Saturday
Jun212008

Superdome at the Palais de Tokyo

    On Thursday, I went to the Palais de Tokyo to view their current exhibit, “The Superdome”. Yes, it is referring to the Superdome in New Orleans, Louisiana. Why an exposition in honor of this stadium? According to their explanation, the Superdome has seen events of every extreme of emotions – Hurricane Katrina, famous concerts, famous people. Similarly, the exhibit at the Palais de Tokyo is a display of extremes. It consists of five works by six artists.

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    The first work that you encounter is by an artist Arcangelo Sassolino, called Afasia 1. It’s a nitrogen powered machine that projects empty beer bottles toward a board, shattering them. Another equally bizarre and interesting work is a room filled with Darth Vader helmets (Last Manoeuvres in the Dark, by Fabien Giraud and Raphael Siboni). I’m not sure I understood the meaning behind all of these contemporary works, but regardless of my comprehension, they are cool to look at. I suggest asking for a copy of the Palais de Tokyo magazine at the ticket desk, because it includes explanations and pictures that are helpful in understanding (or at least trying to understand) the thoughts behind the work. While you are visiting the Palais de Tokyo, you will also see some official looking people sitting in chairs. These are facilitators, and they are there to help answer any questions about the exposition. They are friendly and knowledgeable about the exhibit. Look for the badge though – other people sitting in chairs may just be part of the exhibit...

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   One exposition, Dump, by artist Christoph Buchel, takes a little more planning to visit. From the outside, the exposition looks exactly as the name suggests – a giant pile of trash filling a room. This installation is interactive, and to fully experience it, you crawl through a tunnel leading deep into the pile. Visitors are allowed to enter two at a time, and each entrance takes 15-20 minutes. However, to enter the tunnel, you have to put your name on a list and wait your turn. When I went at 7 pm, all the time slots were taken right up until 11:30 pm (at which time the tunnel is closed). The guards suggested coming right at noon to put your name on the list. Since the visits last only twenty minutes, they said that usually you won’t have to wait long before your turn.  

    So words of advice, if you want to explore Dump, make sure to go early in the day to reserve your spot (talk to the facilitators by the tunnel). Also, occasionally the beer bottle launcher runs out of supplies, so be aware of that as well. As much as I like the hours that the Palais de Tokyo keeps, for this exposition, my suggestion is still to go as early in the day as possible.   

    The Superdome exposition will be displayed until August 24th. It’s a very contemporary exhibit, but I thoroughly enjoyed exploring it.

 

Monday
Jun162008

Historic Palace Hotel Auctions Everything This Week

The historic Parisian palace hotel, Le Royal Monceau, is going to be gutted and redone from scratch to transform it into a new Raffles Hotel (and considering how often they've tried unsuccessfully to redecorate it, it's probably for the best). So in preparation for the demolition crews, this week they're auctioning off the entire interior, from the luxury linens and porcelain to the antique furniture and the chandeliers.

You can go see what will be auctioned today and tomorrow from 10am-10pm, and the auctions take place throughout the day on Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday (June 19-22). Here's your chance to get some Royal Monceau embossed towels -- without sneaking them out in your suitcase, that is. ;-)

Saturday
Jun142008

White Picnic on the Champs Elysées

picnicblanc2.jpgIf you happened to be out on Thursday night at approximately 9:15pm, you probably wouldn't have noticed a large number (50? 75?) of tour buses pulling over on the Avenue des Champs Elysées. There are always tour busses on the Champs. But at exactly 9:30pm something extraordinary happened. The doors to the busses opened and approximately 8000 elegant Parisians and Franciliens dressed in all white spilled out onto the wide sidewalks where they proceeded to set up tables, cover them in white table clothes, vases of white flowers, and candelabras of white votives, and sat down to a modest feast befitting any French picnic. Bewildered onlookers stared as these men and women of all ages, many in tuxes and fancy oversized hats, poured Champagne into crystal flutes.

picnicblanc5.jpg"What is this?" asked one woman as I snapped some photos. This is the annual Diner en Blanc, an amazingly well-organized clandestine picnic sans permit, begrudgingly tolerated by the local police. Each year for over two decades, the location is kept secret, and the list of participants open by invitation only. Invitees are told only where and when to meet the network of busses around Paris (arranged by the mysterious organizers), which then convene together on a different surprise location each year (past picnics have been in front of Invalides, around the Place du Palais Royal, at the Arc de Triomphe).

picnicblanc7.jpgIt looks like a huge wedding party. Especially when, at 10pm, everyone starts dancing to the live band being slowly driven down the Champs-Elysées on the back of a truck. The white picnickers wave and cheer as open-top sightseeing busses pass by, and again when the police riot vans perform the obligatory drive-by, sirens blaring and blue lights flashing. "Go get some white clothes and join us!" says one of the party goers (dressed in his grandmother's chef's uniform). And considering the fact that the Gap, Zara, and many other clothing stores on the Champs were still open that wouldn't have been impossible, but alas, my friends and I were already on our way to another party. As we headed off at 11pm we could see the picnickers all lighting their sparklers in celebration of another successful soirée. And miraculously, it didn't even rain.

nicolas_mazet.jpgEpilogue 

My American friends and I contemplated the myriad reasons this would not work as well in the US:

- Orange Alert forbids any public shenanigans that might be construed as terrorist acts

- Archaic "open container" laws prevent the drinking of alcohol on the streets.

- Out-of-control capitalism means that "someone" would find a way of making money from this event, therefore ruining the whole point

-  Most American picnics would never fit on a table that's small enough to carry (all that potato salad gets heavy)

- Most Americans would never do anything that might go on their permanent record (and maybe growing up in Arizona has warped my sense of American police mentality, but I have no doubt that all 8000 picnickers would be rounded up, charged, and fined).

I would love to be proven wrong here...anyone game for giving it a try in Central Park, er, I mean, "an undetermined secret location"?

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Wednesday
Jun112008

Any Given Tour Day

Yesterday was officially the first hot day of the spring, a toasty 25°C/77°F. And just Sunday I was wearing a scarf and telling friends it's too cold to sit on the terraces. The gods were apparently as sick of my pasty pallor as I was. Of course, I couldn't just hang out in flip flops, shorts and a t-shirt all day, because I had a tour, a family from El Paso. So Paris was still relatively cool for them, but jetlag and being squashed in city conditions (like the metro) makes it more unbearable, especially when you're walking around in it for eight hours. And the weather wasn't the only pleasant if somewhat inconvenient surprise of the day.

We strolled down the Ile St Louis and part of the street was blocked off for the filming of a foreign (ie not French) film. I could tell even before the tour client saw the crew's badges with the English title (something "Julia and...") because the French "street scene" was styled so stereotypically the way foreigners view France (gendarme in a kepi and cape, the overly cute butcher shop, the old guy in the beret, etc.) that it couldn't be French. I was trying to point out one of the historic private mansions, but we were scooted along by the crew.

After a trip to the open market, we went to the Place des Vosges to sit and eat in the grass (I even had a blanket to sit on), but there were only two inches of grass that were in the shade, and by then it felt a lot hotter than the thermostat indicated. Luckily, the Place des Vosges has a LOT of benches under the trees, so we quickly found a free one and enjoyed our lunch.  

Later, I took the family to the Palace of Justice (since one of them is a lawyer) and saw immediately that there was no usual line to get into Ste-Chapelle, which is inside the Palace complex. A handwritten sign said it was closed today and tomorrow. We passed quickly through security and on the way past Ste-Chapelle to get to the Palace of Justice entrance, we asked the police why it was closed, and who were the two people standing up in the spire. "They're the workers; they're on strike." I looked up and yelled to the unhappy workers, "Sautez pas!" (don't jump). I like to think even strikers have a sense of humor.

Luckily we weren't there to see the chapel, so the clients took photos of the strikers in the spire and we continued to the courthouse to check out the room where Marie-Antoinette was tried during the revolution.

Afterwards, we headed over to Notre Dame Cathedral, and we saw that no one was going in. Another strike?  We saw banners and moved closer to see what they said, but they were to welcome the pope, who happens to be visiting in September. And then we saw the police line going all the way around the building, blocking the side streets as well. "Suspicious package," said the policeman with the sniffer dog. They assured us it would be open shortly, but my tour guidees were pretty pooped by that point anyway, so they noted the poster promoting the evening organ concert and we headed back over to their rental apartment on the Ile St-Louis.

Some people might see this as a day of mishaps, but it was a great way for the visitors to see what life in Paris is really like. ;)

Later on, one of my friends who had gone out to the airport to pick someone up said that the RER workers were on strike (all's well today). That is usually not good, but apparently it was just the ticket takers, so they let everyone ride for free instead of stopping traffic like they usually do. So a big round of hugs for the RATP strikers, who are finally making their bosses pay, not the innocent (and harried) travelers.

Or are they?

Just saw today that the metro/bus ticket prices are going up 6.7% on July 1. Individual tickets will be €1.60,  the carnet of 10 will be €11.40, and the monthly pass will be €55.10. I guess someone has to pay for this excellent service.

Wednesday
Jun112008

Calendar Update

Looking for something to do this weekend? Check out the updated calendar of events here.

Wednesday
Jun112008

Introductions, summer intern!

Andrea%20Picture.jpgHello, bonjour!  I need to introduce myself, because Heather is allowing me to tag along and learn about her life as a writer/tour guide in Paris.  I'll be helping Heather out this summer - updating her website, and tracking down exciting events to share.  So if you see entries submitted by me, don't be too surprised!

 A little bit about myself - in the fall, I'll be starting my junior year at Carleton College (Heather's alma mater!).  For the past ten weeks, I have been living in Paris, participating in a study abroad program.  Studying abroad in this wonderful city has been amazing.  I'm excited however to continue my "Paris experience" from a little different angle.  I found Heather on a list of Carleton graduates, and from the first email, she has been welcoming and encouraging of my interest in helping her.  She has been more than kind in allowing me this opportunity.  So, thanks Heather!

 I've thoroughly enjoyed my time so far in Paris, and I look forward to continuing my explorations, and to helping you enjoy your visits here as well!

 Nice to meet you all!

Andrea Rockwood