Astérix et la Grande Campagne de Pub

If you’ve been in Paris this week, it will have been hard to miss the fact that a new Astérix album Astérix chez les Pictes, has been released. As far as publishing events in France go, you don’t get much bigger than this. There are posters in every métro station.

Jules Joffrin

Château-Rouge

Gare de l’Est

Barbès-Rochechouart

La vie d’Adèle

Recipient of the Palme d’Or this year (decided by a jury chaired by Stephen Spielberg, no less) La Vie d’Adele Chapitres 1 et 2 is an intense love story, directed by Abdellatif Kechiche.  If you get the chance to see it, you should.  It will be released in English speaking countries as Blue is the Warmest Colour.

The storyline is simple enough… high school girl (Adèle Exarchopoulos) meets art school girl (Léa Seydoux), they fall in love and go on to live an intense and ultimately turbulent relationship. In its simplest version, this scenario could have been summarised in a 20 minutes.  But Kechiche’s directorial gift is in depicting the texture of the interactions between people – the details conversations, the physicality of relationships.  In three hours of storytelling, there are very few slack moments.

There’s not a lot that I could say about the La Vie d’Adèle that hasn’t already been said in mainstream reviews. First of all, it’s not a lesbian film, it is indeed a love story. Everyone I’ve spoken to who has seen the film has praised its “realism”… and the depictions of various social milieux of modern France is particularly well-observed. Whether filming a spaghetti bolognaise dinner in the suburbs, a garden party of the Parisian intello-artistic in-crowd, or the petty politics of student life in a lycée, Kechiche and his actors deliver a deep, absorbing experience that feels “true” in the smallest details.

Ultimately, the magnificent performances by Exarchopoulos and Seydoux are the reason that this film works so well. Adèle Exarchopoulos provides a compelling central character, whose naïvity and passionate love for Emma (Seydoux) drives this film forward. This is an impressive piece of cinema a headlong plunge into love and obsession that you won’t forget anytime soon.

Hiatus

It’s been a long time between posts… Since the last note appeared on the Left Bank in May 2012, a lot has happened. France has voted for François Hollande as president, and Hollande has looked bewildered by the decision ever since.

I’ve moved out of St German, crossed the river and bought an apartment. I’ve been to New Zealand twice, and changed roles at work. I’ve got engaged. Renovations, living for 2 months on a friends couch, the Sorbonne-infused routine of a law school fiançée, supermarket shopping and delays on the métro have all conspired to keep this blog in abeyance. Bref, la vie, quoi.

rue Letort

But now we’ve been living in the 18th arrondissement for a year, and life is finding some sort of routine again, it seems a good moment to recommence the discipline of blogging.

I’m not sure exactly what the posts will focus on. Hopefully some photos of life here in Paris, and travels elsewhere. Maybe a theme will emerge.

Café Rostand

Or, perhaps we’ll just post picture of animals in Paris. Let see how we go. Until next time… miaow.

On the Line 12

The Walls of the Rive Gauche

My walk down to the shops on rue de Buci is particularly rich in street art and graffiti.  The latest images of Serge Gainsbourg on his house on rue de Verneuil are particularly striking. The nostalgie for the smoke-ridden image of M. Gainsbourg hangs thick over this part of the Left Bank, as if Paris still mourns the passing of the last true Frenchman, who rubbed out his last cigarette more than 20 years ago.

The Rive Gauche is not only home the ghosts of Gainsbourg, Sartre and Boris Vian. It also hosts both houses of France’s legislature and many government ministries, and is in many ways the inevitable centre of all French politics.  The Parti Socialiste has its offices nearby on rue Solférino, comfortably distant from the quartiers populaires.

Yet this part of town generally seems to display a shrugging indifference to current affairs: preferring fantasy over realpolitik, and heroic elegance over hard economics.

The Economist this week was critical of the current presidential campaign in France, describing the candidates as being in a “state of denial” about the economic situation and the size of the government debt. Perhaps that’s because most candidates look elsewhere for inspiration – rather like this girl?

In recent weeks, images of the Front de Gauche candidate Jean-Luc Mélenchon have been appearing on walls all over town – his drab green coat and his leftwards gaze recall images of Mao Tse-Tung… just as the current high poll ratings of Mélenchon seem to reflect a long-held nostalgie for the glory days of French communist and trotskyist politics.

Despite Mélenchon’s current wave of popularity, it’s difficult to tell whether his candidacy will ultimately make any difference in the race between Sarkozy and Hollande. And it’s highly doubtful that his policy ideas are implementable, let alone realistic in the current climate.  In the face of such uncertainty, the graffiti artists of the Left Bank, at least, prefer to watch the heavens…

Caterpillars and Carbon Monoxide

Against a background of the terrible and sad news from Toulouse, the March sunshine has brought with it a choking smog that has covered Paris for more than a week.   Some rain or wind would be welcome to blow away the air pollution that has passed the European safety level 28 times since the beginning of the year.

To try and escape to some fresh air, last weekend we caught the train to Fontainebleau, for a walk in the forest.  No sooner had we started into the forest, we were confronted by a swarm of one of the most dangerous animals in France, advancing down the path towards us…

The Pine Processionary Caterpillar is a remarkable animal. Springtime is the period during which these gregarious caterpillars descend from the nests they build in pine trees, and march across the forest floor in single file, looking for a hole in the ground in which to pupate.  These “processions” are spectacular – the one we saw in Fontainebleau was 3 metres long, and we estimated it contained more than 100 individual caterpillars.

Apparently, caution must be taken when approaching these caterpillars, because their spines can detach, and if inhaled or in contact with skin, can cause violent allergic reactions in humans and domestic pets.  We got close enough to take some photos, but not close enough to be poisoned.

Luckily, no other dangerous beasts crossed our path.  The forest was still wearing its brown winter coat, but signs of spring were everywhere – finches were nibbling on buds on trees, and magnolias were just beginning to burst into flower. We’re still waiting for a storm to blow away the pollution over Paris, but this walk in woods was a welcome respite.

 

Ugly, Nevada

I was fortunate to be sent to Las Vegas on a business trip.  Fortunate, because I didn’t have to pay for the trip, or anything associated with it.

Most places I travel to, I manage to find something interesting or of merit. The most interesting thing about Las Vegas was that I didn’t like Las Vegas, at all.

Everything about this city is ugly. If you don’t like gambling, prostitutes or fakery, there’s nothing here for you – by day, or by night.  The sheer, neon-lit obscenity of the place can only hold your attention for a few minutes. After that, you’re left with a sinking feeling that you’re trapped amidst the worst products of the human imagination.

I was mystified by the expectation in Las Vegas that every visitor was there to be “entertained”.  Taken out of themselves, transported to fake castles, fake pyramids, fake Parisian monuments, to be shamelessly stripped of their money while being bombarded by sound and fury. It is a singularly depressing thought that anyone  comes to this town of their own free will.

Occasionally during my stay, I was reminded of a sane world beyond the glittering gulch. At points along the Strip, there was a gap bewteen the high-rise hotels and I glimpsed the desert and mountains beyond. Nevada seems like a beautiful state, at least the parts  not afflicted by circumstance, customer service and casinos.

The good news is that Las Vegas has an airport. You can escape.

Cold Wave

It’s Sunday morning in Paris, and it’s finally snowed, for the first time this winter.  The arrival of a thin layer of white follows a week of bitterly cold weather, that has gripped the whole of France, and most of Europe, too.

Thanks to the great Siberian high pressure system, it’s been fantastically sunny. Yesterday we went for a walk in the Bois de Vincennes.  Once a hunting ground of the Kings of France, the Bois de Vincennes is one of the largest and loveliest parks in Paris, and still conserves some of its forest nature: it is three times the size of Central Park in New York, so there is plenty of space in which you can get lost.

After a week of sub-zero temperatures, the Lac des Minimes, in the centre of the park, had frozen solid.  With the park conveniently situated at the end of Métro Line 1, Parisian parents were making the most of the sunny afternoon to take their families for a mid-winter adventure.

After all that exertion in the biting cold, everyone was queueing for something hot at the park’s waffle stand…

With the sun setting, we made our way back to the métro station to head back into town, and the ducks and geese flew off the ice to find some open water for the evening.  It was a perfect, peaceful Saturday afternoon.

A Weekend in Venice

This year’s winter escape was to Venice… where the cold was even more intense than Paris, but the sun shone all weekend, drowning the city in strong, diffuse light.

It was my first visit to city. One of the most striking qualities of the city is indeed its light… where the sky and lagoon meld into one, as if the city is riding on clouds, rather than sitting on the ocean.  In the view across the lagoon from the boatyard at Giudecca, the poles marking the shipping lanes slip quietly into the invisible horizon.

After the sun sank beneath the lagoon, we walked back across Venice, which had assumed the guise of some Expressionist horror film.  Emptied of tourists, small hidden squares awaited macabre intrigue involving Shylock or Donald Sutherland, and the dock of La Fenice theatre stood ready to receive phantom guests from the other side.

Somebody once wrote that Venice was the most beautiful city built by man.  Everybody should visit once, if they have the chance… by travelling in January, we missed the oppressive crowds of Carnavale and Summer, but there were still plenty of visitors, willing to part with their euros for a trip through the morning mist of the Grand Canal.

Wishing to save our money for food (and Venice provided some of the best seafood we’ve ever tasted), we contented ourselves with a short crossing by traghetto... the bare-bones gondolas that ferry passengers across the Grand Canal, charging just 50 cents a trip.

I cannot imagine that I will not be back.  For this first reconnaissance mission, we stuck to exploring the city, and travelling by vaporetto between the city’s islands. This was feast enough for us.  Next time, we might start digging into the art museums, or the churches, or the markets.

In Venice the light reached everywhere. It stabbed the heart of Palladio’s church of San Giorgio Maggiore, and glowed deep and green at night on the basin opposite St Mark’s Square.  When Thomas Mann’s composer Gustave von Aschenbach went searching for ideal beauty, it is no wonder that he found it in Venice.

Yes, we will be back.

3 Weeks in New Zealand

On Saturday an Air France 777 dropped me back into the greyness of a Paris January, after three weeks back in my island home.

Despite a very wet December, the consensus was that pohutukawa flowers this year were particularly spectacular.

However, the Hawke’s Bay region provided us with 6 days of perfect sunshine, and some wonderful scenery. It was my first visit to the east coast of the North Island.

At Cape Kidnappers, the gannet colony was noisy, smelly, and full of…  gannets.

 

The trip along State Highway 2 through the Waioeka Gorge was like driving back to before the arrival of humans.

In towns like Opotiki, the local colour reminds you that we are a Pacific nation…

It is a privilege to belong to the nation that invented the paua wonton!

Kicking Around

It’s been a long time between posts… work and travel have kept me a long way from the blog.  There’s not much point in trying to catch up, but here’s a very brief summary of what’s been happening since September:

We spent a late summer weekend in Dijon, looking at art and architecture, and buying mustard…

We accidentally bumped into the Fête des Vignes in Montmartre in October

I spend a few days with family and friends back in New Zealand, while on a rapid business trip.

Holly leapt out of the lily pond and watered my uncle’s lawn.

In the process, I circled the planet on Air New Zealand (CDG-LHR-LAX-AKL-HKG-LHR-CDG)

And since then, I’ve been back in Paris, in a blur of métro, boulot, dodo…

There’s another trip to New Zealand coming up soon, and I hope to get back to some more regular blogging !