Saturday, March 28, 2009

A Farewell to Charms

Today is our last day in Paris, last call for mignon of pork in vanilla sauce, for late night cigarellos consumed in the cold breeze of Rue Timbaud, for the "bling!" the Metro pass makes when passed over the scanner, for hanging with trombone players, cinema maniacs, Amnesty activists, Albanian vagabonds and sharply dressed gay dancers from Cameroon. for spending hours on hours vintage shopping (or sipping Calvados at a cafe while the other is spending hours on hours vintage shopping, depending which one of us you are), for getting a nice flame in the fireplace, for those bloody rooftops I love so much.

You can be pretty sure I'm not going to spend this day blogging.

Thursday, March 26, 2009


Normally it's exceedingly easy to find lifts to Paris on the Dover-Calais ferry. This time it was impossible. No one was going our way, or if they did, their cars were packed, or they didn't want to pick up hitchers. We were pretty sure we'd have to put the 82 Euros into the train, which is bit depressing at this point in our low budget trip. Only the high speed TGV trains run between Paris and Calais and the prices are unreasonable.

Then, as we were being embraced by the concrete jetty arms of the continent, somebody said yes. They were two dark skinned men, Londoners on their way directly to Paris. On their dashboard was nestled a little, multi-armed Hindu god. Itka and I began a Hebrew guessing game, spelling terms that would betray our topic.

"It's pretty obvious which subcontinent they're from," she said.

"Yes, but they could also be from S-r-i L-a-n-k-a, for example, or B-e-n-g-l-a D-e-s-h. Though most people from S-r-i L-a-n-k-a are Buddhists, and people from B-e-n-g-l-a D-e-s-h are usually Muslim and don't really look like this. By their looks I would guess that they're T-a-m-i-l-s."

"That's good. I've always been a fan of t-i-g-e-r-s."

The car deck was opened and we disembarked into the French night. The driver and his friend needed some help navigating onto the relevant autoroute, so we began chatting and actually asked them where they were from.

"Sri Lanka," said the driver, "You know Tamil Tigers?"

"It's my favorite guerrilla army," Itka told them.

"We are Tamil Tigers," said the other man, and, perhaps in order to sound not in the least threatening, added: "You should know that Tamil Tigers are always serious, Tamil Tigers never smoke, never drink." in a split second Tamil Tigers also stopped being Itka's favorite guerrilla army. Sic transit gloria mundi. She later admitted she anyway favored them mostly thanks to their sexy name.

The pair handed us a CD of militant Tiger songs. On the cover was an image of the Tigers' mustachioed leader, Velupillai Prabhakaran, in camouflage gear. They then played it for us - Indian Music with a snare drum.

These fellows were no simple fans. They were hardcore. The way the man at the shotgun said "we are Tamil Tigers" made it clear that being Tigers and caring for their organization was, if not their 9 to 5, at least a major occupation for both. The LTTE, mind you, is considered a terrorist organization in both Britain and France. During the 20th century, the Tigers have carried more suicide bombings than all Islamic terrorist groups combined. problem is that their foes, the Sri Lankan government and army, are not any better, and they are recognized as a sovereign state. "I'm very sorry about what your people are going through right now," I said, "I know most of the north was taken over and the press is not allowed to enter and report, there must be slaughters going on."

"Yes," said the driver, "but we kill more than 200 Sri Lankan soldiers each day."

Outside, along the nocturnal highway, signs were advertising historical attractions in the region, mostly pretty castles. We stopped at a service station and were treated to two cans of Red Bull by the driver and his friend. It was hard to believe, while traveling this excellent highway, that Northen Sri Lanka even exists, but it's almost equally hard to believe that when in Southern Sri Lanka. I remember having a pleasant "Lion" beer at a beach-front cafe in Rathgama, just south of Colombo. With me was a Dutch journalist who made it across the lines. He showed me photos of another world, a funerary world, one in which our ferry from Dover somehow briefly docked.

Monday, March 23, 2009

The Promised England

Here's where we spent yesterday: at "the Jungle", a makeshift migrant slum in the forest near Calais France. It is there that nearly a thousend migrants, from Afganistan, Eritrea and elsewhere await a chance to enter the land of their dreams: The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland.

The Jungle is an obcenely harsh place, a landmark of a government's disregard for human wellbeing and dignity. Our reportage from there is to be published in Haaretz and should prove the most meaningful piece of the French month's output, but that's not what I want to tell you about. I'd like to tell you about these people's paradise.

With our decent passports, it took us ten minutes to hitch a lift to the Dover ferry. within 90 minutes we were across the Channel. It did look good, that England.

after several pints of Kentish bitter at a family owned pub, crowded with dogs and children, it looked even better.

so good, in fact, that we decided to stay the night and walked over the fields and pastures that grace the clifftop to the town of Deal. Here we found yet another pub, The king's head, it offered cheap rooms, good atmosphere and a cardiologically disasterous breakfast.

However, stepping out of the King's Head this morning we realized how mislead all these immigrants are. England is no El Dorado. In fact, it is a grim chip-shop freezer of a country looking something like what you see below. A morning walk down Deal's pier was simply punishing. Can we get used to English weather? Is the Jungle preferable? We'll spend another day of good ale and healthy chat and let you know.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Terry poison

It's only normal, sometimes your living room becomes a dressing room for the world's sexiest electro-pop band.

and your study becomes where they jam pre-show.

Terry Poison, Israel's finest export product, came to perform at la Fleche D'or, a Parisian music club, just down the street from where we're staying. Since Itka used to be their production manager, their guitar player, Anna, became our house guest for two nights, and the little house on rue Florian served as venue for the pre-show toast. From there it was only a few steps to the club.

It's situated in an old railway station on Paris's now defunct Petite Sainture line, and is the kind of place where people play limbo with each-other's legs.

and where a pretzel dry, solidly dressed punk act can draw cries of praise even from the Terry Poison crew. That was the warm up act. We were waiting for the madness to come.

I like clubbing but seldom get to witness the scene behind the scenes.

Did this time,

and went crazy when my lovely friends came on stage to shake the city of Paris. This being our neighborhood haunt, Itka and I have been to the Fleche D'or several times since hitting Paris, we never saw it go wild like this. Our compatriots, our pals, our wild women are the hardest rocking act on both bank of the Seine. I disown Schubert as my favorite musician, it's time to burn the old station down.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Best Photo of Me Ever Taken

March 19th, 2009, mass socialist demonstration at Place de la Republique.

Fetch the Broom and Lift the Rug, Akhi.

Haaretz is first to expose testimonies of IDF soldiers who participated in the Gaza war. Those were spoken at a gathering of graduates of a pre-military preparatory course in Tivon.

Soldiers said they felt they were performing cold blooded murder. One told of taking over a family's home and smashing photos frames, dishes, any remnant of the family. Why? "because they're Arab". Instructions for opening fire were astonishingly lax. You see someone you don't like - shoot in the air, he doesn't run away? second shot is to the face. More than 1000 people were killed in Gaza during the operative, among them over 350 children.

The IDF is now said to be examining the matter. Gotta work out how to explain this to ourselves so we can calmly move on to the next war. There must be a way. This is, after all, the most moral army on earth. The justifications must be there somewhere. Give us a month or two.

Is Paris Paris?

There's been a sharp decline in visits to my blog since it became too photo-ish. I succumb to the public's demand and am preparing to provide a text.

But see, part of the problem is that writing about Paris is difficult, it's so overdone, and you're always going to run into the cliches. If you try to break them or disregard them, you end up sounding like some orientalist (or rather, occidentalist), someone who's trying to artificially reinvent Paris as a city of high rises and skateboarders. If you give in and use them, you'll end up sounding like a pretentious name dropper. What's to do?

One way to deal with it is to examine these cliches, and some prejudices too:

Eiffel Tower - Gorgeous, really there, makes you stop and stare whenever it appears over rooftops or down the boulevard

Champs Elisee - Weekend hangout of suburban kids. Cheep-o atmosphere. Jean Seaberg is dead.

Frog Legs - Haven't had any yet, missing very much the ones I had in Brussles and Louisiana.

Snails - Yum.

Coffee that costs 4 Euros a cup - Only if you are the dumbest tourist on the Rue de Rivoli. Otherwise it's 1-1.5 Euro, and well worth it.

"Gitans" cigarettes - Make you sick, avoid at all costs.

Berets - not fully non-existant, but certainly not as common a sight as Itka claims they are, (I made her leave her own at home).

Antisemites - That's a common Israeli prejudice of the French. Haven't met any. In fact most people turn out to be somehow Jewish.

Plenty of Muslims everywhere - Another Israeli prejudice, spoken with an air of fear. Yes, this is a very Muslim city, but that was equally true ten and fifteen years ago, when I first visited. What's interesting is how old immigrant neighborhoods have not been gentrified at all. La Goutte D'or is still a slum, the same slum it was then. It's the same old Paris for better or worse.

City of lights - Only up to a certain hour. Paris closes too early. Everyone vanishes around midnight to catch the last Metro. In this case NYC wins big time, as its Subway never stops running.

Beauty - Yes! Thank you Baron Housmann.

Stuck up - Not too badly.

Unfriendly - Depends whom.

Elegant - More like dry-styled. The French like wearing black so much that they have a special laundry detergant for black cloths.

No English language skills - Yes, but it's even worse in Madrid, and I mean a lot worse.

Latin Quarter - Lovely as ever.

Le Marais - Lovely as ever.

Montmartre - Lovelier than ever. the whole slope between Metro Anvers and the peak is not touristy and full of great little places.

Pigalle - You want it, you got it.

Quays of the Seine - Full of public displays of affection. Paris never fails to amaze with its Parisianness, and that's part of its problem. No place would be so authentic without being somehow, despite its cosmopolitan, big-city openness, also very conservative and inaccepting. See under "elegant".

And yet - it's so good, so good, so good, an inexpensive lunchtime "formule", a stroll down an unknown street that turns out to be yet another heartbreakingly beautiful avenue, shops full of books, hands full of books, minds full of books. The gracious park and the Chinese neighborhood at night, smokestacks in the distance as the train crosses the river, a song by Brel playing somewhere, another evening drawing in.

Monday, March 16, 2009


Today we don't have to work. Today we're going to the freeway.

Because there's a flea market by the freeway.

With plenty for a girl to sort through. I personally appreciate any flea market that offers the cheap wine and olives of yesteryear. There's something about liquid antiques that's just too goofy to resist.

Today we don't have to work, we can go to art-space "104" and attend an ambiant elctronic music show by DJ Olive. The audience is made to lie on the floor,

Then Olive hypnotizes them, not an unpleasant experience.

Today nobody has to work, everybody goes to the Bassin de La Villette and the Canal St. Martin to celebrate fair weather and water.

It is by this canal that we encounter springtime's first blossoms.

and other phenomena that befits the season.

A pink evening falls over a day in which we didn't have to work. Thank god for mussels, wine and the gently pulsating Rue Timbaud that still stand between us and tomorrow.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Fat Morning

This poem by Jacques Prévert is originally entitled "La Grasse Matinée", which is an idiom for staying late in bed. I played a bit with a translation found online, but if you really want to get a gist of what this piece can be, you have to find the theatrical recording by Marianne Oswald. "Café crème," she grinds, with the piano being silly in the background, "café crème, café crème, café crime!! arrosé sang."

You know what, I've just located it for you. It's here. Do yourselves a favor and listen to it as you read.

It is dreadful,
the small noise made by the hard boiled egg being cracked against a zinc counter
It is dreadful that noise
when it resounds in the memory of the hungry man
The head of the man is also dreadful to behold
The head of the man who is hungry
when he stares at himself at six o'clock in the morning
in the window of the big store
A head the colour of dust
Yet it is not his head that he is looking at
in the window of Potin's
He does not care about his head, the man
He does not think about it
he dreams
he imagines another head
A calf's head for instance, in vinegar sauce
or the head of anything that's edible
and he moves his jaws gently
and he grinds his teeth gently
because the world is mocking him
and he can do nothing against that world
He counts on his fingers: one, two, three
it's been three days since he last ate
and even though he repeats to himself "three days
it cannot go on"
it does go on
three days
three nights
without food
and behind those windows
those pâtés, those bottles, those preserves
dead fish protected by tins
tins protected by windows
windows protected by the policemen
policemen protected by fear
What a lot of barricades for six miserable sardines
A little further - the bistro
cream coffee and hot croissants
The man staggers
and within his head
a fog of words
a fog of words
sardines to eat
hard boiled egg cream coffee
coffee drenched with rhum
cream coffee
cream coffee
crime coffee, drenched with blood!
A man, well-respected in the neighbourhood,
has had his throat slit in broad daylight
The homeless murderer has stolen from him
two francs,
which make one coffee with a top up
zero francs seventy five
two slices of bread and butter
and twenty five centimes tip for the waiter.
It is dreadful,
the small sound made by the hard boiled egg being cracked against a zinc counter
It is dreadful that noise
when it stirs in the memory of the hungry man.

Thursday, March 12, 2009


As this has momentarily turned into a photo blog - might as well flow with it. Behold the ghetto blocks at Clichy sous Bois, hub of the notorious 2005 riots. Guy on bottom panel may or may not contemplate burning one of them down.

Hovering table at Palais de Tokyo gallery of contemporary art.

16th district, Paris's poshest.

Music everywhere.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009


A bunch of nicely dressed, young Parisians gather in a grungy alleyway. something is due to happen.

Something sexy.

This something has been happening in this city for nearly a week now. It is Paris's fashion week, the best time to be in town. For us it's busy. You might have noticed that this is becoming more of a photo blog than a textual one. This is because the French adventure is financed by articles and I need to pour my words where money comes from. I'm not complaining, though. When your gig is to write an article about fashion week. You are in serious luck.

First of all, you get to mix with a nice crowd. Fashion's in the details,

and so the public at the shows is often as interesting to encounter as the creations.

Then there are the works themselves. A definite fave is this year's collection by India's Manish Arora. A man with an imagination.

Russia's Alena Akhmadullina showed at a somewhat more upscale venue: the Carousel arcade beneath the Louvre. It was so posh the floor was literally cellophaned.

Alena knows how to be elegant.

Her designs feature some of the human hair that's been used in recent Years. I think it Was Givenchy that introduced it in Paris last year. It met with some success in the London Fashion week. It's true we still don't see people in wig skirts on the streets, but the filtering down to independent designers signals the stubborn persistence of an infant trend.

I spend most of the shows with the photographers on the media tribune, while Itka does most of the research. I'm still a straight guy, for Christ's sake. Theres only so far a I can go in interpreting fashion, although I don't understand why there aren't more straight men in this business full of stunning (albeit generally underfed) women.

It's fun on the tribune. The crowd is international and the little intrigues over who-gets-which-spot occupy us during the dead spells before the catwalk is set on fire. Then it's fun to look at the photographers swaying unconsciously to the cool music.

Japan's Junko Shimada offered the most difficult show to photograph, the lighting conditions were abominable, but visiting another planet is always a worthwhile treat.

Then again, there's certainly no planet quite as groovy as planet Paris.