Thursday, December 29, 2005

orsay




well, I was at the cafe inside the musee d'Orsay tonight with my parents, who are visiting for the holidays. We just had had time to take a few bites of our dinner when suddenly the lights went off. In the entire museum full of priceless paintings.

We were eating in a little hanging room behind one of the clocks (it is housed in the building of a former train station, of course), very high up, and we could see out the window beyond the clock that all of Paris was lit up, except for us -- and occasionally the search beam emitted from the Eiffel Tower would sweep the ceiling and cast beautiful colored shadows. Pitch blackness, and the emergency PA system repeating the same instructions over and over in four different languages. The museum guards manned the stairways but the waiters made jokes and we all finished our meal quite peacefully, as did the other diners, sometimes with the help of some light from their cell phones -- and payment in cash, of course. I did my best to convince my mother we were eating dinner at the Orsay while a Major Art Heist was taking place under our noses -- but she is far too sensible for me, ha. The terrorists didn't attack either, but we were in semi-darkness for about 75 minutes, looking at Renoirs and Seurats under the green security lights until finally, finally electricity returned and they re-opened up the good part of the fifth floor, so we could go visit Cezanne, van Gogh, Monet and Caillebotte, and Ingres later on.

It was particularly funny for me since I am actually going to a restaurant tomorrow precisely in order to eat in the dark -- you order at the bar, and then are led indian-file in the pitch black darkness around the other diners to your table -- where you pour your wine and eat in the dark, served by a waitstaff entirely composed of blind people.

The food is supposed to be delicious.

and no, my dinner companions for tomorrow night will not be my parents, thank god!! much as I love them.

Happy New Years.

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

winged victory


Taking a brief break from buildings, here is an old love of mine, the Winged Victory of Samothrace (or, in Greek, Niki tis Samothrakis -- Νίκη της Σαμοθράκης).

She is made of Parian marble, and 3.28 meters or 11 feet tall, probably made around 190 BC in celebration of a naval victory. She was probably originally located outdoors, set into the niche of an amphitheater. The statue stands on the prow of a ship (which is cut out of the photo but doesn't look like much specific anyway) and represents the goddess as she descended from Olympus to award victory to the Greek fleet led by Demetrius I Poliorcetes. Before losing her arms, this Nike was probably blowing a victory paean on a trumpet.

Champoiseau discovered the prow she stands on in 1863 (I am impressed he could tell what it was) and she was reunited with it. Someone else found one of her hands later, in 1950; the Louvre keeps it in a little glass case nearby.

I visited her recently thanks to my new-found seekrit discovery of how to go in the Louvre BY THE MAIN PYRAMID ENTRANCE which is more beautiful than the Gate of Lions, and nonetheless wait in ALMOST NO LINE WHATSOEVER (about 30 seconds, in this case) and still have 5-6 hours of open time to visit it. There were a mere 15 people around the Mona Lisa (as usual blithely ignoring all the other da Vincis in the room, let alone the wonderful Giotto, Cimabue, and Giotto paintings), and it was easy to move straight to the front row center to have a good look at her - craziness. The rest of the museum was a dream of uncrowdedness too, including my favorite Babylonian, Ninevan, and Susean lions and warriors. Ha! looking forward to lots more future visits like this.

from the category of back-handed compliments:
Filippo Tommaso Marinetti, in the Futurist Manifesto of 1908: "A screaming automobile that seems to run on grapeshot is more beautiful than the Winged Victory of Samothrace."

Monday, December 26, 2005

59 rue de rivoli


Whenever I walk down the rue de Rivoli, I pass this building, which I have finally figured out is an artists' squat, taken over when the bank Credit Lyonnais abandoned it after some hard financial times. It is hard to imagine how/why a major financial institution would abandon a building on such a famous and luxurious shopping street as the rue de Rivoli, not far from La Samaritaine, the Seine, and the Louvre, but maybe it was in a bureaucratic tangle when the artists made their move. In any case, having their squat on the rue de Rivoli does make for the maximum dissonance, and while I am sad that their gallery-spaces were closed down before I moved to Paris, so I can only see them on-line like you, it is good to see the artists have such staying power in the face of the French state. As well as quite a good manifesto. Here are my photos and their words:



Le 1er Novembre 1999, jour de la fête des morts, le KGB (Kalex, Gaspard, Bruno), investit les murs du 59, rue de Rivoli, immeuble laissé à l'abandon par le Crédit Lyonnais et l'Etat français. Très vite une dizaine d'artistes leur prête main forte afin de réhabiliter le lieu trouvé en état de décharge publique (pigeons morts, seringues, gravats). Le but de cette opération est triple : - réanimer un lieu inculte - permettre à des artistes de créer, de se loger et d'exposer - prouver le bien-fondé d'une politique culturelle alternative.

Le collectif ainsi formé prend le nom de « Chez Robert, électron libre » et organise des vernissages, performances, expositions, le tout en ouvrant gratuitement au public, tous les jours de 13h30 à 19h30, sauf le Dimanche. L'Etat français porte plainte contre les artistes qui sont condamnés à être expulsés le 4 février 2000. Cependant, grâce à leur avocat Florence Diffre, ils obtiennent un délais de six mois. La presse s'empare alors du phénomène « squart » (contraction de squat et art) et contraint par cette médiatisation les pouvoirs publics à se pencher sur le « dossier » négligé depuis des années.
...
Des études sont à l'heure actuelle en cours, afin de déterminer la possibilité légale, après chantier de rénovation de l'immeuble, de poursuivre toutes les activités du Collectif. En attendant - et nous savons tous que le temps administratif s'écoule beaucoup plus lentement que le bref temps de nos vies humaines - Le Squat est fermé pour cause d'interdiction au public depuis le 28 mars.




2e Manifeste de L'Internationale Squattiste

Bonne nouvelle. Suite à une fusion torride entre deux groupuscules squatteurs (la Ffesse : Fédération Française et Européenne des Squatteurs et des Squatteuses Eclectriques ET le Ppucrap : Projet Pour Une Contre-Révolution à Paris), un texte, définissant la démarche artistique et politique des squarteurs, a pu être établi dans la nuit du 19 au 20 Décembre vers 2 heures du matin . Texte immédiatement signé par le squat du 59 Rivoli ainsi que par d'autres squarts inconnus ou à inventer. Ce texte, le voici :


Il n'y a pas d'espaces vides
Il n'y a que des espaces prisonniers .


Prisonniers de la spéculation immobilière
Prisonniers de l'incompétence administrative de certains pouvoirs publics
Prisonniers de guéguerres politico-politichiennes
Prisonniers d'une politique territoriale qui favorise la désertification des campagnes
Qui favorise également la désertification des villes
Enfin qui encourage le développement de banlieues-ghettos infinies .
Par ghetto, nous n'entendons pas seulement ghettos de pauvres, mais ghettos de riches, ghettos de musulmans, ghettos de gitans et encore ghettos de vieux, etc., tous regroupements identitaires plus ou moins assumés par la République .

Il n'y a pas d'espaces vides
Il n'y a que des espaces prisonniers

C'est en cela que le mouvement des artistes-squatteurs est un mouvement de libération. De libération des espaces prisonniers. Qu'un espace prisonnier soit, par la présence d'artistes-squatteurs, libéré ; qu'il soit libéré pendant deux heures, deux jours, deux mois ou deux ans, peu importe, le fait le plus important est qu'il ait été libéré : qu'il ait connu le goût de la liberté.
Car qui a su le goût de la liberté ne peut jamais l'oublier .


Il n'y a pas d'espaces vides
Il n'y a que des espaces prisonniers


Lorsque l'on sait à combien de sociétés de gardiennages font appel les propriétaires privés et publics pour empêcher que des intrus pénètrent dans des lieux inoccupés, on mesure à la fois les sommes d'argent astronomiques qui sont dépensées pour empêcher qu'il se passe quoi que ce soit et par la même occasion les sommes d'argent astronomiques qui ne sont pas dépensées afin qu'il se passe quelque chose.


Lorsque l'on comprend – avec un certain effroi- que si, dans 99% des cas, les pouvoirs publics refusent de légaliser les alternatives culturelles présentées par les squarteurs, c'est parce qu'ils on précisément peur de créer un précédent – précédent dans lequel pourraient s'engouffrer des générations …-, on comprend que ce qui motive une partie des politiques culturelles en vigueur, c'est la peur … et rien d'autre .
La peur ! ça fait peur ! on avait pressenti depuis longtemps que ce n'était ni les rêves, ni les désirs ni même encore les illusions qui guidaient les politiques culturelles)


Il n'y a pas d'espaces vides
Il n'y a que des espaces prisonniers


Est-il donc si étonnant que cela que, dans ce pays très conservateur, dont les traditions monarchiques ont perduré bien au-delà des têtes coupées, la plupart des artistes dont les médias parlent soient des artistes officiels ? c'est-à-dire des artistes étant passé par toutes les étapes du circuit officiel, à savoir l'Ecole des Beaux-arts, l'obtention de séjours en résidence, puis d'ateliers-logements, la demande de subventions octroyées par le Ministère et enfin l'achat d'oeuvres par ce même Ministère ? Ce que l'on pourrait appeler des artistes ayant montré patte blanche ?
Non, cela n'est pas étonnant car
Qui a peur souhaite être rassuré
Et il est rassurant de savoir que ces artistes doivent tout à l'Etat .
Ce sont ces mêmes artistes qui finissent par représenter la France lors d'expositions internationales et prestigieuses. Pouët Pouët .


Il n'y a pas d'espaces vides
Il n'y a que des espaces prisonniers


L'essence même du mouvement des artistes-squatteurs est de libérer les espaces prisonniers, en y instaurant un mode d'organisation nouveau et révolutionnaire . Le mouvement des artistes-squatteurs est un mouvement armé. De mots, de couleurs, de supports, de formes, de sueur, de larmes, de silences . Et de rien d'autre .C'est un mouvement vulnérable, hissé par des vulnérables. Au service de tous. En quoi est-il révolutionnaire ? Tout simplement parce qu'il se propose de faire tout le contraire de ce que font les institutions : là où elles s'acharnent à tout séparer , ici le lieu de résidence, là le lieu de création, ailleurs le lieu de monstration, plus loin encore le lieu de diffusion, le mouvement des artistes-squatteurs s'acharne à tout réunir : et c'est pourquoi les squarts ne sont ni des lieux de résidence, ni des lieux de création, ni des lieux de monstration, ni des lieux de diffusion mais tout cela à la fois et beaucoup plus encore. Gratuitement.


Squatter ne sera jamais un droit , mais
Squatter sera toujours un devoir .
Car la liberté est un devoir. Surtout quand la démocratie échange, en croyant récupérer une plus-value, Partage et Fécondité contre Confort et Sécurité. Et qu'elle ne peut plus déployer d'autre horizon que « 1984 ».


Il n'y a pas d'espaces vides
Il n'y a que des espaces prisonniers.

2ème manifeste de l'Internationale Squattiste . Anonyme .A traduire dans toutes les langues . A piller de toute urgence, de toute éternité .Faire circuler, ça porte bonheur .


P.S. : le 1er manifeste de l'IS a malheureusement été perdu puis brûlé. Ou le contraire .

Thursday, December 22, 2005

BN, site François Mitterand


This is where I spend so many of my days...in the rez de jardin, many floors below the boardwalk that you see here, in the special "researchers" area which is like working at the bottom of a well, in glass rooms that surround a hidden pine garden that you cannot see here but which has tall, tall trees many stories high.

W.G. Sebald has probably given the best, darkest description of it in Austerlitz, but I can tell you a little more: there are four towers. They each have names describing the books they house: le tour des lois, le tour des nombres, le tour de l'espace, le tour de temps. The books are in the heights of the towers and we researchers burrow below. From a near distance the towers -- glass walls with yellowy wood bookcases lined up inside -- really do look like open books, standing up, facing each other.

Designed by Dominique Perrault and built between 1989-1995, it is now the main site of the Bibliothèque nationale, and has revitalized the sections of the 13e arrondissement it is near -- not to mention the quai d'Austerlitz.

I am finally starting to think it is beautiful, after many days of noticing birds fly into the glass walls, thwap, and fall dead to the bottom of the garden. Flocks of larks do stop here on their way migrating somewhere. The library is like a fortress: many defenses to keep you out, including a steep downward ramp you walk down in order to get to the entrance, which is very slippery in rainy or foggy weather, i.e. at all times. Once inside, there are bank-vault-like double doors which researchers push through, and a long single-file escalator in an absolutely monochrome silver-grey shaft going down, down, down. It has excellent natural light but poor lighting once the sun sets. I do love how they load up any films, reels, microfiche, or DVDs on a computer for you, from a distance, so that all you have to do is sit down at the computer reserved for you in a special room and press "play." But nothing can be checked out, and it is the sort of place that does not lend or give you books...it "communicates" them to you.

The formality of the BN makes going to the library like commuting to your office, for work...but there is a certain pleasure in that, too. I've gone there often enough to lose all anonymity. I know fellow researchers, the coat check people, and of course the abrupt Moroccan man who manages the only café and makes me espresso every day. The slick wood boardwalk of the BN, with its sandpaper traction slips and the giant MK2 movie theater right outside to cheer you up after work is over -- and the transparent mallette that I have to carry my laptop and effects in, once inside, as if we were all diamond workers and might slip something out, instead of fragile people working among books -- all this is habit for me now, ingrained, unforgettable.

Monday, December 19, 2005

le magasin du temps


There are very small quotes printed in brass circles in the floor of the subway stop in the Bibliothèque nationale François Mitterand subway station, ligne 14, where I have been working for the last three months, and I only noticed now.

Salut
, Benjamin (disorientingly in translation).

Saturday, December 17, 2005

pour l'instant

i am very happy to say, finally, i've found some art being made right now in Paris, graffs et fresques, although i haven't found all of them on the ground as easily as on-line. (Also, who does those cryptic messages printed on the sidewalk for us to walk over?)

Friday, December 16, 2005

passagxxe Vivienne part two

ignoring the fact that rain seems to pass directly through my windowpane into my apartment, as well as literally drip from the uninsulated windows, making this a rather surreal 17 m2 to inhabit, i will tell you more about the passage Vivienne, while sharing what is probably my favorite photograph of it ever:


The Galeries Vivienne did win the period of their face-off with the Galerie Colbert, but it was a short-lived victory since soon all the passages in this area were in trouble.

The Passage Vivienne began to decline during the Second Empire, when the Palais Royale area no longer had the monopoly on luxury and in fact fashion had begun to shift westwards, towards the spanking new Champs Elysees nighborhood. Haussman's urban "revolution" encouraged the exodus. By 1861, Alfred Delvau could write about both the passage Vivienne and Colbert: "ils sont propres, ils sont spacieux, mais ils sont inutiles." By 1887, the Paris Baedeker had cut their entry on Vivienne to only one line, and soon it would disappear altogether.



This after such a bright period: even Berlioz lived there for some time, locked in the buildings of the Institut de France writing his cantata La Mort de Sardanapale for the Prix de Rome of 1830, and incited a mob to sing the Marseillaise in its walls during the July Revolution.

But Colette in the twentieth century compares it to a Venice where Falstaff would never pass: "[les] portes qui soufflent les tenebres, [les] seuils qui trahissent le pas. Songez que le gaz et l'électricité n'ont pas encore rajeuni leur caducité innocente..."


In 1961, the Galerie was in such disrepair that the coupola, in need of some emergency work, fell to pieces under the weight of a worker called to repair it.

In 1965, a psychedelic artist named Huguette Spengler bought five boutiques in "ce palais abandonné." She spent five years, and nearly all her money, trying to revitalize the passage. The Galerie became a theater for happenings and performance art. However, the other merchants began to regret her presence when, in 1970, "elle trouve sa joie dans la découverte des bombes de peinture pour carrosseries de voitures" and began painting other people's walls and facades, as well as her own. Kenzo moved out to the passage Choiseul. Hugette painted over some very beautiful frescos that had been in the old Kenzo space with pink paint. Finally she moved out in 1970.


The passage Vivienne was finally brought back into fashion by the fashion industry, in the late 1980s. Jean-Paul Gaultier and Japanese designer Yoki Tori held fashion shows in its corridors, and images of the passage as a fashion runway were transmitted all over the world by television. The change in the passage's fortunes was abrupt, almost brutal; now completely renovated, it is full of beautiful, luxurious, nearly unattainable goods.

If one regrets that its performance art and fashion run-way selves are definitely past, at least there is some consolation that the passage Vivienne has gone back to its original character, from Marchoux's time: luxury.

Have a look at this panoramic view taken by Arnaud Frich to get a better idea of its cavernous prettiness.

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Passagxxe Vivienne, part one

While I am editing incredibly poorly written essays on European railway networks (how did they get to be professors? when do I?), and hoping that eating chocolate with enormous quantities of Mirabellwasser does not seriously alter my ability to fix run-on sentences and MLA citation standards, I will also give you part one of an entry on the Passaxxge Vivienne, one of the poshest and best-preserved passages in Paris.
4, rue des Petits-Champs, 5, rue de la Banque, 6 rue Vivienne. 2e arrdt.

The rue Vivienne owes its name to an extremely wealthy banking family, les Vivien, who built the street in 1631 to connect to the Palais Royale area and to Louis XIII's court. In 1837, it was lengthened to join the rue Montmartre. In 1788, Sébastian Mercier wrote: "There is more money on the rue Vivienne than there is in the rest of Paris."

A notary named Maître Marchoux who was living in a hôtel at 6 rue Vivienne decided in 1823 to build a covered passage, to imitate the ones elsewhere that were already enjoying such success. (Those were the days, when you could be named "master," weren't they?). Marchoux bought the hôtel as well as a house in the middle whose garden faced onto the rue des Petits-Champs, giving him a section of turf in the shape of an L that linked the rue Vivienne, the rue des Petits-Champs, and the rue de la Banque where the large Banque de France is located. But Maître Marchoux still wasn't satisfied. This was the most luxurious quartier in Paris, after all -- so he wanted his passage to be the most gorgeous passage humanly possible.

Francois Jacques Delannoy, creator of the Banque de France, the Palais de Justice, and the pridon de Dijon, and one of the most brilliant architects of his era, was commissioned to rebuild the passage, and he did so with such success that its design is one of the most copied around Europe (in Nantes, Bordeaux, and St. Petersburg, among other places). Formed in the Empire school, Delannoy decorates the passage with pilasters, arcs, corniches, and various symbols of success (laurel wreaths, wheat, palms), richness (horns of plenty), and commerce (Mercury's cadeceus).


The passage was an immediate success. It was incredibly packed, to the point that contemporaries have left passionate descriptions of the difficulty they had in avoiding having an eye poked out or foot run over, as they shopped in the 70+ shops there. (Visitors to Paris unused to the modern crowds had an even harder time). There were luxury retailers, the restaurateur Grignon, several good cafes, merchants of fashion and novelties, and even a confectioner whose salesclerk, Mademoiselle Valérie, was so beautiful that she attracted crowds.

La Librairie Siroux installed itself there in 1828.


The abbé Gazzara opened a Cosmorama there in 1832, which presented the wonders of countries from the fours corners of the world, via magnifying mirrors.

Even the memorable Vidocq, the voleur-policier (thieving policeman), lived in the passage Vivienne in the 1840s, and there is a rumor that a secret underground passageway linked his part of it to the Palais Royale, to make it easier for him to spirit away his goods.

...tune in next time for Part Two of the Passagxxe Vivienne, where the fratricidal rivalry with the Passagxxe Colbert, the advent of prostitutes and a rough crowd, revival, decline, and its contemporary fortunes will all be discussed...

Saturday, December 10, 2005

a Mind of Winter

this poem -- especially the "mind of winter" it evokes, the impersonal perceiving self which is somehow free of the narrower emotional social self of personality and perceives on a different time scale -- is so liberating. it reminds me I must leave the city and spend some time in nature this winter...or this year...to reach that state more often.

The Snow Man
by Wallace Stevens

One must have a mind of winter
To regard the frost and the boughs
Of the pine-trees crusted with snow;

And have been cold a long time
To behold the junipers shagged with ice,
The spruces rough in the distant glitter

Of the January sun; and not to think
Of any misery in the sound of the wind,
In the sound of a few leaves,

Which is the sound of the land
Full of the same wind
That is blowing in the same bare place

For the listener, who listens in the snow,
And, nothing himself, beholds
Nothing that is not there and the nothing that is.

Friday, December 09, 2005

vocabulary

fortune cookie: biscuit porte-bonheur
cotton candy: barbe à papa (frighteningly, this can be made at home)

bakeries I have not yet been to where I may try fresh chocolate and financiers, cannêlés, macarons, sablés, baguettes, et fugaces:

Kayser 8 & 14 rue Monge, 75005 Paris
Le Boulanger de Monge 123 rue Monge 75005 Paris
Pain Poilâne 8 rue du Cherche-Midi 75006 Paris
Pierre Hermé 72 rue Bonaparte, 75006 Paris
Patrick Roger 108 bd St-Germain, 75006 Paris

and for some authentic British Christmas pudding, to be set on fire with the Kirschwasser I brought back from Berlin:

Rose Bakery, 46, rue des Martyrs 75009 Paris

Monday, December 05, 2005

advertising pillar: Morris and Litfass



The French claim that these frivolous and wonderful ornamental columns were invented in the nineteenth century by the printer Gabriel Morris in 1868, which is why their popular name is colonne Morris.

Germans claim they were invented by a Berlin printer named Ernst Litfass in the 1850's, hence the name Litfaßsäule. Great minds think alike. In Berlin, they began as a way to organize posters previously hung raggedly on fences and private building facades -- to make the printed material orderly, aesthetically unified. Consequently, the very first ones were all black and white print, as in the wintry photograph to the left (though that is actually Paris you see), except for the blood red ink of police notices seeking a criminal, perhaps for a sensational crime like murder. Litfass died in 1874, leaving behind a legacy of 150 advertising pillars. By the turn of the century there were 1,500 of them, and the newspapers chronicle city plans to build even more. Soon after the columns are put up, however, the order they once imposed on the Prussian capital gives way to disorder, as poster designers experiment with new typefaces, designs, and colors. Peter Fritzsche writes in Reading Berlin 1900: "the blood-red colors reserved for an extroardinary murder had long since been adopted by the promoters of boot polish, variety theater, and new-age messiahs. The fabricated quality of sensation wrecked any sort of hierarchy among the items and occasions of the boulevard. As a result, Litfass' pillars came to upset the demeanor of the streets: they stood out like giant "exclamation marks,"* they "screamed,"* their "thick letters" danced a "never-ending can-can."*

The "can-can" of that last quote from a Berlin newspaper gives me the sense that the French columns went up first, and that in fact their existence is the sign of a Parisian urbanity and modernity, in which the city becomes a readable text just as news and adprint becomes necessary to navigate it and its ever-changing, ephemeral streets and offerings. Classes mixed at the advertising pillars, where you could read about opera productions next to variety theater and even jobs wanted fliers (rather like today, minus all the "lost cat" and "lose weight" ads).

The classic literary text for these pillars is Proust's Du Cote de chez Swann, where the young Marcel breathlessly reads them to discover the next dates for La Berma's performance of Phedre. (quote coming soon)

Although the numbers of these columns are diminishing, new ones are manufactured in Paris at least, where the nineteenth century lives on. Today they are made by JC Decaux, which bought the Morris company (whose actual name was La Société Fermière des Colonnes Morris) in 1986. You can see some of their new ones on the website, redesigned to multitask: some of them are also used as public toilets (hidden inside!) or public phone (mostly on the Champs Elysées).

Still I prefer this old survivor, which I found on the rue Marcel Etienne somewhere between the third and first arrondissements:




*"Die Litfasssäule als Jubilarin," BLA no. 315, 1 July 1905
*"Mehr Litfasssäulen," BT, no. 609, 29 Sept. 1908
*Edmund Edel, "Der Schrei der Litfasssäule," BT, no. 481, 21 Sept. 1908

Saturday, December 03, 2005

fake hills, geese, and flying machines

Today I visited Belleville and the sweet park Buttes-Chaumont, with its artificial rock-cliff surmounted by a gazebo, the waterfall in the cave with fake stalagtites, and the ducks of course... including one very large goosey-duck who was ready to defend his turf against me. It was a beautiful afternoon -- the trees are still mostly still green because Paris isn't *really* that cold (I guess), and you are eye-to-eye with all sorts of crazy seventies skyscrapers when you are up in the gazebo. Even the grass was still green -- I felt like I was in a set for Blow-Up. The park's seamless blurring of nature and artifice was fascinating. However, there was no camera, so instead let me distract you with this picture of something I could have used at Buttes-Chaumont...this nineteenth century flying machine form Arts et métiers where I got on the 11 ligne...


okay, maybe the foto isn't 100% centered, but you have to admit, I did a really good job of not getting stopped by the museum guards... er...