Welcome to my blog; inspired by Hemmingway's A Moveable Feast, a desire to record the more succulent and misshapen nuggets of my Parisian adventure in nibble-size lobes for your light-entertainment and my anticipated future memory failure, and to get some things off my chest and onto yours.

Tuesday, 9 November 2010

Good Bars and Restaurants in Paris

This subject would be enough for a several blogs by themselves (and already is), but I thought I'd chip in my favourites, accuumulated over the months.  They're mostly around the 11th and 12th arrondissements, because they're close to where I live.  Expect to see this post expand as the months roll by.  Restaurants and bars are listed by arrondissement.


Le Marché des Enfants Rouge, 39 rue de Bretagne, 3rd arrondissement
The oldest food market in Paris apparently, dating from 1615, although you can't really tell.  It's a dense, bustling open air market which feels indoors because of all the canopies jutting out of the various stalls.  As well as fruit, veg, flowers, oysters and wine (vin chaud available at a bargain €2 in winter), it houses vendors of a variety of foods: African, Tajines, Bento boxes, Italian, French and more.  Best on a warm day.

Domaine de Lintillac, 20 Rue Rousselet, 7th arrondissement
Traditional fare from Perigord (Foie Gras, Cassoulet, Confit de Canard...), Friendly, bilingual owner will talk you through the menu and recommend appropriate wines etc.  Warm and cosy atmosphere- individual toasters on each table for the bread on which you spread the foie gras.  Fantastic classical guitarist every Wednesday 8pm-10pm playing under the banner 'Romantisme Anglais'...!

Au Limonaire, 18 Cite Bergère, 9th arrondissementLive French Chanson (about three groups/artists per night) and good food.  It gets busy, so book ahead, and don't think you can leave after your meal- you can't move without disrupting the whole concert, for which the audience is respectfully silent.  Great French experience for no great cost.

Crêperie Bretonne Fleurie67 Rue Charonne, 11th arrondissement
Great crepes, great cider (in mugs), friendly service, good value, on a good street for bars afterwards.

Pause Café, 41 Rue Charonne, 11th arrondissement
Great for generously sized, delicious brunch (not cheap at around €16 though!)  Nice pastel 50s school furniture (probably never seen in a school), and an interesting chandelier.

Le Bistro du Peintre, 116 Avenue Ledru Rollin, 11th arrondissement
Lovely French food, friendly service, great Art Nouveau décor.  Several vegetarian options!

Au Metro, 8 Place Felix Éboué, 12th arrondissement
Traditional French food, in a warm red, French Brasserie, complete with charming little individually lit booths.

Sushi Kyoto, 7 Avenue Docteur Arnold Netter, 12th arrondissement
All you can eat Japanese food including sushi, maki, soups, edamame, kebabs (japanese style).  Who would've thought it would exist outside of a dream, All-you-can-eat (or more eloquently in French, Buffet Volonté) sushi etc.  €13 in the day or €18 in the evening, the challenge of eating up to 18 dishes with the risk of a €5 fine if you waste anything (I'm not sure how many grains of rice actually constitute waste here), makes for a fun evening in the 12th arrondissement.  For the open-minded a nutella and banana maki roll is available to round off your meal (and is delicious).  Elasticated waistbands recommended.

La Coloniale, 161 Rue de Picpus, 12th arrondissement
Eccentric looking but very tasty Cambodian food served by a woman who sings jazz songs to herself as she darts around.

L'Ourcine, 92 Rue Broca, 13th Arrondissement
Some of the best food I've had in Paris.  Absinthe available with water tap.  About 30 Euros a head but worth every cent.

Crêperie de Josselin, 67 Rue du Montparnasse, 14th arrondissement
Rustic yet huge creperie, bustling with French families and Breton memorabilia. Very tasty double crepes - one crepe on top, and one on the bottom with the filling in the middle, mmmmm.

Smoke, 29 Rue Delambre, 14th arrondissement
Cosy restaurant with good, genourous salad composées for €6.50-€9.50 at lunchtime, and some good fruit tarts for afters.  'Smoke' lager at €4.50.  Nice Jazz posters fill the walls..

More to come...



Le Bar'Bouille, 13 Rue de Bretagne, 3rd arrondissement
Go for the great mural of brilliantly depicted international stereotypes in a bar, which spans two walls.  Then if the weather's good sit outside on the terrace especially around 5pm during film makers 'golden hour', when the sun starts to sink away, for a great  view of bustling area, before moving onto...

Le Barav, 6 Rue Charles Francois Dupuis, 3rd arrondissement
Fantastic bar and 'planche' restaurant (board of cheese, meats, essentially French tapas) in the heart of NOMA (slang for North Marais, brilliant).  Their unique draw is their cave of about 50 wines is on show and browsable.  You pay the price painted on the bottle plus 5 euros corkage and the bottle is yours.  If you don't finish it, they'll put the cork back in and you can take it home.  Nice decor and decent music at a non-intrusive volume!

Le Marché, 2 Place du Marché St Catherine, 4th arrondissement
It's a restaurant really, but I haven't tried the food, so I've put this in the bars section. I went with a friend for a tasty, reasonably priced carafe of rouge and sat in the nice warmed terrace looking over the square.

Le Petit Café, 6 Rue Descartes, 5th arrondissement
Nothing mindblowing, but a nice little bar and cosy terrace up a hill near the Pantheon on a nice little square. Good area for light bar-hopping.

Chez Georges, 11 Rue des Cannettes, 6th arrondissement
Rustic bar of old stone, covered in black and white photos of yesteryears popstars, and a favourite with the Art-college crowd.  The cosy cave downstairs also has a bar.  Upstairs you can get a 'grog' which involves hot whiskey and lemon and is great when you need warming up and want booze at the same time.  Last time I was there an old French man wearing a beret and drinking at the bar.  WHAT MORE DO YOU WANT?


Au Petit Garage, Rue Jean-Pierre Timbaud, 11th arrondissement
Fantastically shabby bar which looks a bit Eastern block, with it's dated higgledy-piggledy furniture. Great, (super-strength) Mojitos- €5 in Happy hour.  Decent music.

U.F.O. Bar, 49 Rue Jean-Pierre Timbaud, 11th arrondissement
50s UFO/ Science fiction decor.  Cheap wine!


Le Bellvilleoise, 21 Rue Boyer, 20th arrondissement
Big, fun venue with live music and balls of all kinds.  Nice plantlife in bar/restaurant with Mezzanine and stage.

Lou Pascalou, 14 Rue des Panoyaux, 20th arrondisement
Fun-size bar tucked into a sunny corner off the main Belleville boulevard, decent choice of inexpensive beers etc.  When we went it was rammed with people listening to a lively brass-based jazz troupe.  We sat outside and were able to listen while we wondered at the logistics of getting a sousaphone into a place that tiny.


Le Bastide, 18 Rue de Lappe, 11th arrondissement
With some of the most expensive, tackiest and also small and interesting bars around, Bastille is a must for anyone on a night out.  The Bastide and Bar Sans Nom (see below) are two of my favourites of the latter category on Rue du Lappe.  Le Bastide is run by a friendly, well-bearded gent with a record player and a good collection of tasteful vintage long-players which he keeps spinning between pumping reaonably priced pintes of pression.  Old band posters and school style coat pegs line the walls of this cosy bar.

Bar Sans Nom, 49 Rue de Lappe, 11th arrondissement
Dimly lit and cosy with sofas and strange paraphanalia dotted all around.  A nice quiet bar to get away from the hubbub of the Place de Bastille and talk without strain.  You will be given a menu the size of a table and kept topped up with free peanuts all night.

Bistro Les Sans Culottes, 27 Rue de Lappe, 11th arrondissement
Very French.

Le Lèche-Vin, 13 Rue Daval, 11th arrondissement 
Shock your feint-hearted friends in this little, reasonably priced gimmic bar in Bastille, with its huge collection of Jesus and Mary picures and memorabilia, contrasted with the hardcore pornography coating the walls of the toilets.

Café L'Industrie, 15, 16 and 17 Rue Saint Sabin, 11th arrondissement
Three venues with the same name in Bastille area.  Dim, warm and woody, with a good wine list by the glass, carafe and bottle, and now with Jazz Manouche every Tuesday in one of them, it's an essential visit if you're in the area.  All three are similar but differently sized, and are reserved variously for food, drinks and I can't tell what else.  They are sure to tell you with their welcome where is best suited to your needs.

More to come...

Monday, 1 November 2010

Jazz Manouche- Gypsies still have a home in Paris

Amongst the disparate cluster of past times which have occupied my time since moving to Paris 14 months ago, including Marionettes, Old photograph collecting, Short-Story writing, Flea Market perusal, Drawing, and of course Bloggetry, is the listening to, playing of (in the broadest sense of the word) and going to gigs of Jazz Manouche.

Known in the English-speaking world as Gypsy Jazz, this is the Manouche Gypsies' take on Jazz, as instigated and brought to wider attention by Django Reinhardt.  I will not speak much further on it's history and style as that is covered along with every other subject known to human kind, here and numerous other places.

With its marginal status in the public eye (or ear) and its existence as a form dominated by one deceased exponent, it often makes me think of Bob Marley and his connection to Reggae.  It is certainly not a dead form, one can hear it in bars, on stereos and the radio, and at many dedicated festivals around the world (particularly this year in the case of Jazz Manouche, 2010 being the centenary of Django's birth), but as a musical style outside of the mainstream, rather than evolving into something else, it took a diversion into a cul-de-sac where it has since lived happily ever after, with only a periodically re-tarmacced drive to reinvigorate it.

Gypsy Jazz is so deeply entrenched in Django's design that it is indelibly his.  Having started lessons in the style with the French Manouchist Romain Vuillemin, I can confirm that the chord shapes used by the pompistes (those who 'pump' the chords, accompanying the soloist) use chord figurations unique to Gypsy Jazz which primarily utilise the fretting hand thumb, first, second and third finger, and only very rarely the forth, which on Django's hand was crippled in the caravan fire of 1928.

It would be fair to say that Django did not do much pomping, and even neglected playing the full melody of a tune, prefering to hint at it in a solo, or he'd just leave it to Stephane Grapelli.  But his soloing, and as a result, the solos of any Manouche player ever since, have been directly influenced by this injury.  In figures which are dominated by pairs- diminished seventh arpeggios, major and minor arpeggios incorporating the semi-tone  leading notes to arpeggio notes, and chromatic runs with one finger- the figurations all sound unique to Gypsy Jazz.  They enable a player to sound authentic, but crucially they originate from the fact that Django played best with his index and middle finger on his left hand, because his third and forth were badly injured in the fire.

In the necessary adherence to and mastery of a specific stylistic rhetoric of techniques, Gypsy Jazz bears much in common with Baroque-period 'Classical'* music.  The ornamentation given to melodies through mordents, trills, turns and other embellishments in accepted performance practice of Baroque music ties these two unlikely bedfellows together accurately.  In both, it is important to play in the 'correct' manner of the period and style.

Having enjoyed the lively good-time atmosphere of Gypsy Jazz for several years, it took seeing Noe Reinhardt, the grandson of Django's cousin by mistake (naïvely assuming he'd be playing in the style of his grandad's cousin) in a Paris Jazz club to realise I was situated in the the best place in the world to experience Gypsy Jazz.

Though born in a caravan in Belgium, Django spent most of his life in the nothern suburbs of Paris playing with his 'Quintette du Hot Club de France', which took shape in 1934 with violinist Stephane Grapelli in the bars of Saint Ouen and Pigalle.  Since then many great players have thrived here and continue to perform in this classic good-time style, making this fine city THE best place on Earth to regularly experience at first hand, some of the best musicians of the genre, in various clubs and bars throughout the city.

As a result of this, I formed in September 2010, The Paris Gypsy Jazz/ Jazz Manouche Gig-Going Troupe (or T.P.G.J./J.M.G.G.T. for short.)  We are a group of people living in Paris who meet up about once every three weeks to listen to a concert and its proceding 'boeuf' (a term for 'group improvisation' which I deemed absurd for its irrelevance before considering the English equivalent 'Jam'), open to anyone who can play in the style to join in.  Some come for the music, some for the opportunity to meet people they otherwise would never have met.  I have met through it a Russian scientist who researches the heart in the biggest hospital in France, and who has recently written a book on cholestrol, and a French woman who sells exclusively Chinese art from a Gallery in Saint Germain des Pres.  

If you are in Paris, check out our forthcoming meetups here: T.P.G.J./J.M.G.G.T. and we'll take it from there.

Whether you come with us or not, I would like to supply this list, compiled as the greatest lists are, from other lists (and my own experience), of the current best places to see and hear Jazz Manouche in Paris, the best city in the world to hear it.

I shall update the list with comment as and when I go to each place.  Venues are listed by day of the week, starting as all weeks do, not on Sundays, but on Monday, the first day of the actual, real week as any normal human would have it.

Le Piano Vache Bar- 8 Rue Laplace, 5ème (Metro Maubert Mutualité) Mondays
Grubby cavernous old hole in the Latin Quarter, where Rudolph Raffalli plays with pompiste and bassist every Monday night.  Old rock and film posters (and a big'un of Django) are layered on every surface in this grungy den of two rooms, one with stage, and one much smaller and brighter reserved for talking.  Tunes include the inescapable 'Minor Swing', French Chanson arrangements and many other recognisable hits from the pop world, 'swingified'.  Perhaps not quite jaw-dropping enough to be listening astutely to every last note and near-note, but the shhh-ing barman will cheerily and without irony tell the whole audience in French and in English to, "shut the fuck up", if and when -it is a bar, afterall- anyone talks over his man.

Le Styx- 126 Rue Oberkampf, 11ème (Metro Ménilmontant) Mondays
A cosy restaurant bar in the French style, where you can't sit down, even with a group of people if you are just drinking, in case someone wants to come in and eat.  It is otherwise a great venue for the Manouche, with a good view for everyone of the small stage for two, and a changing roster of Manouchistes.

La Taverne de Cluny- 51 Rue de la Harpe, 5ème (Metro Cluny La Sorbonne) Mondays and Thursdays      Website

Attracts some of the best players around, but stage in an odd place meaning your view of the stage a little awkward.  The barstaff can be patronising to the regular foreign clientele, insisting on speaking English when your French is better than their English, and drinks not cheap, but focus on the music and you'll be glad you went.

Le Café St. Jean- 23 Rue des Abbesses, 18ème (Metro Abbesses) Mondays
Nice warm, red classic brasserie feel to the venue in a nice spot by the Abbesses metro stop.  Stage in a slightly awkward place for viewing, unless you get there early, but a trio of two guitarists and violinist, entertain with solid old-timey Manouche.

(La Chope du Château Rouge- 40 Rue Clignancourt, 18eme (Metro Château Rouge) Tuesdays)
Busy, lively bar, with unamplified Manouche headed by guitarist Samy Daussat with changing guests.
I leave this venue listed as you may see it mentioned elsewhere, but as of April 2011 it no longer hosts the gypsy jazz.  An inside man tells me this was due to the owner's insistance on leaving the football on the TV in the background and asking that the musicians play unamplified, meaning that they were barely heard by anyone...

La Locandiera- 145 Rue Oberkampf, 11ème (Metro Ménilmontant) Tuesdays
Nice, warm restauranty vibe.  Large jam with young players.  Standard very good.  Conservatoire types, sometimes featuring English-born violinist Daniel John Martin, who hosts a night at Aux Petits Jouers (see below), who may bring his dog.  Collection basket for musicians.

L'Est Parisien- 156 Rue Faubourg St. Martin, 10ème (Metro Gare de L'Est) Wednesdays
I never got chance to visit this place, but though it hosts other music including jazz, as of May 2011 it no longer hosts gypsy jazz.  I leave this venue listed as you may see it mentioned elsewhere.

Aux Petits Joueurs- 59 Rue de la Mouzaïa, 19ème (Metro Pré St. Gervais) Wednesdays

Violinist Daniel John Martin and illustrious guest performers, who have included Angelo Debarre and the magnificent Adrien Moignard.

La Timbale- 2 Rue Versigny, 18ème (Metro Simplon) Thursdays

Bouquet du Nord- 85 Rue de Mauberge, 10ème (Metro Gare du Nord) Fridays
Over the road from where Stephan Grapelli used to live, right by Gare du Nord.  Regular old timers- decent standard.

(L'Anvers du decor- 32 bis Rue d'Orsel, 18ème (Metro Anvers) Sundays)
I'm leaving this listed as you may see it on many other never-updated manouche listings, but as of 2010 it no longer hosts jazz Manouche!

La Chope des Puces- 122 Rue des Rosiers, St. Ouen (Metro Porte de Clignancourt) Weekends
Where Django used to play, run by Mondine and Ninine Garcia, a father and son duo of gypsy jazzers, dad with shiny electric jazz guitar, slicked back hair and shades, son kept on a short leash as pompiste, with others joining from time to time.

A fairly standard bar at the front where the players played on the Sunday I went, (with a guitar stuck to the beer taps) but out the back a big hall 'Espace Django Reinhardt' is an amazing restaurant/museum with Manouche gypsy and jazz based treasures, including Django's brother's guitar (the instrument museum at Cite de la musique have Django's) and a fairground fortune-telling machine.  Music 3-6pm Saturdays and Sundays.

Atelier Charonne- 21 Rue Charonne, 11ème (Metro Ledru Rollin) Everyday (nearly)
Very modern (slightly tacky) venue with expensive drinks to supplement the free entry and lack of collection basket for musicians.  Great players from time to time, always worth checking their website (see above).

* Those familiar with 'Classical' music may share my frustration with its accepted nomenclature.  Baroque being as much a style as Classical, modern parlance has lumped all western historic styles under the same ineffective banner 'Classical music' whether or not it originated before or after the Classical period (approximately 1750-1820).

Monday, 25 October 2010

Les Grèves = Less Grief? No.

I get tearful when I see (usually in a film) a large number of people doing the same thing at once.  Usually it's marching or protesting (often at the same time) or somehow uniting for a common cause.  The extent to which these causes chime personally with my own beliefs is usually irrelevant.  It could be that 40,000 people really want to bring back the detatchable ring-pull, or to abolish the button-fly (I would consider marching for that- 20 seconds versus 1.5 seconds.  Do the Math-s.)  Or perhaps even a rally against the overuse of brackets in self-indulgent blogs- it doesn't matter what.

I'm reminded of the weepy moment in 'Forrest Gump' which took place at the Washington Reflection Pond 

There's something about lots of people being upset to the point of standing up, both figuratively and literally, to demonstrate their feelings against something, which makes me sad and happy (sappy) at the same time.

Although I have not found myself in amongst the marches on the Champs Elysées over the previous two weeks, I feel this latest round of strikes would not have moved me in the same way.  It's not that I have more respect for ring-pulls than the French elderly, but that's just it, 62 just isn't that old, it's not 'elderly' if it ever was, that's for sure.

In the UK, the official age for retirement has been set at 65 since 2006, and contrary to the situation over 'La Manche' [the English Channel], where rather amusingly, there have been protests at the fact that companies have been allowed to get rid of 65 year-olds even when they want to stay on and keep working!  This may have something to do with the less generous retirement package that the average British citizen receives at retirement compared to their French counterpart, but feeling here on the other side of 'The Sleeve' [the English Channel, translated from the French], is certainly not mutual.  And the age limit in the UK is set to rise to 66 soon.

Personally, I'm with the French.  I'd rather only be expected to work til 60 than 66, or even 62 which the new law, and the cause of all the striking, will implement.  But it's no secret we're living longer.  Probably more than two years longer than in 1945, when the age of retirement was set as 60 in France.  In these days of International Financial Crisis where International Finance is, let's face it, in a bit of a Crisis, something has to be done somehow.  And to work two extra years in your life isn't the worst thing that can happen to a human.

Obviously the banks and all the bankers that work in them should bare the brunt of the crisis in a just society, but apparently ours isn't one of those.  In summary, there has been a hell of a lot of mess for the failure of one weak cause.  If these strikes were against an illegal war (although those don't have the same personal implications as an increase in retirement age), it may be worthwhile, but as annoying and questionable in as many ways as he is, Sarkozy has stated that this is (slightly bizarrely) a policy he wants to be remembered for, and he is clearly not going to budge on it as a result.  Mostly, because this time, he's actually being quite reasonable.

The results of this extended bout of socialist anger has, despite costing France between €2-300,000 per day, mostly just affected and pissed off the French public.

Through lost hours in cold train and metro stations waiting for delays, to lost business- not just for big business but individuals- in journeys too much hassle to bother with, to spoilt holidays and afternoons wasted in petrol queues; in France right now everyone is a loser.  Everyone is suffering.  And yes the right to strike is fair, but the fact is that the victim is not the new policy but the very public that the protest is supposed to be protecting.

It reminds me of when, as a burgeoning activist and radical at school, (I wore my prefect badge on my sleeve rather than my chest), I used to sellotape vitriolic signs on the metal fences for the workmen in the school grounds to see when they were covering the small, lifeless pond in cement to build new classrooms.  Signs which espoused truths about how they should stop and consider the harm they were doing to the wildlife before they continued their evil work.

It reminds me of that because it's a bit naïve.  Change is inevitable and is often planned for rational and considered reasons of which the average person in society is not aware.  Rebellion seems to have been jumped upon for reason in itself here too, by vandals who just want to fuck things up for fun.. Lycée, [middle school] students and hoodies have been striking from school and smashing bus shelters and setting cars alight in the name of the national strikes.

But are 14 year olds really that upset about retirement age, or do they just like an excuse to skip school for two weeks before half-term comes along, and in some cases have an excuse to burn things in the name of politics?

Some French people act like spoilt children; despite having some of the best social care and rights in the world, they make the some of the world's most vehement complainers.

Good cheese though.

Saturday, 11 September 2010

Proposals in Paris

Paris is the most romantic city on Earth.  Even the pigeons here are constantly making love; no, not mating, they're making love.  The amount of saliva that is exchanged here in one day through overly-passionate kissing is enough to flood four New Orleans.  According to statisticians* lovers are between 17-24% more considerate and 3% more genuine when stood on Parisian soil.

Perhaps there's something in the hard water, or in the look of the begargoyled Hausmannian architecture which rewires the human psyche.  Whatever it is, that Paris is the most romantic city on Earth is fact, and one whose truth is so unquestionable, it defies explanation or reason.

As a classical guitarist, I don't benefit from many of societies' rewards- money, friends, understanding, etc.-except, perhaps for this one undisputed fact.

Men like to propose to their girlfriends in a manner which they hope will impress (in order of importance) their girlfriend's mum, her friends, her, and if not dead, her gran.  He wants to impress them enough that he is accepted, if not positively welcomed, into their homes at all the relevant occasions.  One way to secure a good impression, is to propose in style.

Combine what I have lengthily extolled in the previous four paragraphs, and you are left with the title of this blog.  That's right, boyfriends, you want to guarantee a 100% yes rate: you come to Paris to do your dirty work.  What's more you do it in front of someone else, ie a hired hand like me, assuming she likes you at all, she is very unlikely to turn you down.

To summarise, I now play proposals.  I've done it twice, so it's something I do rather than just something I have done.  I'd never thought that I'd be able to put that on my CV, but I reckon playing romantic classical guitar music in a suit, and bringing champagne and glasses to a predetermined spot in central Paris is not only the best hope that you have got to win over your girlfriend and disguise all your shortcomings; it's also a great money-spinner for me.

The Pont des Arts pedestrian bridge over the Seine, and site of my first accompaniment of a proposal in Paris.  (Not these two girls, but another couple.)  The padlocks are signed and attatched by lovers who then throw the key into the river.
For more info look and listen here.

*made-up ones

August is not so august (in Paris)

You may have noticed I didn't post anything to this blog during the summer months.

Like most Parisians, I decided to take the summer off.  Yes. Because somehow shops, cafés, restaurants, small-scale commercial businesses of all kinds can somehow afford to close down for the congés annuel every August.  The previous post on the subject of extortion in Parisien brasseries and bars is perhaps what pays for an August of shut shutters.

People should take plenty of time off and go on holiday, don't get me wrong.  In fact I think people on the whole work for too many hours in their week, and would be healthier and certainly happier if they worked less.  The 35-40 hour week is the fault of employers and the industrial revolution, not the average person, and this is for another discussion.  However, why all leave at the same time?

Paris is, after all, the most visited city on Earth.  Perhaps there may be some café and bar owners and holiday makers who could mutually benefit from these places staying open in high season?  We all know that weather-wise in Europe in recent years, we are no more guaranteed good weather in August than we are in May.  Maybe the stubbornness displayed in reverence to this month just means the Parisiens have got their priorities right.

Judging by the signs in their windows, the all-important local pâtisserie has to apply to the council to close for refurbishments or similar, but other places just close down without warning, rather than their owners putting someone else in charge in their absence.

The slogan for the city paper, Le Parisien, during August translates 'The only Parisien you can rely on this summer' and perhaps it's true; but newspaper can't feed or water me (for water read wine), or provide me with the unnecessary luxuries WHICH I DEMAND.

Thursday, 9 September 2010

Firemen's Balls- A Celebration

You may not be aware of this most odd annual Paris event, so I shall tell you about it. Come July I was quite excited about the Bastille Day celebrations due to hit France, and Paris, on the 14th of the month.  Living in the 12th arrondissement, I'm pretty close to Bastille, (from 'the storming of the-' fame), so I knew there'd be something special planned.

I had in mind some photographs I'd seen in a Robert Doisneau exhibition at the Fondation Cartier earlier in the year.  Couples were dancing in streets lined with bunting and others displayed generic scenes of collective merriment of the sort not experienced on any other day of the year.

I had in mind a feeling of unification against the ruling classes, or at least some 'stick it to the man' type burning effigies of Sarko's melting face.  If not, at least a feeling of booze-fuelled false hope about the future of mankind.

Alas, come the morning, the incessant raindrops fell obese from the dark sky, and all joys seemed far away. The TV channels showed lifeless military parades which were only improved slightly by the absence of a queen.

A Bastille day military parade.  Whoopy shit.
Toward nightfall, the skies cleared and some friends suggested one of the Firemen's balls. I thought, well, the 'pompiers' are the first port of call for all things ranging from fires (their speciality), to destroying wasps nests, to car crashes, to -I'm sure if they were asked- getting cats down from trees. Why the hell not go to them for a dance; they seem to be good all-rounders.

I wasn't expecting however that on every Bastille Day in France, loads* of fire stations shut for the night in order that a disturbing number of people squeeze into them with the intention of having fun in the background to bad pop music. Perhaps some people enjoy being trapped in a space populated by 16 others per square metre, listening to some of the worst music ever composed. The wine is cheap, but is that reason enough to suspend one of the basic emergency services?

The Pompiers Bal; it was even worse than it looks.
We went to the ball in the Marais, apparently one of the most popular in Paris, but I imagine the intended atmosphere was similar across the city.  Despite someone throwing in some tear gas at one point, it wasn't a nice environment to be in.  More crucially though, the fact that these things take place in fire stations begs response to the question, 'what if there's a fire tonight nearby, and people die because all the local firemen are off their boobs on Beaujolais?'

You couldn't phone the police; they're too busy getting stoned out of their minds and giving eachother blowbacks.

*unofficial figure

Saturday, 8 May 2010

Bird Shit & Julie Delpy

No, not the title of a new art-house short, but a ying-yang of fresh ickysplat on my white t-shirt swiftly followed by a serendipitous sighting of my favourite lady actress-cum-screenwriter.

I'd seen Audrey Tautou last week on stage, playing a comically and overtly dramatic Nora in a production of Ibsen's Doll's House in Theatre Madeleine- which was great- but a very different sensation to seeing someone you felt like you know well (only in 2D) by mistake.

It's a pretty normal experience for many of you, I'm sure, but having only fairly recently moved to a capital city where widely recognisable people live, it was quite a thrill. My nearest comparable experience during my previous life in Cardiff involved a sighting of Chris Eubank bodyguarding an infamous local arms dealer (according to the proprietor of a nearby greasy spoon on a fag break).

So let's revive the moment. I was writing on the first page of a new notebook under mild sunshine on a late mid-May afternoon, in what was for me the newly disovered Square du Temple in the 3eme, when a dollop landed on my shoulder from above. Pissed off, mostly at not having a tissue, I wasted a fresh page in vane trying to cleanse myself and then got a load of the (weirdly green) gunk under my fingernails as it began to rain.

Now I'd always assumed that the superstition of being the target for a bird's shit being good luck was actually an inversion of the truth designed to cheer up the recipient of the unwanted moist present. Today my belief was topsy-turvied.

As I vacated the park via the exit to my left, I walked past Julie Delpy. And as confirmation of that fact, Julie Delpy's dad, as confirmed by the film Two Days In Paris, in which Julie Delpy's actual dad features as Julie Delpy's dad, then walked past me in a hat. This confirmed for me a strangely normal fact: do famous people sometimes go for walks in parks near where they live with their dads? Yes. Yes, they do.

So in a slight fluster of exitement where I had to stop myself from the natural inclination to say 'hi!' because I knew her (or thought I did) when she had no idea who I was; I trusted my instincts, and followed them.

About a minute later, after watching Julie Delpy not acting but living, in real life- waiting at a pedestrian crossing, then crossing the road and taking umbrage from the rain under a cafe's canopy, I decided that I probably had nothing to say to her, even if I did manage to pluck up enough courage after several minutes of stalking.

What should one do in this situation? If you have any idea, please comment below. You want to say something nice in return for the pleasure her work has given you- but what? In retrospect, I could have asked what she thought happened with Jesse [in Before Sunset]- did he stay with Céline? But what would have been more likely to come out of my mouth would be something like, "Hello. I love your films...[slightly mumbled]...Before Sunrise. Amazing." To which she would have probably half smiled and quickly moved on.

And then I could never watch those films again.

Though amongst my favourites, the horrible pangs of embarrassed shame experienced during my nervous momentary encounter with their star would inevitably liken watching them to re-reading old letters from an ex. You keep them, of course, but for what? For the idea that a horrible, bubble-popping moment of memory, reality and fiction merging be a pleasurable one?

Of course. And it sort of is.

Friday, 7 May 2010

The price of beer in cafés, brasseries and bars

That's right, there's no delicious play on words with this blog title. This is serious business.

As I write, news of my country's first hung parliament in 34 years is just a few hours old. The future of our great nation is in limbo, and yet while I wait to see if Clegg will really pair with the right wing Conservatives to give them a majority, there seems nothing more pressing than to discuss 'The price of beer in cafés, brasseries and bars', in Paris.

If you've been to one of these establishments here, you will have found the prices, no doubt, a little bit of a surprise. I live in the 12th arrondissement in the extreme south-east of the city limits. My appartment is several miles from the Eiffel Tower; people living here haven't even heard of the Arc de Triomphe. And yet go to a local brasserie, not necessarily even on a place (square), and you are likely to pay between €6-8 for 50cl (LESS than a pint.)

And please don't think it's just down to high taxes on alcohol- in a shop, beer is priced very reasonably- wine extremely so. But when it comes to cafés etcetera, proprietors have just weed on the rule book of decency (by J.R. Hartley) and decided to create a sense of trepidation and resentment amongst café-goers as they fulfill their French-istential destinies.

And that's another thing: the coffee, a diversion I'm sure I shall get another thousand declamatory emails about, but one with which I feel I must aggravate you a little further. Arriving in puny two-sip cups with enough caffeine to ressurrect an incumbant prime-minister; the coffees in Paris are actually expressos. What mess of a humanoid actually gets off on that? Ok, a quick snifter of the black stuff after a long lunch to keep you alive for the rest of another dull day in the bureau, but what if you've actually got more than eight seconds to spare? Ask for a 'cafe long' and you get a double: four sips if you're lucky, and that'll rob you of nearly a fiver.

Back to booze now. With a group of four other people, two rounds of drinks on the Place de Bastille in a very normal Brasserie on a night out not long ago came to the incomprehensible sum of approximately €130.

W.T.F! One might very reasonably acronyse.

Le Bastille: don't do it.

Look Paris, you've done something wrong, you're making a grande erreur, and someone needs to sit you down and tell you. Your 'cafe culture' which you boast about, for which you're so famous will suffer for this. People can't be expected to pay between double and four times the normal price for these drinks than they would in any other European city, so you need to take a look at yourself and think about what you are doing to your hardy patrons. This simply can't go on.

Or can it?

Certainly, the laughable arrogance of your waitstaff defies the logic of any returning customer base. Perhaps the attitude comes from a place where they feel like servants in a world where everyone else is equal. Perhaps they know that actually you love that they are an integral part of the Parisian café experience and it wouldn't feel right without them there.

Anyway, you know we will all return to your half-open doors and half-meant tolerance as we sit down on your sunny pavement terraces, sat seven centimetres from a stranger, pretending that the 25 minute wait for a three minute coffee is reasonable and that €3.60 is a fair price to pay, before tip, just because this is Paris.

It wouldn't happen anywhere else and you know it. Sadly, my nearest bar, 'O' Kleins', is an "Irish" style pub, in that they've, I don't know, got a bar, and chairs. They also charge €5.50 for a pint- in happy hour. That would be ok if it had a half-decent atmosphere and wasn't next to a McDonald's and on a main road. The Irish would not stand for this; and they've been through a lot.

My nearest brasserie charges about €8 euros a pint. This is just within the boundaries of Paris, I remind you. How the fuck did Hemmingway afford this shit - and in the 5th where he lived? Well, it was probably the streams of artists like him who flocked to Paris in the first half of the last century who have created this outrageous pricing situation in the first place. Tiger-hunting bastard.

Alas, it's another can of Kronenbourg at home for me. Paris is a very pretty woman, and she's not afraid to squeeze her ample bosom together and pretend she's just folding her arms. She'll take your money along with your pride just by flashing an eyelid; before you've even got your trousers half-way down.

Friday, 9 April 2010

'Dipped Thongs' Do Not Ease Pain- Full Report

Playwright George Bernard Shaw was fond of pointing out that the word "ghoti" could just as well be pronounced "fish" if you followed common pronunciation: 'gh' as in "tough," 'o' as in "women" and 'ti' as in "nation.*
I read this and thought of all the difficulties I have with the French language. Then I came up with the following rules to follow:
  • If in doubt, don't pronounce any letters
  • If I don't know a word in French, just say the English word in a French accent (it's surprising how often this works)
  • When using one of the infinitesimal homonyms, invoke the art of mime to encourage a general feeling of apparent effort if not comprehension
  • When trying to pronounce the rrrridiculous French 'r' put my tongue behind my bottom teeth and fein severe vomiting
  • Look deliberately into the middle distance, and in whatever tense I can muster, with the self-assured, empassioned delivery of Descartes, say...anything, preferably followed by a victorious stubbing out of a cigarette
  • "There's no such thing as people not making sense, just people who don't understand."**


Its map a tangle of multi-coloured spaghetti to slurp in; its rush-hour carriages a rare opportunity to rub up unnaturally close to another man's bottom whilst breathing into his eye; a mode of transport... The metro is many things to many people. Whatever it may be, its network forms the skeleton of the Paris travel experience for visitor and resident alike.

To me, it offers the ideal environment in which to carry out two of my favourite pastimes: listening to music and staring at strangers. Even sans ipod (other mp3 devices are available), I often find myself tuning in to the crazed industrial 'music' of the train itself. Fans of the sport will often think of that seemingly infinite bend with its infamous 'death screech' between Michel Bizot and Porte Dorée on line 8..!

One factor which is surely inescapable is the ominous and mildly distressing sound of the minor 2nd interval (think of the fear-inducing Jaws motif) emitted the moment before the carriage doors shut, as if to say, 'Shiiiiiiit! Get in (or out); I'm going!' Well, imagine the state of the average Parisian on a day to day basis, constantly exposed to this kind of aural aggression. No wonder people are on edge...the rising alcoholism*...heightened unemployment*...constant state of panic...economic crises...no wonder.

Imagine my glee then, when I heard the sonorous and chirpy major 3rd (think of the two notes that see-saw in the eternally chipper 'Do-Re-Mi' from The Sound of Music) ringing out as the train doors swooshed open and closed this bountiful spring morn. Of course, I took this to herald a new and timely ruling from the RATP to replace the unnecessary daily torture of its doleful passengers, with a gentle concordant caress.

Alas, it must have just been an electrical fault in my carriage, because the next train I rode sounded like they normally do.

Moral: the effect of everyday noises are often more significant than we give them credit for; those recorded by Christine Aguilera, for example, have been used as a device of torture in Guantanamo Bay.**

* facts 'rendered' as opposed to 'actual'.

Monday, 8 March 2010

On busking: The job with no name.

If there is one way a musician can be guaranteed to find work in Paris, it is by busking. (I said find work, not a living.)

Although the French language has no word for busking, satisfied as it is with the un-reverential description that translates 'playing in the road', the majority seem to tolerate if not appreciate it, whether they are willing to show it by coin or not.

The majority of the 'playing in the road', particularly during the colder months, actually occurs in the corridors of the métropolitain underground. To do this legally, one must pass an audtion for the RATP, which for me entailed playing one and a half pieces to a video camera connected to a man, in a room beneath an office.

A week or two later I was invited to return to pay €20 for my pass which would enable me to play as often as I liked, anywhere in the network of the metro (except on platforms and trains) for a period of six months, at which point I must repeat the process in case my skills have diminished.

After a few weeks on the tourist-filled streets of Montmartre in the summer, I had become accustomed to my average haul of around €30 of holiday vouchers for two hours playing. Come October, on my first day of several wintery weeks spent underground I was dampened if not surprised to recoup a scant €7.41 in hard-earned pay for the same amount of playing time. As I learned to enlarge that amount by a sometimes-noticeable degree finding better spots (and having the forethought to learn a Scrooge-converting tremolo version of Silent Night as Christmas crept up), I reported a dramatic if short-lived increase in un-taxable profit.

I would now like to commit the highlights of my Paris busking experience to bullet points. I begin the day after I received my pass in October 2009, and end the day in January 2010 where after 40 minutes I felt nothing but the cold, and was forced by the frosty onset to retire for the season.
  • One day a woman started dancing beside me in some kind of ITV-learned tango whilst telling me she was, more than a New Zealander, a 'citizen of the world';
  • One day a homeless man gave me some coins and cried out to the people (in French) 'It's the poor who give, not the rich' (the strange truth);
  • On two occassions I was given restaurant vouchers- which are given daily to many Parisian employees by their companies to cash in for lunch in numerous restaurants, cafes, bakeries and supermarkets- as they should be given to a homeless person who was hungry;
  • One day being asked to play for a middle-aged woman's mother's birthday party (and being walked away from, after telling her how much I charged);
  • One day being asked if I would permit a man with a harmonica to make blusey vibes all over 'Recuerdos de la Alhambra'- a man whose harmonica was in the wrong key;
  • One day having a Venezuelan cellist father of two, and husband of a rapidly tiring wife, stand beside me for a quarter of an hour playing mime guiro to my choros, before giving me €4 and telling me his guitarist father was friends with Alirio Diaz;
  • Having a Spanish school teacher give me a record €10 and have his whole class stop and listen;
  • Having a Russian man of questionable mental health leaning against the photo booth in Bastille for an hour, sporadically interjecting that I had a gypsy's soul in my fingers...
To summarise then, based upon my continuing research; do it if you have some accessible repertoire that could benefit from a pre-concert airing or need cobwebs blowing off an old set. Do it for some pocket money. Just don't see it as a career option.

Unless you've got a monkey.

Thursday, 4 March 2010

Cellar door

I'm all for keeping a constant stock of wine in the house, in order that one is not caught out at a pivotal moment of drunkedness, but the question I was asked in my local Nicolas came as a bit of a surprise.

Upon asking for a recommendation for a bottle on a Friday afternoon, I was asked, "is it for drinking now?" Taking this with both confusion at what seemed to be an inquisition relating to afternoon drinking, and with the naughty guilt of a child who had eaten all the sweets in one go, I responded with gaffaw, "not for now, but for this evening..." She seemed unimpressed and I realised that what with her running a wine shop, being French, and clearly uninterested in my drinking habits, I must have the wrong end of the bottle.

It turns out, as my brother later explained, that she was asking if it was for now or for 'laying down'- in the cellar! As a recently resigned busker and jobbing musician, do I really come across aristocratic enough to want to buy wine for the distant future? Is that normal here? Or just a cleverly flattering marketing strategy to make one feel good?

Whatever it is, it feels very French.

Wednesday, 3 March 2010

Let's begin at the end: Graveyard Tourism.

The problem with people is that they die.

Even famous people- important artists and that- whether gradually or suddenly, will eventually cease to exist.

Not entirely so in Paris, however. Here, it is not enough to occupy your public in your lifetime; a cultural icon who dies in Paris is not yet done.

The two biggest cemetries in Paris, Père Lachaise and Montparnasse are something of a gathering for the well-cultured icon. Oscar Wilde, Jean Paul Satre, Jim Morrisson, Charles Baudelaire- they're all here, between the aristocratic families ensconced beneath structures better described as chapels than tombs, and the great figures besides whom stone Jesuses are set, weeping concrete tears for eternity.

...Jim Morrisson, doing his thing

There is no better place to celebrity-stalk than a Parisian graveyard, trust me. THEY CAN'T GET AWAY. And though traditionally sad places, given a treasure map on entry with a key showing an A-Z of the civilizing elite, there's something celebratory about the atmosphere in a Paris cemetery.

Of course, there are many bodies here who were grandparents, mothers, even sons and daughters, and there is a sadness, and certainly a guilt-lined befuddlement at the sort of Madame Tussaud's-esque pleasure where all history is for a glorious moment standing alongside you- as it was for Keanu Reeves in his career high, the Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure. But there's also a wild display of arrogance and a profusion of nauseously extravagent tombs (think Louis XIV and what he had his interior designers do in Versailles) to keep you occupied between Chopin in M9 and Piaf in N5.

And then there's those graves which are just brilliant. Take Bird Man in Montparnasse:

Are you a 'goth' in need of a sympathetic shoulder? I recently saw a large be-pierced gathering clad in leather and blackness (one sporting a gimp mask- and why not- it was the weekend after all) hanging out in Père Lachaise. (No Photo.)

My advice is to take a camera, a hamper, a bunch of used metro tickets*, and a group of like-minded friends, and enjoy the great Parisian pleasure that is the open-air museum of the enlightened deceased. It's so nearly wrong; it's utterly right.

Surprise yourself, with Graveyard Tourism.

"Totally bodacious, dude." -K. Reeves

*There is a tradition of laying used metro tickets on Serge Gainsbourg's grave in Montparnasse, in reference to his song Le poinçonneur des Lilas. This has, by accident, inexplicably spread also to the joint grave of Jean Paul Satre and Simone de Beauvoir.

Zebra Warning

The zebra crossing in Paris is something of a misnoma. First of all it's yellow, and therefore doesn't resemble an African equid in the slightest. As a result, it is simply and unexotically called a passage piéton. Secondly, it has no function.

You can stand waiting at one eager to cross all day and the traffic will not stop. Apparently, the law here is that traffic is only required to stop when someone is actually walking across the stripes. But faced with a car driving quite fast towards you, it is hard to just shut your eyes and hope.

Take heed and be safe. In Paris the pedestrian crossing does not exist; it's just more road, with yellow bits on.

...they wouldn't have dared it in Paris