Didn’t you used to hate those people who’d go to live in some satellite town outside London and come back six months later speaking like a fucking cock-er-nee. I remember this one chap who I bumped into on Market Jew Street, Penzance, when we had both returned for Christmas.
“What have you been up to?” I inquired, jovially. I might have even said “mate” or some such chummy term of endearment.
“I been living down London,” he said, which was annoying in itself as London wasn’t down, longitude wise.
“Oh yeah, me too. Whereabouts are you?”
“High Wycombe”, he said, and naturally I pissed myself laughing. Then we had a fight, right there in the street.
In the six months I’ve been here I’ve definitely not turned into a Frenchman yet. The late writer and historian André Maurois once spoke of his “deep-rooted certainty that a Frenchman can only be a Frenchman,” and I’m not going to argue with him. People I know who live here and come from outside speak of always feeling like aliens, and I get that now. A well-known Canadian musician I spoke to last year said that after eight years of being in France he’d “never be one of them”, and off he went to live somewhere else in Europe.
On the other hand people no longer address me in English before I’ve opened my mouth like they used to when I was a tourist, in the same way smokers never ask me for a light any more since I gave up. It’s funny how people just know. Maybe unbeknown to you you start to acclimatise physically like a human lizard? Someone get David Icke on the blower, I need some answers. It certainly wouldn’t have anything to do with my clothes, because I’ve not bought that many since I arrived and the black jeans I’ve acquired have just replaced other black jeans that got worn out. My hair’s longer, with grey peppering, so that could be contributory. Jean Michel Jarre had hair like that when I interviewed him about a decade ago (you’re right, I’m just name-dropping now). Oh yeah, and it could be my fat stomach.
I didn’t think my stomach was that fat until I was taking a picture of a cherub atop the Grand Palais on Sunday as we queued for ages to see the Georges Braque exhibition there. A bad clarinettist busking next to the queue, parping out of time and dressed inexplicably like Dennis Hopper in True Romance, stopped me to make a joke about my protruding belly which apparently juts out when I lean backwards. I didn’t understand him at first.
“Don’t worry,” he said after repeating his hilarious observation three times for everyone in the queue who speaks French to enjoy, “I make a joke”.
Monsieur Drôle (or Monsieur Drool as Claire called him on account of his slobbery playing style) then retreats back into his playing having drawn attention to my guts, and a woman in the queue in front of us then gets involved.
“We like our men with a fat belly,” she says, perhaps trying to make me feel better. “In Paris we think it is very nice for a man like you to have a big fat belly.”
Well then that’s okay then, the humiliation was all worth it.
It’s a fairly thorough Braque exhibition and definitely a great way to lose yourself for a few hours following the age spent queuing (if you’ve not had the sense to book ahead). I find it fascinating to think how instrumental Georges Braque was in Cubism, and even now when you know different, his great friend Picasso will always somehow feel more synonymous with the movement because of his winning personality.
Braque was said to be the shy, retiring type where Picasso was brash and showy, and it’s a certainty that because Apollinaire was more drawn to the Spaniard’s magnetism, history has recorded his original contributions as more significant than that of Braque’s. A certainty perhaps, but for my money, despite his dalliances with Fauvism and post-Impressionism, the trepanning he underwent after being injured during the war and the sheer variety of his work over the decades which makes for an interesting life, I can’t help feeling he was a bit of a plodder.
I can’t explain why Picasso’s paintings seem so vivacious and always elicit a visceral reaction out of me whereas Braque’s feel safe though certainly much more than just competent. Perhaps it’s the subject matter; his obsession with painting the guitar for me becomes tedious quite quickly and you’re left with the contradictory feeling that this brilliant and adventurous painter was also given to ennui of the imagination. That all said, I’d heartily recommend going along.