Monday, August 30, 2010

Paris, Je t'aime un petit peu

This post is out of chronological order, so if you have strong opinions about the linear nature of time then I suggest you email it to yourself last Thursday and read it then. Otherwise you could just marvel at the fact that this is the 21st century and I'm sitting in a four hundred year old barn in Southern Germany rocking a solar-powered wi-fi connection at about a zillion bytes per second. This means you can read about the events of last week now rather than in three months' time when they reach you by sailing ship, which would have been the situation as recently as a heartbeat ago in geological terms.

The barn is important, because it's really the second barn in just over a week. I'll fill you in on this barn another time - the focus at this stage is really the last barn. You should know though that in this barn there are two German lads dicussing the best way to make their old yellow Volkswagen truck go, and I am bound to say I like their chances. Not because I know a thing or two about old Volkswagens, which I don't, or because I understand what's wrong with it - even if the problem was in English I would be unhelpful. But they are approaching the project with such calm enthusiasm, and an air of such compentence and optimism, that it would be nothing short of unjust if the god of old yellow VW trucks (Thor, in case you're wondering) didn't throw them a bone. Plus they've got these guys to help them out:

The last barn was about forty ks outside of Paris, which is a good place to be. Louis XIV knew that, so he put together a pretty serious sort of a house and garden arrangement just down the road from where we where at, and the two places couldn't be more different really.

Louis's place

Nicolas's place.

Both places do show a strong commitment to indoor-outdoor flow, and to an understanding of the fact that Paris smells like a sewer, so the best way to live there is actually to live nearby. Beyond there, the similarities end. At Versailles, the gardens are mostly laid out in the sort of straight lines you get when you give a monomaniac a large budget and a free hand. At the place we stayed, which belongs to a composer called Nicolas and I didn't catch his last name, the garden is much more curvy and interesting. What happened was, he found this enourmous barn about twenty years ago, after it had been empty for long enough that the forest had moved in. He cleaned it out, fixed it up, built some rooms down the side, put in an amazing recording studio, and laid out a really quite tasteful garden. There's a couple of other families living there too, in flats down the side, and there's a gypsy caravan and a hillbilly cabin in the woods for travelling musicians to sleep in. In short, the whole place is pretty much a three-dimensional dictionary definition of the word 'haven.'

As well as being a haven, it proved to be a great place to practice what I call 'my French,' and the others call 'Samlish.' France is a great nation because even though everyone there speaks English, their national sport is pretending not to. Under cover of making an effort to foster international understanding, I took this as an open invitation to do frankly horrible things to their language. Mostly they were too polite to tell me that I make even less sense in French than I do in English, which only drove me to further excesses. What I like to do is start a conversation about something really quite boring and complicated, like the differences between race relations in New Zealand and in Australia, and pass it through the filter of my two and a half years of Hutt Valley High School French. When I run out of French words to express my poorly thought-through opinions, I just use an English word but with a sort of Inspector Clouseau accent, and wave my hands around Gallically. It usually doesn't take long for people to give up, politely congratulate me on my attempts to communicate en Francais, and then switch to flawless English for the remainder of the evening. After that we can talk about more interesting stuff like which is the better Led Zeppelin album out of Led Zep two and Led Zep four. (Four, for my money.)

And yeah, there was a little orphaned fawn there too. He looked delicious but it would have been rude to eat him.

I know I sound like I didn't like Paris much, but the truth is I actually did like Paris a bit, it's just that I'm not very good at communicating. I didn't really hit the best side of Paris until the afternoon of my second day there, though. The first morning was pretty blurry because we'd just spent the night driving from England, taking a midnight ferry to save a lousy ten euros, which will buy you about half a beer in Paris. Most of the rest of the first day was spent sleeping, which is a great thing to do in any city of the world. Then we had a show, and a stage is pretty much a stage once the lights are on, so it wasn't really until the next morning that I got to take a look round.

At this time I was still quite gammy from my tumble in Calais, so I spent the morning limping painfully around the centre of Paris getting annoyed at all the big old buildings in my way, waiting for the romance to kick in. Basically, though, Paris is only romantic if the one you love is actually there at the same time as you, otherwise it's just a big pile of stones beside a mucky river that smells like wee. If you're in a certain frame of mind, or if you have a guitar on your back and a limp and the sun is very hot, then the people who are there with the ones they love, or the people who were only there for the weekend but hooked up anyway and who spend an inordinate amount of time snuggling in front of postcard-like scenery, just become a gigantic pain in the ass. So I spent the morning seeing things like this:

And this:

And pretty much ignoring things like this:

And this:

Then I remembered that I wasn't actually in Paris to look at stuff, because it's all been looked at such a lot already, so I went to Montmartre to do some busking. Suddenly Paris got way more fun, and I didn't even mind limping around as long as people kept throwing Euros at me. Money is a good painkiller, and it's a lot eaiser to see the point of the most romantic city in the world when a lot of people's idea of 'romance' seems to include giving money to buskers. Still a very smelly place though.

Nice quiet place to count your money after an afternoon's busking


  1. miaow. I do like the look of that barn x Jessie

  2. Aw, you hopeless unromantic you! It took me ages to figure out what that discarded dead rose was, I thought it was something way more manky!

  3. You're right, Paris is best when you're already wearing rose tinted specs. Still there's a nice raggedy feel about certain bits, I remember stumbling across a little fair with a cardboard coconut shy and free books. I got a Parisian guide to English written in a phonetically French style with phrases such as " Ew 'ave a naice tee set." I wish I knew where is was now...
    The market 'Les Puces' at Porte de Clignancourt is amazing too.