Wednesday, 20 June 2012

The Art of Paris Streets

There’s all kinds of street art in Paris, ranging from careful and tasteful wall painting, sculpture, both traditional and modern, to the more sketchy and improvised. I discovered purely by chance, just by looking up at the right time, minimalist and decorative adjustments of street signs. Evening, in the rue Saint Martin, walking back from Natasha Lythgoe’s vernissage at the centre Iris, 

I looked up and saw that the white bar of the no entry sign had been delightfully turned into a weight lifted by an angel. 

The following day I saw a couple more, near the rue de Rivoli, only these were human weight lifters, without the magic of the wings. And near the forum des Halles, which looks as though it’s being demolished, although they call it renovation, at the rue Pierre Lescot, the sign for impasse – or as we might say, dead end - has been eloquently illustrated.

The streets of Paris live their own varied forms of communication. there’s the people of course, who talk laugh, gesticulate. And there’s the overt expression as in the street art, and the more deliberate you could say regulated, expression, in visual or verbal terms – sculptured gardens, a declaration, almost homage, to the free press, on the wall of the offices of Le Monde, the tiled frontage of a restaurant, plaques in memory of resistance fighters, surrounded by coloured posters advertising concerts or exhibitions. The visual effect – striking or harmonious – is deliberate, a calculated creativity. 

In the rue Moufftard for example, I stopped to gaze at a splendid display of fish, laid out with attention to space, size, alignment and colour. Fruit shops too, pay attention to colour, size and shape. Shops or restaurants are not just about commerce and consumption they revel in the art of making objects, space and atmospheres pleasurable to see or to be in, this French art of séduire, which has a much wider meaning than the English word

Then there is the life of the streets themselves with all its unplanned immediacy, like walking through the symbols and imagery of a poem. 

Or like walking backstage in a huge theatre, where you see the props, the surfaces in the process of being painted, the clothes arranged or discarded, or being stitched together or repaired, so there is always something that is being painted or renovated, cleaned plastered framed planted in gardens or window boxes, lights that dim or swing, shiver on water surfaces, reflect on glass, a bustle of activity, a shuffling of costumes, sheaves of paper pressed to foreheads, chests, passed from one person to another.

Saturday, 9 June 2012

Living in Two Times: La Pluie et le Beau Temps*

* Title of one of Jacques Prévert's books

Today is like a wet rag, soaked through. The air is saturated. You could imagine wringing it out. Then it changed, turned into proper rain, that drummed on my umbrella as I walked through the fields, along the old railway line, briefly, beside the main road before turning off, going through the angel gates and up a long avenue, dark with wide armed yew trees, slightly desolate.

The angel gates in the rain

That was after I’d spent the morning at my desk. Wet days are good for stoking the imagination as if it was a lethargic furnace – stoke, stoke, sparks spread and – hop! it’s warm, warm, hot even ….

This is part of the story I’m working on -

Pavel and I were standing in the street outside the hostel, talking. It was dusk, only half dark, but clear enough to see Vasili in the garden. He seemed to be clearing rubbish from this overgrown grassy area that had thick wooden logs for seats, an old wagon with some of its wheels removed and leaning against it, and a path that starts out paved and turns into a thin and dusty trackway through the undergrowth. He was picking things up anyway, rustling about. Then he came out of the gate and walked past us. I said hallo and he responded, but without looking at me, and walked on, with his slightly leaning-forward gait, baseball cap on his head, the brim jutting forward, as if he used it, like a ship’s prow, to cleave a passageway through a world that was unknown and could turn inimical at any moment. He cut his way down the street, defended and prepared for anything that might attempt to stand in his way.

the garden, with old wagon

It was hot and sunny by the time the train pulled into Sofia station. I’d been cold during the night, the window in my compartment wouldn’t close and a chill draught kept waking me from light sleep. But Sofia was warm, and I spied Pavel on the platform, there to meet me. We walked from the station to the hostel, and I was entranced – by the unusual designs in the station, by the marquee-like cover outside (which is empty Pavel explained because only after it was erected it was found to be unsafe and so, cannot be used), by the streets that rose up in little mounds where tree roots had swelled beneath the flagstones, by the dust that has gathered on the pavements, by the shady trees, the lion bridge – everything appeared in a numinous golden light.

....... The walls of my room were painted pale blue, hung with a Van Gogh reproduction  - of his room in Arles.  The window was open and a cool breeze circulated. The young man disappeared, I dropped off my rucksack, and Pavel and I then walked all the way up Rakovski, walked past the golden domed Aleksander Nevsky church and had a coffee on a grassy area outside a large building. I was a little giddy with excitement and lack of sleep. Pavel then went off to work, we arranged to meet later in the afternoon, and I wandered slowly back down Rakovski to the hostel, buying byrek for breakfast on the way. I unpacked, had a shower and lay down in this pale blue room, with squint rectangles of sunlight falling on the floor. The slats of the shutters in front of the open window stirred slightly in the breeze, making a soft clacking sound.