samedi, septembre 16, 2006

Techno Parade (Part 1) : The Parade


Woo! So, Saturday was a very busy day for me, research/party-wise, so I'm breaking this up into 3 blog entries. This first one is about the Techno Parade itself (more on this in a bit), the second is on all the Space Invaders sightings at the parade (yes, it merits a separate post), and the last is on the Katapult Records afterparty that I went to. As a bit of narrative foreshadowing, this Saturday also resulted in me buying my baguettes at 6:30am on the way home!

So, I had almost forgotten that Paris hosts its own version of the Love Parade, called the Techno Parade (see also brief Wikipedia article in French). The parade is timed for mid-september, in the aftermath of la rentrée. La rentrée ("the return") is what happens after les vacances, when all of Paris (and France) take the entire month of August (and sometimes July) to travel somewhere warm and get distressingly dark tans (I wonder what the skin cancer rates are in this country). Mind you, when I say "all of Paris," I should more properly add "that can afford to travel;" although there are certainly less expensive vacation options available as well, many families can't afford the trip and stay in Paris. It was for this reason, in fact, that Paris started the Paris-Plage project a few years ago. During les vacances, the city turns large blocks of the Seine into a sort of beach, using tonnes of sand and other beach-like things.

One of the results of this mass vacation season is a sort of Americans-in-Cancún effect that lasts 4 weeks. In many of the favorite destinations for French vacationers, you have a huge influx of young people, determined to party and equipped with money that they've saved all year for this purpose. So, the Techno Parade serves two functions for two different groups: 1) it provides a nostalgic last-hurrah to the preceding month of partying for those still lingering in the afterglow of les vacances; and 2) it gives those who could not afford to travel a limited and temporary form of access to what les vacances might be like. In another, overlapping sense, the Techno Parade also offers to both groups a scene for aspiration through leisure, where they can attempt to conjure up and sustain an optimal experience on a massified scale that may not have been forthcoming during vacation. What I find most interesting about this whole endeavor is how the event brings together a nostalgic mix of remembering and forgetting, with a future-oriented aspiration for the ideal "good times."

Very little of this side of the Techno Parade, I should add, appears in the semi-official descriptions of the parade by the founding organization, Technopol (see link above). For their purposes, the Techno Parade was founded as a political intervention that put pressure on the state to reduce their antagonism of raves/clubs/soirées on the one hand, and also made an argument for the cultural importance of electronic dance music to a sometimes wary general public.

Alright, that's enough essay-writing for the moment. Let's return to the narrative! (with pics, of course!)

So, I had nearly forgotten about this event, were it not for one of the folks working at the front desk of my building, who had reminded me friday afternoon. I promptly cancelled all plans for Saturday and put new batteries in my camera. The parade was supposed to begin with a roundup of the floats at Bastille at noon, then take off from there at one o'clock on the parade route, with the lead floats beginning to arrive back at Bastille around 6pm. I left my place a bit later than I had wanted, leaving around 11:45am. Thankfully, the floats were late, as was evident by the fact that I saw a few of the floats drive by Porte des Lilas (my area), music blaring, still 30-45 minutes away from Bastille.

click to enlarge click to enlarge
Floats on their way to Bastille

When I got to the place de la Bastille it was almost 12:30 and there were no floats to be seen, although the crowds were already gathering. This is a shot of the crowds in front of the Bastille opera house, although this is nowhere near as packed as it was an hour later.

click to enlarge click to enlarge Early crowds in front of the Opéra Bastille

I took a moment to grab a coffee at the café on the north end of the place, and then wandered around a bit through the crowds. After a little while, I was able to read from the crowd where they expected the floats to appear, so I found a good spot on top of a concrete bench from which to take some shots of the arriving floats. By the time the first floats appeared in the distance and sounded their horns, the sidewalks were densely packed and spilling onto the street.

click to enlarge
The first floats arriving

Many people climbed up on the Bastille monument for a better view. This became really packed towards the end of the event.

click to enlarge
A better view from Bastille

When the floats finally started pulling into Bastille and taking their places, people began cheering, and demanding "du son!" ("sound!"), because none of the floats had started their music. In fact, most if not all of the floats were still being hurriedly finished by workers as they pulled into the square.

click to enlarge
The parade was led by men on stilts. Why? I don't know. click to enlarge
The lead float, dedicated to an anti-famine charity drive click to enlarge
One of the psy-trance floats (I don't remember which) click to enlarge
Belgium reprazent! click to enlarge
The MH Diffusion / Orphée float click to enlarge
The Katapult float—but what's with all that wood?... click to enlarge
...aaah. I get it. click to enlarge
The Francofffonies float, dedicated to music from francophone countries (does Canada count?) click to enlarge
Some detail from the Francofffonies float. Notice anything? That's right: Chicago's Marina Towers! click to enlarge
The Néonumeric/Flyman/Sabotage Crew float click to enlarge
It's a banana. Why? I don't know. click to enlarge
The NRJ float

I took that last photo mostly for the guy wearing the "NO F#CKING DRESS CODE" t-shirt. A lot has been and will be written on how dress codes have been used at clubs/parties to enforce segregation along more objectionable lines (e.g., class, race, sexuality). The topic is a bit too big to discuss in this already-sprawling post, and I want a few more weeks in Paris before I hold forth on that topic. But, nonetheless, I liked the shirt.

So, after a while, one of the larger floats finally decided to respond to the crowd's demand for sound. The crowd went nuts. One by one, other floats started up their systems and began blasting their music—some more powerfully than others. A DJ on one of the floats with the largest speaker-stack took advantage of the downtime before the actual parade to rev up the crowd. He used many of the standard DJ tricks for getting a crowd moving (e.g., dropping the bass and bringing it back suddenly, backspinning into a new track, cutting to silence before strong downbeats, etc), but in a very compressed manner. Most of these skills would be employed every 10 minutes in a DJ set at most—often far less in certain genres—but this DJ was dropping them twice a minute at least. He made particularly heavy use of a sampled solo trumpet fanfare in a flamenco style (referencing Ibiza, perhaps?), which he would use by cutting the current track to silence about 4 beats before a major downbeat, filling in with the trumpet sample, and then cutting back to the current track with heavier bass. Here's a picture of the crowd reaction:

click to enlarge
Crowd reaction

These sorts of performative tactics became important once the parade got underway. As each float began to move out onto the parade route, about 20-30m of space was left between each float for a crowd to gather and follow. So the parade itself became a scene for the display of affinities and preferences, as various floats playing different genres of EDM (electronic dance music) and/or displaying different visual aesthetics sought to develop a large and enthusiastic following (in the most literal sense). As the parade progressed along rue Rivoli, I walked the length of the parade itself a few times to get a feel for the kinds of music being played, the kinds of décor applied to the floats, and of course who was gathering where. Then, I picked a couple of floats whose music I liked and spent a more extended amount of time following them to see how changeable the crowds around the floats were.

In general, I found the crowds to be rather volatile but not completely fickle. For example, I was behind the Katapult float for a long while, and I could divide those people following the float into three groups: 1) those who apparently knew people on the float; 2) those who were fans of Katapult or particularly fond of what they had heard so far; and 3) those who arrived and left rather casually, although still with enthusiasm (strangely enough for Paris, there was very little ennui). As soon as the music cut out (for example, to switch to another DJ) or the DJ lingered too long on a low-intensity track, group #3 would bolt for another float. If things didn't pick up within a couple of minutes, group #2 would start to dissolve. The result was that the Katapult float (like the others) went through cycles of high and low crowds, with sudden shifts in numbers as group #3 would gather or disperse. Although it might be tempting to argue for the importance of the "true" fans that stuck it out during the low phases and dismiss the larger and more capricious groups, I think these fast-moving masses were very important to the feel of the scene behind each float. The sudden arrival of a mass of young, variously intoxicated and very enthuasiastic people created an affective crucible: things got sweaty, raucous, loud, densely packed, rough, sexual, intimate, almost destructive, and very intense. And, judging by the reactions of those both on the float and behind it, all of this was optimal experience.

Crowd following the lead float

I also spent some time behind the Coontak et les pervenches de plaisir float. It was a much smaller float—in fact, just a flatbed truck with a few speakers, a DJ and two hot girls in pink, but they were playing a steady stream of very well selected classic house (this year's Techno Parade theme was a celebration of 20 years of house). Also, one of the DJs spinning on the truck had this amazing tattoo; what was obviously once a strawberry birthmark was re-worked into a black and red butterfly pattern (see below). Apparently, Coontak is a clothing company, and I'm guessing that their name is an imaginative respelling of contacte. However, the design of their logo (which you can see on their website) separates "coon" from "tak" visually, which made for an odd scene as I followed a black truck with black speakers blaring "soulful" (read: black) house draped with banners that, from a distance, read "Coon." Hmm. Also, if you check out their website, stick around for about 60 seconds for the background music to turn pornographic. Also, note their pervenches de plaisir photo gallery. Apparently, pervenche means both periwinkle and meter-maid—you know, parking enforcement in the days when women police officers weren't trusted to do anything dangerous. So, the pervenches de plaisir are these sexy girls, handing out fake parking tickets and wearing stylized (American) police hats, hot pink boob tops, and super-short hot pants.

click to enlarge
Nice tattoo!

Certainly, part of the spectacle of the Techno Parade was the occupation of general public space for the fashioning of a specific or inflected public space. This movement created some interesting and at times amusing tensions and releases—especially among those who were not entirely willing parties to this inf(l)ection of general space. Most commonly, this ranged from mild bemusement to mild exasperation from some. Some of the locals seemed curious—although they stayed in their apartments:

click to enlarge
[insert affect here]-ed onlookers

Some onlookers joined in on impulse, like one of the women in my building, who was out shopping at BHV with her friends, then followed the noise outside, and spent the next few hours following the parade. This inflection of public space, however, happened with the approval of the city's authorities, so the event was to be contained within sanctioned boundaries. Unsurprisingly, then, there were numerous violations:

click to enlarge
There's no way this is legal click to enlarge
Everything about this was a common sight.

I want to spend a moment with this last photo, since, as the caption says, everything about it was a common sight. Although you can't quite make it out from the photo, these 4 guys were on top of a bus shelter, which is a fragile-looking but obviously sturdy structure of metal and plexiglas. Everywhere along the parade route, you saw people (mostly guys) climbing things to get a better view of the parade and to the parade. In one case, there were so many bodies on the roof of a bus shelter, that the roof bent rhytmically under their collective movement and caused the sign designating the bus stop to fall to the street. Without comment, someone on the ground picked it up, put it under his arm, and continued walking.

My double-formulation "a view of/to the parade" in the previous paragraph points to a very salient (to my eyes) aspect of the day's events. Throughout the parade, and on a mass scale, the male body was much more of a spectacle than I am used to seeing in North American mass events (with the exception of gay pride parades, which is not completely unrelated). I saw at least as much bared male flesh as I did female, and the males were certainly more assertively demanding recognition and attention to their bodies. Also, those bodies often showed a great deal of care and maintenance: trim physiqes, dark tans, shaved or waxed chests, lots of hair product, fitted jeans or low-slung jeans to show off the ass, etc. Hot pink was very popular among the guys; a common look for many men that day was a darkly tanned (shaved) torso, set off against hot pink boxer briefs and then very low slung jeans. Most interestingly (at least for me) was how much same-sex play took place between men during the parade. Again, far more than women, I saw men holding hands with their girlfriends while stealing kisses from their buddies, young shirtless guys grinding on each other, grabbing/slapping each other's asses, then flirting with a girl that caught their eye. On the other hand, I have no memory of women doing the same thing, even though it's a common sight for me at big clubs/events in North America. Admittedly, a lot of this was "just" play, but it bordered between ironic play and earnest play in a manner that has made the Girls Gone Wild video industry zillions of dollars. I could chalk up one or two incidents to exstasy use, but as a broad practice there seems to be something to be said about the sexualization of masculinity here. It certainly isn't how we make masculinity in N. America.

All of this creates an interesting counterpoint with the other salient aspect of male bodies at the parade: sexual interest/pursuit/agression towards females. As it is, continental Europe in general seems to permit and expect a more "forward" male suitor; however, the combination of laissez-faire, carnivalesque and intoxication at this event elicited a much wider range of courtship practices. I frequently saw guys trying to get the attention of girls on floats and begging them to come down and dance with them; another common tactic was to touch a girl on the shoulder (or, if you're disinhibited, somewhere more private) as you pass her and if she doesn't glare at you in disdain, you go back and talk her up. If a girl demeured or said "non," some more persistent men would grab her hand or forearm and plead with her to stay, although their grip always seemed loose enough for the girl to extricate herself without a much effort; it's the thought that counts, so to speak. Some boys would take advantage of the crush of people behind the floats to grind on girls. I never saw anyone come to physical harm over it, but the body practices were invasive and agressive at times, and often had little respect for the word "no." And I use the term "girls" here repeatedly because age had a great deal to do with this, as well. I saw no 30-something women being aggressively pursued; on the other hand, these young girls were not defeneless, either. They obviously had a fair bit of experience in handling the more polite quotidian advances, so most of them used the same rituals of disengagement, refusal and frank dismissal—only more emphatically and with greater effort. More than once, I noticed that their boyfriends would let them fend for themselves, holding their hands but remaining uninvolved, until some boundary was crossed. All of this made me realize how lucky-unlucky I am to be exempt from that combination of female and pretty that elicits these encounters here. On the one hand, I'm obviously lucky to be spared the frequent pestering and sometimes frightening agression. On the other hand, I'm unlucky in the sense that, quite frankly, guys are less likely to talk to me. All of the contacts I've made so far have been female or introduced through females. There's an entire erotic economy behind making contacts in the field (although often sublimated through channels of prestiege, coolness, wealth, escape), and I have little to offer potential male contacts in that respect.

Epilogue: Following

click to enlarge
The clean-up crew following the followers

Looking back on my notes of this event, the word "following" appears rather frequently. Indeed, leading and following were important aspects of the the Techno Parade, although I feel that the word underdescribes the phenomenon. In a way, it seems like much of this event has to do with guided flows. That is, rather than following a singular path like a train car on rails, the crowd seemed to move like water: tumbling forward within channels of barriers, sometimes spilling over, and only predictable at a very general level. The Techno Parade, then, provides a spatial and temporal frame—better yet, a channel—within which participants can plot and/or discover their own paths through leisure and recreation. Mind you, I don't want to entirely dismiss the controlling and normalizing aspect of the parade's organization and execution; for all the paths available to choose, most still moved forward, staying behind or beside floats, obeying the direction of security staff, and avoiding anything more dangerous than mischeif. [For more pictures of the event and previous years', check out Planet-Tekno.]

Techno Parade (Part 2) : Space Invaders & Guerrilla Advertising

After seeing those little space invader mosaics everywhere around Paris, I was really delighted to see these t-shirts all over the parade:

click to enlarge click to enlarge click to enlarge click to enlarge click to enlarge

On their backs, most of the t-shirts had some combination of the phrases "We Are Back", "Space Invaders" and "Joachim Garraud." Thinking I had discovered the identity of the artist behind the little space invader mosaics all over town, one of the first things I did when I got home from the parade was look this guy up. What I found, instead, was a homepage for a DJ and producer who had produced a track for the 2005 Techno Parade called "Space Invaders are Back." At this point, I was a bit confused and a bit suspicious. Why was there no mention of the mosaic art installations in many international metropolitan cities? It would seem a bit excessive to have mounted a 6-year guerilla mosaic campaign around the world to support a track that would appear in the fall of 2005.

Eventually, I found the "offical" website of the artist Invader, who is not the same person as Garraud (more on Invader on Monday). It seems as if this is actually a case of guerrilla advertising. I'm taking this term from its usage to describe ads during the 2004 Olympics and World Cup, when companies would air ads that imply their sponsorship of the games, even though they hadn't given a penny. In a somewhat different manner, Garraud seems to have taken taken advantage of a broad street-art campaign and turned it into a massive ad campaign for himself by implying a continuity between Invader's work and his own. What would Invader say? On the one hand, Invader works by invading and appropriating space that was not his, so there are some similarities; on the other hand, Invader's work appears to be his own, while Garraud seems to be taking advantage of ambiguity to suggest that Invader's work belongs somehow to his. Fascinating stuff.

Techno Parade (Part 3) : Katapult Afterparty

click to enlarge click for a hot time

Well, I tried to take some pictures of this event, but you can see from the few pictures I'm posting here that it was really hard to get any decent images. All of the dry ice smoke and oblique lighting made the flash turn everything hazy, and setting my shutter speed really low made for a wobbly picture. Meh.

Similar to last week, I'm blogging the events of the night in relation to the times of DJ sets. The actual DJ sets at the Katapult event were a bit different from the ones posted ion the flyer above. Baby Ford had cancelled, I didn't see DJ Kodh or DJ Instant, but Cabanne made a late-night appearance.

23h00-2h00: Alex & Laetitia

At 23h00, I was still at home. Having learned my lesson from last week (or so I thought), I stayed home and made a spicy Peruvian version of pasta aglio e oglio (Garlic & Oil) by adding some ajì mirasol. I checked my mail, did a bit of research on the whole Space Invaders / Joachim Garraud thing, and then hit the road around 0h00 (midnight). Even at night, the métro was surprisingly fast, and I ended up approaching the location, Point Ephermère, at 0h30. For the record, this corner of Paris (métro Jaures) is really delightful. It has a small canal with old brick quays that remind me of Amsterdam in a funny way. Here's a picture I took of the exterior with a long shutter (2s, ISO 80) and no flash. I took it after I left the club, but it seemed appropriate anyway. The club is actuall down at water level, underneath the street.

click to enlarge
Yes, it's blurry. Shaddup.

The location was "intimate" (read: small), which worked well for this party, since they were competing against many, many other parties that night, including the official afterparty. Alex & Laetitia got the party rolling, spinning low-key but very danceable microhouse. Again, I was here too early; this time, at least, I didn't literally open the place. There were maybe 20 people already there, not including the staff, and thankfully that included about 5 people making various attempts to get the dancefloor started. I ordered a drink and once again asked for one and got two. I think this is because the word for "one" (un) and the word for "two" (deux) have really similar vowel shapes, so it's easy for the bartender to presume that my "d" was just inaudible. While I sheepishly paid for my two drinks and started double-fisting (best word ever) my vodka tonics, I took note of how others made their orders. In violation of all French grammar that I had been taught, everyone leaned over the bar and just yelled their drink, without an indefinite article. That is, rather than saying "a vodka tonic, please," they would just say "VODKA TONIC!!" Of course, we say that all the time in English, but I had been under the impression that definite/indefinite articles cannot be dropped in French without sounding like a tool. Well, lessons learned. At 6€ per drink, I might add. No wonder nobody leaves tips.

Once I had taken care of my drinks, I took out my camera and started playing with the settings, trying to get a decent shot. I was hoping to document as much of the party as possible, but my camera was being recalcitrant:

click to enlarge mess
Taken with a 1/8s shutter, ISO 200, no flash click it baby
Taken with 1s shutter, ISO 80, no flash

These were my no-flash attempts. As you'll see from the photos of Skat, the flash photos didn't go much better. I later (i.e. Wednesday) discovered that my camera has a "high sensitivity" setting that takes pictures at a really high ISO exposure, so maybe that'll work better next time. Nonetheless, hazy look of the first pic above and the blurry but luminescent look of the second catch the affect of the night, if not the details. I like how, in the second pic, a spotlight is shining across that guy's shoulder and face; it's a bit beatific.

Returning to narrative: I gave up taking pictures for the moment and got to dancing. The floor slanted suddenly in one spot, in a way that was not easily visible, but potentially dangerous. Later that night, the bartender would slide across it as she came out of the bathroom, bumping a guy with a drink and getting beer right down her shirt. Aside from the floors (which are admittedly crucial), the place was good to go, and it eventually filled up. As is my usual practice, I eventually made my way to the front, put my bag down on the stage, and got to workin it.

2h00-3h00: Skat

As Alex of Alex&Laetitia wrapped up the set, Skat began setting up his equipment to a rather excited crowd. Here's a few picks of him setting up. I used flash this time, which reflected off of the dry ice smoke and created a foggy effect that I am none too fond of.

click to enlarge
1/8s; ISO320; flash click for crap
1/30s; ISO 400; flash

I don't know if the crowd was excited because Skat was coming on, or if the mere fact of a DJ-change promised an elevation in intensity (which, I'll admit, is often the case). Either way, I was certainly excited to hear Skat live after falling in love with his single on the Katapult: Various Artists 2 release on Karat records, "Ur Not The Same." It starts with beautifully shattered, inarticulate vocals, that eventually meet up with a penetrating but soft microhouse kick & hi-hat pattern. Anyway, the set didn't quite go as expected. Skat had set up his laptop, but then tried to cue up tracks on the turntables and line them up with whatever was coming out of his laptop. There were more than a few misalignments that sounded a lot like trainwrecks, and the time it took to cue up the two sound sources seemed to keep him constantly off guard. Whatever program he was using on his laptop (I couldn't get a look) seemed to de-sync every once in a while, and create odd changes of tempo that I don't think was intentional (see this short video I took of such a moment—see how he lunges at his laptop). Also, he seemed to be interested in continuing the Techno Parade's salute to 20 years of house (what date were they using?), because frequently broke the flow of music to introduce black-gospel-diva vocals that eventually returned to a house beat. This created a stop-and-start rhythm to the whole set that works well with classic Chicago house, but didn't sit well with the minimal/microhouse expectations of the crowd. A few people in the crowd made their opinions known, and Skat yelled out a few choice words to his hecklers. Despite his combatative stance, however, he gave up the turntables and got to a more consistent microhouse laptop set by the 30-minute mark.

3h00-4h00: Mikael Weill

Mikael Weill, on the other hand, was as exciting live as he was on the same Katapult/karat records release, entitled "Ça caille" (trans. "It's fucking cold). In fact, if you're a fan of minimal house, I strongly recommend going over to Beatport and doing an artist search for Mikael Weill; great output overall. Strangely enough, although Weill's set was the best of the night for me, I have little to say about it. It was great from beginning to end, lots of crackling, offbeat, glitchy high-pitched patterns matched to thick bass kicks, and he was using Ableton Live. I this lack of comment is also partially due to the fact that I was distracted by the unfolding drama of a guy trying and failing to pick up a girl standing next to me. Also, there was this amusing moment when a woman standing near me saw a friend she obviously hadn't seen for a long time. She made thrilled noises, leaned in to kiss him, and then saw the cigarette in his hand. She pulled back abruptly, and then proceeded to lui casser les couilles ("break his balls") about how he had started smoking again. After all the stereotypes I've come to know about French smokers, it was amusing to see a young Frenchwoman give her friend a very public and very loud tongue-lashing over his smoking habit.

4h00-6h00: Cabanne

Although not as thrilling as Weill's set, Cabanne was great; he's also on that Katapult/karat release (see above) and available on Beatport. I found his sound to be more house than techno, a bit more soft and emotional while still very much intense dance music. It also felt more fleshy; I don't mean to say that the other set's weren't very much embodied, but rather than something about the music made reminded me of the soft firmness of flesh. Perhaps I shouldn't write these while I'm eating. Unlike Skat or Weill, Cabanne didn't do a live laptop set, but instead chose vinyl. But at around 5:30am, Mikael Weill joined Cabanne with his laptop and they had a brief but lovely jam session: crackling glitch over smooth minimal house.

At one point, a friendly, smiling guy came up to me, made eye contact and then fanned me with a flyer that he had in his hand. I thanked him profusely (it was really hot) and we had a brief conversation. At first, I thought he was being flirty but eventually noticed that he was grinding his jaw. Aaah, Exstasy. One day, I'm going to make a t-shirt that says "Pills make French people friendly." It plays on a not-entirely-true stereotype, but I bet it would get laughs here.


As I came out of the club, took another look at the canal, beautiful from a distance, but encrusted with filth up close. Mercifully, a night spent in a smoke-filled bar killed my olfactory senses for the time being. I made my way across the bridge to the métro station and stopped for a picture (see above). As I put my camera away, a male-female couple caught up to me and asked me for a smoke. When I said no, the guy said, "Hey I saw you up front tonight, dancing like a madman."
"Yup, that was me."
"You saw me as well, I hope."
"Of course, you were right there to the left of me."
"Right. Well, g'night!"

It wasn't until I was in the station that it occured to me that he might've been expecting some sort of compliment on his dancing. Or maybe recognition was enough.

After an uneventful métro ride (it was 6am, so the métro was running again) I stumbled back through my local boulangerie, bought a pain au chocolat and a baguette, made my way home, and closed those light-sealing blinds on my window.

Filles de Calvaire and Symbology

Alright, here's a bit of random-sighting ephemera from the Techno Parade:Here's rue des Filles de Calvaire, where Carla and I rented an apartment for a lovely week last summer. Remember this view, Carla? This is looking down "our" street from the métro station during the Techno Parade. Nostalgiarrific!

Also, I found this neat bas-relief over a portal on a building called Les Arquebusiers. Anybody have an idea of what this might mean? Erika: aside from general trinitarian connotations, do you recognize this symbol? Just curious. The old Templar site is in this area, so it wouldn't surprise me at all if there's something going on here.

vendredi, septembre 15, 2006

Luis does IKEA (and suburbs)

OK, so the preceding part of the day was mostly unexciting, so let's get it out of the way:

Although I don't usually work on Fridays, I went in to the office to arrange for a parcel to be sent out with the busted battery of my UofC laptop (as opposed to my personal laptop). Apple replaced it, but sent it to Chicago, so now the IT dept in Chicago has to do a complex swap-by-mail to get the defective battery back to Apple within their delivery window. I got up and headed towards work, stopping at my boulangerie to get a pain au chocolat and a sandwich jambon-fromage (ham & cheese sandwich--prounounced sahndwEEsh). I was again amazed at how fantastic croissants and their many derivatives (pain au chocolat, chausson, oranais, etc.) can be when they're fresh out of the oven. Mmm! The chocolate inside was still warm and gooey. For lunch (yes, I actually ate lunch today!) I ate the sandwich, which was fantastic. Keep in mind that the French version of a sandwich is all about the bread. It's half a baguette, cut into a sandwich, and given a thin layer of filling. The texture is completely different from a New York Deli-style sandwich. It's almost like a grilled cheese sandwich, where the filling is not melted.

But the big event of the day was going to IKEA! I had a bunch of little things that I knew I could get well and cheaply at IKEA (storage boxes, tabletop shelves, etc). However, as most of you probably know, IKEA must operate in a large, large building. The result for Paris is that all of its locations (and there are about 6) are really far away. Most of them are in the distant burbs—at least 45 minutes by transit for the closest one. So I headed out to the Roissy-Parc des Expositions location on the RER B and then took the bus connection over to the "centre commercial." It was, effectively, a cluster of industrial parks, with a large strip mall in the middle. My first view of the place was this:Do you see the name of the store? Castorama. Now, I don't know if there's another explanation, but castor is the french word for "beaver." So this store is "beaver-rama." But here's the best part: it's a HARDware store.

Behind me in this mall was this odd restaurant, which seemed to serve everything under the sun. Look at the signs on the building:You may have to click on the picture for the zoom-in. It lists: Pizzeria, Take-Out, Crêpes, Grill, Vietnamese, Couscous (a synecdoche for N. African food), and there are partially-obstructed signs for Chinese food and a café. is this the French equivalent of a food court?

Finally, here's the IKEA, shot from over a scenic hedge:Ah, familiarity! IKEA in France was both similar and different from North American locations in a creepy way. It wasn't creepy in a twilight-zone sort of way, but rather in a this-is-just-like-home-but-WAIT! sort of way. Everything that I expected was there and laid out in a similar sort of way, but there were slight differences in product lines (often more/brighter colours available here). Also, they didn't give out plastic bags at checkout. Instead, you either bought/brought one of those blue IKEA shopping bags, or you buy some of their recyclable brown paper bags at 0.20€ apiece (the bags are HUGE, tho). I wandered around, trying to suppress the urge to buy everything. Thankfully, the prospect of getting everything home on public transit kept my shopping impulse in check (mostly) and I left with two large paper bags and a wooden shoe rack under my arm.

Since I head eaten rather well for breakfast and lunch, I decided to finally try McDonalds in France. It was the only resto nearby, and I had always been very good about avoiding MacDo in France. When I got my Big Mac meal, it was rather expensive (6.20€=$7.84US=$8.77CDN), so i presumed that maybe French food-quality laws (or consumer disdain) forced McDonalds over here to be of a higher quality. But no. It was the same paper-thin leather patties, with wilted vegetable filling, soggy bread and it was stacked in a haphazard way that was all too familiar. Thankfully, my disappointment was mitigated by a scene that I was witness to in the McDonalds dining area. There was a couple in their 50s with what must've been their grandchild (looking to be about 2 years old). The three of them put on a wonderful demonstration of mirroring dynamics. The boy was transfixed by his grandparents, especially their faces, and would mirror their facial expressions and gestures. In turn, the grandparents would mirror his affect. They would smile, he would smile. he would burst out laughing, they would laugh with him. Whenever he succeeded in putting food into his mouth (and not on himself), the grandparents would clap vigorously and cheer for him. He would then, with his mouth full, cheer back and clap his grubby hands and smile. I don't know if he was aware that the applause was to congratulate him, but the "eat food" = "happy time" connection seemed to be well in place. So cute!

With that over with, I put the Paris suburbs behind me and got back on the RER...which SUCKED. Keep in mind that, although the RER is a commuter train system that intertwines with the métro, Parisians treat it and use it like the métro. This means that the same understanding of "full" applies here, as well as traffic volumes. The train wasn't very full when I got on, but as we approached Paris, more and more people got on, until it was just like being on the métro during rush hour. Through all of this, I had two HUGE bags of IKEA crap, plus a wooden shoe rack that was unwieldly to say the least. The good thing was nobody shot me dirty looks for riding the train with packages. The bad thing was they also blithely kicked and stepped on my stuff. I got home with my stuff intact, but my mood was not. Nothing a bit of IKEA bricolage can't fix! My apartment is now a bit more comfortable and a bit more organized; yay!


So, I'm on the platform for the RER B heading to IKEA, and I see this T-Shirt:Do you see what it says? Nietzsche. That's right. Someone, somewhere, has made a Nietzsche t-shirt. What would he say? I actually have no idea whether he would've liked or hated it. I wish, I wish, I wish I could've offered you a better shot, but I had to take this hastily and incognito—pretending to "fix" my camera—since the platform was busy I had no good reason to be taking pictures of an RER platform.

jeudi, septembre 14, 2006

Chocolate, Ají Mirasol, and BHV

So, first, the pictures:

I saw this lovely façade as I was heading down avenue Sébastopol from the Pompidou Centre towards BHV. Apparently, it's now running as a theatre, although the engravings on the lintels say épicerie, which is a sort of grocery store, but they also say "all for one and one for all." I'll have to find a way to get in there for a show and get a closer look. Here's a detail of the lovely art nouveau doors:

So, after a day of convalescing from a cold, I got up and went to work. My head was still a bit full, sinus-wise, but nonetheless I was ready for work. I had a couple of slices of bread with mustard and rillettes (I don't think I'm allowed to buy rillettes for at least a week, lest this become a habit), and then I took off. Although the weather outside was rather brisk and threatening rain, the tunnels and trains of the métro were disgustingly hot. Actually, I think it's just my métro line (ligne 11), because other subway lines are only steamy on hot days. Anyway, I arrived at work already steamed like a dim-sum dumpling.

Work itself was mostly unexceptional, although I stayed late to help my boss install a new hanging LCD projector. The old one broke, but we couldn't remove the hanging fixture, which was securely installed right through the false ceiling tiles. So we had to do a fair bit of bricolage to make the new projector's supports work with the old projector's fixture. I got out about 3 hours late, but that was OK, since I had taken Wed off.

Afterwards, I had a few "errands" to run: buy some chocolate at Maison du Chocolat, check out that traiteur péruvien to see if they sold the peruvian foodstuffs that I wanted, and a swing by BHV to get a set of fine pliers (to put my earrings back in) and some removable adhesive hooks.

Stop #1 was at the Place Madeleine location for La Maison du Chocolat, where a young french guy did his best to perform French Snooty Formal Service. It came out as a bit of a caricature: excessively polite forms of address, without a hint of a smile and more than a hint of disdain. Thankfully, I was there for chocolate, so I didn't care much what he thought of my presence. I ordered a handful of bonbons, and then a 100% cacao chocolate bar and a 34% cacao milk chocolate bar. Later that night, again ruining my appetite for dinner, I ate all the bonbons.

I then took the métro to the Étienne-Marcel métro station to look for this Peruvian restaurant/store, Casa Picaflor. As I came out of the métro, I was completely confused as to which way to go. This is unusual for me; usually I can walk out of a subway station, lok around, and quickly "feel out" the cardinal directions. I don't know what it was about the landscape there, but even with a map it took me almost 10 minutes to figure out which direction I needed to take to get to this place. The place itself was a narrow, 10-seat hole-in-the-wall kitchen that nonetheless seemed to serve good food. I'll have to return for a night of ghetto Peruvian sometime. In the meanwhile, I checked out their selection of Peruvian foodstuffs. I got 2 bottles of ají amarillo molido (mustard yellow, smoky and spicy), one bottle of ají rocoto (bright red, very spicy), and one of ají panca (dark red, tastes like hot peppers without the bite). Mission accomplished! I'm one step closer to making real peruvian food. These hot pepper pastes, along with fresh and dried peppers from the region, provide the base flavoring for almost all Peruvian food. It's a bit like garlic for Italian food. So, I bought those bottles of ají, took note of the other Peruvian things they had for sale, and then got a can of Inka Cola for the road. (By the way, is it just me, or has every indie boy in Chicago started wearing Inka Cola shirts? What's up with that?)

My final stop was at BHV. An acronym for Bazar Hotel de Ville, the store's name is a pretty accurate description. It was one of the first grands magasins (the 19th-c. version of a department store) in Europe, opening in 1856 across from the Hotel de Ville (city hall). Unlike other grands magasins in Paris, BHV actually models itself as a sort of large, multi-floor bazaar. As a result this store is a dizzying, cluttered, but very useful collection of everything you might hope to find. If you need 1000€ bedsheets, you'll find them here. If you need a specific size of gasket for your plumbing, you'll also find it here. So I got there with about 30 minutes to spare before the store closes (again, most stores close here around 7:30pm!), and zipped around looking for a pair of fine pliers to put my earrings back in (I had taken them out for a passport photo). I found them just as the store was closing, but had no luck with my other project: removable adhesive wall hooks. You know those 3M "Command Adhesive" things that you can use to hang a hook and then remove it later without ruining your paint? Yes, well, that's nowhere to be found in France. I don't know why, since that sort of thing would seem really useful for a populace that still largely rents their home. If anyone reading this has successfully bought one of these things in Paris, please email me ASAP. I don't get why this is so !@#$ difficult. Meh.

When I got home, I settled in, ruined my appetite with chocolate, did a bit of blogging, and then ate some leftover risotto and hit the hay.

Another portrait attempt

Ok, so this is Take 2 in trying to post a photo of myself that I can then use for my blogger profile. It's not the cutest photo I could've taken of myself, but this is what I look like at 9am, when I took this photo. In time, I'll take a decent photo of myself. So, let's see if this starts off a long string of comments like the last portrait post....

mercredi, septembre 13, 2006


Ugh. So I woke up this morning with the makings of a fine cold. It was unpleasant, but not intolerable, so I started to get ready to go to work anyway. It takes quite a bit to fell me. However, I noticed that my throat was sore and my lymph nodes were doing the balloon thing, so I decided that I was probably still contagious. Stoicism is one thing, but nobody at work will forgive me if I bring this to work.

And thus, the entry for today is very short. I hung around in my pj's, napped, took a shower, ate nearly an entire baguette's worth of rillettes, mustard, cheese and butter (not at the same time, of course) and generally wasted time. Since I considered today to be a day of convalescence, I did nothing productive. I didn't do any special reading or research, I didn't search the web for useful things, and I didn't go out to buy necessities or anything. Speaking of which, I took this photo of my fridge, because anybody who knows me can be certain that this isn't how I keep my fridge stocked:Pretty tragic, huh? What you see there is a couple of bottles of San Pellegrino (they're relatively cheap here), a bottle of milk, a bottle of spaghetti sauce, a tub of rillettes, and that wine-glass thing is actually Maille™ mustard. The fridge looks so bare because I've held off on buying fresh produce until I can go to an actual green-grocer or better yet a market. There's a market that I recall from my last stay here in the Marais (Marché aux Enfants Rouges) that I am really fond of. Until then, the fridge is a bit bare.

But the image is misleading, because what you don't see are all my dry goods. On the shelf above the stove, I have a new box of green lentils, a big bag of arborio rice, some butter, spaghettoni, 1/2 of a chorizo, and some hot chocolate mix (as well as spices, garlic, oils, vinegars, etc). So, although my fridge looks so bare in that last picture, I was still able to make this:Risotto! I used a similar preparation to the one I made last week, but I used lardons instead of chorizo and I didn't have any shallots available. Oh, and I used two beef bouillon cubes and 1L of water.

mardi, septembre 12, 2006

Peruvian Food and French Books

Finally! More on both elements of the above title in a moment...

There were several lessons learned today, and the first was: if your first "meeting" for the day involves setting up a NetGear ADSL modem to work with a NetGear wireless router, cancel everything else. The Paris-boss (rather than my Chicago-boss, Val) came to the residences today with a replacement ADSL modem to fix one of the two wireless networks in the building. It was, of course, nowhere near as simple as it should've been, and we spent ages changing one setting and then testing, then changing another setting and testing, and then... Thankfully, once everything was finally up and running, he gave me a ride to the Centre in his car. Good god, is he a Parisian driver! He drives with that mixture of insanity and sang-froid that I both fear and admire.

Work was a relatively short day of rather straightforward IT support. I also took advantage of the lunch break (everyone else was gone anyway) to skip out and get some sushi at a restaurant around the corner. I got the Chirachi (Chirashi) combo, which was nice but the fish was sliced rather thin. Although the fish was mostly of good quality, you don't get the meaty portions of fish you get in N. America. I suppose I shouldn't expect fantastic sushi in Paris. That's sort of missing the point.

At some point while at work, I realized that today was September the 12th, which means yesterday was 9/11, the 5th anniversary of the attacks on the WTC. I found it somewhat surreal that the date had passed me by; in France, there was very little to be seen or heard about it in my everyday walking around the city. On my way home tonight, I finally saw a magazine cover with a photo of the collapsed twin towers, but little else. If I had been in the US, I would've been reminded every hour on the hour by all media outlets of the significance of the day. There would've been memorial ceremonies in public places. Ribbons tied to things to profess various feelings about the consequences of that day. Instead of moments of silence in Paris, there was the silence of everyday traffic.

And now, to the upbeat part of this post! One of the lessons I learned today comes in two parts: 1) it's really hard to find Peruvian foodstuffs in Paris; and 2) but it pays to ask around. Yesterday, I had asked a friendly columbian guy working at the front desk in the residences whether he knew where to buy decent ají (hot peppers/chiles). In particular, I didn't just want a selection of jalapeño or banana peppers. I was looking for a place where I could get poblanos, chilakiles, habañeros, and most of all peruvian varieties: mirasol (amarillo), panca, limo, rocoto. Nothing cures homesickness like food from a country you weren't born in! Well, I'm not actually homesick (this is Paris, after all), but it's kind of funny that "home" in Canada for me also includes food from Peru. Anyway, today this same person told me that he had checked with some mexican students, and they said they just used sweet green peppers, and then added a couple of little thai chiles to make is taste like mexican chiles. Hmm, workable but unsatisfactory.

Thankfully, I had also been doing some research of my own, which culminated in my afternoon at work. The day before, I had done a google search and found an old news article reporting that Hédiard, one of the most chi-chi specialty grocery stores in Paris, was carrying Peruvian specialties in recognition of Peru's distinguished culinary traditions. I immediately went to the Hédiard page and emailed their customer service adress with a plea for information. This morning, I got an email back, saying that, alas, they no longer carried Peruvian foodstuffs, but they had worked in tandem with a Peruvian traiteur(like a restaurant with an emphasis on to-go food) in Paris. The email included a link to the traiteur's website, Casa Picaflor, and the site listed all of the usual Peruvian suspects: all the hot peppers, soup and sauce mixes, even lúcuma powder! I gasped with such delight at the news that the doctoral student in the office across from me looked over to see what was wrong. I haven't made it to the store yet, but that's on my schedule for tomorrow...

My other big event for the day was that I finally went to Gibert Jeune to buy some French-language books My plan had been this: since I'm in France, why not read "French theory" in the original? I know it sounds masochistic, but I'm a doctoral student, it's how we work. I was also excited to take advantage of the livre de poche (pocket-book) culture here in France. Most books, from recent fiction to scholarly essays, are also published in small, hand-sized formats that fit into a jacket pocket or a small bag/purse. Moreover, they're priced at much lower levels, and Gibert Jeune stocks used books alongside new ones. So I spent about 250€ in total on 21 books of "theory" classics, including a ton of Foucault, Lyotard, Deleuze & Guattari's two-volume work, Lefebvre, Durkheim, de Certeau, Attali, and Bergson (and a few others). It was a bit of an ordeal getting the books, however. Gibert Jeune is so big, it actually sprawls across several locations around the Place St.-Michel in the Latin Quarter. There's one main 5-story store that includes some basic history, poli-sci, fine arts, literature, stationary, and pocket-books, but then there's also a humanities and social sciences store, a technology and medicine store, a foreign language store, etc. I made two stops and left with both arms heavily laden with books...

...And then I got on the subway. It was the same experience I had on the bus yesterday. This time, I planted myself in a corner of the subway car with my bags between my legs and the wall. I was safe and secure. And then some guy with a large guitar piles in (along with 1521392342084 more people) stands right in front of me and presses his ass right into my crotch. From what I could gather, this was not flirting, this was "It's crowded in here, so I'm going to momentarily suspend my French Personal Space Bubble and sqash you." I also think part of it was "It's really hot in here and my deodorant failed; perhaps you'd like to share this moment with me."

On the way home, I went by the boulangerie, books still in hand, and got a baguette (mmm! the afternoon batch!) along with a round "rustic" loaf. At home, I put my newly bought books onto my shelves with a certain satisfaction. I'll admit it, I'm a nerd. There's a reason I'm at U of C, after all. Dinner was the entire baguette (it was too good to stop) spread with hot mustard, rillettes, and cracked peppercorns. And then I took this picture of dusk from my window: