The city of Paris that Picasso arrived in in 1900 was regarded as one of the cultural epicentres of the world – as it is today – though back then it was also a hive of naughtiness and a magnet for the debauched (whereas now it’s more a magnet for people in bad shorts and rucksacks holding maps up the wrong way shouting about the fact they haven’t eaten a cheeseburger for at least an hour). I’m very interested in perceptions of the city I live in and am currently looking into the way Americans view Paris and how that connects to a bygone era when all the bohemians escaped prohibition and took off for Europe. It’s a romanticised image that might just be a weird simulacrum, I dunno, I’m investigating. It’s easily done, getting strange ideas in your head; I’m not sure what I was expecting when I first started heading here five years ago; smoking poets in bars and yéyé chanteuses on every corner? Let’s hope not. I think I was just looking to get away and it was conveniently situated right across the water. It still surprises me most days that I live here now.
The days of people going insane on absinthe and laudanum in the artistic enclave of Montmartre are most likely just a distant phantasm, but no doubt some people still think that kind of thing is pervasive. Well I’m sure it is if you turn over enough stones, but not in my Paris. When I was working in Brussels for three weeks at the end of the 90’s I found some of the wildest nightlife of any city I’ve ever come across, probably because I was looking for it. Boring old Brussels eh? It’s always the quiet ones.
Stood outside a café on the Rue de Rivoli yesterday I was approached by a sleazy gentleman who came up to announce “les affaires sont bonnes!” as he rubbed his hands together cockily. What business was he in? I wish I’d never asked. “The girl business,” he said. “The business of LOVE”. Oh right. “I’m just waiting for my girlfriend,” I mumbled, which he maybe didn’t believe because he kept standing there. Claire eventually came out of the café and spooked him and he went away quickly enough, looking as though he’d just been wedgied by the vice squad. That’s about as seedy as life has got since I’ve lived here you know. It’s a far cry from Picasso’s Les demoiselles d’avignon to be honest.
I had two major surprises recently though, and you’d better brace yourselves. Firstly, and I appreciate what a dick I might sound here, but I discovered that I fucking love quinoa. We went for a meal at Le Potager du Marais, a vegan restaurant on Rue Rambuteau just behind the Pompidou. This is the finest restaurant in ze whole frickin’ vurld, and I cannot recommend it highly enough. The staff are magnificent too, and they humour me with my tragic French. Anyway, so I ate quinoa and it was a taste revelation – god knows what it is but whatever it is I’m sold. God, I don’t know if you’re responsible for this stuff, but if you are then I believe.
The second surprise was more of an epiphany, and the epiphany is this – people are always saying how hard it is to be a vegetarian in Paris. Au contraire mon frère, the choices are actually staggeringly good. There’s a whole blog in this, but I’m about to get a Eurostar back to England for Christmas. It’s a total myth that needs to be debunked though, the idea that you can’t survive in Paris without meat; it’s as good as London or Amsterdam, you just need to know where to look. And I know where to look, so ask me if you’re having problems.
I’m going vegan for a few weeks in January as an experiment. If it works out then I might continue. I’ll be doing some fromage dommage in the meantime.