It’s Disquaire Day today here in Paris, which is what everyone else calls Record Store Day, but because it’s France it has to have its own semantic spin. It’s like l’Académie française – the organisation that spent ages trying to decide what to call email and came up with “courriel” three years after the universal word had already passed into everyday vernacular here – well, if you believe The Daily Telegraph that is. It’s not just the French; I’ve heard people jokingly refer to Record Store Day as Record Shop Day in England, which is quite right too; a store is something for hoarding rather than vending. Disquaire Day is a bit of a misnomer too as it’s on all week, and yesterday I went in search of the Rough Trade pop-up store ordinarily at Rue du Jour only to discover it had moved to Point Éphémère in the 10eme. Not to worry, it gave us a chance to flâner.
Good Friday is just another day in Paris with all shops open and people going about their regular business, something I did find surprising. Obviously it stands to reason if you remember the country’s fine tradition of laïcité (it dissolved any church involvement with state as far back as 1905), but you’d think some lazy bureaucrat somewhere would have wangled off the day Jesus was supposedly crucified on when they’ll usually find any old obscure patron hallow of cream cheese sandwiches or Tonka trucks to strike yet another business day off the working calendar. That said, it’s the mark of a mature society that they can move forward in secularism without denouncing all of the traditions or tearing down (too many) of the churches. There’s so much beauty to behold, even if it’s tainted, so there’s no need to throw the bébé out with the bathwater.
We had a wander around Rue Saint Denis and Bd de Sébastopol yesterday afternoon, and it became evident that Good Friday is a fine day if you want to pay for a fuck. Here we were après-midi with girls brazenly lining Rue Blondel in leather skirts like Kanye West, shirts open like Engelbert Humperdink and all with faces like Nadine Dorries. One chap came steaming out of a brothel and said goodbye to two ladies (who also looked like Nadine Dorries) and he appeared especially pleased with himself, like he’d just won an easter egg hunt. That street is going to give me nightmares like some distopian Chris Cunningham video, only instead of Aphex Twin’s face, Nadine Dorries’ face is everywhere and I fear closing my eyes in case she’s lurking behind my own lids. We swiftly headed for home.
Claire and I did get down to Point Éphémère to mooch around the ephemeral Rough Trade shop earlier on, and we may return to watch John Grant play there later. I saw a bit of Liz Green who it transpires makes me feel as murderous performing live as she does on record, though it’s my problem, not hers. There were few records I actually wanted to shell out for (€15 for one Grace Jones track seems excessive even if it’s limited) but I did get a buzz from being in the hub of people excitedly (okay, nonchalantly) flicking through racks of vinyl, and it made me feel comforted because that’s what I did every weekend when I was a teenager. I thought – like I’m sure a lot of people think on Record Store Day – why don’t we do this every week? There’s enough of us! Let’s congregate in stores across the world every seven days and hold hands and thrill ourselves with hunks of grooved plastic! But then I’m probably just indulging the fantasies of someone of a certain age longing for halcyon days that were actually a bit shit were it not for the escapism of a new record to disappear in once in a while.
Getting a weekly record wouldn’t be a highlight any more like it was when I was 13. I live in a city I love with the girl I love, I get to write about music for money and I’ve just been on a break to Córdoba to check out the mesmeric Mezquita–catedral, something I’ve wanted to do for like 4EVA!!!, and we went on a day trip to Tangiers too (which was certainly interesting once you got past all the snake oil salesmen… and I’d tell you all about it here but this is Paris Natch not Tangier Natch, – soz). Life in many ways is better than it’s ever been, which naturally (or naturally to me at least) makes me wonder what might be lurking around the corner.
This morning I was awoken by the sound of my hotel door opening. As somebody entered furtively, I found myself shouting “désolé” without even thinking about it, and at this point the Dutch cleaning lady replied “sorry” as she retreated. “Pas de problème!” I added as she went about her business elsewhere, and it was at that point that I remembered I was in Amsterdam. My second thought was that it was a mildly bizarre state of affairs that an Englishman (me) was shouting in bad French to a Dutch woman speaking English, but it also confirmed that I now instinctively apologise and make excuses in French. This is progress of a sort, though why I was apologising in the first place is beyond me – it’s not like she was opening the door to some hardcore Dutch door action, just a sleepy idiot waffling in a tongue unfamiliar to everyone in the room including himself.
I am now back from Amsterdam where I’d gone for the second time in as many months to watch Belgian singing sensation Stromae and interview the delightful gentleman. I shall save the info for the piece but I’m very excited about writing it up and hope it lives up to my own high expectations. I’m about to run off to my French lesson, though I thought I’d get a blog in before I went, as we are on holiday in Spain (and Tangier) from Saturday and will not be blogging at all with any luck.
The course is going well, and I feel like it’s opening up new things up to me, very slowly. My listening is getting better, as is my confidence, and I seem to be soaking up new words at a better rate than ever before, though that’s not saying much. Each time I say something positive about my learning, it’s as though I have to qualify it by knocking myself down again as some kind of insurance in case it’s not up to much. So fuck it, I’m speaking French like a native now. That’s not true. Nevertheless when I was listening to Stromae perform last night, I was delighted to discover I could understand a lot of what he was singing about. Though he does annunciate well.
I’m a bit tired for French to be honest, which is obviously the punishing jetlag travelling from east to west. Still, it’ll probably do me good, and I like the way our teacher Claudine calls Hirotaka – the Japanese guy I sit next to – Erotica. And that’s my final thought for a while.
Happy holidays and bon voyage (to me)
*There was no booze involved in the making of this headline
I moved to Paris one year ago today. To celebrate, here is one in an occasional series of pieces where I publish things I wrote recently for various publications, for no other reason than the fact I can’t be arsed to write an actual blog. Really, if I do this again, then I’ve got to change that name next time. We have no real plans to celebrate this one year anniversary, but by a happy coincidence we’re off to watch Savages at La Gaîté Lyrique this evening thanks to the nice people at gigsinparis.com, which should be awesome (Savages usually are).
So articles wise, the first piece is one for The Guardian Music about scenes that never made it such as Romo, Schroomadelica and Skunk Rock. This was part of a series of blogs that had been suggested by readers on the message board.
Secondly, I wrote a piece for The Quietus about the The Seven Ages of the World Cup and how the changing format of the song over the years has reflected the sociopolitical goings on in the country at large.
Thirdly, I did one for the NME about indie bands with perfumes, which was a bit of an eyeopener to be honest. And also a bit of a laugh.
And then another one for NME about batshit crazy conspiracy theories in pop, which was fun to write (and hopefully fun to read).
Oh, and last week I wrote an obituary type piece about Tony Benn and how he never lost touch with youth.
Ps: I think I just passed a TEFL module. I was expecting an hour and a half exam but I whipped through it in 10 minutes and scored 76/100. I think this is good, but I’m concerned I’ve missed something or got something wrong. This isn’t a humble brag, I’m honestly a bit confused by it, but there doesn’t seem to be any info on the forums other than vainglorious twats going on about why teaching is the thing for them. Anyway, onward I guess.
Tomorrow marks one year since my arrival in Paris, and oh what larks we’ve had. There’s been laughter, tears etc etc. In that time I’ve written somewhere in the region of sixty blogs mostly expressing bewilderment and occasional wonder, and now we’re going to go through the whole thing again as I go to the same events and eat the same stuff. What will I write about? I’ve already used up all my bread stories.
A smog descended on Paris this week, which you may well have heard about. It doesn’t make any difference if you live here; you walk out of the front door as usual and automatically you’re in the slipstream of some miasmic little man smoking two Gitanes at the same time (or so it seems). It turns out that when Paris is polluted they open the Metro for free and only allow half of the cars into the city on one day and half the next, excluding them by number plate (odds and evens apparently). It doesn’t make much difference underground either, it just feels a bit more like London down there, only you haven’t forked out £8.00 for a travelcard for the privilege of being thrust together in a confined space with people of questionable hygiene standards.
Coming back from the cinema on Tuesday, we saw a young man – quick as a flash – pull out a marker pen and tag an adjacent wall from the escalator at Les Halles he’d just got on (before racing off again like a whippet). It was like Luc Besson’s Subway! We haven’t had such fun since we found a Mediterranean shop that sells halloumi cheese in Bastille at the weekend.
Incident involving actual real French people occurred this week when we were presented with a quandary. Our new neighbours, who we’d waved at for a few seconds the other day when their landlord introduced us, appeared at our door on Sunday evening when I was in my pyjamas (pyjamas are the new rock ‘n’ roll). Our voisins nouvelles are a pair of young students apparently, and they’d come to ask – not for a cup of sugar or to introduce themselves – but for our internet password.
“We’re only here for six months they said,” and as I ummed and ahhed I found myself scribbling down the digits and suddenly they’d whooshed off without a bye or leave before I’d even had the chance to wish them good luck. I didn’t think it would be a problem but Claire was furious that they’d had the cheek to do it, which I could sort of understand, but at the same time I figured denying them a little bit of free internet would be a bit Tory and I kind of admired their barefaced audacity. We actually had a bit of an argument about it, and Claire proceeded to poll everyone she’s ever met to canvas their opinion and the general feeling is that it’s not okay for strangers to appear at your doorstep and ask for six months of free internet piped into their flat for no recompense apparently.
I thought the good socialist thing to do would be to let it slide, or maybe I should have asked them to pay half, though I wouldn’t have had the brass neck to demand this despite the fact their request in the first place was far more brazen, but then that’s because I’m a frightfully reserved Englishman who sits in his house writing bollocks all day and never going out. I’m still not entirely sure what I think, but when our VPN connection wasn’t working last night and I couldn’t watch the iPlayer (on repeat like Noel Edmonds I hasten to add), I got Claire to change the password and cut them off. Everything seems to be in working order again this morning.Follow @jeres
By an odd sequence of events I appear to have become a part-time mature student, and I’ll have to live as long as Methuselah if I’m going to reap the benefits. It’s like those people I’ve seen enter the rooms with rhinophyma and the beginnings of wet-brain; you just want to tap them on the shoulder and advise them to finish themselves off with a stiff whisky bottle or sixty, because all the new found resolve and all the penitence in the world isn’t going to turn things around for them at this stage. Well that’s what the little judgemental voice in me says, and I remind myself to wind my neck back in. I’m hopefully not past re-educating, and it’s not like I haven’t kept my brain ticking over, but it’s actually a two-pronged assault on the cerebral cortex as I try to maintain freelancing and being a lousy house husband as the core duties I flail at on a daily basis.
I’m studying French for four hours in the evening at an ecole des petites filles near my favourite sports bar off Richard Lenoir, and I’m taking a 150 hour TEFL course at home which I’ve just started online. Who knew there were all these tenses? I now know what “modal verbs” and “prepositions” and “conjunctions” are, though I’m not very happy about the formulas they keep presenting:
Formula – subject + will + bare infinitive + complement / subject + to be + going to + bare infinitive + complement
What’s that about? Do I have to remember such things? One hopes not. I’ve been ploughing through today and just stopped shy of my first test. Hey, was that sentence I just said the present perfect progressive tense? Answers on a postcard (or down in the comments) and I certainly hope so otherwise I’ve probably been wasting my time all day. In the time it took to write this paragraph, I’ve now forgotten what ‘prepositions’ and ‘conjunctions’ are, and it makes me wonder what I did with myself at school. It would be understandable if I’d been popular.
At the school where we are studing now, they don’t speak any English at all, which is understandable given that we’re in France and the pupils come from Poland and South America and the Middle East and New Zealand as well as England. At first I was terrified by my lack of comprehension and kept thinking I might get moved down a set, though I still seem to be there, floundering. There are students in my class who are definitely a lot better than I am, and the schadenfreudian (is that a word, I hope so) in me cries out inwardly when one of my dear students pronounces a word incorrectly and gets picked on by miss; as I only seem to pick up about 50% of what’s being said, I feel it important to celebrate when others pratfall.
I suppose given that my comprehension was closer to 20% overall in the first lesson I should start celebrating the positives as somebody slowly turns the radio up. One of those factors that I should look upon as a positive is the fact that actually being dragged out of my comfort zone is making me work harder, if only because I know I’m going to be asked something at some point in the lesson, and I if I’m not prepared then I may well look like a complete anus in front of everyone. It’s all the motivation I need.
I like the idea of learning a language via the Suggestopedia method which I was reading about this morning. Developed by Georgi Lozanov in 1979, it involves sitting around on beanbags or comfy armchairs listening to baroque music while a benevolent tutor with a soothing voice speaks to you in the language as you behave “as pliable, suggestible children, regarding one’s teacher as a super-mentor parental figure”. It sounds more like therapy to me and I tried to recreate these circumstances today by listening to Radio Chopin and eating all of Claire’s biscuits, though I realise a more communicative approach with maybe some whipping is definitely the way to go where I’m concerned. Tough love is the only way forward, and the biscuits may take some explaining.
Claire is doing the same French course as me (she’s in the set above) so we have to go to school together. It’s quite an odd experience walking down the school corridor holding hands with a looker like her, and I feel like I should maybe take up smoking again just so I can complete the illusion I’m one of the cool kids. Then I head into my lesson and sit down on a child’s chair, Claudine scrawls “demander des renseignements” on the blackboard, and the fear of humiliation that was such a feature of teenage life starts coursing through me once again.Follow @jeres
This week I thought I had to go to Versailles to interview FAUVE, an agitprop pop/hip hop collective who are just about the hottest young band in France right now. I felt pleased to be doing their first interview in English and that they turned out to be a far more amiable bunch than I could have expected, and I was also relieved to discover the café I was after was on Avenue de Versailles in the 16eme and not actually the address Google gave me that was next to the palace. That could have been embarrassing.
Anyway, now we’ve got that humble brag out of the way, having been in conference with pretenders to French pop’s throne I finally got to walk in the shadow of the Sun King himself this weekend as we headed off for Versailles proper. I’ve wanted to go there since before I moved to Paris, and given that today was peasant’s day (free museums on the first Sunday of the month), we decided to take a trek out there. Clearly lots of people had a similar idea, and we found ourselves pushing through barriers, knocking past tourists and scrambling out of the station like 10 year olds in order to beat the rush, and it worked bloody marvellously actually.
A walk through la galerie des Glaces makes you realise why the Royal Family had to get their heads chopped off. It’s all ridiculously, detestably opulent, and it’s hard to gaze upon the chinless Madame Pompadour and not feel like killing them all yourself. It’s certainly worth a visit, though once you’ve seen one royal château you feel like you’ve pretty much seen them all. Versailles is naturally a cut above though, and as much as I enjoy living in la République française, it’s hard not to have a sneaking admiration for Louis XIV himself. I suspect a lot of French people feel the same. He was a warmongering, womanising, autocrat who lived far too long, mercilessly sapping the proletariat in order to live in the style he was accustom to, but he did have a certain flair and joie de vivre, and history records him as a very good dancer. Although you wouldn’t have told him if he wasn’t.
Indeed it’s easy to forget the fact that Royalty were reinstalled for a while, though the contribution Louis Philippe made to Versailles is positively tasteful compared with the monstrous war-rooms installed by his predecessor, the Emperor of France. You can only imagine how sore portraitiste Jacques-Louis David’s arms must have been, and as for his tongue, well he must have pulled a muscle every week.
Spare a thought for poor, stupid Louis Auguste who was guillotined in 1793, though since then it’s all been liberté, égalité and fraternité as far as the eye can see. Question is, if Versailles now belongs to the people, then how come it’ll cost you money to get in on any other day of the month you choose to show up? Is it a bit like RBS?Follow @jeres
In France, a grape is not a grape, it’s a raisin, and a prune is not a prune, it’s a plum. An olive is still an olive, but perhaps in solidarity with other dried fruit faux amis, olives on frozen pizzas are shrivelled, clenched fists of pure evil that don’t look anything like they do on the box where they’re plump and edible in appearance. I take it there’s a trading standards authority of some kind here in France, but presumably nobody ever sues because there’s too much paperwork involved. What’s more, these negligent manufacturers don’t even bother taking the stones out of the olives first, so you could quite easily lose a tooth biting into one if you weren’t paying attention; and surely the only silver lining here is the fact you do notice because they look so disgusting. These are the kinds of dangers you must face in your own home every day here, which is why trips away as often as possible are mandatory.
One of the advantages of living in Paris – apart from the clement winter we’ve been enjoying and the billions of other great things I’m always banging on about – is the fact there are trains that will take you to plenty of other places in mainland Europe (which is revelatory if you come from an island) and take you damn quickly too if you get on the right train. You can be in Brussels in under and hour and Amsterdam in a few with a company called Thalys; I’d quite like Thalys if the tight wankers opened up free internet wifi for their paying customers. Corporate meanness aside, trains and France are a majestic combination, and if you don’t believe me then think where the world would be without Impressionism, which happened because Paris’ panoply of progressive painters could suddenly travel to the south relatively easily, and there they would soon enjoy new adventures in light. The French actually adopted railways very late, thinking they didn’t need trains, and when they finally got them they went batshit crazy for them. Plus ça change…
And so we’ve been on some adventures, and hopefully there’ll be more to come. Weekends have been enjoyed in Brussels, Rome, the Loire Valley and most recently Amsterdam, where we went to see St Vincent (who was magnificent) and to check out some art. It’s interesting how differently I view the Low Countries to how I did back then when I had a job as an international photocopier in 1998.
I’d only fairly recently moved to London. I walked into Alfred Marks to perform an aptitude test and within half an hour a woman asked me if I had a full working EU passport. The next day I flew to Germany with some South Africans in ties armed with stamps and sets of staple removers to sift our way through hundreds of lever arch files which we would photocopy and take back home. The photocopier became my friend, and the job – as dull as it was – involved claiming back VAT for companies that had bought items within the EU and could now get reimbursed in this brave new Europe. Oh, and drinking Bavaria dry in the evenings, or wherever else I was posted to that week. I went to Monsanto and Nike and various nefarious other companies that didn’t seem quite as evil on the inside. An MD in the Black Forest gave me a funny handshake mistaking me for a Mason, unaware that I was on £4 an hour. The great thing was, all the travelling time was paid for and also you’d get 60 Deutsche Marks an evening food allowance. I discovered quickly that you could go to a bar of your choosing, warn the bar staff you would drink there exclusively until five o’clock in the morning, and they’d be more than happy to throw you a food receipt to cover all your costs.
I have thousands of misadventures to share with you, but I’ll level with you, I’m saving those for the autobiography. The thing that really struck me as strange was how different Amsterdam and Brussels were in 1998 than they are now, although I’m not talking about the places as much as the way I see them. I thought I knew Brussels well having stayed there for a month, but it turns out I knew the route that connected five different bars, all within close proximity of each other. Amsterdam – where I also worked for a month – is actually a tale of two cities and the first time I only got to see one. There’s the gorgeous side where we stayed at the weekend with the galleries and the cool shops and the treacherous bicycles and the amazing restaurants and the canals, and then there are all the clucking scumbags, the weed bores, the stag parties and the lowlifes that radiate from the station and out into the red light district. And you know what, I used to be one of those shitbags, and what a sorry little prick I must have been. I’ve not suddenly become bourgeois, I’m hopefully just less reprehensible.
16 years on we stayed in an apartment overlooking a canal above a Greek restaurant hired from a guy Claire found on Airbnb called No Fuss Gus. It beat the seediness of the Boatel I was assigned to that’s for sure. Claire was here a few years ago actually, and stayed at the Hotel CC. I hear it’s a bit like the Hotel BCC, but with less privacy.
Sustained rain finally came and settled on Paris this week – something I can’t complain about too much given how badly my Cornish brethren have been suffering this winter – but on Wednesday the sky cleared and Pont de l’Alma was as beautiful as I’ve ever seen it. I’m not sure why, but by chance I’ve been in that part of Paris three times in the last week. Next to the bridge is a monument Le flamme de la liberté (which is a bit like the Statue of Liberty without the woman) and an underpass made famous by the death of Princess Diana in 1997. I happened to be in Paris on the day of the funeral in 1997 with my friend Andy Carr, who’d somehow twisted my arm to go and watch U2 with him (honestly, he really had to twist the fuck out of it). It was my first time in the city and I had no idea then – as you don’t – that I’d eventually end up living here. I would have baulked at the idea at the time seeing as we’d just sat down to a pint and discovered it was a fiver.
Le flamme de la liberté - or the Flame of Liberty if you prefer – was adorned with flowers and tributes that day, some pointedly saying things like “the REAL Queen of hearts”, in anger at the REAL Queen who wasn’t very popular at the time. That’s the weird thing about Royalty, people actually think they know them, which made the creepy outpouring of mourning that swept the nation all the more bizarre. I won’t crap on about 1997 being a pivotal year in the nation’s regression but it was. I was just glad that I was in Paris for the funeral and didn’t have to sit through days on end of mourning and misery. Back in those days you didn’t switch the TV off so much because there was no internet as a substitute.
I went back to school this week and subjected myself to the normal kinds of humiliation that entails but thankfully was just bright enough to narrowly miss being put into the dunce’s group. The dunce’s group – to be fair – is for people who can’t speak any French yet, whereas I should be able to speak some having lived here 11 months. More on this soon, though I’ve got to run out of the door now without even doing any subbing on this shit as we’re heading to Amsterdam for the weekend!
As often discussed, Paris is a wonderful place to live in if you’re a luddite, though when the machines turn against you it can be an isolating experience. Some of the lights in the flat have stopped working suggesting a circuit board has blown, although I don’t know what that actually means and it might be something entirely different. Hang about, it’s just the fuse that has blown right? I realise I’m opening myself up to ridicule here.
It was pointed out to me on the phone this morning that this blackness has been pervasive in our flat for over three weeks now like dark matter, and it was also suggested that it clearly hadn’t even occurred to me to do anything about it. Which I have to admit is true. I’m all about allowing your living space to fall into disrepair and then moving out when it becomes completely uninhabitable.
It’s probably amazing to some that I’ve managed to live for as long as I have without ever changing a plug, but then you could argue that maybe that’s the reason I have lived so long. I know what happens when you mess with electrics in Paris – you end up blowing yourself up like pop singer Claude Francois, who was electrocuted to death in 1978. In fairness, Claude was taking a bath at the time when he reached up to do some fiddling with the socket. In fact, perhaps it’s baths in Paris that are dangerous and not electrics so much if you’re a singer? Just look what happened to Jim Morrison! You’ll not catch me singing in the bath and fiddling with a lightbulb as long as I live in Paris, that’s for sure.
My friend Kev was here recently and he showed me what needed to be done, though it involves standing on a stepladder and changing the fuse in up to four different boxes, and I can’t remember whether the fuse had to be 9v or 16v, or if it was 16v for one and 9v for the other three, or if it had anything to do with volts at all. As complicated as this all sounds, it’s easier than ordering a pizza here.
In England if you order something from Domino’s you can track it from the time they throw extra jalapeños on top to the moment it arrives via a smiley man in a crash helmet. Here it can take up to three days to arrive and when you phone the outlet to warn them that if it doesn’t come soon you might starve to death or sue the place if you pull through by eating your own faeces, they will then obviously deny any knowledge of an order and tell you you’ll have to wait another 45 minutes to an hour. Just as you’re about to start tucking into your own fingers, the doorbell rings. The moral of the story here is never order Domino’s, because it’s the one food that still tastes fucking disgusting even when you’re ravenous.
None of this even comes close to how annoying iTunes is. I’m going to have a real whine now so please stop reading if you hate moaning, cos I know I do. I wrote a blog a while ago about how I’d changed my iTune (hur!) about the company when they’d assisted me quickly and efficiently. Well that was a mistake, because they’re actually complete fucktards. Like how difficult a concept can it be that a man might move somewhere other than the place he was born in the EU? Could you not set up your billing infrastructure to account for eventualities like this? Is it so unusual that a person might relocate to another country? I just want to buy a Cubase program for my iPad, could you stop being utter fuckwits and allow the transaction please? Or if not could you at least reply to my email you turds? What sort of parochial myopia is this? Just because you think the World Series is the world and only 36% of Americans have passports you assume we’re all bumbling inbred rednecks who’ll only ever leave the house when we die when they have to take the roof off to winch us out. Look at the bigger picture you fucks.
I did warn you.
While I might have been living in Paris nigh on a year, I hadn’t even really seriously considered visiting the Louvre until this week. I dropped by in the summer to use the lav (note to self: much better maintained than McDonalds) and was overwhelmed by the amount of people in ugly shorts shouting loudly about waffles and ice-cream. This brief experience scared me off a bit – though January is a great time to visit anywhere I’m discovering, especially in a popular city like Paris. So we went along to the famous glass pyramids on Wednesday (that headline wouldn’t have worked had I written about it yesterday) and I’m not quite sure why the prospect of the Louvre had never felt enticing before but there we were. Once inside it dawned on me, what’s not to love? (Or should that be what’s not to Louvre? Oh do fuck off.)
Should you need convincing of da Vinci, if you like van Eyck or van Dyke, if you’re avid about Jacques-Louis David or queer for Vermeer, then the Louvre is definitely the place for you. Actually for a lot of people it’s all about the Mona Lisa which will explain why a whole army of people shot straight past St. John the Baptist, La belle ferronnière, The Virgin and Child with St. Anne et al in order to squeeze a peak at the world’s most famous painting protected by a barrier and a writhing sea of flesh and cameras; they weren’t far off a human pyramid themselves. For me the androgynous St. John is far more rewarding – and deserted – and getting to see Théodore Géricault’s The Raft of Medusa up close was a particular highlight, especially as I’d never really noticed the minuscule ship on the horizon they’re all supposedly going batshit for. The ones who aren’t dead anyway.
After doing what was essentially a generic ‘Greatest Hits’ tour printed from the internet, we couldn’t help but breakout and check out the Dutch (and Flandrian) Masters on the second floor. Three hours later we were visually sated but physically bloody starving, a tad exhausted, a touch overwhelmed but ultimately… impressed.
The thing that’s quite easy to forget about the Louvre is the fact it was a Royal Palace before Louis XIV – who famously said ‘l’etat c’est moi‘ – got bored and moved his etat to Versailles instead, so along with all the famous works of art, you’ve also got long, sumptuous walls and remarkable ceiling frescos wherever you go. We actually visited Rome this weekend just gone (a little birthday treat from ma puce), and if I’m honest I’d have to say I was more impressed with the Louvre surrounds than I was the Sistine Chapel, which is a little underwhelming given its fame; that is undoubtedly the reason because actually it’s an incredible undertaking when you think about, and I had to keep reminding myself of that and ticking myself off for not being bowled over. “Why isn’t your gob smacked?” I said to myself more than once.
For my money I was far more enraptured by Bernini’s baroque high altar in Saint Peter’s Basilica, and another Bernini – the erotically-charged rococo masterpiece The Ecstasy of Saint Teresa in the Santa Maria della Vittoria – probably the most exquisite little church I’ve ever laid my eyes on. In fact this last week those eyes have beheld some of the truly great works of art and architecture from the Italian Renaissance onwards and I can’t help feeling awed and somewhat blessed. Such inordinate man-made beauty makes it easy to understand why 15th century peasants who couldn’t read or write or spell proper would have been so servile and terrified of god and so malleable under the manipulative two-pronged jurisdiction of church and state. With very little else to look forward to, Sundays must have seemed like the Back To The Future trilogy screened end to end every week.Follow @jeres