Wednesday, 16 May 2012


Yesterday it hailed so heavily the ice was caked almost an inch deep on the pavements.  All the little bars were filled with bedraggled, soggy people trying to dry out.
We had an eventful weekend.  We’d been invited to go and see a play so we set out on Friday evening to see it. The metro was very slow, creaking and clattering to a halt every few metres.  It is a strange thing to be stuck motionless in the pitch black, standing in a tiny lozenge of light, pressed on every side by other travellers, the air hot and still, people trying not to look too hard at each other.
Eventually we got out but realised we were way too late for the play, so we decided to check out an Open Studio Festival we’d heard about nearby.  By the time we got there we were slightly too late for that as well,  so we took a beer at the nearest bar.  This is in Belleville, a very cool area – like BrunswickPlus.   The bar was packed with hip and interesting looking people, a crowd spread out over dozens of tiny tables on the pavements.  We managed to find one such table, right in the middle of the throng;   we perched on our little stools, sipped our beers.   We must’ve looked like a little desert island in the sea of noisy, lightning-fast-speaking French. It turned out our little island was on a shipping route, as anyone wanting to go to or from the bar had to buffet our table in their passing.  I started to feel very anti-social.

After our beers we wandered around some, along the wide expanse of the Blvd de la Villette (we passed Ruby’s old place, where I couch surfed all those years ago).  The sun had gone down, a chill wind had come up.  The emptiness of the streets broken only by sparse groups of young men sitting on their car bonnets.  The neon signs glowed in the purple gloom.  We ducked into a little bar for a warming glass of wine.  It was a cute little couscous restaurant.   The owner behind the bar – a distinguished looking older man with a thick black moustache and deeply etched smile lines – and his wife the chef took a shine to us and insisted on giving us several plates of delicious fried pastries.  If we’d not been adamant, I believe they would have kept on feeding us till we burst.  It was delicious food and we will go back.
We tried to make the play the next night but decided to go to the Open Studio Thing in the afternoon.  It was so much fun we didn’t make the play.  The sun was out, it was a lovely Spring day.   All the artists in Belleville open their studios to the public over this weekend and the streets are thick with art lovers and the curious.  Everyone was so damn cool.  We queued for crepes. A long wait in the gentle sunlight.  The crepe maker was the Fonze from the Near East – a well-loved leather jacket, mirror shades and thick coiffure.   Every time he flipped a crepe you expected him to say ‘ehhhhh.’ In that Fonezy-way.
It was so much fun seeing into the studios – all these beige facades opened up and finally we could see what goes on inside.  Many of the buildings sported beautiful garden courtyards.  The bustle of the city disappeared, time slowed.  Several of the buildings were in pretty bad shape – ceilings falling, floors collapsing – but the sense of fun was strong as we gawped our way through all these personal spaces.
We stumbled upon a bric-a-brac fair in the backstreets, hundreds of blankets spread with odds and sods, the nearby church bells peeling over all.  An old man, red nosed, trying to buy some little titbit using shiny francs; a stick-thin African man crying his wares – a pile of old windcheaters on a blue tarp;  young women holding garments up against themselves while their beaus try to look interested (Monique got a great little waist-length jacket from some French Atelier).  Man, I love bric-a-brac!  We strolled through the labyrinth of stalls and eventually took a few drinks on our way back home.  This time the terrace was an empty lot, surrounded on three sides by the mural-covered walls of apartment buildings.  An Iggy Pop clone thrummed slow bass nothings in the back of the bar.
Finally, on Sunday we made it to the play!  A mini festival in an arts complex which was once the City morgue – a glorious, huge expanse of stone and arches.  The play was great fun.  Even though neither of us could grasp many of the words, we still took the meaning (we hope), phew!   It started with a couple arguing on a bare stage and we thought ‘Oh, no – this is too much!’ but soon they’d wheeled out video cameras (and a bit of set dressing, so that you were sort of looking at actors on a stage and, at the same time, a gritty telly drama) bottles of sparkling and disco balls.  A great play.

A very eventful weekend.

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