28 August 2008
26 August 2008
Today I headed over to that other great Paris icon, Notre Dame. As the old Broadway song goes, “There ain’t Notre like a Dame! Notre…in the…world.” After a false start in a completely different church I eventually found the place. I was super bummed not to get to go up in the towers and see the gargoyles but there was a minimum wait of an hour and a half in the rain so I thought “nique cette merde” and figured I should leave something for the next visit. Gives me time to work on my Hunchback impression…Sanctuary! Besides, there’s plenty enough to see on the ground floor. This place is amazing! Say what you will about the modern day church, they sure know how to spend shitloads of cash on expensive pretty decorations.
I was a bit sick of churches at that point and headed up north to Montmatre, the famed art district. Of course, after wandering the rain-soaked cobbled streets, where did I end up? Sacre-Courte, the church on the hill. Sure it's nice and all, but really it's just another church, you know? The highlight, though, was this Spanish lady who was trying to touch a statue of Jeebus and set her umbrella on fire on the votive candles. As I was chuckling away to myself this massive chandelier came plummeting down and just missed me. Clearly there are limits to God’s patience for my blasphemy, and even I am not oblivious to his way of saying, “C'est ma maison, chienne!”
My French pronunciation was getting a lot better, at least according to the cute French shop girl who served me that afternoon. Either that or she was asking if I was from the Traybien Islands. Regardless of which, it still sounded hot! French is a beautiful language, all smooth and syrupy like molten honey. All the rough edges have been rubbed off the consonants and there’s a constant throaty “gggrrr” like you’ve just swallowed some chocolate mousse which makes everything you say sound like flirting. It’s all very seductive and your mouth feels good saying the most mundane things. It’s like aural sex! I’m sure most people thought I was a crazy homeless guy as I wandered the streets repeating everything I overheard or read under my breath just to see how it sounded. I got a little more confident by the end of the trip and branched out from the odd timid and hesitant “bonjour” or “merci”, but whether or not people here understand much English (which many of them seem to do) you can still get by pretty easily.
I saw heaps while I was here and enjoyed it much more than I expected. I didn’t get a chance to see the catacombs or the gargoyles but I’m pleased with the amount of ground I managed to cover in trois jours and was surprised how much I liked the city. I’d like to come back some day but I reckon it would be a much better experience if you came with someone special. There’s definitely a sense of romance or fantasy about Paris - the idea of it, the myth, the fantasy - that threatens to build your expectations up to a point where they can’t possibly be met. But somehow Paris manages to carry it off. There’s an arrogance here that is very different to what I was expecting, and surprisingly attractive. The French are very self-assured, they know Paris is a wonderful city and if you don’t get it then there’s no point them trying to explain it to you. Part of it is the history and the character and the soul of the place. It’s easy to think of Paris as all style and no substance but, unlike London, Paris has more than enough of both to put paid to the hype. But I think to get the most out of this city you definitely need to bring along a sense of romance. Romance is everywhere, from couples holding hands or staring wistfully at each other or making out in churches, to the hard-core porn on free-to-air tv. Which makes it all the more difficult to be here on your own because you feel left out of it. It’s definitely no place for a ménage a un. You just end up standing on bridges in the rain and sighing a lot...
Admittedly some of the romance is lost when you’re surrounded by squaking gaping tourist hordes every hour of the day. If it’s not pasty Brits arguing and complaining it’s out of breath Americans rushing about madly checking things off their sight-seeing checklist or Aussies butchering the language with their cries of, “B’jour, mon sewer. Donny mwar lee toilet, sieve ooh play?”
And so we bid a fond adieu to Paris...Jusqu'à la prochaine nous nous réunissons.
Although it happened in the dark of the night…I was strolling through the streets of Paris, it was cold it was starting to rain...
I started the day in typical Parisienne fashion with breakfast in a cafe. You can't quite comprehend how much time the French spend in cafes...it borders on unnatural. Granted, the coffee and pastries are really good but still. All the chairs face the street so it's like you’re the audience in some grande théâtre de la vie. I was expecting the waiters to be super rude, not least of all because I could barely speak two words of French. But I think what some people interpret as arrogance is simply efficiency: these guys really know their job and are so good at handling people that language doesn't even factor in to it. They just know what it is you want and get it to you with a minimum of fuss or palaver. I can honestly say that the omelette I had that morning was the single most delicious thing I have ever eaten during daylight hours. I would go further and say that the previous holder of the most delicious crown could have been eaten, digested and crapped onto a plate by comparison. It was like a barely substantial cloud of butter and egg bursting with ham and Gruyere cheese. My mouth had a deliciogasm. Mind you, the three cups of cafe allonge that I had could have influenced my judgement but it was fucking good nonetheless.
As the sun was shining I went for a wander over to the Louvre to take in a bit of culture and shit. France has produced some wonderful artists and some breath-taking art, no question, but I can’t help but feel the Italians just ownzrd the Renaissance. They were able to capture the passion and the fire of the period in a way that makes the French seem mundane and pedestrian by comparison. Although I have to admit I’d never seen so many smiles as upon the French sculpture so they clearly had a sense of humour long before Jerry Lewis came along. And the religious dudes did an awesome job with the demons. The Mona Lisa was somewhat underwhelming; it’s a lot smaller than you imagine it will be and there’s simply hordes of tourists swarming in front of the thing plus the security barriers so you can’t really get very close to it, I gather due to the numerous attempts to vandalise it over the years. Geez, it's hardly Piss Christ, now is it?
Tiring of the indoors I jumped back on the Metro and headed to the Cimetiere du Pare, final resting place of such giants as Jim Morrison, Oscar Wilde and Edith Piaf. Museums and cemeteries seem to be an unintentional constant of my travels, much like squirrels and geese (although you'll be happy to know there was none of the former on this trip, much to my dismay). The cemetery was lovely and peaceful, very gothic with it's winding cobblestone avenues lined with leafy trees and decrepit sepulchres. Predictably there were more people around Morrison's grave than were at the Mona Lisa. He's in quite an out of the way location tucked behind some larger tombs in a very unassuming grave with a modest stone marker. Apparently the headstone has been replaced a number of times due to souvenir hunters and his family pay a large annual sum to remove graffiti from the surrounding graves, but there's still a few gems if you look hard enough.
I finished the day as I'd started it, in a cafe. But not just any cafe...this was Les Deux Magots. Those of you with even a shred of indy street cred will know that this is the cafe where the giants of the artistic and intellectual world would congregate: Hemingway, Morrison, de Beauvoir, Sartre, Camus, Picasso. Admittedly it's lost some of it's edge over the years, but even still sitting there as the sun went down and the crowds wandered past and the jazz buskers played across the street, it was hard not to feel inspired. I ordered my double espresso and my Heineken and my cognac and whiled away the hours scribbling haiku on the back of postcards, feeling if not quite a part of the gang then privileged to sit on their coattails, and it was tempting to think that some psychic residue of their collective cool cachet rubbed off on me. And as the alcohol mixed playfully with the caffeine in my bloodstream it became easier to imagine that as the gawking tourists drifting by looked my way perhaps they saw more than just a sweaty tipsy jerk off with sore feet and a broken heart...
À être poursuivi...
The last time I saw Paris, her heart was warm and gay… I heard the laughter of her heart in every street café...
Bonjour, le bitches!
It’s kind of apt, I feel, to arrive in Paris by train. There’s something romantic and old fashioned about train travel. Sure modern trains are fast but there are much faster modes of transport…trains require patience and force you to reflect on the world as it passes you by. That's very French. As French as infrequent bathing and surrendering at a drop of the hat.
Trudi hooked me up with a quaint little hotel in the Ville de Puteaux which is west of the city centre; it’s small and a bit out of the way but it’s clean and the staff are friendly. Plus there’s no bed bugs which I understand is good for at least half a star in the official rating schema. The bathroom was très faible...you had to stand in the shower to go to the toilet (not that I was peeing in the shower, it was just really close to les toilettes). It was a pretty easy commute to the city proper on the Metro which rivals London’s underground in efficiency and ease of moving about but doesn’t seem to have any of the delays or breakdowns. I would have liked to take buses in order to see more of the city but that’s a project for next time. The entrance to some of the Metro stations have these awesome art deco sci-fi signs which look like alien street lights out of a Jules Verne novel. It’s the little touches of whimsy like that which really add to the magic of Paris. It’s no surprise the Bauhaus art movement never took off here; they don’t mind if something’s unnecessary or impractical so long as it looks good.
The French may not be able to fight, rock or make a decent mojito, but they sure know a thing or two about architecture. Like most European cities, Paris is spread out over a vast area but still manages to have a quaint crammed in feel. There are almost no skyscrapers, or indeed any buildings which reach over 2 or three stories. But the facades of some of the buildings are just breath-takingly elaborate. The exteriors verge on works of art...so much so it almost pains you to go inside. But when the weather is as crappy as it was on my first day, sometimes it's a pain you can live with. But still, even in the rain, Paris is a beautiful city. I wandered past the Palais Royal and the Palais Petit and across the Pont du Alexandre III towards the Hotel de Invalides (which is neither a hotel nor full of invalids, unless you count the hordes of elderly tourists getting in the way of my photos). Because the skyline is so low, you can pretty much see all of the major Paris landmarks from anywhere on the river, so getting your bearings isn't too difficult.
It was around this point that some gypsy street kid tried to scam me. They do this thing where they target the obvious tourist and bend down in front of you, pretending to pick up a ring or piece of jewellery which is hidden in their palm. They offer it to you as though you had dropped it. When you tell them it’s not yours they make a big display of showing how it’s too big to fit on their fingers and offer it to you “for good luck”. If you’re silly enough to accept it they then ask you for some money in exchange. Thankfully I was hip to this game before I got here so I pocketed the ring and kneed the little prick right in the pommes de terre.
I wandered over to the Eiffel Tower which is another one of those classic architectural icons which doesn’t quite seem real, even when you’re standing on it looking out over all of Paris. Paradoxically, it seems both smaller and larger than it should be but is so ingrained in your imagination that you struggle a little to believe that you're actually standing in front of it, let alone atop of it. And it's brown...eeewww! Taking the elevator to the top seemed like the chumps way of ascending so I took the stairs which made it feel like something more of an accomplishment. Regrettably, all of the chumps were waiting for me at the top so any chance to be alone with one's thoughts as I gazed out over the expanse of Paris while the sun broke through the clouds at dusk was completely lost as a seemingly endless procession of fat tourists of all nations and creeds jostled to pose with their over-priced tumblers of champagne around the observation deck. Then I had to take the stairs all the way back down. Hard to believe that even in Paris one's sense of romance can be trampled underfoot.
Tiring of the hordes and the incessant drizzle, I wandered back to the Metro via the Arc de Triomphe, which was something of a disappointment as you have to pay money to see it up close. You can get a decent view from the edges of the roundabout surrounding it but if you want to get right up in it's grill you take these subway tunnels underneath the street and fork over a ludicrous amount just to stand beneath. Instead I braved the insane traffic hurtling through the roundabout for your standard postcard shot.
After seven hours of wandering my poor feet were killing me, for the most part due to my brand new Chuck Taylors which I'd bought specially for the trip. So it was back to Puteux for a scrumptious dinner of cheeses and meats and pastries and a little too much wine before hitting le sack in preparation for some serious sight-seeing the following day...
À être poursuivi...
14 August 2008
Restaurant in a West End town, Call the police, there's a madman around...Running down underground to a dive bar, In a West End town...
I learned a couple of important lessons this past week: 1) trust what you feel (or don't feel, as the case may be). We don't have to justify what we feel in our hearts, we don't have to conform to an ideal, what's in our hearts belongs to us. And 2) having Olympic fever in this country really sucks cos England are only any good at the posh sports so every time you switch on the tele all you see is badminton and sailing and equestrian. Although I did manage to catch a few rotations of the women's gymnastics (pwoawesome!) which, as a 16 year old dude, was an erotic wonderland. As a 37 year old dude watching 16 year old nymphettes caper about just makes me feel tired.
I went to a Tiki bar in Kennington with Dr Phil and Yosemite Laurie and the rest of the gang last Friday night which was a real hoot. Plenty of fab cocktails and swinging lounge music from the 50's and 60's, and GASP! even dancing, albeit in a parodic and self-effacing way...plus I was drunk. There's even photos on Facebook, eekk! Saturday was spent in hangover recovery mode and Sunday I rode up to Epping Forest again to explore some more of the trails that the local mountain bike club maintain. There's some some super curvy downhill runs and the rain the previous day made things nice and slippery and icky.
I went to the moofies on Sunday night to see Elite Squad about the police special forces unit, BOPE in Rio. It was surprisingly good, very gritty and tense and a real eye-opener in to the rampant crime and corruption in Brazil as a result of the drug trade, and the ever-present violence it begets. It was interesting to compare it to the Hollywood abortion Wanted as both were hyper-violent but whereas the Americans glamorise violence, Elite Squad focuses on the consequences of violence and the pain that filters through to affect so many lives. Suffice it to say, I've no plans to holiday in Rio any time soon. I'm not suggesting it's a violent place but let's just say there's a good reason the cops all have their blood type sewn into their name tags.
I'm often accused of being immature, to which my standard response is, "Your FACE is immature!". Why does the word 'immature' have to have negative connotations? The inference being that you're acting like a child. I think it's an admirable quality, quite frankly, and would most likely consider it a compliment if I didn't know the patronising pusillanimous prick making the accusation was trying to insult me. Maturity is subjective: it can only be measured on someone else's scale, and if you don't like/care about that person then why care what they think of you? Whom of us is in any position to judge another? There's a huge difference between being immature and being irresponsible...saying, "I don't care what you think" is very different from "I don't give a fuck." Not that I necessarily care what anyone else thinks, but I freely admit to being immature...I like being immature. If more people stopped worrying about conforming to norms of behaviour they don't understand and just gave in to impulsiveness occasionally the world would be a much more relaxed and fun place in which to live.
Maturity isn't what differentiates children from grown-ups; what differentiates them is regret. Grown-ups, responsible grown-ups, play both sides of the responsibility see-saw - cause and effect, action and reaction, you reap what you sow, and all that. Accepting responsibility for your actions means accepting responsibility for the consequences those actions might cause. We can't always make the right decision...I don't even think there is such as thing as THE right decision...we just do the best we can with what we've got at the time, and always atone for your mistakes. Pride can be a seductive whisper in the ear of your Ego. Despite what people say, sometimes it can be too late to say "I'm sorry", but some of us just have to live with that.
I've stumbled upon something big...something so big it will change everything you thought you ever knew about men and women. Us men today have not been around very long; we are not the men who evolved from our cro magnon ancestors, we're like men v2.0. Many years ago women discovered that they didn't need men to reproduce so they killed all the men and only kept stores of jizz for making more girls. Things went pretty good for a while, everyone was nice to each other, the place was clean, everyone was making out with everyone else, it was hot! But then, women being women, they started turning on each other and getting bitchy cos they no longer had any men to whinge and nag at and they started killing each other off. This meant potential doom for womankind so they were forced to clone men but they made sure to modify us genetically just enough so that we would forever be under their control without even realising it. They control us with their mindgames and their perfumes and their vaginas, dudes! How's THAT for a conspiracy theory? Explains a lot, though. I reckon somewhere in the world, deep in a bunker, in the command centre of some secret chick cabal, on the desk of the top chick, a red warning light is going off...
I've got two weeks holiday starting later this week and was initially looking forward to some serious bludging and growing a sweet Porno Joe moe. But even I can't justify wasting that much time with idle slacking and self-abuse, so I'm making travel plans. First up I'm off to Dublin for a few days to catch up with some friends and replenish my Guinness levels. After that it's a weekend in Paris; I bought non-refundable train tickets for American Girlflen and I but obviously she's not going to want to come along now and it would be too much of a betrayal to take anyone else (Dr Phil had already booked a trip to Brussels, the selfish prick). So I figure I'll go le petits hobo and check it out by myself. I'm not sure Paris is the best place in the world to get over a breakup, but if nothing else I'll get to do my Edith Piaf impersonation in the one place in the world where someone might appreciate it. Plus I can hang out in the cafe where Hemingway and Jim Morrison used to get pissed and write their stuff.
In the new year I'm proposing a road trip of epic proportions. Brace yourself...Vegas. That's right, the city that, just like your mommas, is always open. Plus, Vegas is an anagram of 'vages'. Los Vages in Las Vegas '09. Who's with me, men?
4 August 2008
Over the weekend I watched the whole first series of Underbelly. Phew, that's some good tele! Dare I say it, the best gangland cop dramatisation since Blue Murder...or Cop Shop. That chick who played Roberta Williams was awesome, although she reminded me a lot of Fiona. You've gotta love the Aussie spirit of television production which lets every single actor in the country have a role...kind of like the thespian equivalent of the lucky dip at the school fete. Who'd have thought Channel 9 would have the cohones to make something like that, let alone air it. And let me say how glad I am to see a bit of boosie back on the small screen. I understand people in Victoria still aren't allowed to watch it cos it's on past their bed time or something...
Bit of a quiet time on the work front as the leave year draws to a close and everyone desperately tries to use up their holidays or lose them in the changeover. There's a few people leaving the team so we had a work do at this Brazilian BBQ place (that's right, Brazilian...no one had any pubes). You grab yourself a plate of token salad and then spend the rest of the night fending off these dudes who bring over great hunks of roasted meat on swords and slice it off right there at your table. It was awesome! And SO tasty...it was a cavalcade of carnivorous goodness. There was a fair amount of groaning and straining to dislodge the morning after meat plug, but it was worth it.
Afterwards we went bowling, which is always tops fun, but even more enjoyable after your fifth dark and stormy when you decree that everyone has to do a little dance after each spare or strike. Fortunately, we were all on fire and the strikes were coming thick and fast, like a Japanese bukkake moofie. Unfortunately, most of us are white guys so we very quickly ran out of dances and had to suffice with poorly-timed high fives and lewd thrusting motions of our groinal areas.
On a sad note, Staci (that's not my name!) and I broke up. Truth be told, it was me who did all the breaking, and I feel like a real jerk. Admittedly, we're very different people and at first I thought that would work because if you're both the same it's like dating yourself, right? But it didn't seem natural, like I was trying too hard to overcome the differences, I just didn't feel it. Which is fucked up because she's an awesome lady: smart and pretty and funny and cute and sensible and honest and generous and sensitive. So why didn't I feel it? What are you, Sigmund Freud? How the feck do I know. I can't change the way I feel and for better or worse I have to trust my feelings...even if my insides are broken and stupid. Jerk!
The good news for her is that, if Fate is true to form, the next person she meets will be the love of her life...
On Sunday I needed to clear my head so I braved the rain and went for a ride to Harlow, about 20 miles north of Clapton. I'd bought Sweaty Betty some new shoes (ie. pedals...it's not easy to athropomorphise a bicycle, you know), pretty gold numbers that scream 'slut' but whisper 'with money'. Of course it pissed down the whole way there and, even though there's some lovely towns and countryside to ride through, you're still on the motorway so it's pretty dismal ride. Luckily, I was surrounded on both sides by Epping Forest so on the way back I went off road and hit the single trails and was able to make it almost all the way home without having to touch the tarmac. The rain eased up and there wasn't a great deal of mud so it turned into a really nice ride; the forest is deep and lush and quiet, the smell of the wet earth, enough hills to make you feel like you worked for it and enough lengthy downhill runs so you could let rip and feel like a ten year old on your first bike. I'm paying for it today, though, mainly in the calfal and goochal regions.
The bright sunny days are becoming fewer and the rain is falling all the more frequently these days. This is both a literal and a figurative observation...a change is coming, I fear.