November 2010

Leonardo’s Alfas; vegetable aesthetics of Villandry; vive le vin de Saint Pourcain!


























The runaround, after packing, checking out from the entirely adequate Belle Vue – especially after they gave us the room with the terrace, views over the Loire -, where the proprietress helpfully scaremongered in regard to the strikes, which are over nothing more serious than raising the retirement age from 60 to 62 – the trades union are against -, saying, Oh, no petrol! No transport! – and come into effect tomorrow – helpfully, because, of course, we will fill up in case we can’t get diesel for our C3 tomorrow or the next day – the runaround about where to find breakfast. A cool morning. We weren’t averse to sitting inside. Saw a brasserie where all the locals were sipping espressos. Entered. Were approached and told no food. No food? Croissants. OK. Croissants. Nothing on them. Nothing? How to know? Service here equivalent to withholding information. On a need to know basis.

We’d sat down on the red velour banquette. Thinking we could cut it with the village folk, the townspeople. No. Our waiter smiled when I said we were sorry we were going. Why was I sorry? There was nothing there for Q.

Up the hill to the Cafe des Arts, another figure resembling someone from the far distant past: J., let us call her that. Short hair. Brusque. Running out for a fag after sorting us out with a petit dejeuner formule – breakfast set menu – of croissant, weak doubles – see note earlier about doubles and strong meaning for the French long and weak – coffee, orange juices, natural yoghurts, baguettes, butter, jam, fine. All we needed.

Clos Luce, Leonardo da Vinci’s hangout under his sponsor, Francois I, a sad affair. Typically – perhaps -, the French more interested in the ethical views and philosophy of Leonardo than the pragmatics of representing his mechanical and scientific achievement. A speaker in a tree gave, in language of choice, a selection of the sayings of the great man. Leonardo on… love; …on death; …on life; …and so on. But the place was rundown. Many of the exhibits didn’t do what they were supposed to. I alerted the ticket lady to a leak on Leonardo’s breakfast table, escaping the bucket set on the floor. Which was, as China Mieville would say, attentively unseen by the other visitors. Along with the set of pressed tin shelves at the back of the room. I got into trouble with an American woman – Americans would seem likely candidates for the cult of Leonardo’s genius – insisting we not touch the poorly fabricated models of differential gears, fitted with handle, to turn. By hand. But the gardens were lovely to walk around, albeit that at the bottom of the grounds there sat a perfect row of Alfa Romeos with for sale signs discreetly in the front windows. Why we didn’t find out. Perhaps because Leonardo invented the clockwork car.

By car, then, to Villandry, via Tours, which was suddenly a metropolis, after Amboise. We went in search of Q.’s special ‘La Poste’ satchel but realised quickly it would be the greatest faff. Finding it. Finding parking. Straight through Tours. And on. On.

Distances have a habit of telescoping. 12 km is still 12 km 2 km further on. No consistency to road-signage. Regardless, we reached the chateau. Walked the renaissance gardens, the gardens of love, romantic, passionate, marital, fickle, looked down upon; the water gardens; the gardens of the sun; the maze; the herb garden; the endless decorative vegetable garden. Brilliantly conceived and executed. A wonder.

Our route carefully rehearsed via Michelin the night before, I noticed began some distance from where we were. Back to Tours. To make another tour of Tours. But finding the A85 we were off… at 130 km/h, ticket in hand for the other end. No one on the road. To pay 12.50 at the other end, near Bourges. Thence, special signs for us alone – Moulins. Turned out the N76 was closed, had been for a week, would be until the end of the month. So crawled behind trucks for ages.

Moulins is totally unlike anything except perhaps a faded bourgeois alpine town in… Bavaria? Except for the unmistakable Hausmannian houses. Our hotel, the Hotel de Paris, in the middle of renovations that have already taken years and will carry on for many more, according to our new friend F., who plied us with bottles of wine from the region, Saint Pourcain, all night, and presented with a flourish three bottles to take with us, on the house, secretly, our Hotel is emblematic of the place, grand, stuck in the middle of refurbishment, refurbishment having run aground, but nevertheless continuous. Charming F., with his All Blacks tie. The biggest rugby fan in France!

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Amboise – the last King of France; Chernonceau – White Queen in black room












































































A day of Chateaux: Amboise, our homebasecamptown; and Chernonceau, actually within bike-riding distance.

What took us so long? Sunday, the market, of course. Going out this morning, Madame of Hotel Belle Vue advised us to have a look, they have regional foods, French, as if you needed reminding, traditional, to distinguish it from new wave, nouvel vague, non? and coffee, and bread, and cheese. It is the biggest. It is. It was. It had food that made you weep you were not in residence permanently, or at least for a month or so with adequate storage facilities, in order to buy up large and eat it all, all of it. All of it was so edible looking.

Breads, the usuals, but cheap. Cheese counters offering ten small goat’s milk rounds for ten Euros. A Euro each! A fishmonger later shouting: I DON’T DO THIS FOR PROFIT! I GET NOTHING! Perhaps the thought of doing such an honest guy out of his rightful excites the French?

My favourite, where the boy got the other boy, saying, Anglais! We are not, I said. But the other boy who could anglais, did. Quite well. And who were we to refuse him his chance to by speaking French? He smiled broadly when I said his English was good. A bit of a routine you go through with English-speaking French: even if you speak French, they insist on replying in English. And it is as if you’re refusing a favour by continuing in their language when they’ve paid you the personal compliment of learning yours.

At this stall: sausages, pates, pressed meats, jellied meats, brawns, terrines, every variety you could imagine. And degustation plates out with slices and cubes of what was on offer. Blood sausage – which they were wide-eyed at us choosing – to pate-en-croute. Too too good. Duck sausages. All the sausages real, in intestines, hand-tied, chewily knotted. Mixtures of meats. Gibblety bits mingled with parts you’ve never heard of and distinctions between regional meats, beef from Limousin, or …, sharply distinguished tastes. Brawns and. More. The black pudding is called a queen here. We bought only the meagre amount that we would eat for breakfast. Shamefully. I wanted to apologise for taking so little when so much was on offer. I really said, We will be back. When we’ve eaten this!

We weren’t. Back to the funny cafe-stall, where the owner might have been Dutch, resembling a certain cafe proprietor from the old days, a lackadaisical hippy, with his young female sidekick, dub, rather than pouring out or pounding, crackling, seeping out, and M., let us call him that, running between one-station machines, splitting each shot, unevenly, as we discovered, not exactly lost or dithering, but acting in an odd sort of counterpoint to actual demand, while uppity dowagers demanded to be served, whether they would get their coffee brought to them, or ought to wait, waving money, non-plussed by the distracted M. charging up machines, the full cups saved by young female sidekick, doled out, regardless of place in line to whomever might have ordered and claimed the shot. M. sending ice fragments flying as he got a batch of chocolate frappe going, making far too much each time, saved each time by sidekick. It all seemed very familiar. Except that here the service was even more inept than with even the most out-of-it hippy in NZ.

Which might be a sort of rule for the kind of service we’ve received. Last night at Via Roma, it was as if they’d never had people at their restaurant before. Bizarre lack of contact, staff to customer, the communication negotiated more by alien etiquette than the real requirements of either the provider or receiver of service. And I think it would’ve been the same with our uptight tightlipped ladies of the market asking if the coffee would be brought to them: if the conduct of M. had been in keeping with a norm that they recognised as comme il faut, then it wouldn’t have mattered how slack the service was.

Coffee, anyway, Peruvian, one cup weak, one strong – ask for double strength and you get twice the length and half the strength. Strength not being something culturally predicable of coffee. And pate de compagne and an epee loaf and queen blood-sausage and Royal Gala apples and a very tasty little sausage I forget the name of, all cut with a knife bought to replace the one the security outside St. Peters made us ditch.

Apart from gorgeous food, heinous fashion. No. Really.

Up above Belle Vue, Amboise chateau royal, given the lower-case treatment – I don’t know if this is a post-revolutionary thing or not. We climbed the ramp to Francois I’s childhood home. The memory that inspired Chambord.

Maybe a third is left of what once was here, after wars and more wars. It’s charming. The greatest shock being the break in style of decor from the first – medieval to renaissance – to second floors. Louis-Philippe – the last king of the French – was given the chateau by his mum, Louise-Marie-Adelaide de Bourbon-Penthievre. He redecorated in what to us looked like Regency style. One of the table pedestals bore his name, a Louis-Philippe, as you’d say a Louis Quinze. It was almost art deco. He died in exile in England in 1850.

A heartbreaking story: Charles VIII, 7 April 1498, hits his head on a door lintel. He is on his way to see a game of ‘real’ tennis. His Queen, Anne of Brittany is present. He dies, just a few hours later. He is only 28. This happens at Amboise. So a royal tragedy forestalls tennis’s introduction as a national sport.

The garden full of bobbly trees. Formally arranged up the slopes towards the missing wings and bits of the chateau.

The chapel too deserves a mention, St. Hubert’s, built on one of the buttresses on the outside flank of the chateau, which rises sheerly, with this tiny building on its top. Last night at Via Roma, we had plenty of time to look at it, the lights on inside, lighting the stained glass windows. Antlers are built into the design of its spire. And on the tympanum, that odd conflation of medieval symbols: a stag – carved in stone, high relief – with antlers, from between which grows a crucified Christ – antlers and crucifix in metal, rusty.

We chewed on some sweet breads on the lawn in the sun. J. inadvertently got Q.’s hat stuck in a tree. We got it down by tying three bamboo garden stakes together with bits of plastic bag, the lace on the camera bag and an elasticated hair-tie, and poking it. Then we jumped in the car and went to Chernonceau.

What a weird place. The aerial photos, the posing photos, the romantic dressing up of it don’t do it justice. Perhaps they do it the supreme service of making it mouth-watering, the Queen of chateaux, serving as excellent ads. But it’s an anomaly. It crosses a shallow slow-running river and stops abruptly. It’s not even quite a bridge.

The history of it seems complex. I haven’t worked it out. Apart from there being a bedroom each for Diane de Poitiers, Catherine de’ Medici, Gabrielle d’Estree and Louise of Lorraine, thereafter, one named ‘the five queens’ bedroom, for Catherine de’ Medici’s two daughters (Queen Margot, wife of Henri IV, and Elisabeth of France, wife of Philippe II of Spain) and three daughters-in-law (Mary Stuart, wife of Francois II, Elisabeth of Austria, wife of Charles IX, and Louise of Lorraine, wife of Henri III). Also associated with it are Louise Dupin, in the eighteenth century, Marguerite Pelouze, in the nineteenth, and Simone Menier, in the twentieth. It was built by Thomas Bohier in the sixteenth century and the front hall bears the name of his wife, Katherine Briconnet. Hence, it’s known as the ladies’ chateau.

It also has a maze.

We misread the advice in our guide and thinking to approach through the gardens, designed by Diane de Poitiers, came at it upstream, after running around the maze. I’m growing fond of French gardens, with their wild floral borders and formal elements; here a low hedge scribbling curlicues on symmetrical sections of lawn takes up the majority of the space; a fountain playing, marking the centre with chance falls and splashes of water onto a stone bed. The guide said… But then going at it from the other better side, downstream, massive renovation work obscured a major section of the facade.

Inside, paintings by Veronese – the lady’s head I’ve snapped -, Murillo, Rubens, Spraenger, a decor well devised and well displayed, art directed, most visibly in the kitchens. The Russians, though, insisted on touching everything, posing ludicrously with the ornamental gourds. There were more instances of photo-tourism, if not photo-prayer. But it’s an easy trap to fall into. Turn off the brain that it need not engage with what the eye sees; let the camera engage, its digital or mechanical apparatus; let it do the not-thinking that passes for thinking and record. Who is going to look at all the images this era produces after us?

It’s like the book at the Pompidou says: all art is counted as contemporary as if there were no problem with that. What? Should it mean something?

Or as someone put it: After us, the deluge. We are, however, the deluge.

The most extraordinary room is that of Louise of Lorraine, painted a matt black with white chalky motifs on top of cornucopia filled with tears, interlacing thorny branches, and the quills linking her initials with his. She had this room done out in black upon the assassination of Henri III by the Monk, Jacques Clement, August 1, 1589. My leaflet says, She retired to Chernonceau to meditate and pray and was thereafter surrounded by nuns in white habits who occupied the chateau as if it were convent. In royal mourning, she was given the title, The White Queen.

We were lost for a few close – read, tight – circuits of the one-way streets behind Amboise before returning. And were no sooner returned than out again to eat at a Chinese restaurant. The French are averse, it seems, to giving up the knife and fork that they invented. We had to ask for ‘baguettes,’ chopsticks. J. ordered a soup. It arrived a la Western cuisine in a small bowl, not as a meal in itself. Likewise my tasty frogs’ legs in Thai style and a plate of rice: small portions, as if part of a progressive meal, not one of self-sufficient stages. Something about the way the Chinese ran the joint made the place seem more French than anything. Consider the price of the Chinese tea: 2.50 Euros per person; compared to wine, at 2.90 a glass. No refills of tea offered neither.

Accommodation in Moulins booked. Hotel de Paris tomorrow night. The place was picked for being halfway between roughly where we are and Le Puy-en-Velay. No one appears to make tourism from Loire, crossing Massif Central, to Langue D’Oc.

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the greatest chateau in the universe, home


































Advice ignored: don’t do the Loire valley’s most popular Chateau on a Saturday; make sure you arrive early.

We’d paid for the buffet, Q. was free, so we made sure we were downstairs for the buffet breakfast – hot food, I’d been assured the night before as we arrived – and there was hot food. There was rindless bacon and scrambled eggs sweating in separate compartments of a bain-marie. (Is it so called because of Marie-Antoinette’s penchant for eating in out of the way places on the estate, where food had to be brought in and ‘rechauffee’ – reheated – in what looked distinctly, at Le Petit Trianon, like bains-marie? So the word could be translated: M.A.’s baths.) The rest of the ‘hot’ food was DIY. A clever bubbling stainless pool fitted with baskets for boiling eggs. A toaster for toasting albino bread.

Undeterred – except for being still packed with French beef, eaten raw and minced, the night before – we set upon the cold pancakes, the nutella, evidently a staple throughout Europe, the yoghurts and so on, and juiced our own oranges on the apparatus kindly provided, with oranges. Squeeze your own. But soon we soon ran aground. With DIY brilliance, we made up and pilfered, hiding them in Q.’s toybag under the table, inside a plastic bag, we’d thoughtfully retrieved from our room, filled baguettes, with emmental and ham and salami, and pains au chocolat for snacking on.

We escaped without harrassment the clutches of Mercure and Buffalo Grill land, and circled the backroads of Chartres, by way of losing our way, and reorientation in right-hand driving for J.

More wind-turbines, this time close enough for us to venture out into the vast flat fenceless plain, leaving the car, onto a dirt road, to get closer to them. These were close to Bonneval. Forty-four metre long vanes, three of them, like giant Mercedes logos, on 136 metre towers. Called in French picturesquely ‘eoliennes.’ Eery out here on the unending plains. The vanes turning slowly and pivoting to catch the wind, as if communicating rather than generating power.

We stopped at Meung-sur-Loire. The town sits on a drained swamp, the groundwater gathered into tributary streams, running into the Loire, called Mauves. But in actuality weedy green with many small fish. Here Francois Villon was once imprisoned. Freed, I think by Henry IV? The town features, allegedly, in the work of Georges Simenon. And Joan of Arc had a battle. The bishops of Orleans took up residence at the Chateau for a very long time. In other words, Meung-sur-Loire has an historic significance entirely out of proportion to its size, so little next to Orleans. Where the Maid came from.

We followed some discreet signs, small, faded, to Beaugency. We were taken along the narrowest roads in France. Cart tracks, really, paved, except for one short section just before the Loire. Off-roading in our C3! Not what we expected to be doing.

Lunch beside the Loire of stolen buns. No one near. No buildings or industry visible on either bank. The deep slow rolling river, wide, a big river. Nothing, apart from steam rising, from the tops of nuclear silos, just able to be seen, above the trees.

Beaugency we saw from the 26 arched bridge, thrice, once on the way out, on the way back, circling the town, out into the McDonalds hinterlands of light industry, which provided the clue we were going the wrong way, or at least had taken the less scenic route, the third time heading back out. It is where the marriage of Louis VII and Eleanor of Aquitaine, who pops up everywhere in medieval history, was annulled so that she could marry Henry Plantagenet, the future English king, Henry II. This move initiated the torrid wars for control of much of Southwest France, which she took with her into the marriage, and Normandy, which England already possessed, Maine, Anjou and Touraine, between the French and English royal houses, continuous for centuries after.

We reached Chambord, entered the gates into the National Park of Chambord, the biggest such park in Europe and Q. spotted a red deer. The Chateau rears up at the end of the entrance road, before you turn off to the carparks, bristling with spires, chimneys, points and turrets, a startling confection of – as the guidebooks say – Italianate inspiration on a medieval footing. One can’t quite believe it. Numbers: 365 chimneypots; 426 rooms. And the mad aspiration of King Francois I to be known as the greatest architect in the universe. Imaginable. That he could so imagine.

Again, as with the best architecture it is the proportions that are pleasing, however blown up. Apparently successive occupants have found the interiors too large. Too costly to heat. Francois the First didn’t stay much. 42 days in total. After all, it was only his hunting lodge. But I loved the big rooms. The double helix staircase: Leonardo da Vinci had come to France at Francois’s invitation in 1516.

It served, finally, before nationalisation, as accommodation for the Count of Chambord, the Sun King’s son, who waited there, with his gilded coaches and private army of assistants, butlers, servants, stablehands, footmen and so on, and waited. He was the last of the line of the Bourbons and expected one day to ride triumphant back into Paris to be crowned king. There’s a subject: the king in waiting. We felt strangely at home.

The smell helped. It smelt of woodfire. And sitar techno was playing ambiently, testing the radio-linked speaker system, and vari-lights flamed up the side of the interior pillars of the central stairwell. I finally asked, who could be having a party here? The Belle of the Renaissance. The do attracts the grand personages who pay hundreds. And dress in renaissance gear. We saw the staff arrive to run the kitchens and the front of house, all dolled up, fagging up in the courtyard. There was an army of them. Over 600 guests expected.

We’d picked our destination for the night, Amboise. A busy little town. Behind us the Chateau and in front the river. Less traffic now. I can hear the Loire flow out from under the arched stone bridge that crosses it to the island. We’ve been lucky. From our room, I can climb out the window onto the terrace and watch it. A warm night. 20 degrees outside.

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high gothic to low western with a Frenchy twist
















Here I am at a Mercure, just outside Chartres, where all beds were full, for a craft expo, having escaped Paris. J. has mastered the right-hand drive! I’ve successfully bitten my tongue to ribbons on the curbside, navigating, and putting in the odd palliative statement, like, Very good. Now back on our side of the road. Or: Stay in your lane. Or, my favourite: Curbing!

Our last morning in Paris passed too quickly, on another brilliant sunny day. We had the option of staying on at our little apartment, kindly offered by our gentil-homme host, gratis over the weekend of the festivities surrounding the grape harvest at the only vinyard left on the Montmartre. But with car booked, no chance we were going to drive back into Paris. We’d gone to some lengths to ensure we would be picking the car up on the outskirts of the city.

We left a little regretfully, but it was exciting to be setting out again. And we went to further lengths to reach Orly-Sud Aerogare, negotiating our baggages down the stairs, into Metro 12, out and up and down to Metro 6, and to the Orlybus station. Which is simply the airport bus, a stretchy number, articulated, with luggage racks.

Arrived with minutes to spare to be told by an officious bus-guard that we needed to pay in coinage for the tickets at a machine, only one of the three there of which was working. J. raced off to the bank thing he indicated to change a note. I queued sweating lest the bus depart without us; it was hot; and from the manhandling of baggages.

Many like us were bemused to find they could not purchase tickets either on board the bus or with bills at the machine. J. came racing back with tickets not change. Typically, it transpired tickets could be purchased at the place to which she was directed for change, making the intermediate step of acquiring coinage redundant. Somewhat.

We boarded. Took up space. Waited. Waited. More and more boarded. Some argued with the busdriver. A couple I am sure he let through without tickets. The bus was crammed. The aisle bottlenecked at the driver’s end.

We finally left after 20 or so minutes, not the seven we’d been bumrushed into believing lay between us and missing it altogether. More people boarded. The driver’s French seemed to be incomprehensible because no one moved down the bus at his bidding, shouting.

We hit the tunnel. The traffic in gridlock. Giving us time to admire the piles of waste in the lane under repair, or set aside behind bollards to gather it all up, concrete bollards, in places looking as if someone had ploughed into them, shattering them, scattering them, spectacularly. Rubbish, smelly, rotting crap, leaking onto and staining the concrete. Paris, the city of leaky smelly things. (J. has just said: Nothing romantic about Princess Diana coming to an end in a tunnel in Paris.)

At Orly-Sud, an hour after we were supposed to arrive, Algerian men crowded the pavement anxious to board, while we got off the bus, if necessary through, over, between us. Further mayhem.

The C3 people told us by phone where to be, were there quickly, had us signed up and practicing our right-hand manoeuvres under our own reconnaissance within a quarter hour. Chartres next stop.

The slow roads. Poplars, leaves turning, lining the roads through the flat lands of France’s major cereal growing area. Then, above the horizon, wind turbines!

Then, above the horizon, two spires!

Chartres Cathedral overwhelmed us with its dominance over what is in fact quite a large and very pretty town, the old part at least. We climbed the hill on which it floats. It really does. Past the half-timber medieval structures. The bulging walls, and overhangs, familiar now, from Italian towns. To the start of St. Jacques’ pilgrimmage.

Inside, the Cathedral gave us what Notre Dame could not, a religious experience occasioned by the grandeur, the age, the sense of the building, an ascent of weight in stone. Stone flying upward. Making mere bodily assumption seem quite plausible.

And the Virgin’s Veil there on display. I didn’t quite manage to photograph an elderly woman photographing the Veil – to show the attitude of photo-prayer – before my cover was blown and she scuttled away, clutching her digital blessing.

The choir was under repair. But the carvings on its exterior are extraordinary, in high relief, every scene having its turrets and minarets.

No rooms at the local Hostellerie, the purple-shirted receptionist tried ringing up other accommodation for us, with no luck. He explained about the craft expo.

Dusk. We raced down the hill.

Got as far as Bonneval before wondering whether we ought to cut our losses and return to a Mercure we’d seen earlier on. Nothing was giving except the downright parlousness of dirty truckstops and rooms over pubs. Which is how we came here. By retracing our route for about twenty kilometres.

And all hashed out after our ‘medium’ French beef burgers – raw mince – at Buffalo Grill, we find ourselves staying with the Spanish cycling team. Who are very quiet. Hopefully as gorged as we are on prime Limousin protein. The Grill an exercise in the old-fashioned roadside family restaurant. Although still people queuing to get in at ten at night. We had to wait twenty minutes. Before being ushered to a booth, luggage racks above our heads, and a red-tassled lampshade hung low over the table, the whole melange in gawdy red and shiny black and brown, with brass highlights. I ate a ‘Frenchy Burger’ – the Frenchy bit, goat’s milk cheese. The green salad side turned up in a sea of vinegary mayonnaise. The salad in the burger amounting to no more than a wilted leaf with a coin-sized piece of red onion. Q. loved it.

Starting the tour of the Loire on a cultural high. Chartres + burger & fries.

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bring back irony. And Marie Antoinette. In the fight against the pomo platitudinous kitsch of Sofia Coppola, Takashi Murakami, Forced Entertainment












































… at last a show to which I will not feel I am doing a disservice by penning the couple of lines I write here: Forced Entertainment’s The Thrill of it All, at Centre du Georges Pompidou. But first: if you are going to visit the mass-tourist destination of Versailles, I suggest you concentrate on the gardens and Marie Antoinette’s Little Trianon – a wonderful fantasyland, Disney avant-la-lettre, model farm, fake grottoes, modest bach of a place, lacking even its own kitchen, having only a place to warm up the food to bring it hot to table, and likewise at the farmlet or Hameau, food shipped in, warmed up, served hot – unless you enjoy, that is, mass-tourism.

Having been bitten by Versailles before, we ventured out there again. On a low day. And it turned out to be the best day we’ve had in Paris, for weather, blue skies, sunshine, 22 degrees celsius. Unfortunately the fountains weren’t playing. Because if they are there is an extra charge, and otherwise entry into the gardens is free. But we hired bikes and took ourselves out to Trianon, and there had lunch on the lawn. Interesting that Louis XV had such a thing for mechanical devices. In the little house he’d wanted tables that came up from the floor already set. Which he didn’t get. He did get, however, the mirrored panelled walls or flats that could be raised or lowered into slots in the walls in the upstairs rooms.

If it was M.A. who was responsible for the decor, then she had a very modern eye and a fine one. Duck-egg blues. Occasional turquoise. Modest and restful.

The whole of Petit Trianon was marked with her character: the Hameau, and its thatched collection of eccentric ersatz farmhouses, including a mill, a laiterie, and working potagers; then with the wonderful whimsy of a light-house, setting-off point for boat-trips and fishing expeditions. Although, with the number of cat-fish we saw in the pond you might just as easily walk across the pond on their backs and pluck them up in passing. And the theatre, where, being Austrian, she found it a good lesson in French to perform. A perfect miniature eighteenth century theatre. I overheard a guide here explaining the length of scenes in those days was timed to coincide with the wick-time of the candles used to illuminate the scene. It also bespoke M.A.’s attitude to the kids. The Hameau, or farm village, was supposed to serve an educative function: how real people get along with providing for themselves.

We cycled around the Grand Canal’s impressive cross. And quickly had used up half a day.

The famous mirrored hall is fabulous, in that you are able to imagine seeing it what impression it must have created when lit by candlelight, the flames reflected in the mirrors, suspended in the dark space between floor and ceiling amid the scintillations of the chandeliers. The idea that it can be used, the Palace, as an exhibition space seems simply wrong-headed. Busloads of tourists are not interested in Murakami’s kitsch. And I found the Murakami oddly didactic. Shouty in its aesthetic of OTT Nipponese cute and kitsch against the background here and shouty in its neutrality about its own aesthetic statement, its unwillingness to pass judgement. Hence the snap I snapped of the ‘icons’ of privilege in the toothy mouth of one his beasties: jewelled Pepsi, shoes, aspirational items. Yeah, there’s a hint of reappropriation about them, by the Japanese artist of the American item, but at Versailles the reading can’t help but be different. Less critical. More flatly neutral to the point of being complicit, celebratory even.

I saw a book about Jeff Koons showing work here and his work looked to be thoroughly in keeping. Which tells us exactly what?

A rush home and back out to the show. From which I learnt, You can’t make a show about lameness that is not itself lame. But I ken that that is the MO of Forced Entertainment.

Four women in platinum wigs, beaded dresses, red boots; four men in ropey hair, white suits, red shirts and snakeskin shoes: they dance badly to overloud bachelorpad exotica-muzaq, Hawaiian, Japanese (!). Musical kitsch. They dance badly for most of the show to a soundtrack composed of found material. The dances are interspersed with spoken sections, the men’s mics lowering their voices, the women’s raising theirs to helium levels. The mics too too loud. Annoying. And addressing themselves directly to the audience. In the, Are we having fun yet?! style.

The strategy is eaten up by its own premise. But in being self-devouring, it is, as it appears from their history, since 1984, of making work, self-regenerating as well. Almost like a perpetuum mobile of platitude. As if the reflection of the everyday spawned further reflections of the reflections in performance and the reflexive theatricality were without end.

In that end, dull. And many walked out. More stayed and pissed themselves laughing. Perhaps gained something from translation into sur-titles in French?

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digital photography provides resolution with no need for developing and little effort: forms, absences


















Paris, inconclusive. This seems to be the title, even if our stay has not yet actually concluded. Tomorrow is our last full day here. A day, then, today, as inconclusive as any we’ve had here. Not unsatisfactory, exactly. But a few key movements were rather brought to an end than finding, on their own, a conclusion. The quality visited upon us by a chain of experiences of inconclusive result. Like our first true endeavour: the cloud is high, let’s climb the Eiffel Tower!

The route from where we are, on Metro, RER, or bus, is annoyingly tortuous, and greedy on time. The fastest way seems to be a Metro-RER combo and going from the little underground trains to the one-and-a-half floor regional trains makes it feel as though an additional obstruction has been added.

As with other queue dancing here, we are moved from one to an other, one pillar of the tower to another, without there being any ostensible reason. The security bag check waggles his finger at Q.’s scooter. There seems no way forward. Until suddenly, without any change in expression and just as we’re about to turn back, he allows it to be stowed in his glass guard box.

Tickets are bought. We take our place in the next queue. We board the double-decker lift. Top floor. We take off, the two huge ballast pistons rise and fall, if that’s what they are. The system is allegedly hydraulic, but has these big counterweight type objects at its base. We rise. And rise. Until having a place at the window becomes a liability. Don’t want to look.

The lift travels up the pillar on a diagonal, then its track straightens out, vertically. We hesitate at the first floor. The doors don’t open. We continue our ascent.

At the second floor, the claustrophobia of the crowd as well as vertigo have got the better of us. We don’t get into the summit lift. We circle the floor discussing our options. Willing but weakening. Then look into the summit lifts. People squashed in, what for? Out of a sense of obligation? We go no further. Can’t bring ourselves to.

It’s not exactly a failure. But…

Being out this way, towards Montparnasse, we lunch near a Metro and get on line 13 bound for Giacometti’s studio. Now, I had read there was nothing any longer there, the atelier having been dismantled, like Bacon’s, and only a plaque on a wall marking the place where Alberto and Diego and their partners, and a fox from Auschwitz, for a time, made their home. But J. had read something. And wishful thinking prevailed.

Half an hour or so later, in a pleasant quiet and leafy area, smelling of the now dismantled fish-market, we found the plaque. And nothing more. A name was on the box of someone professing to be a painter and sculptor. But we didn’t knock.

Back we trolled, towards Pompidou, to at least see one artist’s atelier, Brancusi’s. It turned out to be free. We circled the place several times. The tools were as interesting as the work collected there. Especially the hoist arm for the electric hammer chisel and its counterweight. (Another theme for the day: the counterweight.)

After, we returned to the extreme art bookshop in Pompidou, having purchased our tickets for The Thrill of it All, Forced Entertainment, on tomorrow night. Again, circling. Cheap beautiful books. But why? Why buy?

And then the ones that made sense, theoretical. Themed like so: who does contemporary art think it is? To be contemporary has come to mean all-time, absorbing all schools, all trends. Being current now means something coterminous with generality. In the all-time of the Now. And all the little theoretical schools of which the art – circling this bookshop – comes to seem a mere shifting collection of examples.

I couldn’t buy anything. I did find one volume from an exhibition in … I forget, called Theatre without Theatre, but it cost 68 Euros. And Deleuze and Claire Parnet’s Abecedaire DVD. Cheap. But solely in French. Why set oneself more challenges when simply being here surviving is enough of one? Linguistically, I mean.

Matthew Barney’s Cremaster DVDs appeared to have sold out. An intriguing volume entitle L’Inframince. Well, noone loves the infra-mince like I do. Which is why I couldn’t embrace it as that one thing I needed to take with me.

Either branch out into the work of artists one doesn’t know or consolidate with hard-to-get volumes – especially those produced for exhibitions. I couldn’t do it. And selfishly couldn’t think what might make good presents.

Inside such a maximalist space is when one yearns for the necessarily limited choices of a private collection like Peggy Guggenheim’s in Venice. Still the model for us of a gallery ‘experience.’

I suppose the curatorial reasoning has to be ‘good enough’ to a like experience outside of the personal collection of which the guarantee of authenticity, if you like, is that it was the collector’s own, in life. The familiar old seal of death.

And representation.

Q. walked away with mini Moleskines, J. with a present in a tube, which we sent to NZ on the way to the next Metro. And with all that, all that inconclusivity, we returned home at 7:30. Q. over-tired. And his skin thing. Let’s not mention his skin thing. Emotionally overwrought.

All of us reconciled over an excellent improvised stir-fry. It sounds like we venture out tomorrow for our last day here with one goal only, conquer the trap of Versailles. God knows the same could not seriously be proposed for Notre Dame. She is too far gone.

on tour

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questions of organisation: City of Sciences, Mecca, the human salad spinner, the Qabr, remember your vote counts so long as it’s the right one, La Villette, post-industrial park, a look in at the City of Music, out on the street in Les Abbesses


















We went to La Villette, Cité des Sciences, an area of Soviet-style indoctrination – with the democratic, positivist twist of being pro-participation and pro-tech-progress – and ideologically driven from start to finish. Advertised as one of the newest parks, it boasts gardens, a canal cuts through it, themed ‘follies’ – wrought from red-painted I-beam girders – music venues, the building housing the interactive science museum itself – a kind of Pompidou, duct-heavy on the inside, on the outside aesthetic-industrial – and a ‘Geode’ – a reflective ball, housing a wrap-around cinema where Imax films are shown.

Arriving late, we had to decide what to see at the Geode. I wanted to see Le Grand Voyage de Ibn Battuta. A cinematisation – courtesy National Geographic – of the fourteenth century travelogue of Ibn Battuta from Algeria to Mecca. Although originally in English, we saw it in French with pully-down ear-devices, by Sennheiser, offering the original dialogue – in English – de-timed so it could be heard over the French. It was great to see here, a primer for the Muslim world, and a pro-enlightenment Islam document. Cool to see the people at double speed circling the Qabr, Mecca, like a million stars, so said the commentary. And equally cool to be in this venue. Beautiful electro-static flat speakers. A trailer showed off the assets of the thing.

The interactive science part was cool perforce too. The highlight a thing called an Inertial Carousel (they seem to be following us around, the carousels). Enclosed without exterior reference we spun around in a salad spinner – these also are an ongoing theme, W. & L.’s and ours here, trying to rid lettuce of grit. Experiments to conduct: walk in straight line. Impossible. Throw ball at target. Misses. Walking one way is easier than the other. The pull being to the right. Watch water jets that would under normal conditions coincide arc away from each other. And run around and fall over. Throwing a ball through the middle was interesting, it hit the midpoint of the spinning room and veered away.

The ideological components came in various varieties: energy – how to save energy, you be in charge and remove things from a virtual environment that are too energy-hungry; you choose – ought it to be working with existing technologies to achieve savings or developing information technology to act smarter about energy use; genetics – you vote on the ethics involved; brands – find out what a real brand item is as opposed to a fake (done semi-seriously).

The usual French thing after, arriving at another attraction we’d thought part of our comprehensive entry ticket only to find that it was not included – the actual-size submarine. Then wandering into the wasteland of an organised space, gardens, parks, buildings, with no indication as to how to navigate it, no previous advice as to where it might be good to go, given the time of year, the day of the week, and so on.

Home to paella from the freezer. Not bad.

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holy supermarket & photo prayer

























It was to be a housekeeping day today, a hunt for the Deutsche Bahn office, for a start, to claim a refund on the tickets that were supposed to bring us here first class, by train, and brought us second, then with no class at all, on the backseat of a bus, and a visit to the Centre du Georges Pompidou to see if tickets are available for Forced Entertaiment’s show later in the week. Our highest priority was, however, to stock up at the supermarket. So, having chosen Monoprix as our fave, we programmed a visit in at the end of our day, two stops up from Jules Joffrin, Marx Dormoy station, Metro 12, agreeing beforehand to take in a few touristic sights, Sainte-Chapelle and Notre Dame, on L’île de la Cité.

We went out into a grey day, another drop in temperature, prepared after Versailles to queue. And we did. Outside the Palais de Justice. In the compound of which, with a heavy police presence, Gendarmes in what looked like Lacoste light waffle shirts and comfortable looking – very un-uniform – trousers as standard issue, gun-holsters at their hips, and small truncheons or other small appliance holsters also, Sainte-Chapelle stands, rather hemmed in, with a steeple, added later, with holes in it, like a snorkel, poking up above the surrounding judicial offices, allowing it to breathe. We queued again in the non-sensical fashion that the French are so good at – fashion, in general, you might say; nonsense as well, perhaps. Since, the attendant when not answering the question of the raised Museum Passport or Passport Paris, or whatever it’s called, to which the answer was anyway the same, Queue up like everybody else, when not, that is, reinforcing the futility of the Passport, the attendant spent his time rearranging the seatbelt stockades, allowing this queue now to blend with that, and after, that with this, turning one long line into a double width fat line. And this despite the fact that all visitors had to enter in through a small door all together, blended at last, fat with thin, Palais de Justice visitors with Sainte-Chapelle visitors, regardless of tickets held, passes pre-purchased, for the security check. And the Gendarmes wore their little box caps, working the bag-x-raying-conveyor-belt machine, and the metal-detecting archway, like a lintel without a door. Behind them notices stuck with shiny cellotape to the wall in a limited number of languages asking all alike to submit to the now acceptable humiliation of having one’s intimate possessions gone through, rifled, seen into. This time I wasn’t asked to remove my belt and didn’t beep. The Gendarmerie were actually quite sweet, smiling even, and put us through in an affable manner as if incognisant of having had us blend queues and form a single file in subjugation. Through the doorless lintel.

Gore Vidal in his flaneur book rates Sainte-Chapelle highly. And despite 7 windows being covered for repairs, it is lovely. Compact and luminous. It’s not one of those places with a particularly special feeling to it, but rising from the lower level, vaulted, dark blue and red, ribs of gold, and issuing from the narrow spiral staircase, the height and proximity of the soaring stained-glass vitrines, the very contained nature of the space, which the presence of other tourists doesn’t really detract from, we were struck by its unique qualities of light and grace. And technicolour windows.

On returning downstairs, there is a sign saying, Silence, and a row of stalls selling souvenirs and touristy knick-knacks down one side.

We found lunch at a Lebanese place selling falafels around the corner from Saint Michel. Low-ceiling, timbered at the back, above a flatscreen playing music videos, bad ones, both French and American, the main draw seemed to be the counter, but once in prospects were lured further, as we were, despite a lack of tables. We were shifted twice. Yet the staff appeared never to have dealt with a full house before. We ordered Lebonese coffees, straight up, which came straight up. Coffee cinnamon grit boiled to death in a small copper pot poured at table. Delicious and strangely freshening to the palate. A pistachio Turkish delight on the side. Then we waited. Waited. Were moved again. Finally very dry falafels arrived. Disappointing and more than we’d have liked to have paid.

Next stop the queues into Notre Dame. Despite what we’d read there were people on top of the towers. We rounded the corner and even with the drizzle the line went back at least a hundred metres. No. We opted for the smaller queue. And free entry.

The entrance was unpoliced but still a crowd had backed up and self-organised into a line halfway across the square. Through the swinging doors into the cathedral, past signs saying no photography, we came into photo-tourism hell. Nobody was using their eyes. The more famous the edifice, the less looking, the more photos being taken. Tourists with cellphones and every type of still camera – up to long-lensed SLRs – and handicams. A new style of photography and a new mode of tourism: you hold your recording device at arms length, possibly even above your head, and capture image after image. You have become an extension of your camera, a bipedal support. And it is without volition that you circulate. The highlights have been chosen before you, by the preceding generations of tourism, by the Tradition. It is of these that you simply claim your personal digital represention. It is tourism as the supermarket of representation.

Is the image wealth? Is taking an image in this way a kind of prayer? I think so.

An area set aside for silent prayer we saw invaded first by one or two people. Five or six followed. Until the flow around the cathedral, down one side, across the transcept, behind the altar, and the side-chapels in the semi-circular apse, up the other side, until this flow, like a stream hitting an obstruction of leaves and twigs, formed inside the chapel reserved for the practice of religion a whirlpool of camera-flashes and bodies circulating without knowing why, at its centre, a few men and women turning on their heels, cameras or cellphones raised, wondering how they had come to be there.

I think the new phototourist makes images, does not take photographs. I have seen it before, in the new havens for phototourism, the galleries and monuments that allow photographs to be taken, made, but never as extremely as here: the arm extended, pointing the camera, the legs working as fast as the capture of the image will allow, the body only getting as close to the photographic subject as it needs to be to take the photo. In regard to the latter, a lot of tourists have long lenses, permitting them to be at a considerable distance from what they are in old-fashioned terms there – in the continent, the country, the church, gallery, or other specific location – to see.

Being there to see has a new meaning. It continues the Tradition of enduring discomfort in order to see that the pioneers of tourism relate but at the limits of the reach of the recording apparatus. As if being at 20 feet from a certain Madonna were of a qualitatively different order from being at 2 feet from it – or 2000 miles.

Distance as a quality becomes an irritant, a problem: to overcome it are we come to a foreign land but at once we only reluctantly overcome distance, holding out a digital optical device, and what we record is also our reluctance to come any closer. We may have flown for 20 hours or so. But we want it to be known what we came here for: to give up our images up to God, the King of Images. (Will anybody else bother to look?) Not to Be Here Now. Not to come so close that WE ARE HERE. Like the weather: Wish you were beautiful.

It would be a commonplace to construe this as expressing a fear of foreignness and foreign parts. But perhaps it is as simple as a fear of the sense of displacement that is itself now common.

After the negative experience of Notre Dame, we walked to Luxembourg Gardens and enjoyed there the leaves changing, the informality of the plots. We found a games’ area under an awning, outside the orangerie, where several chess tournaments were going on. We enjoyed stopping and watching three, at least, challengers to the Master, among them a man as fat as his cheroot – assaying intimidation by cigar smoke – get thrashed. But we didn’t get to the bottom of the bell with the two beads on it, one black, one white. Did it announce an advantage? a threat? given taken?

Monoprix at Marx Dormoy. Too late to do the other things.

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misinformed, misled & missing Versailles for the equine theatre of Bartabas















We arise early – for this relaxed phase of the itinerary, if after a night in the city – to see Versailles. First info off: that the first Sunday of the month free entry is being offered. No. In a month or so. Regardless, follow the second tip: buy passport to Palais at station.

At Invalides, it happens. Second info off: passport no longer on offer. Jump on the RER with return tickets in hand. Arrive at Versailles, Rive Gauche, having barely left Paris, it seems, and for want of a loo, avoid the early queue at Tourist Info. Office, ducking into the Pullman Hotel for expensive espressos – and pee stop. Upon reappearance into the harsh reality of tourist timeline: third dodgy piece of advice.

Tourist Office allegedly preferable to queuing at the Palace. But we wanted to visit the stables as well, tickets for which we were told were only available at the Palace proper. (Advice dodgy on two fronts: it later came to light that we could have bought a double ticket for palace and stables; and even if tickets in hand still an horrendous queue to simply enter the palace, i.e. no warning that the ticket queue is the ticket queue while the entry queue is a beast of a thing on its own.)

We skipped off up into the forecourt of the Palace where the queue to present hard-won tickets snaked up and down and vacillated. Checked out the queues attendant on the gardens, through Marie Antoinette’s apartments and: fourth foul fare. The gardens are only free outside of the weekends when the fountains are playing and a fee is charged for musical water play.

We doubled back to take on the more contained of the snaking queues, that to buy tickets to the Palace. Moved through surprisingly fast. It only took an half hour or so and we were in. Finding that the line then passed through doorways down the wing of the building and up the other side.

Ten or so minutes later we stood in front of an obliging information officer who told us that tickets to the stables – we expressed an interest in seeing La Voie de L’Ecuyer, a performance at the stables, in preference to visiting the static installation of Louis’s goldenness and sunny royal wealthiness and to queuing up in an even longer line – were only available at the stables. (No. No mention that there might be a dual pass, including both the stables and the palace.)

Having wasted 40 minutes we did what any sensible tourist-in-apostasy would do. We ran away. Down the cobbled incline to the stables. Where the ticket box was shut.

It was one o’clock by now. An half hour went chewing baguettes with jambon and tasty mayonnaise imported from our local boulanger. Kicked a ball for another half hour in front of ticket box, the ball misbehaving on the uneven cobbles, until a small number of over-zealous equitation fans had gathered. We were first in to buy the tickets this time.

Expensive. And picking up a flier, we read about the double pass. Too late.

At the front of the line to get to the foyer cafe. Where more time passed before the doors to the auditorium opened. By this time, 3 pm, we’d read all associated material and discovered the show had been choreographed by Bartabas – about whom a small cult of celebrity, he being the master of horse-theatre, equine theatre, thesbian-cavaliery. And that the stables had only been brought back to life in 2003. That the auditorium was designed by Patrick Bouchain, who’d also done the new stables. The ‘stables’ I’ve been referring to meaning one of a series of buildings allocated to that purpose in Louis’s time, the Small and the Grand. I think where we were was the Grand. Yes. Completed by Jules Hardouin-Mansart in 1683 and rehabilitated for the Academy of Equestrian Arts by Patrick Bouchain. Under, it appears, the guiding hand of the master, Bartabas.

The auditorium is constructed of three-by-ten, approximately, planks and square posts, the wood left unstained or finished, planed only, with a pencil gap between the horizontal planks. A woody blondness prevails. Stalls and beautifull consistent boxes in two levels, up to a gallery and gods. The boxes literally that. An elegant piece of engineering as well as design.

We look out on a sand-filled arena, with mirrors following the arches of the original architecture, and sketches on the walls, either side of the audience, like graffiti. Of horses.

The fascinating thing about this show – which teetered on the edge of being pretentious. Or indulgent. Or you could say was pretentious and indulgent in the best way possible -: a study of the movement of man and horse, beast-human machines. So this really interesting tension between the ostensibly artificial movement inflicted on the horse and its natural gaits, enumerated as three: walk, trot, canter. I would even put the word artificial itself under stress, to suggest that the show calls into question the categories of naturalness and artificiality, forced and free movement, per se. It ought to be compulsory viewing for dancers. Because: what is going on here?

A horse turns in circles, keeping one hoof anchored to the ground, faster and faster. The mise-en-scene comprises four fencers without mounts, and an amazonian figure mounted on the turning horse. It’s difficult to get a horse to do this. Outside of a disciplinary regime in which the animal’s behaviour in performance has clearly been negatively reinforced. And it was not the ease or grace which was so striking. Pieces like this were genuinely moving. They had pathos. The pathos that at last no one knows what a body is.

The thinking was so good and right about this show. “The Academy is not a school of horsemanship but rather a ‘company school,’ a laboratory of creation.” Then, it is also committed to and displays various ‘princely’ disciplines, archery, equitation – obviously -, fencing, and courtly ones, dancing and singing. Albeit that the equerries are, bar one, women. Women with ponytails.

Another section had four equerries enter in darkness with four horses, three white, one black, to Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring. The women wore orange skirts to their ankles. They withdrew, as the lights came up, to the four corners of the rectangular arena. The horses were left to ‘play.’ The music continued. The playing was quite natural. The three Lusitanian ‘white’ horses rolled. There was one who picked on the black Lusitanian. And right at the point when we, the audience, were asking ourselves if this was to orientate young horses to the nature of performance, an exercise, a picturesque, even romantic one, the horses began to canter in a circle, the equerries came to the middle of the arena, spinning their skirts, and the music coming to a percussive climax, each of the horses finds its mistress, now collapsed in the centre, and all movement and music suddenly stops. Everything stops at the same time. The most artless natural improvisation comes in the most artful synchronised end.

This show, like the other, The Misanthrope in Berlin, asks to be further thought about. Something I haven’t quite the energy to do here.

Our tickets included a visit to the stables. Aesthetic as well as functional. With a pretentiousness to the fluoro tubes set vertically in wrought iron – like unicorn horns, at the ouside of every box. Reported as such in the flier. Since the great Bartabas had asked – read, demanded – that it be so. He’d architect-whispered.

Thinking to finish our evening with a stroll of the Palace gardens, we returned, several times bitten though we were. To find we had 20 minutes to wait before the gardens were again free and whatever music the fountains were playing was over for the day. The rider on this was that the groves would also close at 5:30, leaving only the long expanses, the vistas, to traverse, on foot, in the evening, too late to enjoy. We tried. We waited and joined our last queue of the day to pile in when the barriers were lifted. But with no fountains playing and without the interest of the groves, it was simply too large a job to contemplate, getting from the terrace down to the ornamental lake, and so on.

We turned our backs on it, and on Murakami’s annoying sculpture in its middle. We returned to the station. Boarded the train.

Home. Nothing open apart from the Traiteur Chinois. Another expensive night (21:43) – but necessary, but tasty -: Chinese takeaways heated in our apartment.

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Latin Quarter day into La Nuit Blanche: the compensations of bad timing


























To Bastille to buy a scooter. Une trotinette.

To St. Paul. Crossing Seine, Ile St. Louis, Seine, lunch on quai with view of Notre Dame. A very gentille proprietress of a new music-box shop told us how to get to Shakespeare and Co. and offered her loo. For free. Shakespeare and Co. infested with Americans. Charming building. Not too precious.

Walked length of Blvd. St. Germain to find shoeshop. Shoes didn’t fit.

Back via rue Buci where there were no tables at the cafe with the staff in overalls. At St. Michel, a student group puffing horns, whacking skins, the number pulling us in, an Arcade Fire.

St. Severin disappointing but for gargoyles. Nave dominated by massive screen. Tonight La Nuit Blanche.

Bottle of wine at St. Severin the cafe. Q. fed dogs and fries. And by the time we made it to Trocadero Arto Lindsay’s truck of musicians had already passed. Who cares? The trip on a raised line through a blue dusk magical. And Eiffel, when we got there, lit up with sparkles and searchlights.

Down – again- to the fountains, under the tower, to the nearest Metro. Left of Ecole Militaire.

Out into the Beaubourg. Improvised electronic mayhem in the church on Place Stravinsky. Guys with joysticks, Stellarc metal frames supporting cybernetic-styled interfaces with quite uninteresting array of sounds. Who cares? The venue extraordinary. The organ contributing. The light installation – projectors onto convex mirrors hitting as much of the gothic vault as possible – OK. The whole as a whole inimitable. Even to the French touch of having a conductor in tails, a young woman.

Hungry. A bite of crepe. And on food hunt, a theatre troupe doing an iron horse schtick, big fun props, costume and make-up pure Les Miserables, a train moving from place to place, complete with mobile bordello. Straight out of Mieville’s Iron Council.

Then the most compelling musical event of the night: a samba orchestra, on foot, followed by a huge and dancing crowd. Great rhythms.

Food finally at home. Midnight.

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