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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The Juppé cushion

I often feel like we’ve slipped into an alternative reality and another more legitimate version of myself is somewhere having a great time, and everything is inconspicuously normal. There are plenty of other hypotheses that attempt to explain the surreality we find ourselves in, such as the simulation theory I read about in the Guardian yesterday where boffins believe we’ve slipped into a version of The Matrix (the paradigm isn’t new and is likely Cartesian in origin, apart from the bit about The Matrix obviously). Fancy theories abound, and we can hypothesise all we like, but it doesn’t change the fact that everything’s gone a bit batshit politically recently, whether it feels like it’s really happening or not.

Right now I’m more obsessed with politics than usual. I fear if I take my eye off it for one second then something yet more hideous will manifest, dressed as a killer clown in UKIP purple. And it’s little wonder it’s getting to me. I spend my days fretting about Brexit while my nightmares are infested by that boogieman Donald Trump (or trompe in French, meaning to deceive). And now my mornings more often than not feature that dead-eyed guignol Nicolas Sarkozy, smarming up to the Republicans (formerly the UMP) as he seeks the party nomination.

It had seemed like a fine idea to self improve. I would take myself to the gym and make myself watch the French news for half an hour daily as I ran on the treadmill or pedalled on an exercise bike. But of course it just means I’m getting full daily political discourse on three fronts now, which is surely enough for any one brain to take.

Sarko is attempting to become leader of his party ahead of the 2017 elections as he sets out to “resurrect” France. He’s been positioning himself as the anti-establishment candidate against THE MAN Alain Juppé, despite being rich and very much a member of the establishment. Sound familiar? The similarities with Trump don’t end there. The three times married demagogue is running an anti-Muslim campaign, threatening to ban headscarves if elected, and he wants to throw people like me – who can’t speak French properly – out of the country. He’s anti-EU, a climate change denier, and he wants to put forward referenda within days of being elected asking voters if they want to a) suspend the right for non-EU nationals to join family in France and b) throw suspected radicalised Islamists in jail without having to go through the courts. He also plans to speak up for the silent majority (the unrepresented working classes rather than the dead, one presumes). He makes Marine Le Pen look like a tree-hugging bleeding-heart liberal in other words.

Fortunately he probably won’t win. Juppé, the self-styled “prophet of happiness”, has been running a campaign focusing on hope rather than Sarkozy’s fear, and it appears to be paying off. This has given me a sense of hope that might be fallacious, as firstly Sarkozy is dogged by dodgy finances and his party probably don’t have such short memories that they’ve forgotten the electorate hates his guts, and secondly, when I actually think about it, I remember that Juppé is also a right winger, even if Sarko makes him look like a wet. But still, with Francois Hollande a dead president walking, Juppé might be the best hope we have against the unconscionable – a Front National government (it’s unlikely but not unthinkable).

The centre ground has suddenly shifted so far to the right everywhere, that we end up feeling grateful for the smallest of mercies; Theresa May becoming Prime Minister instead of Andrea Leadsom in the UK; Hillary hopefully wiping the floor with Trump in the US in November. Have things become so bleak in such a worryingly short period of time that we’re all suddenly settling for damage limitation? Also, voters now favour such a weird hotchpotch of ideas (pro-nationalisation of the railways while being anti-immigration for instance) that the old spectrum of left to right doesn’t even really work anymore. It’s all very confusing and worrying. I don’t think it’s an aberration either. I can’t see a way back for the left, and I can’t see the tectonic plates shifting to where they were any time soon. Meanwhile Brexit has unleashed dark forces and the racist genie isn’t about to go back into its bottle. I just pray the French and the Americans aren’t as stupid as the British, but when you no longer trust the reality you find yourself in then it’s impossible to repress the feeling that anything could happen, and it just might as well…

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To infinity and viande…

“The times they are a-changin’” sang a nasally hippy once. Presumably things are always in some state of flux, and sometimes you notice them more often than others. The other day, I told one of the children I tutor that the world moves faster now in a month than it did during the whole of the 14th century, which either blew his mind or he fazed out, it’s difficult to tell which. “Stuff is changing” obviously isn’t very scientific, but the signs are all around us. Brangelina is no more, Nigel Farage has left UKIP (hopefully for good this time), Bowie, Prince and Lemmy are all dead, our landlady wants us to move out (perhaps I’ll expound upon this in a future blog), and France is thinking about going vegetarian.

You heard. Yesterday I was at the gym attempting to watch the French news while I pedaled like Rumplestiltskin ON CRACK. I was taken by surprise, as the headline news contained animals and compassion and French people all in the same story. A parliamentary inquiry has recommended a number of steps to make abattoirs less disgusting, after some were clandestinely filmed recently, uncovering all too predictable and heinous abuses of livestock by the scum of the earth. One of the committee’s recommendations was to install video cameras in France’s 941 slaughterhouses, to throw light on shady practices that go unnoticed.

If that wasn’t great enough news in itself, today I opened Libération, one of France’s mainstream (if admittedly left-leaning) newspapers, to discover a 4-page lead feature promoting vegetarian alternatives to meat in the light of such horrors. This may not seem like a biggie, but this is France we’re talking about. I was of the assumption that French people didn’t eat anything that hadn’t suffered first, but evidently people here are genuinely concerned about this issue.

I have a feeling that if the Hexagon – not famed for les droits des animaux – gets serious about this, then others will follow. Indeed, methods employed by 99% of the industry to ensure cheap meat is ever present in supermarkets, should shame us all if we’re not psychopaths. Even the French. There’s no better example of capitalism causing untold suffering in the pursuit of profits. Factory farming is indefensible, which is why there’s so much secrecy involved. As for a nation where the motto is liberté, égalité, fraternité, and one that prides itself in leading the way where civil rights of the human variety are concerned, France actually errs towards conformism too often, as recently demonstrated by the Burkini ban (in certain areas, rather than nationally, like some understood it). Gastronomy certainly limits itself by its own recherche foodie regulations, and woe betide anyone who veers from the accepted norm. Restaurants are getting better, but there are still plenty of places in cosmopolitan Paris where you’ll not find anything vegetarian on the menu, and you’ll also struggle if you have celiac disease or have any other dietary requirements. Go out to the country and you may as well prepare to starve. Apparently these aberrant preferences don’t fit with France’s incomprehensible philosophy of food (incomprehensible if you’re not French anyway), and I will say that while I adore living here and would prefer it to England any day of the week (except Sunday, everything’s shut), deviances of whim are barely tolerated.

As for not putting vegetarian options on the menu, there are at least 375 million veggies in the world, and 84.7 million tourists visited France in 2013, making it the most popular tourist destination on earth. If there are 7.12500 billion people in the world (2013 figures again), then of the 84.7 million visitors, I make that around 4 and a half million of them that are probably vegetarians. So give the poor fuckers something to eat when they get here, eh? Who knows, France might be a bit stuck in its ways where gastronomie is concerned, but maybe it can lead the way in sorting out these vile knackeries. The way we treat our creatures is a stain on our humanity, and history will judge us to be the savages that we are. The times they might be a-changin’, but in this instance, change can’t come quickly enough.

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Ageing bull

I found my emotions oddly conflicted as I caught the train at Oberkampf this afternoon. In front of me on the platform was a middle aged man with a large easel he’d clearly just purchased, and something about the uncomfortable way he held it – like how Nigel Farage might hold a black baby thrust at him for a photo opportunity – gave off the sense that this man had probably never flicked a paintbrush in anger before. I felt like laughing at him, and when the metro suddenly jolted to a stop and he fell over with the easel landing on top of him, I couldn’t help but laugh at him. And yet there was something about this clumsy chap, who might or might not be experiencing a midlife crisis, that suddenly seemed completely adorable to me, and then I felt like a bit of a shit for instinctively sneering.

It’s easy to sneer isn’t it? But why shouldn’t he (and obviously much of this is based on supposition) learn to paint in midlife or old age for that matter? In fact, mocking the transition from youth to middle age is mean-spirited, because it’s not always easy. I’ve personally never put away the childish things one is meant to eschew for grown up stuff like having a best crockery set and a mortgage and owning a drill, so I have no desire to recapture my youth, as I’m still doing the same nonsense I was doing when I was 17, bar the cider, magic mushrooms and religious guilt. Besides, and I’ve said this times, I used to worry about growing old, now I worry about not growing old. I had to go on a weird diet, drink laxatives, starve myself for 12 hours, go through an endoscopy and colonoscopy and then wait for two hours before being told everything was normal this week, so if you want to dress up in Cosplay or chase the shit out of Pokemon all day then knock yourself out. Personally I want to get a pair of sock suspenders, start listening to Brahms and buy a working printer. Just this afternoon I looked at my reflection in the metro window and decided I’d be a fox with white hair. Bring it on!

Last weekend we went to a music festival. Rock ‘n’ roll and going to gigs in fields used to be a young man’s game (and when I say man I’m not excluding woman), but maybe not any more. On the way back from La Route du Rock, we got a lift with a guy who was maybe 5 years older than me, maybe ten, and who had done 5 to ten more La Route du Rocks than me too (I’ve done 5). I say 5 to ten years older – he might be the same age for all I know (I mean look at TV historian Dominic Sandbrook, a year and a half my junior! Or TV comedian Dara “I’ve clearly led a hard fucking life” O’Briain – less than a year older according to his Wikipedia page). Anyway, the chap driving had started going to festivals sometime in the early 2000s, and despite being a baldy with a nice car and a good job, he’s now spent hundreds of hours photographing bands that the person we used to call 50-quid man has never heard of, knows some seriously niche music and is au fait with a lot of very obscure artists who’ve played LRDR and Transmusicales, festivals for the committed alternative music connoisseur. I decided not to ask him what had led to his rock ‘n’ roll road to Damascus, because a) it’s rude, and b) I couldn’t give a shit really. Whatever floats your boat.

Last night I did feel past it though. A group of young people have moved in downstairs, and they’ve fitted a hammock right below our window and go out to the courtyard to smoke and chat and listen to Bob Marley (not a good sign). Lots of young people have moved into the building since we’ve been here, and when we moved to the 11eme, part of the appeal was the youthfulness and the vibrancy of the area. Now we’re swamped with kids and I miss the respectful, fastidious gay men who used to characterise the locataires inhabiting the place. It used to be so quiet but for the yappy dogs. I realise how old I sound, and those who’ve known me for a while will no doubt be thinking how hypocritical the next paragraph makes me, but bite me.

This lot were very drunk, and managed to wake me up at 3am, 4am and also 5am. I went stomping down in my dressing gown and hammered on the window the first time to let them know what time it was. It wasn’t business time. I’ve discovered that my French is best when dealing with hospital matters, or when shouting at people for making too much noise. Suddenly “I’m going to call the police in a minute” and “I’ve got to go to work in the morning” tripped off the tongue, even if neither are true. The final time I lost my rag hanging out of the bedroom window swearing in English, they apologised graciously, went inside, and I didn’t hear another peep out of them. I’m not convinced I’ve heard the last of them though. And there’s a feeling in my bones that they could well be having a laugh at the silly English guy approaching middle age living upstairs. Maybe in the future I’ll need to take up painting to alleviate the stress?

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Nous sommes uni

I used to think there were just two types of people, those who’ve seen The Fall and those who haven’t. That didn’t stop me believing in the usual stuff; that there are basic human commonalities that bind us together in spite of differences of opinion, religion, political persuasion and all that other nonsense that can lead to a misunderstanding and 17 million violent deaths. The basic premise that we’re all the same deep deep down isn’t really up for discussion, and yet I’ve never in my lifetime experienced a period like the one we’re going through, where everything has become about Us and Them, whichever side you happen to be on.

As a consequence I and many others like me take to social media daily to reinforce our worldview by SHOUTING VERY LOUDLY at people who think just like us. I went on a couple of radio shows this week, and on one of them I did just that, although in my normal voice. It was a five minute interview for a podcast hosted by a guy who told me by email that he’d previously interviewed Noam Chomsky and Malcolm Gladwell, obviously appealing to the delusional part of my brain. As I say, I only had five minutes, and suddenly I found myself bleating on about how the liberal agenda is winning – that we’re talking more openly about addiction, mental health, sexual fluidity etc – despite the world appearing to be a scary place at the moment. It was meant to be a positive message, but by the time I shut up there wasn’t any time left for questions.

To enforce my worldview further, yesterday we visited the Musée national de l’histoire de l’immigration at the Palais de la porte dorée in the 12th arrondissement. We weren’t disappointed. The art deco building was constructed in time for the Paris Colonial Exposition in 1931, and it apparently has a giant aquarium in the basement. Ironically a place built to salute imperialist dominance now champions independence, diversity and multiculturalism. It’s all there written on the walls, from Turkish builders in the 60s and 70s to Jewish diasporas through the centuries, as well as Southeast Asian boat people, Chileans fleeing persecution, Spanish, Portuguese, Algerian, Hungarian, Russian, Armenian, Polish, Italian and Belgian émigrés. There was even an influx of English in 1851 (and there might be another one coming soon judging by the way things are going). Without immigration France wouldn’t have enjoyed the massive artistic contributions of Goya, Chopin, Apollinaire, Man Ray, Picasso, Benjamin, Beckett, Brel, Brassaï, Xenakis or Thierry Henry. My hero, Gainsbourg, was a second generation Russian Jewish immigrant whose parents fled the Ukraine around the time of the Revolution. Immigration therefore equals good, that’s my *Weltanschauung.

The day before we were at a wedding, our first French one as it happens, featuring our two wonderful and dearly beloved friends, Russell and Lindsey (dearly beloved is a bit of a tautology now I think about it. Don’t blame me, blame the church). The ceremony was strictly secular, with vows taken in the presence of the tricolor and the flag of Europe. The deputy mayor of the mairie gave a little speech at the end, and said that while the UK had voted for Brexit, the French would still love us all the same. I had to stifle a little tear, but it soon disappeared when she mentioned the Queen.

Russell – or Dr Williams to give him his proper title – also managed to drop mention of the referendum into his rather excellent speech, and given that there were definitely some Brexiteers in the congregation, it thankfully didn’t sow the seeds of a ruckus later on. In fact there was a lot of love in the room all night, which transcended petty differences like party political persuasions, helped on I think by my most excellent DJing skills. When you’re sober, spinning some tunes is the perfect way to enjoy a wedding. You’re able to luxuriate in the joy the happy couple exude, while not really having to talk to anyone all night – apart from the drunkards coming up and asking for ‘Uptown Funk’ obviously.

I was meant to be taking tracks from Russell’s laptop and mixing them in with a record deck, only I couldn’t work out how to queue the records up silently, and the laptop stopped working, meaning we had to fire up Spotify on Claire’s phone. It was a bumpy ride, but we somehow managed it. I learnt that ‘Hong Kong Garden’ by Siouxsie and the Banshees, ‘Sweet Child O Mine’ by Guns n Roses, ‘Get Lucky’ by Daft Punk and ‘Modern Love’ by David Bowie are all dancefloor fillers at a wedding, whereas ‘Turn It On Again’ by Genesis is a killer, despite being ace. I presume Lindsey and Russell enjoyed themselves, but for me it might well have been the best night of my life. Or certainly the best night out I’ve had in ages. I was cut off at 11pm by the bar staff for being too loud (they had noise complaints from the neighbours), meaning I never got to play any Super Furry Animals for Russell. And I never got to play ‘Big New Prinz’ by The Fall for me either. That one would have divided people.

*We’re off to Berlin tomorrow so it’s important to learn a few poncy big German words)

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