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.
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.
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…
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.
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.
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 !
It seems everyone ends up in Paris, eventually. Aron Ottignon was raised in Auckland, New Zealand and I knew him when he was still a prodigious jazz pianist, playing professional gigs around town at an unusually young age.
Since then Aron’s played his way through the scenes in Sydney and London, released a solo album under the name Aronas, and now he’s ended up in Paris, playing with rapper Abd Al Malik.
As well as touring with Abd al Malik, Aron has appeared with the band on French TV shows such as Le Grand Journal, and earlier this year played at the Victoires de la Musique in Lille:
Aron was sneaky enough to film this very performance from his own perspective, on his iPhone…
And, if you’re quick, you can even see his iPhone in the live footage from France 4! :
Some images from a photo safari through Saint Germain des Près, during last night’s Fête de la Musique.
With the winter definitively behind us, and the sun warming the city to a not-unpleasant 20 degrees, it was time for a Sunday walk in my favourite park in Paris – the Domaine National de St Cloud.
Climbing the hill behind a wide bend in the Seine southwest of Paris, St Cloud was the site of the Château de St Cloud: preferred residence of the Bonapartes, and home to Napoleon III until it was destroyed (ironically, by a stray French artillery shell), during the seige of Paris in 1870.
Today the park of the Château is owned by the nation, and its gardens, lawns and forest are a popular escape from the city. The Domain forms part of a swathe of parkland that stretches all the way to Versailles. Great triumphal avenues cut through the trees providing glimpses back towards the city – La Défense, Issy-les-Moulineaux and the Eiffel Tower.
If you carry on over the hill, you’ll eventually hit the edge of the forest at Marnes-la-Coquette, a village that proudly remains one of the smallest communes in the Paris region, with a population of just 1,700 people. Although less than 10 kilometres from the edge of Paris, Marnes has retained the atmosphere of a country village.
Rather predictably, Marnes’ discrete location has made it a coveted bolthole for the rich: this is where Johnny Halliday and the Emir of Qatar have their Parisian homes. Most mere mortals can’t afford to live here. Luckily, on the north side of the park, the SNCF “L” line is waiting to carry us back to the Gare St Lazare.
It may be a cliché, and a song by Vernon Duke. But this time of year, there are few better places to be, anywhere on the planet.