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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.


Visitors welcome: family and friends in Paris

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In French a cliché means:
1. (printing) A stereoplate or stereotype. 
2. (photography) A negative. A snapshot.
3. Something that is overused so that its original meaning is lost. 

Cliche photos of Eiffel Tower and negatives

On your day of arrival you complained
about the UHT milk in your tea.
Our first job was to find some fresh
so it didn’t taste all sweet and funky.

After a stroll to show you round the quartier,
tired and hungry we found a café
at place Voltaire where the croque monsieur
was cheap and delish, and came with chips.

That night we hung out chez des amis
and I laughed as you both sank into the drink.
More followed at the bar, la Laverie,
but some crepes helped take off the edge before bed.

Plans must be stuck to and my walking tour
was scheduled the next morning: join the group.
But you fell asleep twice! Did I bore you?
Or is it just not the best hangover cure?

We saw the Eiffel tower, image reversed,
in the background of a pouting selfie.
Snapped just at the right time at dusk,
first it burns orange then magic! Eek it’s all sparkly!

Before your train I took you to that white thing on the hill
and we mimicked the models from fashion week.
We strutted down the streets of the butte of Montmartre.
Wait, is that Chloe Delav..? No. Not quite as chic.

Kept our eyes peeled for any boulangerie,
peering in the windows to see if they had
almond macaroons like you get at home
in England. In Patisserie Valerie.

The stay was short, my eyes tear up when you leave me.
I’m tired though from the sightseeing, the touristing.
But it was fun, I enjoyed helping you see
The postcard perfect view of Paris.

Where are you from?

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n. The point or place where something begins, arises, or is derived.

I have been thinking about a film I saw last year, Né Quelque Part, about a young French man who goes on a journey to protect his family’s old house in Algeria from being demolished. He says in voice over, “When someone asks where I’m from I say Algeria, but I’ve never even been there.” He goes not only to discover his father’s house, his homeland, his extended family, but also that bit of himself that makes him identify more with Algeria than France.

Affiche Né quelque part

Does this reflex to state one’s parents’ or grandparents’ origins, rather than the country in which one was born and grew up, come from within? A need to honour and remember one’s roots? Or does it come from the pressures of society, a society obsessed with defining people? (Have you seen What Kind of Asian Are You?)

I wonder about the importance of the connection to one’s native land. The connection is never felt as strongly as when it is broken, a sensation I have witnessed as an expat in Paris. Living in self inflicted exile I am grateful that no-one or no situation has forced me to leave Britain and that nothing is preventing me from returning whenever I want.

I certainly feel a pull to my homeland and I am sure it isn’t just to my family but also to the landscape, to the piece of earth I grew up on. And of course I have only realised this after leaving; if travelling and living in another country doesn’t increase your love of a new culture it will surely increase your love of home.

The grass in the pleasant land of Yorkshire is most definitely greener than that in Paris.

Yet I love my life in Paris, I find so much joy in all the city has to offer. And as the time passes I find it harder and harder to assimilate my life and my identity here with that of the ‘Yorkshire me’. At times I feel a stranger in both lands; enraged by the lack of a queuing system when getting on a bus in Paris; confused by walking into a shop in England and the staff not saying ‘Hello’; eating Marmite on toast for breakfast in Paris; turning my nose up at the terrible excuse for a ‘baguette’ in English supermarkets.

Is where you come from simply the origin of birth, the place(s) you grew up, your ancestry? Is it metaphysical, is it all in the mind? And is it important?

Charles Baudelaire – Le Spleen de Paris

– Qui aimes-tu le mieux, homme énigmatique, dis ? ton père, ta mère, ta soeur ou ton frère ?
– Je n’ai ni père, ni mère, ni soeur, ni frère.
– Tes amis ?
– Vous vous servez là d’une parole dont le sens m’est resté jusqu’à ce jour inconnu.
– Ta patrie ?
– J’ignore sous quelle latitude elle est située.
– La beauté ?
– Je l’aimerais volontiers, déesse et immortelle.
– L’or ?
– Je le hais comme vous haïssez Dieu.
– Eh! qu’aimes-tu donc, extraordinaire étranger ?
– J’aime les nuages… les nuages qui passent… là-bas… là-bas… les merveilleux nuages !

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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A very metallic affair

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Picture of Scaffolding in Paris

Ready to climb the highest buildings.

I see you in town everywhere,
Like others I must stop and stare.
Your strength and your size
Elicit my cries,
My very metallic affair.

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My Cinema Habit

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M-O-V-I-N-G   P-I-C-T-U-R-E-S

In the past year I have spent 132 hours* in the cinema. I think I have crossed the line from ‘hobby’ to ‘crazy’.

It all started in September 2012. I enjoyed going to the cinema quite regularly with friends, maybe once a fortnight, and as we were under 26 we’d get cheaper tickets in a few of the cinemas in town. So my friends and I would head out to Bercy village, or the MK2 at Bibliothèque François Mitterrand, and see a film for around €5.

For those not in the know, 26 is the magic age in France at which life changes. At the age of 26 you pass from the jeune (young) category into the scary, unknown abyss of true adulthood where you are now expected to have finished your studies, secured a full-time job, and be willing to pay the normal price for all the things that used to be free or cheap (museums, cinema, train fare).

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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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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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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