Catch up

I’ve been rather neglecting this blog for a while, which is a shame as we’ve been up to all sorts of lovely stuff, but I’ve been engaged time wise in something else that will hopefully launch soon. There are all these things I’d like to write about, the Picasso museum, the Klimt exhibition, the Palais Garnier, Argentine jazz at La Grotte, trying to sing Karaoke in French and failing abysmally, last but not least picking up our PACS certificate… but as the time slides away it feels fraudulent to write about it unless it’s for a memoir or money; it’s like those swine who upload their histories to Instagram when it’s not even a Thursday.

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Anyway, while I try to unravel the imbroglio in my head that probably nobody else cares about, here are some articles from the recent past:

We went to see Baxter Dury last night at l’Olympia, which was smashing. Here’s a piece I did with him for The Quietus at the end of last year.

Here’s another piece for for the Quietus, a live report from the Fat White Family’s show in Paris last month.

And here’s one more for the Quietus while we’re about it, where I try to discover why Seven Nation Army crossed over into sport and became the most ubiquitous riff of the 21st Century. Some really interesting interviews in that one.

Here’s a Roxy Music: 10 of the best I did for the Guardian which went up yesterday.

And another 10 of the best for the Guardian about Damon Albarn, which was pitched after of the news there would be more Gorillaz, and before the announcement there would be more Blur.

More blogs soon…

Je suis… fatigué

I stumbled across Ahmed Merabet’s shrine yesterday on the Boulevard Richard Lenoir. We walk that way all the time, and I’d almost forgotten that the atrocities of last week happened there. Marching through and then becoming aware we’d just trod through the scene of a murder, oblivious… well, it felt odd. I’m sure when I lived at the bottom of Brick Lane I walked absent-mindedly through the scenes of murders by Jack the Ripper all the time, but this is still so fresh in everyone’s minds, and still so painful. I could have cried for Ahmed there and then for all the good it would have done.

People keep asking me if Paris has changed, and to be honest I don’t know, as I’ve hardly left the flat. I’m pretty sure Lutetia has big enough shoulders to cope. It’s a big, metropolitan city with a history of resilience and resistance, and while it doesn’t feel like it right now, it has weathered worse. In my last blog I mentioned worrying about men on every corner with guns. Well earlier I took a walk down the Rue Notre-Dame-de-Nazareth, and there were men with guns, military men, stood outside a synagogue, watching, waiting. I wonder how long they’ll have to remain there? I hope I don’t get used to them.
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I mentioned in an article in The Guardian the other day that ‘Je Suis Charlie’ is everywhere, and you wonder if it’s going to look as tired as an I Shot JR t-shirt in 1981 quite soon. I’m still not going to backtrack and renounce the hashtag, I think it was important for solidarity, even if it feels a bit hackneyed now. One day it’ll become just another answer in a pub quiz, but right now it has taken on a life – or many lives – of its own. I was looking forward to reading the Charlie Hebdo paper and enjoying the beleaguered cartoonists ripping into the likes of Benjamin Netanyahu, but the sloganeering has been so effective that you can’t buy the publication for love nor money unless you’re up very early and committed.

Today things feel a little more normal. I’ve had trouble sleeping recently and on Wednesday – the day the paper was published – I was clearly rattled. A scruffy young Arab boy came around to read the gas, and after I’d let him in I realised we didn’t have any gas. It went coursing through my mind – as embarrassed as I am to admit this – that he might have read one of my articles and not liked it, and suddenly I was treading into a land of enormous egotism and taking a boat ride to the isle of paranoia. Later that day I saw an Algerian man with the biggest rucksack I’d ever seen walking into Parmentier Métro. My heart stopped as I recalled 7/7 and the way London felt in the aftermath, and suddenly I found myself calling Claire and telling her to get out at République, which to her credit she ignored. Suddenly I was faced with two futures. 1. that the station blows up, or 2. I end up feeling like a racist. I was marginally more pleased with the second outcome. After rebuking myself, I resolved to drink less coffee and read less bullshit – two slogans I think we can all get behind. The historic march on Sunday was unifying, and we mustn’t lose sight of that, no matter who tries to fill our heads with angry nonsense.

Charles in charge

This was a week so dark it put the cul into crepuscular (cul is French for ass in case you were wondering), but today was a celebration of freedom, one of my favourite things. I’d perhaps forgotten how much I enjoy my freedoms. It’s like losing use of your sphincter or having someone impound your passport so you can’t get back to your adopted home country – a couple of things that have happened to me in the last year bizarrely enough, but those stories are for another time. Let’s get back to freedoms shall we? Freedoms eh? Marvellous aren’t they?

And ideas. Brilliant they are, and I wouldn’t want somebody telling me I couldn’t have them. It’s not like I have much control over them anyway, and I wouldn’t mind if the buggers fucked off for a bit when I was trying to meditate, but up they keep popping, poking me with a sharp pencil. The other night I had to write a piece for the next day, but could I sleep on it? Like fuck could I. I jumped out of bed at 5am and finished it off just to shut my head up.
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Anyway, it’s been a difficult week and my brain could definitely do with shutting down now, after being part of a magnificent march and apparently the biggest gathering ever in central Paris. Today we followed leaders, but didn’t have to watch parking meters, as they came and took away all the parked cars in the middle of the night. An astonishing undertaking really. I’ve not always been the most vociferous and vocal supporter of the police, but they do a difficult job (blah blah blah) and this last week they deserve some kudos. Today they managed to fend off the terrorists and they also had a much easier job than usual arresting the drug dealers, as they were the ones in the ‘J’ai charlie’ t-shirts.

After 7/7 in London it took a while before I stopped wondering if every bus I boarded was going to blow itself to smithereens. The odds are always slight, but you can’t help but imagine the worst when terror is fresh and seemingly everywhere, shouting “boo!” from every news stand. In Paris this week I was looking for gunmen on every corner, even though I knew they wouldn’t be there. Sometimes you have to just keep your cheveux on, get back on the cheval, and dance like Hugo Chavez (I’m running out of che words now). I think as well as sending a message to the world, for a lot of people today was a gentle way to allay fears and return to some kind of normality. It was safety in (massive) numbers. It was like the time I got put in hospital in a street fight one Saturday night, and the next evening I went straight to the pub after I left hospital in order to prove to myself that I wasn’t frightened. And because I was an alcoholic who was gagging for a pint.

It was a terrific march but I hope I don’t have to go on another for a while. There was a real sense of unity, and I almost felt like a Parisian. And long may both of those sensations remain.
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Draw your own conclusions

Paris goes on as normal, though clearly the events of Wednesday will be difficult to forget. I know I write a blog about living in Paris and should therefore say something here, but I feel like I said everything I wanted to say about this week’s fatal fusillade in an article I wrote for the Quietus yesterday. Here’s a link to that article.
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Just to add that I’ve heard a lot of people complain that reducing the murder of twelve men to a neat hashtag, or by repeating the phrase ‘je suis Charlie’, one is trivialising or oversimplifying the tragedy. I don’t agree. I feel it’s a simple phrase that elicits sentiments of solidarity, and it was moving on Wednesday to witness a groundswell of unity turn into a movement. It’s a very modern phenomena and I can understand why some people feel uneasy with it. Each to their own. Personally as a journalist based in Paris, it resonated with me straight away. I can’t speak for anybody else. I was also accused of standing up for racists by not mentioning some of the publications cartoons in the article that I’d not previously seen, but I can’t find the energy to even dignify that with a response. Although that is a response in a way.

Effing and Jeffing

Going to a Jeff Koons retrospective in January feels rather like going to the house of a fairy who doesn’t know Christmas is over. You don’t really want to say anything, though all the chintz is only adding to your early new year blues. Perhaps this is why the exhibition ran for months before Jesus’ birthday and only one month after. Actually, we had quite a lot of fun, although the commentary (“Jeff subverts the advertising industry and proves we’re all racists by making a giant fucking rabbit out of shiny balloons”) rather made me feel like I’d been had, and I kept looking at the other confused patrons and thinking they’d been had also. Perhaps good art – and that’s an entirely subjective call – should be based on how much time you spend looking at it. We did the whole thing in 45 minutes.
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Claire said it was nice art for kids, which is sort of true, at least until you walk into the special room where he’s in flagranti with Italian / Hungarian pornstar / politico Ilona Staller (his ex-wife). Is it porn or is it art? It’s all about context I suppose. This work with La Cicciolina is deeply romantic in a way, and still shocking blown up a thousand times bigger than your laptop screen, where such imagery is commonplace if that’s the kind of thing you’re looking for you little pervy.

Downstairs we caught a bit of another retrospective, this time for Canadian architect Frank Gehry (I wish I had more time for that exhibition to be honest), and on the way home I noticed the actor Adele Exarchopoulos was standing in the street on the phone in tight jogging bottoms. I was actually drawn to her face because when she was looking at the pavement, I thought it was Julian Casablancas. Adele played the lead in La vie d’Adele – or Blue is the Warmest Colour outside the Francosphere – or taken out of context, she was one of two naked girls in that eight minute lesbian scene you watched on the internet after you read about the sex scenes in The Guardian. I did actually try and watch the movie when it was on telly over here one night on Canal+, though not having the subtitles made it difficult to understand with any great clarity what the hell was going on; it seemed pretty incredible nevertheless from what I could fathom. Oh the joys of living in a country where you’re still not fluent in the language #3791 … it might be annoying now and again, but at least you don’t have to listen to other people’s crap…

Jesus!! of Montreuil

Another great thing about living in France #1438 is they don’t have a Nicholas Witchell equivalent because the French executed their royal family. I tweeted that, because it’s true. There are many great reasons for living in Paris, but they all seem to cancel each other out when it’s as cold as it is right now. Freezing your arse off is absolutely no good at all, and it will no doubt affect you if you live anywhere in northern Europe or in the northern extremities of North America or [lists all the cold northern places in the world during winter]… Personally it’s at times like this where I wonder why we didn’t choose Andalusia, and once we’ve brought baby Clem up for a few years and he/she can speak French to a level that’s cute, perhaps we’ll disappear to the south where I can become a dancer in a gypsy folk troupe. The only snag with that is I’ll probably be required to take up smoking again. All the rest I can handle.

It was cold the other night when we went to see a Park in Progress performance at a large warehouse in Montreuil. I’d never been to Montreuil, which proves I’m not nearly as cool as I think I am. Russell and Lindsey hope to move there one day. In Montreuil they have a communist mayor, the rents are cheaper and there’s said to be a feeling of community, especially if you live in one of its many squats. Just on the outskirts of Paris, this fine municipal enclave is said to be the last truly bohemian stronghold in an ever increasingly gentrified Paris. Gentrification is a funny thing, because while I understand why there are people getting disproportionately angry about a couple of bearded Jedwards opening up a cereal bar in Shoreditch, I also remember living in Homerton and thinking what a dangerous shithole it was, and how it needed a bit of gentrifying before it would be safe to live there (which inevitably did happen once Hackney got the Olympics). It’s a lovely place to live now there’s been a bit of investment. I get a bit tired of people who live in Stoke Newington whining about gentrification who wouldn’t have dreamed of living there 15 years ago. I hate to see a place lose its character, and the regeneration plans those utter soulless cunts have for Soho signed off by Westminster council are just heartbreaking. Boris and the Tories have destroyed London in less than two mayoral terms. Anyway, I digress.

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It was certainly cold on Saturday night, so it was perhaps even more of a shock to be confronted be a pair of bare legs and a naked vagina under a harsh spotlight. A female performer stood in such a way as to obscure the rest of her body making it impossible to make out anything other than her jambes and genitalia. It was certainly a stark (and starkers) start to a performance and immediately more than a couple of hundred spectators were made to feel like doggers. Next she revealed a main d’or like their much-vaunted Napoleon over here, and then another, and then eventually she swivelled her whole body around while some guy blew on a clarinet (heavily swamped with delay, chorus, reverb…) to reveal a face doused in gold paint. It was Moodoid’s weirdest gig yet. (I whispered this joke to Russell, and it turns out he’d made the same joke to Lindsey two minutes before. Perhaps you had to be there). After the initial shock, the night’s performances were quite a spectacle to behold, including baton twirling and Neanderthal men in their pants doing tricks with a dog. It was a fine display and free too, which is why I try to recount some of it here. Obviously even trying to relay what these people were doing is utterly pointless if you weren’t there, so why weren’t you there? Aye? Aye? Let’s go back to slagging off Nicholas Witchell on Twitter shall we? What an odious bastard Nicholas Witchell is. Do you think he arse licks aristocrats and spits on the poor? Even Prince Charles hates him. I tweeted that too.

Ceci ne pas un blog

It was two years ago yesterday that I gave up smoking. It seems each time I take on an endeavour I’m then presented with bigger fish to fry, and the task before seems like a doddle in comparison. I’m the son of a fish fryer, so perhaps that’s why these things are sent to fry me. Perhaps I’m just talking bollocks.

Anyway, the last thing looked like it might be insurmountable for a bit, though some good news has allayed fears and we can hopefully move forward doing a cautiously optimistic dance. My French got better being forced to interact with strangers like that, although I’m still not really sure what they’re saying back to me even now. It’ll come.
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Apologies for the lack of blogs recently (don’t worry, I’m really only apologising to myself), and more for the need to be so cryptic – but I really would prefer to keep it that way. I’ve been thrashing away at other writey stuff and there’s really not been the time. This isn’t a proper blog at all – I just noticed that I’ve at least written something here every month since I started in March 2013 so I wanted to keep that run going. Normal service to be resumed some time in the near future. Well I certainly hope so anyway.

Tree of strife

A few weeks ago we were at the opening night of Bertrand Bonello’s career retrospective at the Pompidou, and if it was difficult to keep up with everything in French, it was nonetheless an entertaining evening. The part I was there for – Richie Hawtin being interviewed about the soundtrack he’d scored for the 1928 Dimitri Kirsanoff silent short Brumes d’automne – was thankfully in English, making my life easier.The conclusion though was beyond mystifying. German film actress Ingrid Caven appeared on stage with a newspaper and began arbitrarily reading from it in an affected voice over some coruscating beats from Bonello’s laptop, all the while gesticulating and ambulating around the stage in Chaplinesque fashion. At first it was enjoyable and there was plenty of whooping and general encouragement from the audience, but after about 20 minutes of this, one wondered if it was ever going to stop. Awkward, non? Well you’d think so wouldn’t you? But not a bit of it; the audience were open minded and receptive enough to draw something from this most jarring of performances and they lapped it up. And I thought to myself, “I fucking love you Paris for being so cool about shit”.

Which is why I was particularly put out when I heard grand-père terrible Paul McCarthy’s Tree had been vandalised. Not cool! Not attacking art even if it doesn’t agree with you is the sort of thing that separates us from Nazis, and I thought of them today burning all their historic artworks as the Third Reich fell just so nobody else could have them.

Paul McCarthy's Tree: What it should look like erect

What it should look like erect

The work they’re calling ‘le butt-plug’ has provoked such adverse reaction that the artist was attacked when they were erecting it on Thursday, and then last night some utter wankers cut the strings. Check my sad face below, that’s me arriving as they were rolling it up and taking it away. In all honesty, the Place Vendôme – which is one of the richest areas of Paris and home to The Ritz no less – could do with a giant British racing green ass plug subverting the opulent mise-en-scene and distracting us from all the sickeningly wealthy people cluttering up the pavements. I hope it returns soon with armed police.

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I’ve been on a couple of excursions lately, one to Rouen and one to Orleans, and both made me realise that there’s nothing to do on a Sunday in French towns, and very little to do the rest of the time either. Oh yeah, and that everywhere seems to still be obsessed with Joan of Arc (although to be fair, she did live and die in these places). The good thing about French towns is that unlike English ones, you never feel like someone is going to stab you, but you might go mad from boredom and stab yourself, which is only marginally better. In Orleans we entered the terrifying hinterland of provincial arts and crafts, and in hindsight I probably should have smashed the fuck out of everyone’s paintings and pissed in their faces for not being edgy enough. You live and you learn.

Duchamping at the wit

I have an artist friend who starts ranting angrily about Marcel Duchamp on Facebook every time he’s high (my friend, not Marcel). As the future of art is so important to him then it’s understandable, though I suspect most of his Facebook acquaintances picked up along the way neither feel strongly for or against Marcel, even if he so happens to be one of the founding fathers of modern art. The rants are quite entertaining, if nothing else. According to my friend, Marcel’s porcelain urinal marks the moment we pissed it all away. I like the idea he just turned up in 1917 with a piss pot in his hand, and voila! conceptual art became a thing.

Sadly there was plenty of hard work, experimentation and a slow, painful transmogrification from figurative to abstract through Fauvism and Cubism. They say necessity is the mother of invention, and having checked out Duchamp’s pre-Dadaist works it’s easy to see why he needed to try something different. He was certainly a much better conceptualist than he was a painter, and as with the Duchamp, Man Ray, Picabia exhibition at the Tate Modern in 2008, you came away with the uncanny feeling that the other artists exhibited had more heart. Indeed, my friend John who accompanied me to the Pompidou, took quite a shine to seminal Czech abstractionist František Kupka.

We passed from the sixth floor to the fourth floor which was much better, taking in just about every major artist of the 20th century you can think of (except perhaps Yves Klein and Andy Warhol?) I’m not sure if it’s a temporary or permanent exhibition, but I would heartily recommend a look there, and then say go no higher. So perhaps the next time my friend is fucked up on Facebook and running the arch-eyebrowed prankster down then I’ll join in (for what good it’ll do). Yeah, fuck you Duchamp with your rubbish in-jokes! We all know humour doesn’t age well, especially if everyone who’s in on the gag is now dead.
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The following day John and I went to Le Corbusier Foundation, situated at the house he designed in west Paris for Basel-born banker Raoul La Roche in 1925. Quite lovely it was too if the scaffolding wasn’t all over it. The interior was certainly worth checking out in our blue plastic booties given to us at the door, but one will have to return after December to see it in its full glory (that’s when the work is expected to be completed). We also went to Ircam, but they refused to let us in for some reason.

Cross words, cross blades and Ecosse

The complexion of our block has changed, the respectful locataires replaced with younger, more annoying trolls who have the temerity to enjoy themselves at hours when they should be in bed. Before it was all tidy gay men you never heard a peep out of but for their yappy dogs, now it’s full of young kids on acid clattering around, and musicians having sex to Don Cherry records; Christ I hate musicians. I’ve managed to silence two of the apartments – next door and upstairs – but like a game of Whac-a-Mole at the arcade, the buggers keep popping up everywhere.

Last night I put on my dressing gown and addressed the sloppy young man playing a stylophone through a Marshall stack adjacent to our open window (it’s hot in the city right now). I share this with you because the three fractious interactions with the three neighbours indicates development in my slow progress as a French speaker. The first flat I shamefully just shouted at them in English so angry was I, the second I tried to shout at them in French but they kindly said “are you English?” and we continued en Anglais, whereas this time I said my piece calmly in French and he understood me I think. What he said back I’m not entirely sure of, but he seemed respectful and he shut his windows as I suggested. Our landlady me Julie said noise pollution is taken quite seriously in Paris, which is very handy because when I used to make a racket in London a decade ago, I’d completely ignore my neighbours when they complained and that would be that. My neighbours might all hate me but it’s blissfully quiet now.

Buoyed by my new communication skills, I went and got my haircut all on my own without Claire this morning, by Davy, the handsome Jean Dujardin lookalike in the hairdresser’s across the road. My last hairdresser was fluent in English though he wasn’t anywhere as proficient when it came to cutting hair unfortunately, whereas Davy doesn’t speak a single word but behaves like a man who has picked up a pair of scissors before. I know how to say ‘short’ and ‘long’ in French, though the subtle nuances of language required when conveying what style you’d prefer were not forthcoming today – this is a blessing in disguise though because it doesn’t matter what you tell a hairdresser – they’re going to cut it the way they want to anyway. I told Davy what I required in pidgin French while his modus operandi must have been “make clients look like Hitler”. Thankfully I’d shaved off my toothbrush moustache this morning in the nick of time.
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Scotland could be leaving us. Well I say us, I’m a Frenchman these days, but today is the day when the country could (and should) leave the Union. This is my opinion, stop reading now if you want to. Not being Scottish, I should probably shut my mouth, but I’m really excited at the prospect that constitutions will have to be rewritten and England will need to take a long, hard look at itself thanks to the laissez faire governance of a bunch of conceited Etonian dickwads who didn’t believe the ‘Yes’ campaign had a prayer. It really really really could happen. David Cameron said the other day that he hoped people wouldn’t vote yes just because they were fed up with the “effing Tories”, but the point is, if effing Labour gets in at the next election then nothing will change. Nothing. We’re fed up with fucking Westminster, none of this ‘effing’ bullshit. Politics is bust. It’s corrupt and beholden to big business and the disparate wealth gap in Britain has never been more unfair. It stinks and something has to give.

The political classes’ prerogative to ignore all areas of the country that aren’t London is being challenged for the first time in a dozen generations, and a ‘yes’ would be a truly momentous act of defiance and self respect from a nation that’s been fobbed off with piecemeal and patronising concessions for too long. As a Cornishman, I’d like to see lots more decentralisation in England too, but we’ll come to that later. Hanging on to Scotland is a hangover from Empire (why do we need to spoon feed Scotland and help it put its trousers on every day anyway?). An independent Scotland has very little to do with nationalism as far as I can see, and lots more to do with moving away from our shameful imperialist past. We’ll still be friends, things will just be a bit more on an equal footing that’s all. Real friendship in other words.

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