19 XI 2021
Hotel Adèle et Jules.
Shortly after arrival we took to the streets. The hotel on the Rivoli being unavailable, we had opted for Montmartre, where in a cul de sac a quiet hotel was advertized. But out of this labyrinth we longed to go back to the river.
There are several long roads leading there and we soon found the Rue de Richelieu, leading directly to our haunts. We greeted the plaquette commemorating Stendhal writing in “exile” about his Roman Promenades. Then the festive bronze statue of Molière, not far from his former stages. Went sideways into the quiet of the royal palace, with its trimmed hedges and trees and waterworks. And the relative silence enjoyed by Colette whose rooms looked out on it.
Visited the columns of Daniel Buren, who KS had once invited to his festival in Singapore. Buren brought a circus there.
Then crossed over to the real palace courtyard of the Louvre with the view of the contemporary landscaped gardens of the Tuileries. But as before the real satisfaction was that the intervention of the Chinese architect I.M. Pei had worn so well. His little glass pyramid in the centre did not obstruct the view of the baroque palaces and simultaneously and naturally linked the square with the underground entrance hall. To our surprise even in these pandemic times long and good-natured queues of visitors were lining up under the blue sky.
We were hungry after the travel and KS had the happy memory of a fanciful Thai place in the neighborhood. We descended the dark steps and were warmly received as old customers, which we were.
20 XI 2021
Spent the birthday of KS at the Louvre.
Visiting the Paris and Athens exhibition about the public resurrection of the Ancient Greeks. Two centuries ago. Not so much as a cultural renaissance, which was already underway, but as an inspired government policy.
The poster shows a French military officer explaining the past to some adoring girls on a balcony facing the Acropolis.
Two new things for me. The influence of the arts academy of Munich in Germany on new Greek painting, by sponsorship of Otto I, the foreign king. Secondly the involvement of the French visual arts academies in excavating the past. It reminded me of the geopolitics behind Dokumenta during the Cold War.
Afterwards we visited the usual. From the Milo to the Samothrace to the Mona Lisa. Not much Chinese or Japanese tourism at the moment because of the pandemic, but a full house from Europe and the Mediterranean.
Sat for a while watching the public come forward to look at the ancient Hermaphrodite comfortably stretched on a luscious mattress sculpted by Bernini. It is still an amazing celebration of hybridity and sexuality. The bust and the erection and the butt… very outspoken. Since Roman times is has been inevitably copied, as in our times. With many clerical sponsors.
Was groped in the Metro by a middle aged man. It happened when the carriage was bulging with passengers, forcing people to step down at the stops to let the arrivals out. In a compact mass we were pressed together, turning away our masked faces from each other. My Me Too experience was terminated when I made my displeasure clear.
Noted a certain friendliness in the Parisian air that I do not remember from previous visits. The new generation seems less plaintive or grumbling.
Even under the restrictions of Covid the Saturday crowds were “classically” dining and chatting on the trottoirs (sidewalks). Could have been the fin de siècle.
We ate at a pop-up restaurant in the Rue Richer. Full house, hard working kitchen, pleasant service, cosmopolitan.
22 XI 21
This, our last full day in Paris, we decided to revisit the Centre Pompidou. Now acquainted with our site and helped by KS’s cell-phone proficiency it took us no more than half an hour on foot to arrive at the building. It did not disappoint.
A functionalist work by Renzo Piano, it had without much ado gone with the times and now was connected with its visitors not unlike another railway station. External Covid checks and interior shops and a locker-room and even a floating cafeteria in the entrance hall. It felt messy but not unsettling.
We first visited a display by four young artists, shortlisted for the Marcel Duchamp prize. Three of them had divergent esthetics, but not much more to tell. The fourth one, Lili Reynaud Dewar, studying at the French academy in Rome, and working with a group of friends, was more gripping to my mind.
It recreated on film the last hours of Pier Paolo Pasolini, the night he went to Ostia with a pick up.
At the time I was in Italy and followed the story in local newspapers. Bar. Car. Beach. It was a gruesome murder, especially as the group of assassins was fully aware of the stature of the man they killed.
The artists who reenacted Pasolini and his “friend” were diverse: male and female, straight and gay, European and non-European and spoke the same texts. It brought out the sordid, nearly boring sequence of events, not worth the bother, but gruesome in its flatness.
Most of the visitors left the room halfway in disgust or in fear.
It reminded me of the only time I met P.P.P.; in London, where he was recruiting minor players for his film Canterbury Tales. I met him on several occasions, but one evening to my surprise he was present near the entrance of the Underground, opposite my hotel. P. accosted another homosexual prostitute, a common young man looking like a farmhand. Hidden in the crowd I could not tell myself not to look and to witness. It took a long time before P. approached the young man. They had a desultory conversation. Then suddenly disappeared. It could have been Ostia.
We also visited Georgia O’Keeffe. The French canonization of a foreign celebrity. Also an extensive show of Baselitz.
Afterwards we sat for a long teatime lunch at the top of Pompidou, looking out over the white and blue rooftops of the arrondissement. Towards the Notre Dame under reconstruction, towards the Saint Séverin, towards the impressive sunset. It was a setting of formal goodbye, with the great spires of the city being visited in turn by the light of the sun.
22 XI 2021
Yesterday mainly walked nostalgically from Montmartre to St. Germain.
On the way we stopped at the Académie, where under the Coupole a photo exhibition by Ann Leibowitz was hosted.
These documentary photographs of an American period of legendary experiments are so immediately participatory that one can call A.L. a true witness to the times.
Everyone was there from Queen Elisabeth to Burroughs, and of course the iconic photograph of Yoko Ono and John Lennon in embrace had pride of place. Every photo had a twist that made it unusual. Even the portraits of the Obamas, taken in profile, became unusually serious, and un-political.
From there we passed through the Rue de Seine, with its always tasteful but unexciting galleries, till we ended up in Saint André des Arts, where I first landed in Paris. And by the way Celan en Wilde lived and died in the hotel. The road where Joris Ivens still had picked me up with his Deux Chevaux, was now blocked by eating customers on terraces. The feeling of a modern bazaar.
By the Place St. Michel, where since long the Alsatian choucroute had disappeared, we approached the Saint Séverin. Now surrounded by locals from the other side of the Mediterranean, but also deserted by the formerly omnipresent Japanese and Yankees.
KS had remembered a Chinese eatery from the past (Miramar), where after some queuing and haggling we found a place as before: still with tasty food and rough waiters. Beside us sat a lonely intellectual from Réunion, who had come there for years and was respected by the staff.
We did not drink much. I am allergic to the fakeness of the Beaujolais Nouveau. We crossed over to the Saint Séverin, where the old backdoor was still open and let us in to the gloom, which was increased by the windows of Bazaine losing their sparkle. After fifty years they had accumulated soot and dirt and now resembled the blackness of Rouault’s prints in the chapel.
A vagrant young man with knapsack was sitting there as if stranded in his quest for food, either moral or digestive. He reminded me of myself, long ago.
In the evening we decided to follow up on the advice of the black receptionist of our hotel and try a Japanese restaurant around the corner. It was called Okinawa and had a row of racks and bicycles for rent in front, but no visitors inside. This was caused by Covid with people now ordering from and eating at home. Inside a constant flow of deliverers passed our solitary occupied table. The intermediary food chain between the kitchen and the home gave an opportunity to many black boys on rented bicycles, which kept this shop afloat.
The young owner of this sushi place was a south Chinese born in Paris, and fully articulate about politics in France. He said Macron was mistrusted, because nobody believes that he was not a stooge of the bankers’ world.
23 XI 2021
The temptation of a nostalgic visit, oriented by a honeymoon trajectory, is to ignore that what has changed. We went to Paris 8 years ago, as much to explore each other as Paris itself. And now we are visiting something that may have changed or even disappeared.
This time I felt more disoriented than ever before. It is partially old age, as my eyes are slow and my steps uncertain.
But it is also that my old ways are challenged by new inventions and manners. In the past I confidently relied on my sense of orientation, which is that of a bird’s eye. Where-ever I am I want to relate myself to the North and the South, East and West, and know the place of the sun at that daytime. Then, when in unknown territories, I explore the neighborhood on foot and in circles, establishing a clear pattern of connecting streets and landmarks. So afterwards a mental map allows me to move over it in different directions and distances and gives me the grasp of where I am.
This is no longer the case for young people. They work with systems linking themselves with places they want to go. The mental map is no longer geographical but methodical. They do not want to know where they are, but what to do. How far away is the place they want to go, in minutes, on foot or by vehicle. What vehicles are available, public or private. They do not care which way to go, that is the job of the system to solve. They think in steps. They call an unknown driver of a car, who remains in the air, so to say, till he arrives in his own way from nowhere to pick you up. He delivers you as if by magic where you want to be. He will probably have forgotten about your existence the moment after.
A last image stays with me. Looking over the Seine towards the Île de la Cité with its silver-grey skyline, we could not avoid noticing an enormous commercial display. It dwarfed the surroundings by its dimensions and blatant colors. It sat on top of the roofs like a medieval gargoyle, or vulture, devilishly contemplating what prey to grasp and to devour. It was the unnecessary promotion of the elimination of cinemas as intermediaries by Netflix. One of the fastest growing companies to invest in world-wide.