Friday, July 24, 2009

Trip Report Part One: Paris

From July Paris-Ghent_Amsterdam-Brussels-Paris 2009

Mark and I have been back in the San Diego for about two days. I've sorted through most of our digital pictures and am nearly over my jet lag. I'm conscious enough at least to do a trip report.

Paris looks exactly like Paris. And by that I mean there was nothing surprising about, for example, the blocks and blocks of mostly apartment buildings that unfailingly had their ground-floors devoted to cafes and retail, or the Cathédrale de Notre Dame, the Basilique du Sacré-Cœur, the Seine, or the signs above the Metro stations in their gorgeous art deco lettering. Even the geography of Paris felt familiar--I knew that 27 Rue de Fleurus was in the 6th Arondissmont, that the Bois de Bologne is the bois of Nightwood, that Kiki was from (duh) Montparnasse.

Of course, having knowledge of and accurate expectations about a place isn't the same thing as actually being in that place. Here are a few highlights and observations of the first part of our trip:

1. The blocks and blocks of cafes and bars--they're a very pleasant combination of public and private space. People hang out in them like many Americans hang out in their living rooms and kitchens. A cafe is where you eat, of course, but it's also where you meet your friends and family, relax at the end of the day, do your reading, etc. Most cafes have very similar menus, so you can sit down almost anywhere and know that you can eat at least a reasonably competent version of an omelet, crepe, or stew. For the most part, there are no TVs and no music, even in bars, just the constant sound of people talking to each other.

From July Paris-Ghent_Amsterdam-Brussels-Paris 2009

2. People really make use of their available public space, especially in the warm weather--I think this is what I loved most about Paris. Mark and I sayed in the 10th, near our friend Joe Ross and within walking distance of Gare du Nord, Gare de L'Est and the Canal St Martin. There were people sitting by the canal all day, every day, but especially at lunch time and in the evening. It was especially warm during our first few days in Paris, and the scene at the canal was like a huge block party. Anyone who didn't want to be in a cafe or couldn't afford it was eating, drinking, and talking down by the water. In some cases, people bought a drink from a cafe and then took it down to the canal, or they brought some food with them and brought it into a cafe to eat with a drink.

From July Paris-Ghent_Amsterdam-Brussels-Paris 2009

2.1. Mark and I spent a great evening in Belleville, just on the other side of the canal, with Nicholas Manning. Unfortunately, I don't have any pictures from this evening because I managed to drop my digital camera and the memory card fell out. I didn't realize the card was gone until the next morning. Ugh. The 10th and Belleville were, to me, the most livable neighbourhoods we visited in Paris. The 10th is more gentrified than Belleville, but both neighbourhoods are multi-ethnic and mostly residential (i.e. there are no major tourist sites in them).

Unlike Brussels, which I'll write about in a future post, Paris does not fully embrace food from other cultures (except various kinds of kebabs--and most kebab shops also sell crepes, which is telling). Part of the point of the cafe culture is--yes, to socialize--but it's also to be able to eat simple, reliable French food. Most cafes aren't about culinary or cultural adventure. In Belleville, though, you'll find Chinese, Vietnamese, Indian and African resturants, and a variety of people eating in them. Bellville is still inexpensive enough to allow people from, again, a variety of different contexts to live there. Bellville was even more like a block party than the Canal St. Martin.

3. There is art all over Paris, and it's inevitable that you'll happen upon an interesting object or place without even trying. While wandering around Montmartre, for example, we saw this house which built for Tristan Tzara by Adolf Loos.

From July Paris-Ghent_Amsterdam-Brussels-Paris 2009

3.1 And here's mark in front of Victor Hugo's house on the Place des Voges:

From July Paris-Ghent_Amsterdam-Brussels-Paris 2009

4. We went to the Louvre and the Tuileries out of a sense of duty, but I enjoyed the Rodin museum and garden much more. I love the way that modernism starts creeping into his work, and how many of his pieces just seem to be crawling their way out of the stones. There were numerous casts of Victor Hugo, always with the same stern face no matter how much busy-ness might have been going on in the rest of the sculpture. There was also a cast of Balzac in a monk's robe, which struck me as deeply hilarious.

From July Paris-Ghent_Amsterdam-Brussels-Paris 2009

5. The museum also had several rooms devoted to Camille Claudel. I remember renting and watching Isabelle Adjani's film version of Camille Claudel (1988) during my first or second year of high school. But, beyond that, I knew very little about her. It was good to see so many of her works on display.

From July Paris-Ghent_Amsterdam-Brussels-Paris 2009

6. Our reading went well--I wasn't expecting much of a crowd, because Paris really empties out in July. However, there was a very pleasant number of people there, including many folks I hadn't expected to see who were in Paris on vacation or visiting family--including Mark Lamoureux, Susan Briante, and Farid Matuk. Mark read from a variety of different books and manuscripts, including Notes from the Center on Public Policy and Felonies of Illusion. Felonies of Illusion is one of my favorite Mark Wallace books, but I'll have to blog about that another time. I read from Terminal Humming, of course.

6.1 Here are several folks milling about after the reading: Mark, Joe Ross, Nicholas Manning, Andrew Zawaki, and in front a woman I was never introduced to. (She seemed interesting, and I think she said she was from Boston. Does anyone know who she is?)

From July Paris-Ghent_Amsterdam-Brussels-Paris 2009

6.2 After the reading, Mark and I went to get some food with Michelle Noteboom, Frederic Forte and their very very new baby. Mark and I shared a huge, decadent plate of charcuterie. I'm certain that I could happily (though not healthily) live off of cheese, charcuterie, bread and wine. Fred's a member of Oulipo, and it was interesting to talk with him about that, and about publishing in France. Once you publish a first book, then you can count on someone publishing really every book that you ever write. Fred has a press ready to publish his manuscripts in progress. There isn't much of a chapbook culture in France, or even a small press culture--in part because writers don't seem to feel the need for one. This theme came up again and again in conversations with writers and artists in Ghent, Brussels and Amsterdam, too. I'm split between outright jealousy at the huge amounts of support and respect that writers in Europe recieve from their governments, pulishers, and art organizations, and an acknowledgement of the benefits of DIY culture here in the United States. I have more to say about this, but it's enough to constitute another post, so I'll return to it later.

7. Mark and I spent a lot of time with Joe Ross, Laura, their two children, and their dog, Ceasar. Joe is an old friend of Mark's from Washington, DC. (Incidentally, Joe and Laura moved from DC to San Diego before eventually moving to Paris. I find this fact comforting). It was really wonderful to be able to visit with them. I was also quite smitten by Ceasar:

From July Paris-Ghent_Amsterdam-Brussels-Paris 2009


sandrasimonds said...

Great post. I do have a question: what did you do with your bird while you were gone? hehehe

K. Lorraine Graham said...

Lester went to stay at his vet, which also boards birds (but also sometimes lizards, snakes, rabbits, and other small mammals). He gets a large cage, which I arrange with all of his favorite toys. He gets to come out every day, and he can flirt with everyone who works there and all the other birds staying there. The African Grey who lives at the office most of the time actually recognizes and greets Lester when he comes in.

Lester can't say so directly, but he doesn't seem to mind going there. He often comes back with variations in his vocalizations, which means that he's trying to identify and impress the other birds/people there, which is something he wouldn't do if he were unhappy.

But I'm glad that we're all back in the same apartment now!

Ian Keenan said...

Balzac used to put on that white robe to write. Around 1830 he bought a gold belt from Venice to tie it even though he was by then hiding from creditors. The final Rodin version makes the robe mythical.

K. Lorraine Graham said...

Thanks for that information, Ian--somehow, though, it seems even more hilarious. And very campy.

Shann Palmer said...

Great report!!