J’❤ l’élite métropolitaine

When I lived back across La Manche there were no shortage of London stalwarts who’d apparently suffer allergic reactions if they “went south of the river”. These were people who’d inhabited the Big Smoke for as many as three years, five years and sometimes even a decade. And while it’s easy to mock these twits, I never had much affection for the south bank other than maybe the Southbank. That antipathy for the other side of the water was renewed when I moved to Paris.

Lots of places here remind me of London in a strange way, which is why my addled brain sometimes confuses them. I occasionally call Pigalle Camden and get the Champs-Élysées mixed up with Marble Arch and forget that parts of east Paris I’m walking through aren’t east London and the same with the west of both cities too. That’s probably just me. The Rive Gauche however is impossible to mix up with South London on account of it being so ornate and postcard-y; so white and teeming with tourists. I used to be conflicted about the Left Bank, because while many of the writers and musicians I dig had once lived there, the creativity of the place drained away because of the real estate dollar, which inevitably happens to anywhere with a bit of cachet.

Things have changed though. I’m prepared to look past the Irish theme bars and the loud American holidaymakers and the hard-on everyone has for Hemingway and embrace the place. I’m only a 10 minute jog away now, and many of my runs head over the Pont des Arts and then back over the Leopold Sedar Senghor, taking in recondite landmarks along the way. In the last few weeks I’ve visited the Surrealists Bureau of Research, the studio Jacques Brel recorded Les Marquises in (that’s now a plush hotel), the house Sartre lived in with Beauvoir and his mother before being bombed by paramilitaries upset at his stance on the Algerian War and the three houses Marx inhabited, one after the other, in 1844; none of these places carry a blue plaque. There are some excellent English book shops too, like Berkley Books and San Francisco Books, which are far less gap yaaah than Shakespeare and Co. So it’s official, I am no longer a river separatist. I have embraced the other side. I’ve suddenly realised there’s so much more of the city to explore and discover, which makes utter sense really. Leave your prejudices at the pont, you great twot.

I love Paris. I don’t know if I told you that already. People have, in the past, accused me of being a francophile, and I’ve always taken exception to that assertion, though I could never figure out why and argue my case. It thankfully occurred to me recently while reading Julian Barnes’ Something To Declare. Barnes’ claims that a true francophile loves the idyllic France, the bucolic France, the fantasy that many Brits harbour of one day living in the countryside away from all that rancid civilisation. But my infatuation is with the capital city, which is either a rare strain of francophilia or perhaps not francophilia at all.

I couldn’t have been prouder of Paris than on Sunday when it was revealed 90% of the electorate voted for Macron, even though we couldn’t vote ourselves of course. It was 93% in our quartier, and also in the quartier we used to live in. What a splendid, tolerant and liberal city Paris is, and how gratifying that Europe has plugged the populist flood for now, and that President Trump is weeks away from impeachment. Obviously there is still much work to be done to be done regarding the much touted égalité the country claims to embody, but I’m feeling tentatively positive about the future, and even about the future of the EU.

I’ve heard plenty of bleating about the fact the President elect is pro-business by people who had clearly forgotten he was running against an actual fascist. I can no longer identify with the hard left because of this insane idea that a moderate is as much the enemy as the extreme right. The rape-apologism of the SWP, the antisemitism on the left… its a tawdry business. Melenchon is a villain, and there’ll be a special place in hell for him and his holograms for refusing to endorse Macron over Le Pen. I still abhor the exploitation of workers and know that a system that demands growth year-on-year above all else is doomed to failure, but Sunday was a binary choice between mondialistes and nationalistes and I’m on the side of globalisation if that is where the new battle lines are being drawn. Perhaps the left/right thing has seen its day politically too.

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MOAB is my tosspot

I remember being surprised by my mother’s response when I asked her how she felt during the Cuban Missile Crisis.

“Which missile crisis?” she asked. “I don’t remember any missile crisis.”

My mother wasn’t a stupid woman by any stretch of the imagination, so it seems extraordinary she wouldn’t remember a game of brinkmanship between two formidable superpowers that brought us to the threshold of Armageddon. But I think I’m beginning to understand how you might shut traumatic external events like that out – if that is indeed what she did. My life is beautiful right now and I couldn’t be happier, which is why I’m almost too frightened to look at the news and check what’s unfolding.

Trump’s unpredictability and Sean Spicer’s stupidity are scaring the shit out of me. There was an understandable outcry recently when Spicer made idiotic comments about Hitler not gassing his own people, but I was more concerned about him talking about – and I quote – “the President’s decisive action in Syria and the attempts that he’s making to destabilise the region”. Was it a slip of the tongue? There wasn’t even a flicker of recognition in the CNN anchor’s eyes to suggest that what he was saying was troubling or extraordinary. At the time Spicer was attempting to defuse the situation of his own making, and given the seriousness of the gaff, this further remark gained surprisingly little traction. It seems there are so many slip-ups, and so many peculiarities, that little of it seems extraordinary anymore.

We all sat up and took note when Trump suddenly changed his mind about Assad and bombed Syria two days later, but we barely noticed when he talked about eating a “beautiful piece of chocolate cake” when he gave the order. Now he’s bombing Afghanistan and raising his dukes and waving them provocatively at North Korea. With incredulity I await what this frighteningly narcissistic, venal, pigshit thick and erratic President will do next, and I expect Mr Putin does too. If the White House is closer to Isis in ideology than they realise, then I fear Trump is at the wheel of a juggernaut, hurtling indiscriminately forward taking out as many “bad guys” as he can (there are only two types of guy in Trump’s simple, binary brain).

Then there are the French elections of course, which I could bang on about for the rest of the afternoon, but I’ll spare you for now. Just to say that the feeling in my water is that Fillon isn’t dead yet. Though the feeling in my water has been highly unreliable for a while now, so make of that what you will.

It’s Good Friday though, and the world keeps turning for now, so I intend to keep enjoying myself while we’re still able to draw breath. I’m off to the Palais de Tokyo later with my friend Russell, then I’m thinking about checking out a cinema in Montmartre later which every Friday shows new French films with English subtitles. I’ve been looking for a place like that ever since I moved here, even if, by now, you would have thought I wouldn’t need it. My band White Witches are resurrected in Sheffield tonight, which I’m delighted about, even if I shan’t be playing. And Claire gets back tomorrow, and given that it’s been a week since I last saw her, I can’t wait to give her a squeeze. Perhaps I should take a leaf out of my mother’s book and pretend like impending geopolitical calamity is simply a figment of everyone’s imaginations. Bonnes pâques mes amis.

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Hair today, gone tomorrow*

When I’m at the hairdressers, I always instinctively try to put my arms the wrong way through the protective outer garment they give you – so the jacket is back to front – a throwback to Jeremy: The Early Years, when I regularly got my hair chopped at the Barbers. I always feel like I’ve dropped a clanger and revealed my true colours when I do that, like someone saying Versace phonetically in front of people who care about that sort of thing.

This morning I travelled back to the old place to see Davy, the handsome Jean Dujardin lookalike and star of previous blogs, who is the only man in Paris I can trust not to make me look like Geert Wilders. As every male under 50 looks like one of Harry Enfield’s Double Take Brothers these days, it’s actually a taller order than you’d think. I say << court et le bordel s’il tu plait, Davy >> and he gets to work. Court et bordel seems to mean short and like a whorehouse, but I’m assured it’s accepted parlance in Paris these days.

I get a haircut about once every 4-6 months, usually when I start to resemble a Lego Terry Wogan. It also gives me time to save up, because after a disastrous visit to Mr Toppers in my 20s which was meant to be a money saving exercise, I’ve never got my hair chopped by anyone for less than £30 ever since; reassuringly expensive, as an old advert for wife beater had it. Given that my trips are so infrequent, it’s a chance to see how my French has improved, and today proved to me that it has got a lot worse, or perhaps I was just tired.

You can’t really fake it when you’re sat in a chair for 30 minutes, even if the interrogation from hairdressers isn’t exactly taxing. And it occurred to me that I would rather do anything in the world than be a hairdresser. Just imagine having to make the same awkward small talk with the same people for years on end as you witness their barnets thinning or their grey hairs slowly increasing as their faces sag and their teeth decay.

And you send them out into the world with a haircut they’ve asked for that doesn’t suit the shape of their face, as they get ready to jet off to somewhere a bit warmer for their two weeks of scheduled fun that year. And they sound excited to be getting away, but by now you can’t even remember where it was they said they were going. I used to think snakes were my biggest fear, but not I reckon small talk is my true bête noire. I suppose the upside is at least you get to look at yourself all day.

When I told Davy I’d moved and where to, he gave me that mildly suspicious look that everyone does that kind of implies, “oh, you’re a moneyed wanker are you?” I’m quite possibly oversensitive about this – not that I really mind when the Louvre and the Pompidou are 10 minutes away in different directions. We genuinely lucked out with this place, and we’ve probably been due a little bit of luck, if you believe in such nonsense.

I enjoyed the stroll back to the new flat, as I’ve enjoyed all of my peripatetics of late. Moving to a new part of town makes you see the city through fresh eyes again. On Rue Reaumur I noticed a beautiful building at 61-63 that has a wonderful art nouveau facade, and after looking it up on the internet, it appears that much of the street is fin-de-siecle and came by the order of the prefect of the Seine, Georges-Eugène Haussmann (so I may well have to pay closer attention from now on). It’s fascinating to imagine the widespread chaos caused by the Baron, and perhaps it was such a shock to Paris’s system that it has been obstinately set in its ways ever since. Haussmann was bald on top, so he probably only went to the Barbers once a year to get a trim and edge, and I doubt he spared much thought regarding which way round one puts the protective garment on either. He’s in Père-Lachaise now, where I expect his patch is well looked after.

*The title is a shit hair pun, in keeping with hairdressers everywhere. It too is de rigeour here for hair places to name themselves something painfully punny, like Couiff1rst, which is not only a terrible pun but also a terrible franglais pun, and what’s more they’ve even managed to sandwich a number in the title.

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A new career in a new quartier

A few weeks ago, I went for a teaching job at an institute of higher education situated in the outskirts of Paris with absolutely no anticipation of getting it. Yes, you’ve guessed already, I got the job. I had no fear given that I stood zero chance, and with nothing to lose the words flowed out of my mouth and to the surprise of at least one person in the room, they actually made some sense. Half an hour later I got the call while I was on the metro asking if I’d be interested in working Mondays. And so it came to pass that I was set free in a classroom to teach geniuses in all things I’m not so clued up in – physics, construction, thermodynamics – in the rudiments of the English language. It has been a success so far, though there are many weeks to go yet until the end of term. Tomorrow I will be teaching them how to knock up a winning CV, and we’ll be playing a game where they have to explain words that I almost certainly couldn’t like “entropy”. I’m now wondering if I should have used words like “banana” instead.

As well as starting a new job, we’ve also moved into a new place. I try not to believe in bad luck when it happens to me, but I’m always the first to mention when we have good luck – which we certainly have in renting this place. It all started with a casual mention of the fact we needed to find somewhere new to live one night in a Moroccan restaurant, and then through the friends of those friends we’ve managed to land what could reasonably be described as a dream home, certainly to a peasant like me. I always thought I’d be distraught to leave the 11eme, and yet now we’re here I’m happy to tell it to whistle. That’s not quite fair – it will always have a special place in my heart. Our last flat was cozy if you like, and much befell us, good and bad; in fact, I’ve probably never experienced highs and lows like that in one place, and if you’re wondering what I’m talking about then where’ve you been the last four years? Feel free to go back and read the 100+ entries I’ve written – that’s not a recommendation, it’s just stating the fact that you are entitled to do that if if floats your boat because the internet is free.   

The quartier is posher than we’ve been used to, and we have what seems like double the space to move around in. There aren’t many cats in Paris, at least not of the outdoor variety, but if we had one we’d definitely have enough room to swing it. The street is full of boulangeries and fromageries and Italian delis, the neighbours are respectful and classe moyenne and don’t have parties sauvages every single night, and the street bustles with activity, from cyclists and pedestrians to animal rights activists demonstrating, and En Marche! canvassers out handing out free balloons to children (and adult babies like myself) trying to convince people to vote for Emmanuel Macron. The chances of anyone from the Front National being stood outside our door telling people to be racist is slim to none, which is obviously a good thing unless they’re tied to the pavement and a steamroller is careening down the sidewalk.

When life is this good it’s easy to understand how you turn quickly into a smug and complacent bourgeois, though nothing is that easy in reality. We’ve been somewhat insulated from the shitshow in the world at the moment because we’ve been too busy to really pay too much attention. Life is sweet and then we have another three monthly scan to worry about, and the very real possibility of a Le Pen government in May. I’ve spoken to French people who shake their heads and say « ce n’est pas possible !” » and yet I remember myself – not to mention all those serious politicos and commentators – saying the same thing about Trump and Brexit. I’m hoping that 50 years on from the Summer of Love, 2017 won’t be the Summer of Hate, though if somehow Le Pen did get in, the chaos would make the demonstrations of the soixante huitards look like a nursery uprising. I hope the divisive, moronic and blatantly racist administration in the US –  and the myopically populist one in the UK – will give voters here (and in the Netherlands and Germany) pause for thought about where they cast their crosses. You’d think this would go without saying wouldn’t you, but it bears repeating. Voting for right wing demagogues is never a good idea.  

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Keep on mocking in the free world

I’ve rather been treading water on this blog of late, and this entry is more of the same, given time constraints. I’ll be honest with you, I’m only really filling this in now to ensure I have a blog for each month since I started this diary of sorts nearly four years ago.

So what have I been up to? Working 11-7, what a way to be exploited by the capitalist bourgeoisie. It was rather on my terms mind you, though I signed a non-disclosure agreement so I can’t really say that much more about it. That period of my life (okay, it was eight days) is over now. 

Other than that, I’ve been spending an awful lot of time agonising about how we ended up with another stupid orangutan in the White House. It’s not our White House, but we’re all interconnected, although not for much longer if The Donald has his way. It’s only ten days and now he’s started sacking people because they disagree with him and calls it “betrayal”. That’s the language of a fascist right there.

I have the feeling right now that I want to get involved more, but my lack of serviceable French precludes me from doing anything locally. I want to contribute more, maybe join a party, get my boots on the ground and engage, rather than crapping on on the internet all the time. Being here in that sense is a little frustrating, though I’m sure we all feel very frustrated right now. Don’t feel, do. Or something. If anyone has any bright ideas then let me know.

Anyway, more interesting stuff coming very soon, promise…

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Noël house parting

Christmas is almost upon us which can only mean one thing – my final dispatch from Paris this year. I write this hurriedly from Orly Airport where we’re soon to depart for Naples, then we’ll be back in the UK for the big one. I spent part of the summer angrily putting my foot down saying, “I’m not coming back to England this winter!” when the subject hadn’t even been broached. I figured if I got it in early enough, and kept repeating it like a mantra with a serious enough look on my face, then I’d somehow get my way and stay at home in my own place for the festive period – though by Autumn my resolve was weakening. Come November I knew the game was up, and rather than put up some futile resistance in order to try to save face, I acquiesced pathetically knowing deep down I’d never win.  

Now I have to leave my bubble, which is so cosy and warm and reassuring, and usually contains one person or two, and never more than four. It can expand as far as the gym up in Menilmontant and the Chinese restaurants in Belleville and Charonne. Sometimes I go as far as VeggieBowl, another Chinese, this time out beyond Grands Boulevards. Most of the time though, I frequent the local cafes in the 11e, boulangeries in three directions, and the Monoprix around the corner from the metro. I also spend a lot of time at home writing, reading and sleeping. My life is very glamorous when I don’t have cancer.

Recently I’ve taken to buying my produce from the market, which is so much fun I can’t believe I didn’t get down there before. Within a couple of months the stool holders have started to recognise me, and they’re all such friendly sorts who will shoot the breeze if you give them the chance. The veg is reasonable, and they’ll usually knock 50p off. It’s almost like I had to climb outside of my own bubble to partake in this biweekly exchange. At first I was frightened, but now I enter into the spirit of things like a true Parisian.

But that’s not enough for some. They want me to head to the projects and see what it’s like for the deprived who live out there, which perhaps represents a far more realistic existence to my coffee-quaffing living on the peripheries of the Internet nonsense. I’m on it when I’m not even on it half the time. Wandering around the 11e, shaking hands with the odd garçon de café, but not really engaging with them. I’ve been going to those places for three years now, and I know they call me Monsieur Allonge behind my back (they’ve got nothing else to go on). It’s not real assimilation is it? As one of the liberal elite (well isn’t everyone part of that these days?), I have no idea what other people are really thinking. No matter that I’m a bit skint myself – that has no bearing on how out of touch I am with the common homme.

I should also get out to the country and track down some Marine Le Pen voters to see what motivates them (cos that’s where they all live right?). It’s something I intend to do with my time next year; I’ll ask them why they feel so disenfranchised as the silent white majority who’ve had everything on a plate their whole lives, and who are just now getting the sense things might be changing as they creep stealthily to their impending deathbeds, and if they should spout forth prejudiced invective, I’ll nod and try to understand their predicaments. In fact, I’ll take their details so that after the election I can do some follow up, and should they confirm they voted for the Front National, I can offer my apologies for driving them into the arms of a demagogue by being a bleeding heart liberal. The fact they voted for a nasty racist old cunt is all our faults at the end of the day.

So say hello 2017 and bye bye bubble! We’re going to have to leave the 11eme for starters, which I’ll tell you more about in due course. Next year’s going to be a winner, I have a feeling in my water. Arrivederci for now.

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The shitehaus in the White House

Yesterday Claire and I went to L’esprit de Bauhaus exhibition at the Musée des Arts Décoratifs in the Louvre’s west wing. It begins with William Morris and other influences from the 19th century, and concludes with the design influence of the Bauhaus itself on modern culture subsequently – hence the “spirit” part (one presumes it wasn’t named after the song ‘Spirit’ by the goth band Bauhaus).

The Bauhaus school was opened in 1919 with the objective of disseminating total art (Gesamtkunstwerk), and it’s no coincidence that it sprang up the year after the Great War. There was still a prevailing sense that art could change things, even after the technology of machinery that had given everyone so much hope had been used to massacre millions of young men all across Europe. The utopian socialist collective set about its task pragmatically against repressive forces, not least of all the Weimarian conservatism it was surrounded by. It moved to Dessau in 1925 and to Berlin in 1932, closing within the year due to pressure from the Nazis. Alumni from the school fled all over the globe, and the influence of the Bauhaus spread internationally, far outlasting the “Thousand-Year Reich”.

It’s certainly an inspiring tale at a point in time where everything seems so fucked. It’s easy to give up hope right now when there’s a shitehouse in the White House, but things can change. That’s why messages to organise and mobilise aren’t just woolly rhetoric. I’m not sure what to do next yet, but it’s time we had a moratorium on moping around on Facebook*. I’m trying to avoid reading analysis, as it comes from the same sources I followed who didn’t give Trump a chance. Polling is dead. Punditry is pointless. Godwin’s Law is obsolete.

I have just about come to terms with the idea that Marine Le Pen might become president of France in 2017. Put it this way, I’m not getting my hopes up anymore. I spent many hours on social media trying to convince friends that Trump wouldn’t win while not entirely convincing myself, and I always felt Brexit was going to happen, even when the consensus suggested it would be close but remain would prevail. There are clearly parts of the electorate telling pollsters one thing and the polling booth another thing entirely. I still can’t quite believe it’s happening, but politicians are telling extraordinary lies and profiting from pervading fears, and there’s a lot of fear in France right now. The more I think about it, the more I think a Le Pen victory will happen now. If the election of President Trump has taught me anything though, it’s the fact that worrying about it won’t make any difference. I wasted a lot of energy fearing the worst, and when it actually happened it felt like an anticlimax of sorts. The sky hasn’t fallen in yet.

People who keep going on about what a dark year 2016 has been, say so with the implication that 2017 will be better. I don’t really see how that’s going to happen. There’ll still be a demagogue in the White House (unless he falls down some stairs or has a “heart attack”), some of your favourite pop stars will undoubtedly die, more bad shit will happen, and the likelihood is there’ll be a lot of it. I was sorry to see David Bowie go and I’m horrified by the fact our political classes have emboldened the very stupid to act upon their prejudices, but in 2015 I had cancer sliced out of my liver and had terrorists on my doorstep, so, you know, swings and roundabouts.

Today of course is the anniversary of the terror attacks in Paris that claimed 130 lives. Sting’s been in town, Boulevard Voltaire and Boulevard Richard Lenoir are closed and the TV trucks are back to feed off the misery one year on. Claire was ambushed by an Italian TV crew as we walked past the Bataclan the other day, and I could hear a news journalist from an Irish TV network cajoling someone into going on air. It’ll be emotional down there today, and possibly hectic with way more international news crews cajoling, so we’ll give it a miss. It’s Remembrance Sunday too, which they don’t really do in France, as everybody gets a day off on Friday to remember the dead. I’ll be remembering the fallen past and (almost) present, and reminding myself that in the future we shall overcome, even if that day looks a long way off at the moment.

There’s still lots to be hopeful about, though with the obvious caveat that it’s a long game we’re now playing. If it was just millennials voting for instance, then Trump would have only turned five states red, though one has to remember that young people grow up to be reactionary old farts too. Also, there is every chance the Donald won’t be ringing the changes those that voted for him are expecting, and that the status quo will be maintained more frustratingly than ever. The next four years look destined to be a disappointment for all concerned. Yes, the future’s shite, the future’s orange, but only the immediate future with a bit of luck. Mendacity has been 2016’s watchword, but as the Bauhaus proved, great ideas endure and the truth will out eventually.

*Ironically I’ll end up posting this blog on Facebook and we’ll probably end up having a chat about it.

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