Fête de la Musique

The French know how to party in the streets. I think this comes from their tradition of regular protests, strikes, and rallies. I’ve never seen a protest rally as huge and jovial as the last time Bush decided to visit Paris. The streets were filled with groups from every walk of life gathering to bang drums, march hand in hand, and denounce the village idiot in the white house. There were also plenty of Americans around shrugging their shoulders and saying, “Don’t blame me… I didn’t vote for the idiot. Blame the morons in the red states.” Actually, they said a lot more, but you get the point.

No, the French really enjoy gathering en masse and celebrating events, no matter how big or small. I think the most dangerous thing in the world is a French man with a microphone. Good lordy do they love to hear themselves speak. It’s quite entertaining to stand back and watch.

Just the other day, Jim and I noticed that there was a lack of strikes and protests this visit. It’s become part of the vacation to either walk through a rally or wait at a metro stop for hours because of a transit strike. But this year, the natives were certainly not restless.

This all came to a halt last night as every single person in Paris took to the streets to enjoy music. The Fête de la Musique is a celebration of the summer solstice, the longest day of the year. It’s an evening where anyone can set up a stage or open an accordion case on the sidewalk and perform for loose change and whatnot without a permit. While there were plenty of impromptu performances and temporary sidewalk bars/restaurants, the majority of the events were held in the traditional tourist areas.

Place des Vosges

We began by walking through the Place des Vosges. We knew it was going to be an interesting evening when the first act was a guy blowing a Kenny G saxophone with two modern dancers flopping and posing around him. My favorite part was when one of the dancers sat against the wall with the other in front of her. The featured dancer would stand up and then faint into the arms of the seated dancer, who would then push her up into a standing position and continue to repeat the fainting, fall, push, stand, faint, fall, push, stand routine.

As riveting as this sounds, we somehow were able to push past the crowds and continue along the route. We passed a few outdoor mint julep salesmen, a man with a microphone singing traditional French folk songs with the crowd, an agitated French woman with a cigarette dangling from her mouth as she tried to park her car between drunken people, and more. All of this happened within the walls of Place des Vosges.

The Marais

We continued west towards the Marais, the gay/orthodox Jewish ghetto of Paris. This was certainly a destination for people around the city as it was packed. This weekend is Gay Pride weekend in Paris, so there were probably even more people in town on the pride circuit.

gay choir in paris
Tucked into cubbyholes were bake sales, booze sellers, and small performances. We popped into a courtyard to hear the Gay Chorus sing a couple songs and moved on. They were quite good, but lacked the crunching guitars and missed beats that I was looking for.
Jim bought a half-baked chocolate cookie from one of the local schools’ bake sales and we braced ourselves for what lay ahead.
the marais at night during fete de la musique

On one corner, a jazz quartet played to a circle of admirers. In the middle, an elderly Greek man danced like he was 18 and made the rest of us look like statues. Finally, one of the onlookers joined in the dance and Jim and I left, exhausted from merely watching. We had miles of music to still experience.

the marais at night
The music became a bit more to my liking as we continued down the street. There was a band that sounded a bit more shoe gazer. The crowd had completely filled the small street as the music continued to build to a frenetic pitch of an aria, feedback, guitars, and old women running away with their hands over their heads. Taxi drivers sat impatiently waiting for the song to end and a chance to push through the crowds. Jim said, what is that music; I began to describe the shoe gazer sound of Mogwai and God Speed Ye Black Emperor when the band began a saxophone solo and destroyed my concentration. Needless to say, we moved on.

One corner had a fun crowd as a man sat behind a keyboard and sang Indian/Arabic dance music. Next to him was a jazz quartet and down the street you could hear the thump, thump of a large outdoor disco.

We finally made it down towards a main street and began walking towards one of our favorite hangouts, the Bears Den. It’s a local gay bar/watering hole with a dress code. You have to be hairy, fat, or bald to get in. We planned on grabbing a Perrier and rest on the patio area to enjoy the commotion. But first, we had to make it down many blocks of cobblestones, arguing with each other as to which direction it was actually in. Naturally, I was correct, but Jim kept insisting we make a right turn at the guy dancing on the electrical box or a left turn at the 15 piece accordion ska band…
the marais at night during fete de la musique

We finally reached the Bears Den and walked right by it. The entire block had been turned into an outdoor disco with strobe lights, speaker stacks, and more. Of course, just to the left was a pop-punk band trying to pound out some Green Day inspired riffs and impress the three ladies up front. I did appreciate their use of crime scene tape to mark off their performance space. Quite a nice touch.

The Journey Home

It was beginning to rain and the cobblestones were getting to Jim’s feet, so we decided to head back. Little did we know that we would be entering the most challenging part of the night. As I said earlier, there were certain destinations for the millions of people in Paris. The streets were shut down by the thousands of people walking around. That leaves one option—the metro.

Keep in mind; everyone was in a jovial spirit. People were singing, dancing, yelling, and dancing some more as we squished together like sardines. It was a mess of humanity. We got off a stop early to avoid the crowd at the Bastille. There was only one thing keeping us from the fresh air, about 4,000 people trying to leave the metro and 4,000 people trying to enter the metro through two staircases. If you’ve ever seen the cars navigate around a traffic circle in Paris, you can imagine what it was like trying to move through these steps. Jim slipped on through, but I got stuck behind a semi that pushed me off to the side and had to wait for a break in traffic before darting back into the center and finally to the outside world.

At this point, it is beginning to rain and we are on Rue de Rivoli, a main street of Paris. Normally, this street holds 3-4 lanes of traffic each way, but this evening a car was lucky to make it through the people walking in the street because the sidewalks were too full.
chorus in place des vosges
We passed more bands, but none of them were very interesting. One guy was trying to impress his friends by yelling obscenities into a phone and stomping around the street like he was some kind of macho hero. We finally arrived at Place des Vosges and stopped to listen to a choir perform. Jim enjoyed them quite a bit and I snuck off to watch a trio perform traditional Jewish tunes on violin, accordion, and cello. We finally turned and walked away, passing an Elvis impersonator and another Jazz trio as our friend Bob’s place came into site.

Yes, the French know how to celebrate. We only saw a tiny portion of the events being held all over the city. Palais Royal held classical concerts, the Bastille had large concerts; I can only imagine what happened at the Eiffel Tower and in some of the ethnic neighborhoods.

From now on, the summer solstice in America is going to seem so boring and quiet. Perhaps this is a happy tradition that we can import, like dining with dogs.

Chartre – more than a Monet subject

chartre head

We visited Chartre yesterday. It’s about an hour outside of Paris. In California, we don’t give directions in miles or street names. Instead it’s an hour outside of L.A. and make a right at the taco shop with the red and yellow awnings, not the one with the red and yellow painted roof.

We jumped into Philippe’s trusty voiture and headed along the freeway to this church on the hill, made famous to many Americans as the subject of Monet’s light study paintings. I didn’t expect more than a church in a city. I had no idea where it was or what the surroundings were like.
It’s really quite nice. The church sits on a rare mountain in the flat farmland. This makes it visible from many miles. Our friend Jean-Pierre suggested this reminded the peasants that they’d better behave because the church was watching their every move. Regardless of the “1984” impression, it is a monolithic outline in the sky. I can imagine the effect after walking for days on a religious pilgramage.

the village of Chartre with cathedral

The church is surrounded by a small old town with buildings dating back to the early, early days. Like before cable tv. We were able to pose with the communal clothes washing spaces, the communal fish market, the communal vegetable markets, and got to practice quartering each other in the communal execution space. It was a fun time for all.

There’s a nifty feature of the church. There is a labrynth embeded in the church floor to allow pilgrams to virtually walk to Jerusalem. Instead of hiking for months, under the watchful eyes of the Nights Templar. You get to walk in a circle with a rosary under the watchful eye of an amorous monk. I’m surprised this didn’t become a part of the Da Vinci Code, it’s ripe for misinterpretation. Like the blasphemous statement above.

wheat fields in chartre

We also had a bit of a picnic amongst the corn fields. Here’s a bit of confusion. Corn is Maize in French. However Corn is also French for Wheat or a grain used in making bread. I’m not sure of the french spelling, but that is what it sounds like. Jim and I kept looking around for the corn stalks as our friends announced our arrival in the fields of corn.

I’m checking in with the mother office today, walking around the tony areas, and then dinner with Jacques and Dean, our favorite French/Chinese chefs.

More Paris Mornings

morning in paris

I’m alternating between sleeping till the break of noon or waking up at 5:00 a.m. I’ve got a new batch of images from my morning walk on sunday and breakfast at Chez Prosper.

View my flickr photos for more images

London calling

I’m on the train back to Paris, the Chunnel is calling and I’m heading its way. Visit my flickr account for more photos.
big ben

The weather report for my trip to London predicted super hot, muggy days; the warmest in ages. After sweltering in Paris, I figured it was just going to get worse. Surprisingly, the weather in London has been absolutely lovely. I left the battery charger for the camera in Paris so I only have a few photos of the jolly green city.

Stereotypical food

Quick, what’s the first thing that comes to your mind when you think of rude restaurant service in Europe?

How dare you think that of my beloved French friends! No, the true answer, at least for me, was an Indian restaurant in London. Yeah! Indian food in London! I ended up walking out of the restaurant after waiting 15 minutes for them to take an order.

Instead, I went next door to a pseudo-Italian place with mediocre to really bad food. Can you believe I found bad food in England? I was craving something fruity for dessert and ordered the apple pie. I’m not lying, the guy opened the fridge and cut a slice of uncooked apple pie. The crust was white and the apples tasted like applesauce thickened with flour. The service was nice and the people were polite.

Friendly and polite people serving bad food in England? I guess some stereotypes can come true.

Just to round out the food adventures, I had several cups of “jus de chosette” at the hotel and local coffee joints. I just didn’t have the heart to go to Starbucks. They seemed to be on every block when you didn’t need one. But when a fella needs a good cup of joe, they’re nowhere to be found.

Old London

I got a super tour of Old London. My guide Martin, the swellest guy in the land, led me to old churches, Roman Ruins, ancient markets, new markets, and places filled with gory history. This is my third trip to London. This was the first time I found the city really interesting.

meatmarket in London

The Angel is a small pub that sat between the prison and the execution forum during the Victorian days. The hangman would stay on his wagon with the horses as the condemned guy would pop in for his last pint or two. This is the origin of the term “on the wagon.” I asked what happened when the hangman fell off the wagon, but he didn’t know.

Oddly enough, it’s London’s macabre scenes that seemed to have survived. One hospital’s façade still carried the battle scars of Hitler’s blitzkrieg. Former cemeteries have been converted to parks with the tombstones stacked against a wall. A pub that sits on top of a horrendous debtors’ prison hosts the ghosts of long-gone peasants. There’s a town square where the thieves would gather and share their loot after a day of pillaging. With the exception of the busy hospital, these places are now pleasant possibly quaint pedestrian places.

Soho aka So many Hos

The @media conference had an evening get together in the Soho neighborhood, not far from my hotel. I got lost and ended up walking down many streets and alleys, seeing all sorts of things that would make a less worldly person blush. Let’s just say that there were things on sale that I hope I never see again. Shiver me timbers.

Paris has Rue St. Denis, which is actually a fun street to walk along. The girls on that street are like cartoon figures waiting for their next close-up. You’ve got the little schoolgirl in this door, the 75 year old pensioner down the street wearing spike heels, a large woman wearing fishnets and nothing else in an alley doing her best cancan imitation, and don’t forget the 7 foot tall dominatrix in full leather gear watching your every move from the middle of the street. You don’t want to mess with her!

In typical French fashion, if you’re going to do something, do it well. If you’re going to sell a fantasy, sell a really good fantasy. Don’t go Soho and just flop it out like someone selling cotton candy at the county fair.

(Dad, you may not want to print that section out for Mom to read :) )

More London food

The English desperately want to have good food. Or at least that is what it seems like on the telly. This has manifested itself in recipe names with fifteen words. You can’t have an egg on toast, no it is ‘A free-range chicken egg, delicately cooked with fresh herbs, hand-churned butter, and whole-grain wallpaper paste bread.” Even the oatmeal is “stone-ground grains with filtered Cartesian water, steamed over oak chips.”

Fortunately some foods have simple names. “Really gross parts of cows and pigs, mixed with blood, leftover stone-ground grains with filtered Cartesian water that has been steamed over oak chips, free-range chicken beaks, and assorted crud from the bottom of our rice cooker” is pleasantly titled “black pudding.” Replace the blood with lamb-brains and fish testicles and you have “white pudding.”

The World Cup

I don’t think anyone in England actually watches the soccer matches. Instead, they feel compelled to meet in a pub, smoke, get drunk, and do everything but actually watch the game. They wait for the crowd to scream on the telly then turn around en masse and yell hooray. Then they quietly ask: “who scored?” Afterwards, they drunkenly stumble down the streets singing songs that are completely incomprehensible. I swear I watched two guys singing a song about Old Mother Hubbard who lived in a shoe and sat on a spider until their voices gave out. I have no idea how this related to Beckham bending something.

I did what any reasonable person would do. I waited until the news came on to watch the 20 seconds of interesting action replayed from the day’s matches. Then I belched and stumbled down the halls of the hotel singing show tunes. Somehow it just wasn’t the same.

Installation Art

How do I get in touch with Saatchi Galleries? I’ve got a great idea for installation art and I think we could work on a deal.

Darkness surrounds you when traveling through the Chunnel from France to England. Overcast, drab skies welcome you to England. What kind of experience is that? I want to be seduced by the island. I want to feel the warm embrace of sunny England. Well, maybe sunny isn’t the best description, but you get the idea.

So, here’s my plan. About ½ mile before the exit, begin placing some warm colored fluorescent lights near the tracks. At first they are wide spread, eventually they get closer and closer until the train is bathed in a warm light. When the train finally emerges from the tunnel, create a short bronze-colored glass tunnel to give the riders the feeling of emerging into a sunny oasis. Sure it will quickly turn to grey but wouldn’t that be a nice experience?

Chuck, have your people call my people and we can do lunch. We’ll chat over the details, eat black pudding, and sing nursery rhymes to the ho’s in Soho. Actually, you can eat the black pudding, I’ll stick to a glass of water, it’s hard to mess that up.

Early morning in Paris

statue of Jean D'arc in the morning
It seems like the average Parisian would rather eat cheese whiz than step onto the streets before 9 in the morning. The city doesn’t come to life until after 10. It’s a distinct pleasure to walk through the city around 6 in the morning. The light is strong and directional, the streets are empty, the sky is blue and wind is cool.
I went for a stroll along the Seine, over to the Left Bank, Notre Dame, and finally Rue de Rivoli back to the hotel. Along the way, I shot about 60 images.
When you begin taking photographs, your well intentioned uncle will remind you to always shoot with the sun at your back. It’s a safe way to photograph, as the subject and environment are equally illuminated. You avoid the surprises of backlit silhuoettes and blown out skies.
These images are safe but boring. Flat lighting hides the texture of your scene. Try shooting towards the sun instead. The light will skim across flat surfaces and cast shadows on the vertical surfaces facing your camera. Streets and rivers begin to glow, cobblestone streets are filled with texture, and your images are more interesting than the original scene.
If your subject is facing you with the sun at their back, you may have to set the exposure yourself. Simple cameras will try to compensate for the bright sun and make the image too dark. Use your manual settings to add enough light. I like to take an exposure of my hand in front of the camera. This mimicks the shadow sides of your subject and landscape. This will give you detail in the shadows. I also like to turn on the flash, to fill in the shadows and balance the lighting. You’ll still get the dramatic textures, but also see your buddies grin.

Montmartre

cobblestone street in MontmartreThe hills of Montmartre have great views to the city. These great views come with a price, namely hordes of tourists and the resulting horrible restaurants and junk shops.
I dragged Jim up the hill to see the hidden part of Montmartre that I am fond of.
Walk past the Sacre Cour, the cartoonists, the t-shirt shops, and galleries full of art that makes even Thomas Kinkade look original. Just past the water tower, a small cobble-stone street takes you down to the Musee Montmartre. We hit the street at the perfect time. The setting sun backlit the cobblestones and plants, creating the ever-popular postcard images. At the bottom of this street sat La Maison Rose.
La Maison RoseThis small restaurant sits alone, like the geeks in the back of the class reunion. Only, this wallflower is truly a sweet-smelling rose. The food was simple and affordable and the setting was very pleasant.
To visit this part of the city, I’d recommend grabbing the montmartrobus from the Pigalle metro/bus stop. You’ll take the short bus up the hills and avoid the crowded funiculaire.

Internet Cafes

Last year, I found a great coffee shop with free wi-fi. I jumped on the metro and sallied on over to Coffee and Friends only to find it shuttered. C’est la vie, I thought as I walked over to another café that offered free wi-fi last year. This too, was not having any of it.
I plopped my ass on the curb and opened the laptop to see if someone around had a signal. Sure enough, I came across hotcafe.fr, a provider for internet cafes. After some sleuthing on their site, I found a familiar café near the hotel, Café Benjamin that serves the signal du jour.
Café Benjamin is a bit fancier than my trustee coffee and friends, but it did give me a chance to upload yesterday’s images, do a blog post, check email, etc. I’ll probably head back in the morning to upload this highly fascinating piece of something.

Yahoo! Paris

Tomorrow I am off to Yahoo! Paris office to check in on the team, go through email, and do some general schmoozing. I’ll probably also carry my portfolio and try to hit a gallery or two. Wish me luck.