jeudi, février 01, 2007

Art Openings and Party Crashing

So, one of the folks on my floor (we'll call her A. for this post) had received an invitation to an exhibition opening at the Palais de Toyko, which is this fabulous modern art/media gallery next to Paris' modern art museum and across from the Eiffel tower. There was a new exhibition called "News from an upside-down world" (nouvelles du monde renversé), and we had invitations to the opening night party.

We had to hurdle a few obstacles to get to the event. The thing started around 20h00, so we were planning to get there at 21h00. I had sent en email to A. from work that morning, telling her to give me a rendez-vous time and place, since she taught an English class somewhere in the 18th arr. until 20h00. Without realizing it, the battery in my cellphone died, so I hung around my roon until nearly 20h00, wondering why A. hadn't emailed or called me back. Finally, one of the other residents on my floor knocked on my door, with his cellphone in hand. "A. wants to talk to you," he said. A very flustered A. told me that we were supposed to meet at her workplace now, but she's going to head back to her place and change since I was still there. Confused, I said OK and hung up. That's when I went to look at my phone and realized that the battery was dead. !@#$.

A. got back to our building and put on her party attire. I was feeling guilty about missing the rendez-vous, so I was already dressed and ready to do out when she knocked on my door. A few minutes later, we were on the métro, heading toward our destination. We had initially planned to meet earlier and then grab a bit of dinner before heading over, so neither of us had eaten and we were starved. When we got to the museum, we walked past and headed over to a cluster of bars and brasseries near Pont D'Alma. The place where we finally ended up ("Devéz," which seemed to have unnecessary diacritics as if it were a pseudo-French restaurant in the States) offered tapas-like combinations of food from the south of France. We each got a different combination and then split each of our portions and shared them between each other. The food was mostly delicious, if a bit pricey. 12€ got you six little two-bite portions on a piece of slate (yes, we're in the kind of neighbourhood that invests in "conceptual" dinnerware), but some of those bites involved pan-seared goose foie gras or beef carpaccio.

I also had an amusing cultural-learning moment while we were eating. We ordered a half-bottle of white wine, which was poured for us when the waiter brought it out. A little while later, A. had finished her glass. I hadn't finished mine, so I kept cheerfully chatting away. After waiting a moment, A. piped up: "Luis, can you serve me some wine?" The decanter was closer to her, but I nodded and pour some wine into her glass. Perhaps sensing my puzzlement, she said, "Women don't pour their own wine here. It's simply not done." This would explain why, during my sister's visit last November, waiters would lunge across the dining floor to rip the wine bottle out of my sister's hand whenever she made to pour for herself. Mind you, the better waiters always refilled our glasses before we noticed they were empty.

By the time we finished our food and got the check, it was getting pretty late. We were supposed to be there for 21h00 and it was 23h00 already. A. had been getting intermittent text messages and calls from the person who invited her to the event, so the pressure was on. We tore back to the museum, convinced that the party was over. When we got there, there was still a pretty substantial crowd of people standing near the door and smoking, and even more inside. A. had lost her glasses that day, so she wasn't entirely sure she would be able to identify her friend from a distance. After wandering around the opening for a little while, we headed into the exhibit. There was a really great installation where someone had filled two large dumpsters with soapy foam and then thrown a coating of light Styrofoam pellets on top. The pellets were light enough to rest on top of the bubbles, but they also broke the surface tension of the bubbles, so they danced downward, bubble to bubble, in a spastic shower. There was another installation that involved towers build out of molded orange rinds. As my friend Amy would say, "Ultimately, it's the concept..." There was also a room dedicated to flags, passports, currency and other documents from imaginary countries and kingdoms. Very cute, if a bit of a one-note act.

We didn't see much more of the exhibit, because we got another call from A.'s friend, wondering where the hell we were. We zipped back to the entrance and found him chatting with the staff. As soon as I saw him, I was struck by the fact that he seemed so familiar, but at the same time clearly somebody I didn't know. It was an odd mix of familiarity and estrangement. Anyway, he handed us an invitation, a drink ticket, and a meal ticket (adding a layer of irony to our rather expensive dinner a moment ago). As it turned out, the "invite only" event was going on upstairs, on the second floor.

Off we went upstairs, only to find that there was no food left (all was not in vain, it seems) and only a couple of beers left. We got our beer and then A. ran into a few other friends and classmates. We hung around and chatted a bit, then A.'s friend (the one that had an internship at the museum) invited the group of us to come out to a courtyard area near the administrative offices. While everyone smoked (tobacco and otherwise), I sat down and struck up conversation with the folks around me. I got into a friendly chat with a girl across from me with long blond dreadlocks and white eyeliner. She was really excited that I was from Canada and had great things to say about my French (which was greatly appreciated, given my recent misgivings), so she turned to her friend and initiated the following conversation:

Blonde Dreadlocked Girl:Hey! This guy is from Toronto, and his French is excellent!
Brunette:Well, duh. He's Québecois, and they speak French there.
BDG:No no, he's from Toronto. It's the anglophone side of Canada.
Brntte:Ah. I always confuse Canada with Quebec.
Me:*forced smile*

I made a split-second decision, based on the crowd and the amount of intoxicants circulating said crowd, and didn't bother to bring them up to date on the last century of Canadian anglo-franco domestic politics.

At around 1am, the group suddenly realized two important things: 1) the last subway train would be passing very soon; and 2) there was no more alcohol. We slowly made our way out of the building, chatting and generally getting lost in the darkened hallways. As we were heading out of the building, the brunette grabs my arm, saying "Hey, if you want to keep partying, stick with us. There's an afterparty nearby. I think you should come with us, 'cause you're cool. I once 'flirted' [this term in French is a euphemism in the way 'date' often is in English, -ed.] with this guy from Québec...he was really hot...and, you know, Canadians have such a different mindset. Not stuck up like the folks here, don't you think?"

So, to sum up, this girl had proven to be rather under-informed about Canada and its politics, smitten with a rather idealized notion of Canadians (in a "love for the colonies" sort of way), and possibly hitting on me (why are girls hitting on me so much here in Paris?!). On the other hand, she was very friendly and she invited me to an afterparty. So, I nodded and said something non-committal about Montreal being "laid back" and followed them, with A. in tow.

The party was actually in the sub-sub basement of the Palais de Tokyo, which was accessible from a long set of stairs right next to the building, which ran down the side of the hill upon which the palais was perched. At the bottom was a small (now dry and barren) garden; at the other end of the garden was an unmarked metal door leading back into the building, where it seemed that the partygoers had taken over an unfinished storage area. The music must've been really loud inside, because we could hear noise when we were only half-way down the hill.

Just as we arrived at the foot of the hill and approached the garden, a pair of police officers walked passed us and approached the door. As a result, only half of our group got through the door before the person opening the door spotted the police and slammed it shut. The officers began asking the rest of us who was in charge of the party, and whether they had clearance to hold the event. Since I was truly a random arrival, I had no clue, but anybody who did kept their mouth shut anyway. After getting nowhere with us, one of the officers approached the door and knocked on it. Since the door had no peephole, and possibly presuming that the officers had left, the doorman opened the door. When he saw the officer standing there, his expression fell. He said, curtly, "This is a private event," and closed the door. This is the wrong way to deal with the police in Paris. What you're supposed to do is invite them in, apologize about the inconvenience, promise to turn down the volume, and then bribe them. The officers were not pleased.

It's funny how moments like these are never clean, fast-paced narratives like you might see in a movie. Many minutes were passed repeating the same questions and non-answers, shrugging and pacing, waiting for someone else to make a move. The door opened and closed several times and wiser people began to leave the party, avoiding the questions from the police officers. One guy stumbled out, obviously drunk, and began yelling at everyone outside for "bringing the cops." He was getting physically and verbally aggressive, until he realized the the police were still there and they were reaching for their nightsticks.

And then, as if some decision had been made, the lights came on inside, the music cut off, the crowd booed, and people began leaving the building. The doorman, himself clearly drunk and/or high, stuck his head out the door and said "The party is over!" He went back into the building, but the police officers made no show of leaving. Clearly, they were going to talk to him whether he liked it or not.

A few minutes later, A. reappeared (she had made it inside) and we decided to cut our losses and get back home before the last train (which was coming any minute). We scrambled into the station and caught the last train heading for République. A few minutes in, the train stopped and we heard a message saying "Due to a grave incident médicale, service has been interrupted on all lines running through Nation station." Everybody took the phrase 'grave incident médicale' to mean 'suicide by subway,' and braced themselves for a wait, cracking awkward jokes that all translated to: "I realize this is awful, but it sucks that some guy killed himself and delayed my ride home." A. was getting saltier and saltier, as it was becoming clear that we wouldn't make our connection at République.

The train started up again, but then stopped one station before République. We got out and asked the train conductor if he knew when it would start up again, but he had no clue. After a moment's consideration, we headed up to the surface and walked towards République, accompanied by a young guy named Momo (a common N. African nickname), who had been on the train with us. He worked at a grocery store near République, and he lived in the banlieue (burbs), so he decided to head back to the store and sleep there that night. A. and I thought about taking the night bus (which passed right by République), but instead decided to call a cab. However, before getting into the cab, I snapped a picture of this fantastic thing:

Partially obscured by a nearby building, this lit sign was hanging high atop a wall (nearly 6th floor), with the words "Cry Me a River" in rainbow colours. I don't know what it's all about, but I plan on investigating.

4 commentaires:

Anonyme a dit…

google brought me on your page while searching for the meaning of the writing.
I live in paris close to the republique square and i noticed this insciption 2 years ago. I never try to find what it was until my trip to new york one week ago. I saw with great surprise the same letters forming the word "HELL YES" on what will be the new museum of art opening on december 1st 2007.
I guess this is the same artist but still can't find who he is after a google search.
did you get any clue since ?

Luis-Manuel Garcia a dit…

Yup! After a bit of work, I've found that the artist is Ugo Rondinone. He's done similar installations all over, it seems. See: "A Horse With No Name", "Everyone Gets Lighter", and "Our Magic Hour".

Anonyme a dit…

Another one : Cry me a river Paris Boulevard magenta

Luis-Manuel Garcia a dit…

Merci, Loïc! T'as pas un pic pour celle-là, par hasard?