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

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…

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.

Aron and Adb al Malik

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! :

Spring in St Cloud

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.

Poni Hoax

Poni Hoax are a band from Paris. They sing in English, and have been playing since 2001, but I don’t think they’ve yet quite crossed the watery divide between French indie acclaim and anglo-saxon stardom.  Navigating between the austerity of Kraftwerk and the masculine emotion of The Doors, there’s something about their electro-disco style that suits these grey times.

In addition, as befits a consciously stylish band from the city of Gainsbourg and Godard, their video clips are top notch piece of film-making. Antibodies features a naked chick and a bubble in an airport:

And The Paper Bride features a man, a swimming pool and a dance:

The New Camera

Shooting at Fontainebleau, earlier today…

A recent investment in a Canon 60D and a tripod will give me a chance to expose my rather rudimentary photography skills to public scrutiny. My trusty Canon Ixus 55 has provided sterling service for 5 years, and for a little 5 megapixel point-and-shoot, it did very well, travelling all around Europe, and beyond.

Entering back into the world of SLRs will be interesting – my last SLR (a Minolta 404si) was a film camera (remember film?). The Minolta accompanied me on my first adventures through northern Europe, and documented the early days of one million dollars. But picking up the 60D feels like I’m learning how to take photos, all over again.

Sigurdór gave me some good advice last year – “go manual from the start” – and so I’ve turned off most of the automatic functions on the 60D. This means having to think about aperture, speed and ISO all the time. It’s a tough discipline to learn, after several years just pointing a lens at a target and pressing the shutter button.  It’ll take a while to get used to it… but here are some of the first images:

The Grand Palais, Saturday night last week

Fire painting at the Palais de Tokyo

Forest flower, Fontainebleau

Château de Fontainebleau