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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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What should we expect?

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After a conversation about expectations of men and women, brought about by the passing around of a black and white (see ‘arty’) video of a naked model posing and pouting, I had this going round my head.

If you’re annoyed about the expectations put upon men, fight against that. Don’t fight against women and don’t use it as an excuse to then expect from women, or to objectify them.

When a woman’s perfect man is strong, muscly and toned with a chiseled jaw, blue eyes and thick hair. A man who is in touch with his emotions but also stoic and supportive, tall and graceful. A man who is rich and willing to pay for dinner, who loves children and would be a great Dad, who is constantly ready for mind-blowing sex but who won’t mind cuddling on the couch. Do you think those are all her own meditated choices? Or maybe it is to do with the images of men she has seen since she was a young girl; the ‘teen’ magazines then the women’s magazines, the adverts, the movies, the TV shows, the footballers, the boy bands.

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Walk for Women of Paris

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A bird’s eye view of Paris

Statue of Edith Piaf

Edith Piaf’s Statue in Paris

In July I came across a website and campaign called Walk for Women. Celebrating the fight of the suffragettes and acknowledging the thousands of women who marched across Britain in 1913 for the right to vote, Walk for Women were organizing walks throughout the country.

I wished I could have joined in a walk, so I organised my very own walk here in Paris to show my support. I had two weeks to plan a route and invite friends.

I was wondering where to direct us through Paris when my BFF had the idea of focusing the walk on the women of Paris. This gave me a helpful starting point and I set about researching all the monuments, statues, street names,and whatever else I could find dedicated to great women of Paris’s history.

Hello hurdle number one. Funny thing, the city of Paris isn’t exactly brimming with accolades to the wonderful females of its history. I found a few female statues, mainly of Joan of Arc (who didn’t make it to the tour in the end), other saints, or representations of abstract ideals (la justice, la patrie etc.) But eventually I managed to come up with a map of Paris spattered with interesting ladies.

Hurdle number two. The scarcity of these women around the city meant it would be impossible to cover them all, they were spaced out in nearly every arrondissement. I had to start the process of culling some in order to create an enjoyable walk. Eventually I settled on covering the east and centre of Paris, starting in the 20th and finishing in the 6th. This still left large parts of the walk free from stops, but they were interesting areas in themselves.

Map of Paris Walk for Women

The route I designed through Paris

So with 10 days to go I set up my event and invited some friends, put up a few posters, sent a few e-mails, and waited. The day arrived and only two of my friends turned up! But we weren’t going to let this lack of interest bother us, it was a beautiful day and we set off from Place Edith Piaf to do our 8 mile walk in high spirits.

And hurdle number three. Near the start of the tour we passed through the Père Lachaise cemetery to look for the graves of Gertrude Stein, Sarah Bernhardt, and Colette. Yes, we even had to resort to grave gazing to honour Paris’s women. Unfortunately, Père Lachaise is a very large, very packed, cemetery and even with the map I had procured, we had a little trouble finding our women. In the end we managed to get to them all with a bit of help from a google image search. This foray through the graveyard ate up a lot of our time but thankfully the trees had provided much needed shade as the temperature was soaring.

En route to our next woman we happened to pass the office where the aforementioned BFF works and we poked our noses in to see her boss. He was super happy to see us and even prepared us a little refreshment which we enjoyed in the communal garden opposite.  A worthwhile stop we decided, to honour one of Paris’s great women of the future.

Olympe de Gouges Paris

Time to press on. Next we came to the Salle Olympe de Gouges, a very grotty looking building bearing the name of the under-acknowledged feminist, anti-abolitionist and revolutionary. I have since found a square named after her in the 3rd, but this fit nicely into our route, though it would be great to see her honoured in a more substantial way.

We had a long stretch now before the next notable woman, which led us serendipitously through the marché Aligre, where we stocked up on a bag of cherries. I love this market, it has a great feel to it and is probably the cheapest in Paris. We finally reached the Passarelle Simone de Beauvoir and had a welcome sit down in the shade of the bridge. By now it was scorching in the midday sun on what turned out to be the hottest day of the summer. We dragged ourselves up and across the river, noting with jealous eyes the frolicking Parisians in the open-air floating swimming pool named after Josephine Baker.

Our stomachs and sweaty brows led us to Chez Lili et Marcel where we had a welcome lunch. A 2 hour lunch. Well we thought we deserved a proper rest. They even served Berthillon ice-cream, what a treat!

Now we were on the home straight and we headed through the beautiful Jardin des Plantes into the latin quarter. For the last time we made a little detour from the planned walk to visit the pharmacy at Place Monge. It is the cheapest in town, and we couldn’t resist a bargain!

Skirting round the Panthéon we did a small salute the TWO women buried there, one Sophie Bertholet, the wife of a chemist, the other Marie Curie, who we were to tip our hats to on the next stop at the Institut Curie.

George Sand Jardin du Luxembourg

George Sand in the dress chosen for her by the male sculptor.

Finally we arrived at the Jardin du Luxembourg where a statue of George Sand was hiding. It had been hard to pinpoint exactly where, so we ended up completing a tour of the whole garden before finding her just next to the entrance. Before flopping onto a nearby bench we had a couple of pictures with the very feminine looking Sand, a woman who in real life liked to dress in men’s clothing.

The time was 19.10. It had taken us 8 hours (with breaks). We had a great time though and didn’t stop talking all day; our chosen women were really inspiring and we discussed their lives, those women who hadn’t made the route, and the seeming unfairness that so much of Paris’s landscape and history is devoted to men even though there are so many great, intelligent, and important women out there.

I would love to organise another tour of Paris’s women, there are so many I couldn’t include in this one.


Petition for more women to be buried at the Pantheon in Paris

Collective for more women in the Pantheon

Pere Lachaise Cemetery

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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Reflections on Frances Ha and Bridesmaids

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Coloured Crochet

A snippet of the crochet I’m working on

September 10th. Yesterday it rained. All day. I left the flat once to go to the shop for dinner supplies (if you are desperate to know the minutiae of my life, I bought lardons for a risotto, milk for yoghurt making, and chocolate chip cookies.) Apart from that I hid myself from the weather change and had a productive house day.

In the evening I settled down with an ongoing crochet project and sometimes I find it necessary to either listen to the radio or watch a film whilst I crochet. I do find the repetitive stitching to be very relaxing but at times it can get quite tedious.

As my eyes would have to be quite often focused on the project at hand, I chose a film I had already seen a few times: Bridesmaids.

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