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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.Follow @jeres
‘Ouvert en Août’. It means open in August and I just saw it written in massive letters in the window of the local sex shop. So supposing you were to misread it and thought it said ‘over and out’ then you might assume the last gas mask had passed across the counter and boohoo into your gimp mask for the rest of the day, when in actual fact you can go get as many anal beads and dildos as you can fill a basket with all month long if you so desire (the French for dildo is godemiché, which is far more romantic. With a name like that it’ll probably take you out to dinner too).
At the risk of repeating myself (I’ve actually been in Paris at this time of year for the last three years), establishments need to spell it out in big letters that they’re open because so many shut up shop for the month and take off to the south. So while the city does the most feeble impression of a nuclear winter ever, it does mean there’s peace and quiet in abundance. The cliché goes that Paris en printemps is the best time of year to visit, though I’d take August over it any time. Call me peculiar but I love a deserted city. Hell is other people, after all, and it was a Frenchman who said that. Although they don’t always show it, Parisians must really like each other if they all want to go on holiday together and cram onto the beaches of the Côte d’Azur, though you won’t catch me and Jean-Paul Sartre on the annual great summer diaspora; we’ll be back in Paris writing some deep shit and wondering where to get a coffee.
Claire had some friends over last night so we went to this lovely little Italian on Rue St Maur, though when we got there the waiter warned us that about a third of the ingredients on the menu weren’t actually in stock as it would be the last night of trading. After some trial and error we opted for four minimalist pizzas. Those ordered by Claire and I were supposed to be different, though with the lack of ingredients they tasted pretty much the same, and I’m coming to the happy conclusion in my old age that less is more where pizzas are concerned. Sometimes all you really need is a good bog standard margherita. I bet you’re thrilled you took the time to read this blog with revelations as profound as this. Like I say, deep shit.
Also, the waiting staff were uncharacteristically entertaining, and actually yesterday seemed to be friendly everywhere in customer service land in Île-de-France. Either things are slowly improving, or more likely everyone’s jubilant because they’re all about to fuck off on holiday for a month.Follow @jeres
One of the great things about living in Paris is being able to jump on a train and head south, ending up on the Côte d’Azur, as we did the week before last. The other great thing about living in Paris is being able to jump on a train and head north, landing in Normandie, as we did this weekend just gone.
I’d never been to the Norman territory before, so it was a wish finally granted to the six-year-old me whose hero was William the Conqueror; that was before I knew he mutilated peasants for walking in forests he liked to keep for hunting purposes for him and all his fat, toff mates. Christ, they didn’t teach us anything in school did they? I also desperately wanted to see the Bayeaux Tapestry when I was that age, which shows how much I’ve changed, as whenever I’m exploring a large museum like the V&A I always skip past the carpets and tapestries hanging on the walls as quickly as possible because I just can’t seem to get that worked up about anyone stitching at any time in history if I’m honest with you. I don’t even hang around furtively pretending I’m interested anymore. Ancient rugs? You’re shitting me aren’t you? I might have taken some Persian rugs off you in the bad old days mate… next! Luckily we didn’t see the Bayeaux Tapestry, because it wasn’t where we were, and also because I’ve changed so much that I frankly might have pissed all over it had I seen it. All 70 metres of the fucking thing.
We arrived in the twin towns of Deauville and Trouville which conveniently rhyme and are situated right next to each other also. I’m sure there’s some Romulus / Remus style legend regarding these two, and if there isn’t then someone should make one up. “On est chic, l’autre traditionnel,” a local woman told us succinctly, and she was on the money. In fact Deauville, with its prefab Hollywood plage, designer labels and highways lined with indomitable Mock Tudor edifices, takes itself a little seriously, while Trouville, with its rancid, gaudy galleries and crazy golf on the beach, lives up to the ‘trou’ in its name (ie. its a hole) but I think I preferred it more to be honest.
We actually stayed a few miles away in a lovely little town by the sea called Honfleur, or rather we stayed in an Ibis located further along the motorway than they let on on the internet. It presumably welcomes so many war veterans at Remembrance time that they keep poppy carpets laid all year round just in case they pop back for an Easter break. Honfleur itself was very pretty, if not a little like many of the nice English towns facing us on the adjacent coast (though maybe less depressed and stuck in the 1950′s). A bit like Hastings then, but slightly less windy and with no charity shops. There were certainly more Angles than I’ve had to contend with for a long while, though I can’t begrudge them their annual dip into the devilish exoticism of Camembert and Calvados cider.
The sun gave us a roasting and then the next day we realised there was nothing else to do (“Bormandie more like,” I said) and we did the town’s four museums in a couple of hours. I would have liked to have stayed for longer in the Musée Eugène Boudin – which was surprisingly ace – but they all decided to shut an hour for dinner at 1pm leaving us again wondering what to do with ourselves. The museum dedicated to one hit wonder Érik Satie was brilliantly inventive in an immerse “what the fuck is going on?” kind of a way, which oddly reminded me of the Kafka Museum in Prague. These local boys made good obviously ran away and made their reputations in Paris, and one mused on whether or not they met up there at all and talked about back home, or whether they even liked each other.
We headed back to Paris on Sunday, having enjoyed our little adventure, though if we’re comparing north and south then in my book there’s no contest. Luckily it’s not a contest. Paris itself continues to be fraught with tensions brought on by Israel’s bombardment of Gaza. When I was 13 I remember going home to see my dad from Bristol one weekend and catching a glimpse of my school on the telly amidst the St Paul’s Riots. In 2005 I watched the London Bombings from a TV in Serbia, utterly confused having traveled through King’s Cross that morning on the way to the airport. Watching demonstrations at Republique turn nasty on the news isn’t in the same ballpark, but I still felt frightened watching the chaos take place a few minutes from my house, and I still felt protective. I’m sure Jewish communities in Paris and those with relatives in Palestine feel more frightened still.
Sat in les Pick Clops on Saturday afternoon drinking coffee with friends, I said that while I love Paris it could do with becoming a bit edgier. No sooner had I said it than Paris became a bit edgier. We watched some Moodoïd at the FNAC Festival outside Hôtel de Ville, and as we traipsed away a platoon of armed police with riot shields dispersed pedestrians and pushed their way along the rue de Rivoli in anticipation of trouble. By this time it was searingly hot, with one hoping for thunder in order to cool things down a little, and it transpired when we got home that at Barbes Rochechouart there already had been trouble (which was ongoing).
An unsanctioned pro-Palestinian march against Israel’s shelling of Gaza had turned ugly between protesters and police, which is hardly a surprise given that in Paris you’re allowed to protest about anything you like usually, and whenever you like, but not this time. Banning such a demonstration seemed like a terrible idea to me, especially in 30c heat, and chances are if it’d been allowed to go ahead it might have been bad tempered but I suspect there would have been fewer firebombs. I guess we’ll never know.
The news was just dreadful this week (hardly a newsflash) although we felt rather disentangled from it all as we took a week’s break in the south of France. It’s an odd sensation when you’re getting WeChat friends telling you airliners have been shot down over Ukraine when you’re meant to be enjoying yourself walking around the Cubist garden at the delightful Villa Noailles. Anyway, we’re getting ahead of ourselves.
We decided to escape from it all last week, and found a sleeper train south that left as the World Cup final kicked off (my interest only finally waned at the final this time), and we appeared as if by magic at Hyères – one of the lesser known but surely no less beautiful towns along the Côte d’Azur – on Monday morning. It was relatively quiet given that it’s pre-season (remember, all the gens de la ville descend on the south in August), and the plus point was that we only really came across two native English speakers the whole time, on l’île de Porquerolles.
Leaving the station with our baggage, we drank coffee with locals at a cafe where they seemed to be playing who can cough up their own lung butter the loudest, then we took a bus to the port where we were staying, which was located only metres from the beach with a massive hippodrome in the back garden (we watched horse-drawn chariots race around the mud track in the mornings). We discovered that people are really helpful and friendly in the south. I mean REALLY HELPFUL AND FRIENDLY. I mean, is this girl who keeps talking to us and telling us where to go going to eat our hearts and runaway with our baggage any minute now? No, she’s just REALLY HELPFUL AND FRIENDLY. I would go on, but hearing about someone else’s holiday is possibly the only thing more dull than having someone explain to you their last night’s dream.
However, here are some interesting facts about Hyères (you lucky things):
• Hyères is only about 20 miles away from Saint Tropez, but Saint Tropez is actually a right bugger to get to. Most people who go there probably fly in in their Learjets, the flash fucks.
• Hyères is pronounced ‘yeee-errrr’ – like ‘year’ but drawn out a bit. I don’t know why this is. I was hoping it would rhyme with ‘jeres’, because then I could have come up with a hilariously self-referential headline.
• There’s not much to do in Hyères other than eat and go to the beach (you’ll hammer around the Archaeological site there in 20 minutes flat), but there is a nice modernist residence (now a museum) at the top of the hill in the town – the aforementioned Villa Noailles, designed by Robert Mallet-Stevens in the 20′s, who often gets mentioned in the same breath as La Corbusier but isn’t anywhere near as famous.
• The Midi-Festival takes place at Villa Noailles – with some pretty interesting bands. It’s the reason I heard of Hyères in the first place (though I haven’t managed to go yet).
• Oh and finally, there’s a restaurant there called L’endroit near the Port, which French speakers will know means “the place”. Clearly it has designs on itself already with a moniker like that, and here’s a tip: don’t eat there. The food is pretty good but the waiter is an absolute twat.
While the World Cup scintillated early on, all that’s left now is an exclusive kennel of big dogs I can’t bring myself to love, and the lack of bite post-Suarez from the lesser teams has left one with a slightly empty feeling. The last-16 was a real effort, and felt like some of the large swathes of Swann’s Way that I’m ploughing slowly through at the moment. It’s curious how a national team – a changing organism where the constituent parts are replaced by new parts all the time – manages to maintain the knack of winning even when old players who established the nation’s might in the first place are forever reposing. The Germans and the Dutch and the Argentines and the Brazilians all had to draw from the experience of their forebears, and they all just did enough.
I love football but I sometimes wonder why I’m getting nervous or shouting at the television at men I don’t know from countries I don’t live in, hoping one might put out another. Even the French team, where I do live, seemed to care less about winning against the Germans than I did. When I turned on the news I noticed a live crowd of hundreds of Belgians dancing and singing after their team had exited to Argentina, and they were even more hapless and ineffectual than France. They seemed to be playing with the attitude that they’d gone far enough this time around and despatching themselves swiftly was the least they could do.
I’ve not noticed any post mortem here in Paris. People seem relatively okay with a quarter final place. I was also intrigued to note the rivalry between France and Germany is less toxic than it is with England (at least on the side of the English), even if – and this is all relative of course – the French could lay claim to being even more fucked off with their neighbours should anyone be churlish enough to still hold grudges and equate military mobilisation over the last century with kicking a ball around a field.
It seems more grown up somehow, and I should know, because I still find it hard to admire German football even when it’s very good. It’s like my own shameful vestigial tail, because I always instinctively take the side of the team playing against them, and I pretty much always finish a game feeling disappointed because they always win. I’ve noticed younger people than me on social media don’t have this childish bugbear and I applaud them for it. I applaud those Belgians dancing around and singing even when their team was a load of shit, and I applaud the French, who only truly get excited about sport if it’s done on two wheels if we’re honest.
It’s interesting how football fans have turned on the Dutch since the last World Cup (mainly because they were a bit dirty in the final and Arjen Robben falls over quite a lot), but have these people forgotten about the fact that this is the team that invented total football in the 70′s and has been punching above its weight ever since? Have some respect you fair weather loons! This low country only has 11 million people compared with Germany’s 80 million, and it’s bloody tough work trying to kick a football by a canal without losing it forever. It’s a team that has the legendary Louis van Gaal as manager – a man my friend Peter pointed out looks like a cross between an Oopa Loopa and David Lynch! If we can’t get behind him now when he makes tactical master-strokes like the one last night where he swapped starter goalkeeper Jasper Cillessen for the larger Tim Krul just in time for penalties, and if we can’t cheer him on before he joins the red scum where we’ll hate him forever for his impending reign of terror… then when can we get behind him?
If any country deserves to win a World Cup for years of glorious service to football with no reward (apart from the European Championship in 1988) it’s the Netherlands. Although for Louis’ sake it would probably be better if I cheered on Germany for a bit with my record of cheering on losers.Follow @jeres
You might have taken down the St George bunting already, but there are not one but two World Cup parties going on in France right now. There were wild scenes in bars for le coq gaulois‘ bore draw with Ecuador the other night, and even wilder scenes in cars when Algeria narrowly squeezed through Group H last night. Walking up Avenue de la République, we feared for our lives as vehicles swerved in the road driven by jubilant youths with horns they were not afraid to use, and I have to say I was slightly relieved when the old bill stopped five chaps hanging out of the fenestration of their car with one on the roof waving the star and crescent, to warn them that their actions might be a bit dangerous. I’m all up for a bit of celebration (well to be honest I’m not) but you could take someone’s eye out with behaviour like that. Have the actions of the vile murderer and pederast Luis Suarez taught us nothing?
The tooting began in earnest during the South Korea game, with young football fans taking to their cars at half time when they were 3-0 up (and from what I can gather not returning to their living rooms for the second half), and there may be more tooting still if they beat Germany on Monday. If they beat Germany on Monday then I might buy a car, give driving a go, get hold of a flag and even learn some Berber. France are playing Nigeria on the same day so here’s hoping for two wins and one party (even if I go to bed early after purchasing some earplugs like a sensible old chap). Come Monday, Wayne Rooney will already be a week into his three weeks in the sun with Coleen.
We went to a party ourselves last night in the Jardin des Tuileries with a glorious view of the Louvre and with the Eiffel Tower flashing in the distance. The gardens were once part of the royal residency but were sacked and burned and saw plenty of blood spilt in the September Massacres of 1792, and once King Louis XVI’s head came off, they were instated as the gardens of the new republic. We were there to celebrate artist and poet Robert Montgomery’s The Slow Disappearance of Meaning and Truth exhibition at Colette on rue Saint-Honoré. It was a terrific do with plenty of fire, a live band, and three courses from Le Saut du Loup – although the fact the entre didn’t hit our tables until after 10pm caused much consternation in the tummy area and gnashing of teeth in the face!
I love Rob dearly and it’s great to see him doing so well for himself. I admire his garrulity, his unwavering devotion to Glasgow Rangers and the fact he never shuts up about Guy Debord. We hung around together when the bad old days were really, really good, and I thank him for not holding it against me for trying to sabotage his wedding (I put my head in the punch, got thrown off stage for picking up the bass and trying to join in with the band, threw meatballs at the other end of the table where Brett Anderson was sitting etc). John Paul – another dear friend – was in town too, and he reminded me of the speech I made that nobody asked for. Thankfully for all concerned the only thing that was flowing for me last night was the Badoit®.Follow @jeres
Amis, romains, compatriotes*, montrez-moi l’oreilles. Mais les Anglais surtout, j’ai mots pour vous. La capitulation de l’Angleterre dans le Coupe du Monde a été une source d’embarras national. Aucun « embrassade » – personne ne mérite un baiser après ces performances – pas même Wayne Rooney, un gorille travailleur. Et ainsi donc, j’ai décidé de démissionner de mon statut d’un rosbif… pour l’instant.
J’ai déjà renoncé à la Reine, je ne voterai jamais UKIP, et je n’aime même pas « Only Fools and Horses », je suis un très, très mauvais Anglais, tellement mauvais ! Donc je prendrai ma retraite. Je m’arrêté. Je déjà quitte le pays, je reviens seulement maintenant quand ma copine insiste. Ceci est mon lettre des résignation, même si mon francais est au-dessous moyen. Mais je vais persévérer, pas comme l’équipe Angleterre. Il peut pas être facile, mais j’ai mange le pain délicieux chaque jour, qui faire moi forte et un peu gros plus autour de l’estomac.
Maintenant, j’encourage les Bleus ! je suis un traître (pas un « traiteur »; je ne vends pas la nourriture chinoise). J’étais aller a suivre les Belges, mais les Belges sont “bilge!” Je regarde et mes yeux se sont ennuyés. Je pense que cela fait sens. C’est pas grave mes amis, maintenant je suivre l’equipe France, une vraie nation du football.
Réjouir ! Pour mes blogs francais sont plus bref. Dans l’avenir, je serai un homme cornouailles véritable, et un faux l’homme francais. Bien sûr, l’ironie ici est que je n’ai pas écris cette lettre de résignation en anglais, parce que il y à sont seulement quelques qui comprendra. Je dois quitter pendant que je suis derrière. Allez les Bleus !!
And finally, to my English chums who don’t speak French, bon courage against Costa Rica tomorrow. We might even do alright with nothing to play for.
*Don’t take the piss out of my crimes again French too badly please, you’ve got to start somewhere…Follow @jeres