickets are still available for both plays.

Turning Japanese
If you are looking for a little exoticism this weekend, how about a Japanese themed day? Exhibitions are currently taking place on both sides of the river, and between the two you can stop for lunch at one of the many Japanese restaurants around the Rue Saint Anne.

Beat Takeshi Kitano, Gosse de peintre
Friends have told me only good things about this eclectic and playful show by the Japanese superstar Beat Takeshi Kitano. Most famous internationally perhaps as an actor and director, here he displays another side to his talents with paintings and a selection of weird and wonderful objects.
Fondation Cartier pour l'art contemporain, 261 boulevard Raspail, 75014
Every day except Monday, 11am-8pm, Tuesday until 10pm
Until September 12th

Art Brut Japonais
This exhibition brings together 63 contemporary creators and over 1000 pieces of art, including drawings, paintings and sculptures. Most surprising of all though is the fact that almost all the creations are the work of people suffering from some form of social or mental handicap, giving an almost unique view of the normally strictly codified Japanese society.
Halle Saint Pierre
2 rue Ronsard 75018
Daily, 10am-6pm
Until January 2nd 2011

Tuesday 13 April 2010

La Fontaine des Innocents

The Fontaine des Innocents, situated in the Place Joachim du Bellay near Les Halles, is in appearance a solid, ancient and well-rooted monument. In reality it is a structure that has changed form and position several times over the 500 years of its existence. These indestructable stones have been a privileged witness to the procession of history at the city’s heart, adapting to the needs and fashions of each period.

The structure can date its origins back to 1550 when it was created by the architect Pierre Lescot with sculptures by Jean Goujon. It was built in the form of a loggia, backing on to the Saints Innocents church (which today no longer exists). The ensemble was classical Greek in form, with three arcades. The fountain was a slow trickle of water distributed through mascarons at its base.

The original fountain, backing onto the now demolished Saints Innocents church.

The church and its fountain stood just outside the walls of the largest cemetery in Paris. For more than six centuries the Cimetière des Saint-Innocents was the city graveyard, the name coming from the belief that this was originally a cemetery for the ‘innocent souls’ of children only. When the cemetery was closed and all the remains removed in 1780, the church was also demolished, leaving the fountain as an isolated orphan.

The city authorities decided that a market should replace the cemetery, and that the fountain should be situated in the centre of the new Square des Innocents. Unusually this involved taking the fountain apart, then recreating it as four-sided rectangular monument. An additional face was added, with the sculptor Augustin Pajou given the task of recreating the style of Goujon. It was a rebirth, a renaissance of old stone.

The Fontaine des Innocents painted by the artist John James Chalon in 1823. The square base and two of the four lions are clearly visible.

In 1788, the fountain, now with a decorative coupole perched on top, was placed on a square block with a lion at each corner. It sat in the centre of a large basin and the waters flowed abundantly from the fountain. It sat handsomely alongside the market stalls, the centrepiece at the centre of Paris.

In 1858 though it was moved once more. A new square was built, today known as the Place Joachim du Bellay, and the fountain was transferred onto a pyramid base. This time it was placed in a circular basin, taking the form and the position that we know today.

150 years later, it still stands proudly here, but its role has changed. Gone is the market, and today its surroundings are the garish facades of modern commercial outlets and fast-food restaurants. The sounds have changed too, from barterings and negotiations to the of rattle of skateboards and improvised street protests.

The fountain though is still flowing, still raining down life in this district that has always been so alive since death was sent away.

Sunday 11 April 2010

After the Market

One hundred years ago the Paris market was a permanent explosion of odour and colour. It had its own structure, Les Halles - 'the belly of Paris'. "Ce qui montait à la face était un souffle frais, un vent de mer...amer et salé" wrote Zola, describing the huge banks of fresh fish. Today, the unsold fish are packed back into polystyrene containers and the piles of ice and streams of salty water are washed quickly away into the gutters. The odour of fresh fish is an ephemeral sensation, never allowed to stay hanging in the air.

Unsold scraps and rejected offcuts are also thrown into the gutter. Empty boxes are piled up ready to be thrown into the backs of beeping and flashing street cleaning machines. This is when the desperate and the hungry appear, looking for castoffs that can be saved and put to good use. The saddest pieces remain; wilting leaves of lettuce, orange skins, broken eggs, fish heads, blackened and bruised bananas, the flesh bursting through split jackets. None will survive.

Less than an hour after the traders have packed up and gone home, the only evidence that there was a market at all are the skeletons of their stands. Soon these too will be taken away, the awnings rolled up like carpets around them. The street, hosed and scrubbed, sparkles in the low afternoon sun. It's so clean you could almost eat your dinner off it.

Thursday 8 April 2010

Something for the Weekend (9th – 11th April)

Little birds are telling me that this weekend will be sunny and warm(ish), so this time I’m (almost) only going to recommend outdoor activities!

If you have any events or activities you think should be promoted or which you would like to promote yourself, please add them in the comments. Let me know also if you have any events in the coming weekends you would like to promote.

La Foire du Trone
Dating its origins back to the 10th century, the Foire de Trone is said to be the oldest fair in France. For me it is a shrieking technicolor nightmare, but for many others (upwards of 5 million visitors each year) it is a fun counterbalance to the genteel elegance of Paris. If the thought of eating candy floss whilst being thrown upside down at 150kmh by a machine called the Star Flyer sounds amusing to you, take a trip out to this site alongside the Bois de Vincennes!
Until May 30th
Pelouse de Reuilly, 75012, M° Porte Doree then free bus service.

Le Marathon de Paris
It’s too late to sign yourself up now as a competitor, but not too late to go and cheer on the runners. The route
is an attractive one and the event is always a colourful spectacle. The best places to watch are apparently at the Place de la Bastille where you'll see the runners pass by twice, or at the bottom of the Trocadero where they really begin to suffer!
Sunday 11th April at 8.45

If you fancy trying out the route, several sections will be open ‘for children aged from 7 to 77’ for a fun run on Saturday.

Les Dimanches au Galop
Each Sunday this Spring, one racetrack in the Paris region is organising an ‘open day’, enabling spectators to experience a day’s racing for free. This Sunday, it is the turn of the famous Longchamps racetrack. As well as a full programme of racing, there will also be attractions for all the family. As an additional bonus, Gina Rarick, who I met last September, may have one of her horses running too!
Sunday 11th, from 12pm
Hippodrome de Longchamp (M° Boulogne Jean Jaurès)

Festival Nemo
Like the CentQuatre arts centre where this event is taking place, the idea behind the Festival Nemo is a little blurred. It has nothing to do with Clownfish, but is instead a celebration of digital art - in other words, a mixture of 'new cinema', graphic design, music video and live performances. It does have the advantage of being free and will surely provide an interesting reason to visit the somewhat out of the way CentQuatre.
8th - 11th April
104 Rue d'Aubervilliers, M°Stalingrad

Tuesday 6 April 2010

La Ville au Feminin

The number of specialist websites and travel agencies geared towards women has exploded recently, and Paris has not been overlooked in this revolution. What exactly are women looking for when they use these services though and what role do they play in Paris? I discussed the subject with Doni Belau, founder of the GirlsGuidetoParis website and Sophie Caudroy of Les Grandes Girafes.

Can a city have a sex, and if so, what would Paris be? "A woman" says Doni Belau, founder of the GirlsGuidetoParis website. “London and New York are male, but Paris is definitely female” she continues. Belau is a dynamic ‘mid-west American’ whose passion for Paris led to her moving to the city for a six year stint, and who created the GirlsGuidetoParis website after a period of intense market research.

The layout of the site, a selection of guides, tips, interviews and online shopping, reflects many of the desires women expressed during this market research. “The idea behind the website was to make it as personal as possible” Belau explains. “Women look for one-to-one advice, and want insights from other women who experience the city on a daily basis. To answer this need, we recruited a network of local female bloggers to keep visitors up to date with what’s hot in Paris”.

To some extent, the site is also aspirational. A regular series of interviews called Parisian Women portrays successful ladies – roughly a 50/50 split between French and expatriates - who have forged an identity and a place in the city. Belau has also reinforced this initiative by including visits to the homes of some of these ladies during the women-only group trips she organises to Paris.

Is hers a purely Anglo-Saxon model? It would be tempting to think so. Doni Belau’s research in the US pointed out that women travellers are the fastest growing sector in travel, but with the launch of services such as Les Grandes Girafes in France, it seems that women-only travel and leisure is a far more widespread movement today.

Launched by Sophie Caudroy and Cécile Greth in September 2009, Les Grandes Girafes is an agency that organises women-only events in and around Paris for groups of up to 12 participants. Interestingly, Sophie Caudroy sees Paris not as a woman, but in fact as the perfect couple. “The atmosphere, sparkling, futile and glamorous is certainly feminine” she suggests. “However, the architecture and the Haussmanian avenues are masculine - protective, large and strong!

Nevertheless, activities organised by Les Grandes Girafes are purely women only, a decision which involves a certain militancy. For Les Grandes Girafes, the idea of offering completely up-to-date activities is also crucial. “In Paris everything changes so fast” says Sophie Caudroy. “Women want up to date information about where to go and what to buy. Each month we create new products according to those trends and try to predict what women are looking for”.

But what exactly are French women looking for, and are they different from their American or English counterparts? “We always try to keep an eye on feminity and lightness when creating our products, but we certainly don’t want to be too girly” explains Sophie Caudroy.

Superficially, the desires of French and Anglo-Saxon women may be similar, but the reasons that women from these cultures decide to spend time together, and what they hope to get from the experience is to a large extent different. Debra Ollivier, an American writer living in Paris described these differences in a recent interview published on the girlsguidetoparis website.

I think French girls could benefit from learning about American-style sisterhood—not in the feminist sense of the word, but in the social sense. French women are generally far more distant than American women and harder to get to know. What they perceive as superficial bonding is often a genuine sense of connection that many American women feel among one another”.

American and English women have a long history of gathering in single sex groups to pursue common interests or leisure activities. In these markets, the travel agencies and specialist websites are simply an extension of this. French women on the other hand are less comfortable in these situations. Sophie Caudroy describes the services provided by Les Grandes Girafes as being “still avant-garde for French women”. Their clientele, aged on average between 40 and 60, are looking for “a well-adapted activity which meets women’s needs”. It is the activity itself therefore and not the ‘sisterhood’ which is important.

In many respects, both GirlsGuidetoParis and Les Grandes Girafes operate at the high end of the market, and it could be argued that the singling down of their services to one particular sex is a way of making them appear even more exclusive. The lack of any particular feminist angle and a selection of offerings which remain in the fairly classic domains of shopping, culture and gastronomy, also points to a certain lightness, but is it the role of such organisations to provide anything more political? As the song says, ‘girls just want to have fun’, and it would seem that this is especially true in Paris!

What do you think? Are you happy to participate in single-sex activities? Do you think French women and their anglo-saxon counterparts (or any other culture) differ in this respect? Do you think there is a need in Paris for specific women-only information and activities?

Sunday 4 April 2010

Moveable Feasts

Alongside the picturesque street markets in Paris you will often find something else equally eye-catching – the decorated vans of the market traders. Generally very professional and often signed, these creations have become ambulant art forms and mobile galleries.

This website, a kind of ‘Confessions of a graffiti artist’ explains who is behind these creations and why they do it:

"On faisait ça gratuitement, juste pour le kiff. Le proprio en échange nous donnait généralement un bon sac de fruits et légumes, histoire de nous remercier de lui avoir rénové son camion tout taggué".

("We did it for free, just for the buzz. The owner, in exchange often gave us a big bag of fruit and veg to thank us for redecorating his tag-covered van")

The art is the result therefore of a mutually beneficial agreement. The graffiti artists get a large, legal support that sends their art around the city, and the market traders get an attractive and completely unique van!

Is there anything similar where you live or is this a purely Parisian phenomenon?

Thursday 1 April 2010

Something for the Weekend (2nd – 5th April)

The long Easter weekend is traditionally the moment when large groups of tourists make their reappearance in Paris…which is why I will be away looking for eggs in Nantes!

If you have any events or activities you think should be promoted or which you would like to promote yourself, please add them in the comments. Let me know also if you have any events in the coming weekends you would like to promote.

Oeufs, Enigmes et Chocolat
It's not just in Nantes that there will be eggs to find, but all over France. The Monuments Nationaux, an organisation that covers a variety of historical buildings, will be organising treasure hunts at many of its sites including the Conciergerie and Notre Dame in Paris. A full list of the sites taking part can be found here.

Elliott Erwitt at la Maison Européenne de la Photo
This weekend is the last chance to catch the ‘personal best’ of the American photographer Elliot Erwitt. If you go along on Sunday, you may also catch Owen and Peter too!
Maison européene de la photographie
5/7 Rue de Fourcy, 75004, M° Saint Paul

4am Project
This Sunday is the 4th day of the 4th month. At 4am, you are invited to go outside and take a snap of the world as it sleeps – or not! I took part last year, but will the world look different this time around?
More information, including how to get involved, what group events are organised and how your photos could win you prizes can be found here:

Exotiques Expositions
The various 'Expositions Universelles' held in Paris over the years left many traces on the city landscape; the Eiffel Tower in 1889, the Grand Palais in 1900 and the Palais de Tokyo in 1937, but this exhibition at the Archives nationales de France aims to show a different side to these events. The goal of the expositions was to bring the exotic to Paris, and over the years the shows included Egyptian t
emples, Chinese museums, Aztec pyramids, and Algerian palaces. Via a selection of over 200 rarely seen documents (plans, engravings, photographs, posters, texts, etc) this exhibition will show how these expositions influenced Western ideas on the 'exotic' worlds around them.
Until 28th June

Archives nationales de France, Hôtel de Soubise
Monday to Friday (except Tuesday), 10am - 12.30pm, 2pm - 5.30pm
Saturday and Sunday, 2pm - 5.30pm
Entrance : 3€

High Fidelity
High Fidelity is a regular event where rock groups are invited to become DJs and play their favourite tracks. This time round the guests are two members of Maximo Park and Ian McCulloch of Echo and the Bunnymen. There will also be a live set from upcoming band The Ritch Kids.
Saturday 3rd from 10pm
La Machine du Moulin Rouge
90 blvd de Clichy, 75018 M° Blanche

Free entrance to museums
A quick reminder that as usual, all state run museums are free on the first Sunday of each month. A
full list of the museums concerned can be found here.
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