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What I get up to in Paris.

The cost of art

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noun. 1. the regard that something is held to deserve; the importance, worth, or usefulness of something.
2. principles or standards of behaviour; one’s judgements of what is important in life.

A while back I saw three films around the same time which all brought up a similar issue; that of a struggling artist.

Inside Llewyn Davis focuses on the eponymous musician who is constantly striving to create folk music whilst having to sleep on friends’ couches and hitching rides across the country to search for a record deal. He reminded my of a few of my friends who are musicians, who simply need to create music, to play, to write songs, to perform. They are not necessarily doing it to become extremely rich and famous, though an income from their passion would help.

Le Regard de Georges Brassens also centres around a musician, this time a real and very successful one. It is a great documentary about the wonderful French singer, guitarist and poet, Brassens, showing us his youth whilst growing up in Sète and later his life in Paris before becoming famous. Brassens moved to Paris at the age of 22 during the war and managed to find a place to stay with an older couple, Jeanne and Marcel. Jeanne was a collector of all kinds of strays; cats, dogs, musicians. They were a poor family in terms of income, but rich in warmth and generosity and without their support Brassens would not have been able to concentrate solely on his song writing, and wouldn’t have become the star he did.  Brassens dedicated a song to her;

La Jeanne, la Jeanne
Elle est pauvre et sa table est souvent mal servie
Mais le peu qu’on y trouve assouvit pour la vie,
Par la façon qu’elle le donne,
Son pain ressemble á du gâteau
Et son eau a du vin…

“Jeanne, Jeanne
She is poor and her table is often badly laid
But the small amount you find there fills you up for life,
By they way in which she gives it,
Her bread is like cake
And her water is like wine…”

Finally Violette is a film based on the life of the writer Violette Leduc at the start of her career in Paris. She is encouraged to pursue her talents by the acclaimed Simone de Beauvoir and manages to publish her first novel. In order to continue writing, without having to spend her time scraping together the money to survive, de Beauvoir secretly becomes her patron by paying her cheques via their editor.

The lives of all three of these artists are supported, at least initially, by others, so that they can concentrate wholly on their art. They are supported selflessly, without an agenda, without hope that one day the artist will become famous and repay the debts.

It got me thinking about the patronage of the arts, which I believe is vital and must be selfless. It must not be an investment in a future monetary value, but an investment in art for art’s sake. Art does not, or should not, exist to make money, to make the artist famous. It exists because humans have been producing it for millennia, because it is a sign of our intelligence, a symbol of our culture. It is how we make sense of the world and for some, life is unbearable if they are not creating.

Unfortunately our society is obsessed with the economy; money rules all. Therefore something can only be deemed to have a value if someone will pay for it; value and cost are inextricable linked. Within this kind of society I do think people should be paid for the art they produce, just as we as should pay accordingly for the music we want, the films we watch. However I can’t see this cost as its sole value.

The stereotype of a ‘struggling artist’ is not a romantic ideal, it is an inevitable situation in a materialistic, capitalist, money-driven society where instead of creating you are producing, instead of experiencing you are consuming.


Pigs Have Wings

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I have just spent a few weeks back at home in England sorting through a load of old belongings.  What could be a quick clearing out task is often halted and slowed by sentiment and nostalgia and I would spend a long time reading over old, excruciatingly embarrassing diary entries, or cringing at pictures of my teenage self, or critically examining my old university and school work.

In the many piles of old exercise books I found a book review of a  P. G. Wodehouse paperback I had been reading during the summer holiday in Scotland (according to my diary:”Still reading Pigs Have Wings.” That was a toe-curlingly thrilling entry). I was 13 at that point so I decided to read the book again to compare reviews 13 years on, once I stopped hyperventilating about the fact that I wrote this HALF MY LIFE AGO!

So here is the extremely eloquent original review:

Spine of Penguin Book: P. G. Wodehouse, Pigs Have Wings

4th November 2000

Book Review

Title: Pigs Have Wings

Author: P. G. Wodehouse

‘Pigs Have Wings’ is set in the countryside, outside London. The main setting is Blandings Castle where Lord Emsworth lives. He is competing with Sir Gregory Parsloe for his pig, Empress of Blandings, to gain the “Fattest Pig” award in the local show.

Most of the characters are aristocrats and the novel makes a mockery of English aristocracy. It is quite a funny book, with a lot of confusion between characters when they always seem to grasp the wrong end of the stick. A lot of engagements are made and broken, sometimes it is hard to keep up with them. At one time there are about two or three story lines interlocking but the basis of the story is the two pigs. Because of the immense competition Gregory Parsloe steals the Empress of Blandings and Lord Emsworth steals the Pride of Matchingham!

Lord Emsworth is pretty crazy and pompous and gets everyone annoyed.  He will always deliberately say he has not a clue what his companions are talking about when they know that he does understand. He does not work properly but has a very busy lifestyle.

Galahad ‘Gally’ Threepwood, Lord Emsworth’s brother, is a likeable character as he’s a bit of a joker. He helped plot the capture of the Pride of Matchingham. Although he is always willing to help out, he is not the person you would entrust secrets upon- one of his hobbies is telling stories.

I found myself getting wrapped up in this book. It was frustrating at times when the characters did not find out all the details of scenarios and acted off only the few details they knew about. It is also frustrating when you know they are engaged to the wrong person and want them to realise that. In the end it is re-arranged and all there is to worry about is the pig contest.

I would recommend this book as a light read if you need cheering up. It takes a while to get used to but in the end it is an enjoyable read.

Penguin Book Cover Pigs Have Wings by P. G. Wodehouse

Copy of Pigs Have Wings: 2 and sixpence. Finding a prize pig in your kitchen: Priceless.

I have to say I haven’t really much to add to this review, though I am not suggesting it is the most enlightening book review I have ever read. I obviously didn’t understand all the humour at that age, and I probably had no idea about why Lord Emsworth ‘does not work properly’ but it seems like I had a grasp of the gist of the book and I enjoyed it as much now as I did then.

Of course it is not a novel with an extremely hard hitting theme or many deep issues, but it is an absurdly funny serving of situation slapstick with healthy dose of tongue in cheek lifestyle advice.

“In all properly regulated country houses the hours between tea and dinner are set aside for letter writing. The strength of the company retire to their rooms, heavy with muffins, and settle down to a leisurely disposal of their correspondence. Those who fall asleep try again the next day.”

A fine romance with a famous artist

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Vallotton Self Portrait 1897

a brooding moustachioed artist

I met a guy in the Musée d’Orsay last year. He stopped me in my tracks and I instantly fell for him. He looked wise and talented and, OK, he dressed like a hipster but his moustache was impeccable and his stare was piercing. We would meet every now and again for a brief tête-à-tête.

I jumped at the opportunity of a real date where I could get to know him properly, delve past his cool exterior to the burning depths of his soul.

So last week I finally made it to the Grand Palais exhibition; Félix Vallotton, Le feu sous la glace (Fire Beneath the Ice).

Le Feu Sous La Glace expo poster Vallottong

Poster for Vallotton expo at Grand Palais

Right from the start he showed himself to be an independent man, not attaching himself to any social or artistic movement. He did join the Nabis at one point, and I found many references to their style (especially the japanese influence), but even they called him “The Stranger”.

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Don Jon: What do porn and rom-coms have in common?

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noun: the main means of mass communication (television, radio, and newspapers)* 

Poster Don Jon

Don Jon poster in France

I know very little about the world of porn, but even by the age of 17 I knew it played a big part in the sex lives of my male contemporaries. I remember a conversation in the school common room between some boys discussing a girl: “She was great, she must watch a lot of porn to know what to do!” It hit me then and scares me to this day: young boys learn ‘how to do sex’ through watching porn.

Male and female sexuality are polarized from such a young age. It is accepted and normalized for boys to masturbate (whilst at the same time still carrying a certain level of taboo and embarrassment), yet rarely mentioned or discussed regarding girls.  At a young age boys start consuming pornographic images and videos whilst girls read magazine articles about ‘pleasing your man’. With the availability of internet porn, it is no wonder that for some it becomes more than an occasional pleasure; it becomes an addiction.

This is the situation for Jon Martello, the main character in Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s directorial debut, Don Jon. Nicknamed ‘the don’ by his bros because he manages to pull a different woman every weekend (who must score at least an 8/10 on the ‘hotness’ scale), Jon, played by Gordon-Levitt, is a young man from Jersey whose priorities include his body, his pad, his family, his porn. He is forced to deal with his porn addiction when he starts dating the sexy, demanding Barbara Sugarman (Scarlett Johansson) who considers porn as disgusting and unnecessary.

Porn and masturbation are difficult subjects to tackle without taking a moralising stance, and yet Gordon-Levitt succeeds in creating a funny, realistic and entertaining film about these issues whilst never explicitly criticising the main character’s porn addiction. The amount of porn in Don Jon could be off-putting, I was personally shocked by most of the clips that were shown, but I really don’t think the film could get the point across without it.

I did find it interesting how, at the start of the film, we are bombarded with clips of women in the media looking very sexualised and glamorous, making the point that it isn’t just Jon who objectifies and commodifies women, but society too. Is this contributing to a search for more and more hardcore porn, or is this pornification of media due to the ever increasing availability of porn?

Gordon-Levitt’s film also deals with an issue that I recently wrote about; the expectations both men and women have of possible partners and lovers. Jon prefers porn to real life because he has an unreal expectation of sex and how women should act in bed. He goes to clubs to pick up sexily dressed, slim, good looking women. He equates thinking Barbara is “the most beautiful thing he’s ever seen” with being in love with her.

Barbara too makes her own demands on Jon, manipulating and moulding him into the perfect man she feels entitled to. A man like the romantic leads in her favourite rom-com films, a man who will completely change and give up everything for love.  Both treat their relationship and each other like a commodity, it gives them status and worth. Don Jon as a whole criticises this one-sided, selfish view of love and sex.

“Don’t talk to me about vacuuming right now. It’s not sexy.” – Barbara Sugarman.

Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Johansson give great performances and the casting is perfect. Julianne Moore, as always, is marvelous, playing a wise, troubled, yet passionate woman and the inspiration for Jon’s personal development.  She shines in all her scenes and I found myself thinking that I could watch Moore all day long.

Julianne Moore and Gordon-Levitt Don Jon

Julianne Moore and Joseph Gordon-Levitt

I thoroughly enjoyed the film; its storyline, character development and style. Joseph Gordon-Levitt often uses fast cut sequences to reiterate Jon’s repeated behaviours. For example every time he watches porn we hear his computer start up, see the play button on the screen, witness a couple of seconds of porn, see the used tissue land in the bin, and see him finally return to his girl in bed. This repetition mirrors perfectly the repetition of addiction, and also brings to light the way in which we are all in some way trapped in long-ago learned behaviours, seldom stopping to question our values and actions.

Unfortunately we seem to have become desensitised to graphically sexualised images of women. Nearer the end of the film there is a touching and beautiful love-making scene, contrasting completely with the pornographic clips and Jon’s ‘going through the motions’ with his late-night lays. And it was during this scene that a fellow cinema-goer could be heard whispering to a friend “Ugh, this film’s disgusting.” I wonder how they could have missed the point so much.

*Enjoy the irony of this definition from an online dictionary.

P.S Right before publishing my review I found this NPR interview with JGL. “We have a tendancy in our culture to take people and treat them like things.” You might find it insightful!

About Time we mixed things up in here.

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Poster for About TimeEarlier this week I headed to the Champs Elysées for a late showing of the new Richard Curtis film, About Time. We learn about a young man, Tim, (Domhnall Gleeson) his family, his childhood in idyllic Cornwall, and the new year’s day that would change his life. His father (the brilliant Bill Nighy) informs him of the very special trait that runs through the men in their family; the ability to time travel. By finding a small, dark space and clenching his fists, he is now able to travel back to any moment in his own life and he uses this ability, of course, to bag a girl. After a couple of false starts he finally falls for Mary (Rachel McAdams), and manages to secure her love as well. And they lived happily ever after.

I liked the concept of this film. Time travel has been through many guises and though Curtis is not too bothered about following his own time travel rules, it serves as a great vehicle for his message. We are left wondering what we might go back and change if we could, and seeing Tim figure out how to enjoy life in his carefree, childlike manner we are ultimately reminded to live every day to its fullest, to see the beauty of life in the little things.

I found the acting impeccable, and especially loved Bill Nighy’s performance as the wise father. The father and son relationship was particularly touching and yet somehow I, a confirmed cryer, sitting there prepared with my tissue in hand, didn’t shed a tear at their heart-wrenching final scene together. I was slightly choked up, but something about the film had left me feeling a bit cold.

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Petit Palais

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Petit Palais

Gallery in the Petit Palais. Wonky photography courtesy of yours truly on my mobile.

When you live in a tourist-centred city it is easy to miss out on much that city has to offer.  “I can always do that another time” is the best friend of laziness.

Becoming a tour guide has really made me examine Paris through new, fresh eyes and I wish I had done so much more in the nearly 3 years that I have lived here.

Having friends to visit helps to rectify this though. Last month we had a visitor over from ‘le Yorkshire’ and she and I decided to check out the Georges Braque exhibition at the Grand Palais.

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adj: noisy and difficult to control

As I add another new word to my growing collection I start to realise something. The words I have been finding are not always completely alien to me even though I might think I’ve never heard them before.  I look up Obstreperous in my kindle after underlining it in Lauren Beukes’s The Shining Girls and find it right there in Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides. I knew I had seen it before, it had been floating around for a while before it finally hit my consciousness. I hope now it will manage to stick in my memory.

I find obstreperous an interesting word. The dictionary gives an example of its use: “The boy is cocky and obstreperous.” It appears to be one of the words heavy with gender, seeming to be a typically male characteristic. From Middlesex I see the same thing: “Boys can be very obstreperous.” This is of course spoken by the main character, Calliope, a hermaphrodite who is raised as a girl and later decides to become a boy. Eugenides’s novel raises many question about gender roles and prejudice, just as The Shining Girls does, covering issues surrounding women in the 20th century.

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Uncovering the masculine at the Musée D’Orsay

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We’d all seen the posters around town and on the metro so last Sunday a few friends and I arranged to meet bright and early at the quay d’Orsay to go and see the autumn/winter exhibition at the Musée d’Orsay; Masculin/Masculin. L’homme nu dans l’art de 1800 a nos jours.

We braved the extremely long queue and once inside I decided to splash out on the Carte Blanche, the year long pass that guarantees unlimited entry to the Orsay’s and the Orangerie’s permanent collections and exhibitions, including skipping the line. For anyone planning on seeing more than one exhibition a year, it’s a steal at only €25 (€40 for the Duo option, allowing a visitor to join you.)

Poster Masculine/Masculine Musée d'Orsay

Poster for the exhibition. Successful marketing?

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Changing seasons, changing moods

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red and orange leaves

The colours of autumn emerge

The clocks have gone back and the colours of Paris are changing . Autumn is upon us and brings with it the delight of crispy leaves and the promise of well deserved hot chocolates. As a tour guide, I meet people from all over the globe and am delighted when they are experiencing our seasons for the first time. I giggle when someone asks me “When is Paris’s monsoon season?” and realise how exotic these autumn colours must seem to them.

At this time of year I start to look forward, albeit reluctantly, to the holiday season and at the same time I begin to reflect on the past 10 months. You could call it personal bookkeeping. Read the rest of this entry

Glaucous and Tender is the Night

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adj Tech or Lit 1) A dull greyish-green or blue colour 2) Covered with a powdery bloom like that on grapes

Glaucous Sea

covered in a bloom?

“It was past four and under a blue-gray sky the first fishing boats were creaking out into a glaucous sea.”

Tender is the Night, F. Scott Fitzgerald.

I had this underlined from Tender is the Night not only to memorise my new vocabulary, but also beause I feel it is a wonderful example of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s prose. It is a simple phrase, setting the scene on the Côte d’Azur, simple but so beautifully put.  I fell in love with Fitzgerald whilst reading Tender it the Night, enjoying the quality of his language as well as his storytelling.

We follow Rosemary, a young American actress, as she holidays with her mother in the sun-drenched south of France. She starts to mix with the other wealthy guests from her hotel and soon becomes embroiled in their lives, falling in love for the first time with Dick Diver, a married man. Read the rest of this entry