samedi, septembre 20, 2008

Techno Parade 2008: An Opera-Marathon in Five Acts

Well, today was a good example of how differently a day can go, based on a simple change of plans at the beginning. You see, today was the day of the Paris TechnoParade, which I had planned on attending. The plan was to hang around and watch the parade begin and end—much like I had done a couple of years ago—then head home, have a light dinner, and head out to Le Rex to see Sasha Funke and Margaret Dygas, two Berlin-based DJs that I had seen during my time there this summer (and Mlle Caro and Franck Garcia, who deserve better than to be footnotes, but such is the fate of local DJs).

OK, so here’s What Really Happened, in Five Acts:

Act One: The Techno-Parade itself

I was invited to ride on the Rex Club float by a friend of a friend (who would become simply “a friend” by the end of the night), DJ Timid Boy, a.k.a. Damien. This invitation was made a little over a week ago over dinner, so I didn’t expect much to come of it. This doesn’t mean that I expected the invitation to be rescinded or that I was going to forego the offer; rather, it’s just that there tends to be more talk about doing stuff together than the actual doing itself. One of the more verbal forms of intimacy in this scene (and others, I imagine) is engaging in talk about a future together: let’s have a drink sometime; we should party together; if you’re ever in Chicago, I’ll show you around; and so on. Even if these future connections never happen, the talk of it has an effect on the present relationship; it conjures up the intimacy of a closer relationship in the context of a less serious or casual relationship. Anyway, all of this is a long way of saying that there is a lot of talk in social scenes about “what we’ll do together” and it doesn’t always happen, and that’s OK.

So it was nice to get a text message from his the day before the parade, checking in and repeating the offer. A couple of messages later, I had a time and place to meet him. And so this morning I got up and headed out at 11h30 to get to the starting point of the parade around noon. This year, the parade route was going to start at Place Opéra and end at Bastille (as it always does). I got there just as the trucks started arriving with the floats, so I got a couple of shots of the floats and then waited until they parked along the rue du quatre septembre to wait for the parade to start. At this point, many of the parade attendees (those who planned to follow the parade rather than watch it from a fixed place) would walk past the floats, appraising the various floats and making decisions about which floats they would follow during the parade. The floats usually would roll along with a good 20-30 metres of space between each one, so that fans could cluster behind their favorite float and dance.

I waited for a while for Damien to arrive, and then I climbed onto the Rex’s float and set down my bags. Damien and another DJ named Molly (also a friend) started spinning back-to-back while the rest of the float crew showed up and got the van running. Finally, around 13h00, we started slowly rolling forward.

I wont’ give a play-by-play of the DJs that performed on the truck, as there was a lot of back-and-forth between the performers rather than discrete sets. Nonetheless, a Paris artist called From Karaoke to Stardom (cute, if a bit cumbersome as far as names go) did an excellent live set that was pretty minimal sounding, and Margaret Dygas spun a really lovely set that included a sort of “Greatest Hits” of the tracks I had been hearing in Berlin this summer. This includes a vinyl-only track called “Nasrib” or “Standing” (don’t know why there’s two titles), by an artist called SIS. I managed to find an online streaming of the track, so enjoy! This is the kind of sound Berlin likes right now. I’m actually thinking of making a post later this week with links to a bunch of the “Greatest Hits” of Berlin Summer 2008.

Standing (Original Mix) - SIS

I took a TON of photos of the event, so rather than post them all here, I’m putting them on Flickr and I’m posting a link to the Flickr set. Here’s a few examples below. As you can see, there were a LOT of people this time (compared to 2 years ago), which may have something to do with the fact that this was the 10-year anniversary of the parade. Also, you’ll see that again there were lots of young kids standing on phone booths, bus shelters, lampposts and pretty much anything they could climb onto.

TechnoParade2008 - 5 TechnoParade2008 - 46 TechnoParade2008 - 28 TechnoParade2008 - 43 TechnoParade2008 - 53 TechnoParade2008 - 56 TechnoParade2008 - 64

Now, I managed to get some video of the Techno Parade, but I also discovered that my new-ish camera uses horribly heavy audio compression, which is a very bad idea when you're recording in an environment that hits 100dB pretty frequently. So I'm going to apologize in advance for the horribly shitty quality of the sound here. I'm only including a couple of videos, but if you can find the rest of my videos on my YouTube Channel.

Being on the float this year was an interesting contrast to wandering through the crowd 2 years ago. To begin with, I saw a lot less of the small interactions between partygoers because I was physically pretty separated from them (about 15 feet above them, to be exact). So, from above, I tended to see the crowd more as a mass of bodies that occasionally drew attention to individual members. I wasn’t able to follow individual dramas between partiers as they played out, but instead I had a 6-hour-long ride with a set of about 30 people on the float.

People occasionally got on and off the float, as latecomers that had been invited got on and others who were tired or needed to pee got off. At the beginning of the parade, when there weren’t many people dancing on the main part of the float, the people running the float would sometimes pick someone in the crowd that looked like fun (and were usually alone), and invited them onto the float. Later on in the parade, they were only letting on people who were friends of staff / DJs.

Those who were on the float got a bright neon bracelet so that the staff could keep track of who was allowed to be on there. I didn’t realize this would be a potential problem until an hour or two into the parade, when adventurous (and usually drunk / high) guys and gals started scaling the float. I can see why you’d want to be on the float: there’s a good view of the parade; you can indulge your exhibitionistic side by dancing for the crowd; there’s free Red Bull, beer, and someone opens a bottle of champagne every 30 minutes (remember, this float is organized by a nightclub). Nonetheless, considering that there was a ring of stern-looking security people around each float and police not too far away, the only people crazy enough to attempt climbing onto the float were drunk and/or high. So, those few that managed to climb up when one of the security guys was looking the other way would start flailing around and generally being annoying / dangerous as soon as they got on. There was only one guy actually on the float taking care of this issue, so he would go up and down the float and kick off the interlopers.

As we passed Place République and started down the homestretch to Bastille, I noticed that there was a significant increase in the number of police officers standing standing around in sour-faced clots and watching everyone in the crowd very intently. What was up with that? When the float got to Bastille, they cut the music and the security personnel gave us 10 minutes to completely evacuate the float. What gives?

I found out later that night that there had been some violence at Bastille before our float arrived. Apparently, there were some fistfights and clashes with police, which ended with the police forcing the organizers to cancel the post-parade party at Bastille and send the floats away.

Act Two: Nonetheless, Post-Parade Party

As we climbed down from the float and got ready to head our separate ways, Damien turned to me and asked, “Are you coming with me?” I wasn’t sure where we were going, but I imagined that following the DJ that was associated with the foremost techno club in Paris was probably a good idea. So off we went to a small opening along a fence that had been recently erected on the plaza, where the same peevish guy that works the door at Le Rex was standing, guest-list in hand. “He’s with me,” said Damien, and I followed him into what was clearly the V.I.P. space for the parade performers.

Although things were supposed to be dissipating immediately after the parade (around 18h00), there were still two smaller parties going on. The large terrace area on the southern side of Bastille (the side that sits over the canal) had been surrounded by a fence and divided in two. A larger space hosted a post-parade thank-you party for the volunteers and staff of the event, while another smaller space hosted an area for the artists and their entourage. Here’s a picture I took of the artists’ space, where we were hanging out.

TechnoParade2008 - 58 TechnoParade2008 - 61

The space was apparently sponsored by Red Bull, as evidenced by their trademark splashed everywhere, the abundant and free Red Bull drinks, and the signs that said SPONSORED BY RED BULL. So, there was no ambiguity about the situation. Aside from the free Red Bull, there was a rather sizeable cold display case full of sandwiches, salads, pasta, fresh fruit, yogurt, pudding and other little custards. Apparently, this wasn’t the case in the staff/volunteer space, as a small group of volunteer security guards snuck through a gap in the dividing fence and piled their arms high with sandwiches before being briskly shooed out by Peevish Door Guy.

Anyway, we had a good time hanging out on the deck chairs and eating and drinking as the sun went down. Since the main post-parade party had been cancelled, the headliner DJs were back in the artists’ space with us. Since Margaret Dygas was already hanging out with us and the Rex crew have good ties with the Berlin scene, our corner of the terrace became the Berlin Minimal Corner. I got to meet Ellen Allien and Modeselektor, which was pretty neat (although their sizeable retinue kept me from really chatting with them very much).

At a certain point, the girlfriend of From Karaoke to Stardom returned from getting some food and said, “Na?” My frenchy companions didn’t know what to make of it, but I had just spent 2 months in Berlin, so my reaction was a reflex: “Ja, gut.” “Na?”, which literally means “Well?”, is a colloquial German way to say “How’re you doing?” without getting a detailed response. If you say “Wie geht’s?” (“How goes it?”), you might get a long list of the day’s events or a detailed health history as an answer. “Na?”, on the other hand, is an equivalent to “I’m just checking in,” and the answer always takes the form of a positive or negative.

Anyway, she was excited to hear that I spoke German, so we started chatting for a while in German, until eventually we both realized that neither of us spoke German as a first language. She was actually Polish, from Lodz, and she was more comfortable in English (as was I, obviously), so we kept on chatting in English. A bit later, another French DJ that had been standing next to us asked me how I had developed such a flawless American accent. I forgave him the conflation of American and Canadian-Anglophone accents and took it as a compliment that he thought I was actually Francophone.

So Damien had originally planned to hang out for a while, then head home and have some dinner, and then meet a bunch of friends for a birthday party near Bastille, and then head off to the Rex. However, this changed when he was informed that he would be spinning a warm-up set at Showcase for the “official” TechnoParade club night. At first he thought that he would have to skip the birthday party, but he soon got details: the warm-up set will last from 22h00 to 23h00. This was ridiculously early and ridiculously short, but a paycheck is a paycheck AND he could say that he opened for Ellen Allien and Modeselektor, so he wasn’t going to say no. Anyway, the upside of this off scheduling was that we could grab a taxi and be at the birthday party in time for Damien to bring out his records and spin for a couple of hours.

The problem at this exact moment, though, was getting to Showcase in the first place. At first, the plan was that we would just pile into the same van they had rented to bring Ellen Allien and Modeselektor over to the club, but the BPitchControl crew (all of them are on that label) brought an unexpected number of people with them as their entourage, so there was barely enough space for them and their equipment, let alone me, Damien, and the other performers.

Things were, to put it gently, not very well-organized at this point, and so Damien and I were left to sit around in limbo at the Red Bull Artists’ Space Or Whatever for another hour or so while they tried to figure out how to get us over to the club space. Finally they called a taxi cab, which was in itself a complicated undertaking, since we needed a van-sized cab to bring along some other equipment that Modeselektor’s video artist needed. In the cab, we were accompanied by one of the organizers, who had a really amusing phone conversation with some assistant about dealing with the complexities of “difficult” talent [i.e. superstar DJs].

Act Three: Drama at Le Showcase

We got to Le Showcase without too much trouble and schlepped our way into the club. There was a whole host of large-framed black men in suits (i.e., security guards) standing around the entryway, but since I was lugging a large piece of equipment, I could just smile and walk past them.

It was almost 22h00 and Damien should’ve been getting on the decks, but things had hit a snag. Ellen Allien and Modeselektor and their entourage were onstage for their sound-check, and things were not going well. Without going into too much detail, here’s what appeared to be the main problem:

Modeselektor had brought with them their huge inflatable monkey, which they were going to have behind them as they did their live set at the high point of the evening. The stage manager for the club had not been notified of this and was having none of it. Apparently, French law forbids any stage décor of that sort that isn’t clearly marked as non-flammable. Since the inflatable monkey didn’t have any markings nor anything that specified the type of plastic or rubber used to make it, one of the technicians offered to take it outside and put a lighter to a corner to test it. As you can imagine, the Modeselektor boys weren’t thrilled with that plan, seeing as that thing probably cost them a fortune. So, with the prospect of performing monkey-less, the boys started angrily setting up while their manager argued more and more intensely with the stage manager. Meanwhile, Ellen Allien nervously pointed out various technical problems with the turntable setup: only one stereo channel was coming through; the second turntable didn’t seem to be connected, there’s a cable missing here; there’s no way to switch monitor input between the live set gear and the turntables.

So it was not a happy time, and the Bpitchcontrol people still hadn’t had dinner. They eventually got the sound equipment set up (although they told Damien he would have to spin without monitors) and the star talent headed off to eat. By then it was already 22h30, so Damien was worried that we were going to be late getting to the birthday party. As we soon discovered, the management decided to just cut his set short so that the other acts wouldn’t be late, so in the end he only spun for 30 minutes. Ah well, at least we’ll be at the birthday party on time.

Act Four: B-day Party @ Café Charonne

The organizational disarray at Le Showcase seemed to be intensifying as Damien finished his set, so we packed up quickly and fled before we could get sucked in. We hailed a cab and headed back to the Bastille area, where we made our way to Café Charonne, a little café-bar not far from La Scène Bastille.

There’s not much to say about the birthday party; it was a lot of fun and I had a great time, but it was a private event and I’m not going to post publicly about it. In sum, Damian pulled out his records and started spinning and everybody hung out and chatted.

The only interesting anecdote that I think bears telling was an encounter I had just as I arrived on the scene. I was introduced to a group of girls from Brussels that were friends with the birthday girl. As we were in the process of introducing ourselves, I mentioned that I was Angophone-Canadian and they all said nice things about my French accent. One girl said that she had presumed I was a native French speaker, which was ironic because I also thought she was a native French speaker until she told me she was from Worcester, England. I don’t know what this says about negative stereotypes of Anglohpones, but nobody congratulated the Cypriot girl in our midst for her flawless French.

Anyway, I chatted with the girl from the UK for a good 10 minutes before another friend leaned over and pointed out that we didn’t need to speak in French, since we were both native English speakers. We laughed and continued our conversation in English for a good long while…but eventually we reverted to French. Having been “in immersion” in a French-speaking country (she more so than I), we both found ourselves pausing to remember words in English and making awkward translations of French colloquialisms in English. It’s hard to be properly bilingual, I tells ya.

By 2h00, the bar started closing and pointedly shooing us out the door. There was probably 10 of us heading over to the Rex for the event going on there, so we started organizing how we’d get over there. Damien jumped into a cab with his girlfriend (who had met us at the b-day party), so I had to figure out my own way to get to the club. Since the guest-list I was on for the Rex was only valid until 1h30, Damien was probably my only ticket for getting into the club quickly and for free.

Luckily, one of Damien’s friends that was at the party had come on a scooter and had an extra helmet, so I climbed on and said a prayer to the traffic gods. I’ll admit, driving around on the back of a motorcycle in Paris traffic is fucking scary.

Act Five: Wonderland @ Rex Club

We got to the club shortly after Damien and his girlfriend, but there was still another cluster of kids that we were waiting for. Damien was our ticket for jumping the line and going straight in, so we needed to have every one there with us. Fortunately it only took a few minutes, but it was fucking cold and everyone had to pee really bad. Nonetheless, everybody eventually arrived and we piled into the club.

Margaret Dygas had apparently been spinning since about 1h30, and she kept going until 3h00. Her set was really good, although it wasn’t quite as punchy and intense as the set she had done on the parade float. I suppose that’s to be expected, though, since she wasn’t in the headliner slot for tonight.

I only had 20€ on me at this point (I had totally forgotten to hit a bank machine on the way over), so I needed to budget my drinking accordingly. I had had the good luck of getting free drinks all day until the b-day party, but my luck definitely run out at the Rex. They had apparently upped the drink prices again since my last visit, as now a mixed drink costs 10€. That’s the equivalent of $14.50USD for a rum & coke. Seriously.

So I ordered a glass of champagne (in France, it’s the same price as a mixed drink) at the counter and while I was waiting for my drink, a guy that had been on the Rex float with me pulled up to the bar. In a friendly gesture, I asked him what he was having, since there were a lot of other people waiting to order their drink and he wasn’t likely to get his anytime soon. So I ordered his drink and then handed the bartender my 20€ bill before I realized that both the bartender and this guy were working under the assumption that I was buying him a drink. Dammit. Well, there was no graceful way out of the situation and he was kinda cute anyway, so I pretended that I had meant to buy him a drink and made small talk with him.

Seuil came on at 3h00 to do a live set, which was really good. It was on the “techno” side of tech-house, with an overall “minimal-but-pounding” aesthetic. A good mid-party set, I think.

At some point during the set, a short brown-haired guy in a Fred Perry ensemble (polo shirt and hat) shuffled past me and leaned on the barrier at the front of the room. He had a couple of friends with him, one of whom proceeded to simulate sodomizing him with his beer bottle (and he was really jamming it up there), then turned him around and rubbed the neck of the beer bottle against his crotch (again, going right in there), then rubbed the bottle against the guy’s face, and then proceeded to drink from it. Unlike the groups of guys I had seen last Thursday (and in other instances before), these boys didn’t spend the night feeling each other up in explicitly sexual ways, but they nonetheless did a lot of ass-grabbing and crotch-grabbing.

The guy in the Fred Perry made eye contact with me, then leaned in my direction and asked, “Do you have any ecstasy?” When I told him no, he pulled this doe-eyed pout that I found surprisingly feminine and oddly seductive (ironically, I would later see him use it on girls that he was hitting on). I thought that maybe he imagined that I had “personal use” drugs that I didn’t want to sell to him, so gave him the longer answer: I’ve only recently moved back to Paris, I don’t have any connections, you’re probably more likely to know where to find some, blah blah blah. He seemed to be satisfied with this answer, and then he handed his glass to me. I said thanks and took a swig of it before handing it back to him. As I did, he said, “It’s got GHB in it.”

Well, great. This guy was drunk/high enough to: a) make the possibility of him using GHB credible; and b) make his slurred delivery so deadpan that I couldn’t tell if he was being sarcastic. The French don’t really do deadpan humour, so I wasn’t expecting it from him. Anyway, there wasn’t much I could do at this point but wait.

I won’t keep you in suspense: there wasn’t anything funny in the drink as far as I could tell, but I did spent a good 30 minutes worrying.

At some later point in the evening, I found myself near the front of the room and that same guy was there again, drink in hand, looking totally trashed. Another guy showed up and leaned on the railing next to him. After a moment, the Fred Perry guy tapped the other guy on the shoulder, pulled me over, and then gestured for the two of us to introduce ourselves. A bit confused, we shook hands and exchanged names. My new acquaintance asked me, “Are you friends with him?” “No,” I answered, “he’s just drunk.” We laughed, and that was that.

Sasha Funke came on at about 4h30 and presumably was to spin until 6h00. His set started off very promising, dropping immediately the same track by SIS that I had linked to above (see Act One). However, he soon went into a deep / atmospheric and generally low-intensity house set, which was a big disappointment for me. Coming after Franck Garcia’s rather intense set, this felt like an overlong after-party rather than the main event. I nonetheless kept myself dancing until about 5h30, at which point I decided that it wasn’t worth making myself dance to Funke if I wasn’t enjoying it.

As I was making my rounds and saying goodbye to everyone, I saw the Fred Perry guy again as he was making his way to the smoker’s room. He handed me his near-finished drink and said, “Here…don’t ever change.” Umm…OK.


After that, I got my jacket and walked home (I’m still living in that dingy apartment in the 10th arrondissement). As I headed back up my usual street I noticed something: even the prostitutes are at home by 6h00.

vendredi, septembre 19, 2008

No show tonight

Again, a short entry for today, and for the same reasons. Saturday was SUPER busy, and I don’t really have the time to blog Friday in detail. Anyway, Friday was a pretty boring day. I slept in after my busy night on Thursday, then spent a large part of the day working on my blog notes for Thursday and doing laundry. Voila!

jeudi, septembre 18, 2008

Freak'n'Chic and men touching men


After work and before going out for dinner with some friends, I was at home, working on my proposal. I was fleshing out the section where I would give the titles and order of my chapters, which was getting complicated because it’s hard to plan your chapters when you’re still doing the research that is supposed to give structure to your thesis. So, before listing my (n-version, soon-to-be-changed) chapters, I gave a list of concepts that I want to work with and another list of “ethnographic moments” that I know I want to write about.

In this section on my “ethnographic moments,” I noted that I now have a cluster of references to moments about touch in various EDM scenes. Among them, there are several references to this tendency in the Paris scene for groups of unattached young (presumably straight) guys to engage in pretty intense sexual play (mostly touching, but pretty intimate stuff) on the dancefloor. They would immediately re-orient themselves around any attractive female that passes through their midst, but otherwise they would spend most of the night feeling each other up and simulating sex with each other.

I had seen this a bunch of times, especially among “younger” crowds (late teens, early twenties) and among boys that were legible as banlieusards (like “ghetto” and “suburbanite” mixed together), whether ethnically French or not. Nonetheless, my 1-year absence from Paris had made me wonder about the pervasiveness of this practice. Did I just happen to be the repeated witness for the few times that this sort of thing took place in Paris? Was this a passing fad that won’t be around for others to observe and confirm for me? Or is this maybe a spillover from another scene that overlaps with the techno scene? Anyway, this was all in my head as I worked on my revisions today. Keep this in mind as you read on.

Act One: Dinner at Les Trois Marmites

Ah, les Trois Marmites. I’ve eaten there a number of times before, three of which have been described on this very site (here, here, here). The food here is always very fine, in HUGE portions, and at very reasonable prices. They manage these prices by being a “menu fixe”-only restaurant. That is, you pay a fixed sum (22€, 3€ more than a year ago, alas), and you pick from a selection of 5 appetizers, 5 main dishes, and 5 desserts. The upside of this (aside from the price), is that the food is usually seasonal and very fresh.

Anyway, I had invited for dinner the friend that had taken me in when I first arrived this month and her boyfriend. They had never been here before, so I got a bit of an ego-stroke at the fact that I was introducing a pair of Parisians to a restaurant they didn’t know about. On the other hand, there’s probably zillions of restaurants in this city.

For appetizers, one friend ordered a tatin of pears and cheese, which involved a disk of cheese baked onto a disk of pasty dough, over which was spread a cold preserve of pears. The other friend got a mountain of breaded and fried calamari rings with a garlicky dipping sauce, and I got the Norman-style terrine that had apples in it. All were delicious but also HUGE. Especially mine. They had cut me a slice of terrine that was almost an inch thick, and as wide as a large piece of toast. Gah!

For the main dish, both of my friends took the skewers of marinated salmon, while I took the “loup de mer” (sea wolf, which is sort of sea bass) in a sauce made with my currently favorite mushrooms: les trompettes de la mort (black trumpets). Again, delicious and huge.

Finally, dessert. One friend was very smart and just ordered the cup of sorbets. Another one of us ordered the coconut custard (flan coco), while I got the clafouti aux abricots. I was worried that this was going to be a very thick, cake-like clafouti, but thankfully it was relatively thin and very moist and loose (ha. Moist and loose).

Nonetheless, we all needed a digestif of pear liquer and a coffee just to be able to stand up and go home. BUT, I still had a night of dancing ahead of me, so I headed home to get ready. I’ll admit that the temptation to just drink a glass of wine and go to bed was overwhelming, but I made myself another coffee, freshened up, and headed out.

Act Two: Freak n’Chic Closing Night @ Batofar with Steve Bug

As is usual for Paris clubs, I waited until about half-past midnight and then started moving. The goal was to catch the last subway out there, so that you wouldn’t get to the bar too early. I ended up walking into the club around 1h20 and was surprised to find it PACKED with people…

Sure, it was the closing night of this long-running series, but that it was still unusual to see a club this packed at this time of night. What gives?

I overheard someone yell “Whoo! Steve Bug!!”, and I approached the stage and realized that it was, indeed, Steve Bug. A headliner on at 1h00? I was at this point that I remembered: Freak n’Chic used to be a Sunday night party, which started at 20h00 and ended at 1h or 2h, so that you could get home and get some sleep before going to work Monday morning. The night had moved to Thursday nights and changed location for the summer, but the time schedule probably still applied.

Well shit, I thought, I just paid 10€ for 40 minutes of music. But then I realized that they would’ve stopped charging by now if the event was really going to be over that soon, so I should probably wait and see. In the end, the whole thing ran until 6h00, with Steve Bug doing an extra-long set until about 4h00, and then Dyed Soundorom picking up the baton until the end of the night. Both DJs were quite good, although I liked Steve Bug better; both were working in a minimal-house vein, with occasional dubby vocals and a focus on melodic or rhythmically interesting basslines.

I’m skimming over the musical portion of the evening because I was distracted by other things this evening, most of them to do with my observations of and interactions with various guys on the dancefloor (note: there are girls at these events, but tonight was an oddly homosocial affair for me).

Just as I first arrived and moved across the dancefloor, a guy tapped my shoulder and pointed to my Anemone moulded vinyl bag, “Is that a magic bag?” Smiling, I said, “Yeah, it’s very magic.” Looking more interested, he asked, “Is there any magic candy in there?” Ah, I see what he’s driving at. “Sorry,” I said, “my bag isn’t that magic.” He shrugged, “Well, it was worth a try.” We parted ways, but we would see each other again later.

I ran into GuiGui, who had performed with Nathan H last week at Happy People Only, and discovered that he was as tactile and affectionate as Nathan. They’ll make a well-matched (and totally hetero) couple…I wonder how that’ll translate into their musical output? Either way, I always appreciate people who are comfortable with expressing affection through touch; an arm around the shoulder or a hand on the waist does a lot to convey care and friendliness.

Maybe a half an hour later, I had made my way to the front of the room, precariously navigating between spastic bodies with a glass full of gin+tonic, planted my bag and my drink on the stage, and then got to dancing. A few minutes in, as I was pondering about the male-male erotic play I had been writing about that afternoon, I look to my left to see one guy leaning slightly over the stage, with another behind him, pressed entirely against his back, with his arms up the front of the shirt of the first guy, pinching his nipples. Well, speak of the devil.

Although they certainly didn’t look the part, I wasn’t sure if they were a gay couple. French men have this tendency to behave in ways that make an immediate reading of their sexuality difficult—a phenomenon the French like to call “being French.” On the one hand, they never made out, and they would alternate between intense touching and totally ignoring each other…and they would occasionally hit on a nearby girl. On the other hand, when they spoke to each other, they would press their hips and torsos together, wrap their arms around each other, and rub one face against the other as they shouted into each other’s ear. They were doing everything but kissing (including a lot of ass-grabbing and genital-grabbing, I might add), but at the same time they were checking out the girls around them.

They had this nonchalant and casual attitude about their intimacy that said, “I need to touch and be touched and I can do that safely with you, but all bets are off if that cute blonde returns my advances.” I wondered if this sort of casual erotic play ever leads into the more naked, this-goes-in-there sorts of erotic activity; that is, if two people ever find themselves engaging in sex with someone they are comfortable with, against their declared gender preferences, for nothing more than the desire to feel pleasure and contact. I don’t doubt that this has happened more than once, but it’s not a narrative you’re likely to hear very often.

Anyway, that was that for the time being.

A little while later, another group of guys materialized near the front of the room, just to the left of me. There were four of them, they appeared to be a bit younger (probably late teens, early 20s at most), and they were dressed in the style associated with the Fluo Kids community here in Paris. The one exception was a small-framed guy with short hair, dressed in jeans and a simple zip-up sport jacket (kinda exactly what I wear, come to think of it). They were all pretty drunk/high as far as I could tell, and were hanging off each other as they danced. There was a fair bit of touching going on between them as well, although it was less “Let’s engage in non-dramatic sexual touching because it’s fun,” and more “Woo! I’m having fun and I’m sorta disorganized and in my excitement my flailing hands may land on your body and neither of us will really notice.”

Nonetheless, they would occasionally play at sexually rubbing each other or grabbing asses, but most of the contact was arms-around-shoulders, woo-I’m-having-fun sort of contact. I dunno if there’s a qualitative difference or just one of degree, but nonetheless their behaviors were contrasted with the pair of guys I had seen a moment earlier.

But there was still an exception: that smaller-framed guy. He was frequently rubbing up against his friends, grinding on them, inviting them to do the same, and generally getting his mack on all over them. And, from time to time, he’d throw himself at a girl that he found attractive. More on him later.

That pair of guys I had first seen reappeared, again alternating between dancing distractedly and touching each other with surprising intensity and tenderness. In my peripheral vision, I would often think I had seen them kiss, only to look over and see that they were just cuddling. Lots and lots of cuddling.

Eventually, during a moment when the two were dancing separately (there was a third friend in the picture, but he sort of stood to the side and didn’t get involved), one of them danced next to me and struck up conversation with me. As I had sort of expected, the default stance for talking with him was arm-over-shoulder or hand-on-small-of-back. So we stood there in a half embrace and talked for nearly half an hour about everything. He was really friendly, he was from Toulouse, he was living in Paris now, and he was almost certainly straight (I didn’t ask, but he talked about girlfriends). We exchanged phone numbers and promised to hang out sometime soon.

The other group of “fluo kids” were dancing next to us and engaging in a fair bit of intimate touching, so I leaned over to my interlocutor and said something along the lines of the observations that I’ve been making about tactile intimacy between guys in clubs here. He, too, noted the contrast between everyday touching norms and party-time norms, but he also insisted that part of it was personality. “It’s just the way I am with my friends,” he said, and then proved his point by pinching my nipple and grabbing my ass, “I’ve always been like that with my [male] buddies.”

Regardless of whether it’s Paris-wide or just restricted to a few groups of guys, this sort of intimate-but-undramatic touching just isn’t possible among male (heterosexual) friends in North America. Certainly, there’s some ass-slapping that goes on between guys (usually followed by “fag” jokes), but nothing quite as intense and unflinching as what I see here in Paris. There’s no nervous laughter or shoulder-punching to inoculate themselves against the possibility of homoerotic desire, it’s just there in a very as-such or “whatever” sort of way.

A few minutes later, that smaller-framed guy from the other group (the one NOT dressed like a fluo-kid) came over and swung his arm over my shoulder, declaring me his friend and trying to introduce me to his other friends with slurred speech. I think he asked my name at least 15 times during the course of the night. He was being very tactile with me as well—but with careful escalation that belied his drunken appearance. First, he had his arm around my shoulders or my waist, occasionally squeezing my arm or my side. He danced away for a moment, and then came back and ground against his friend’s ass for a while right next to me, before moving over to me and pressing his crotch against my hip briefly, smiling while reading my expression carefully, and then floating off. A moment later, he came back and slurred something in my ear about how he wanted to dance on the stage but the bouncer wouldn’t let him, even though there were other guys on the stage and they weren’t very handsome. Right, I know this trick; casually mention masculine attractiveness and study the response. Fine, I’ll bite: I muttered some comment about how I didn’t find the guys onstage particularly hot. He apologized for being drunk, asked my name yet again, and then kissed me on the cheek. I returned the peck on his cheek. He disappeared and returned a moment later, sidled up next to me, and finally went for the kiss.

We made out for a little while and then he pulled himself away and said, still smiling, “Look…I’m not gay…but, you know, I’d like…I’d like it if we grab a coffee sometime…you know, if you’re up for it. Well, he was cute if somewhat confusing in his manner of identifying his sexuality, so I said sure and we exchanged phone numbers. “Tu me plais beaucoup,” he said (“I like you a lot”).

For the rest of the night, this guy would occasionally appear next to me, give me a quick peck on the lips, and then wander off again, drink in hand. He would occasionally complain about trying and failing to pick up a girl, but otherwise we didn’t talk all that much.

By about 4h00 or so, I ran into the guy that had asked me for drugs at the beginning of the night. Apparently he had found something, as he spent the rest of the night dancing with his eyes half-closed, running his hands over his chest and smiling in contentment. He was a pretty good-looking guy, and by the end of the evening he actually had girls throwing themselves at him (which is a rarity here in Paris; girls very rarely make the first approach). But he was clearly a bit too high to do anything about it. Sometimes he wouldn’t notice their advances until they had already left in exasperation (if a girl does make the first move here, you’re expected to jump on it), sometimes he would be aware of them and go through some of the motions, only to get distracted by his own pleasure and ignore them (again, FAIL).

I occasionally checked in on him, putting my hand on his shoulder or his back to make it clear that I didn’t mind if he needed some contact to keep his high going. Yet while he was always very tactile when I talked to him, he invariably went back to caressing himself, eyes closed, his own little autonomous island of pleasure right up until the end of the night, around 6h30.

mercredi, septembre 17, 2008

It's Oh So Quiet...

So, no blog post for today, because Thursday night was pretty eventful and I want to write it all down before I forget it. Anyway, today was pretty boring; I went to work, I ran some errands on the way home, and then I sat at home and worked on my proposal revisions. Wheeee!

mardi, septembre 16, 2008

Quince and The Trumpet of Death!

I'm starting my own Harry Potter franchise! It'll involve gastronomy instead of magic. But I'll maybe include sodomy instead of witchcraft, so at least the books will get banned in all the right places.

On the way home from work today, I noticed that somebody had taken advantage of the dark-grey asphalt that has been laid down as sidewalk in the area around the “Rive Gauche” neighborhood (Université Paris VII, to be exact) to write various slogans in contrasting, light-toned paint. Most of it is of the “rent is too high!” “squatters rights!” variety, but there’s also this:

Aug 08 – Sep 08, en mémoire des feuilles mortes, tombées pour l’automne.

In translation: Aug 08 – Sep 08, in memory of dead leaves, fallen for autumn. Anyone who’s spent some time in a Western European city will recognize this as the standard formula for a war memorial (especially WWI and WWII), so I thought this was amusing and oddly poignant. All the more so because there is a lot of new construction here, which means that there are only baby trees planted here and there.

Anyway, I had noticed that Monoprix was selling black trumpet mushrooms (In French, trompettes de la mort, or “trumpets of death”), so I grabbed a handful and took them home. The other night, I had bought two pear-like fruits called coing, which I had presumed to be a variety of pears, since in the autumn you can often find a selection of 4-8 varieties in many stores. When I peeled one and tried to eat it, I found it beautifully perfumed, but hard, fibrous, and sour. So I looked up “coing” online and discovered that it actually meant “quince.” Ah. So I boiled the already-peeled one to soften and de-sour it, and it was lovely and fragrant.

So tonight, I had a handful of black trumpet mushrooms, one large quince, and a hankering for a bit of chicken. I hit the butcher near my place and picked up a cuisse de poulet, which means “chicken thigh,” but tends to resemble a dark-meat quarter-chicken by American standards: drumstick, thigh and the part of the back where it meets the thigh. My plan was to make a slow-cooked dish, so I thought a bone-in, skin-on, dark-meat quarter would do the trick rather nicely.

So I browned the thigh for a while in a relatively deep pan, removed the chicken and added a pat of butter to the chicken fat and the peeled and diced quince, added the mushrooms after the quince had gotten a bit soft, and then stirred the whole thing and stuck the chicken thigh back in. I covered the saucepan and let it simmer for a while until the mushrooms and the quince and the chicken had all rendered their juices, and then I added maybe a ½-cup of water and covered again and cooked for about half an hour. The result? Deliciousness. Quince has a lot of pectin in it, so by the time the fruit had come apart and turned into a sort of sweet jam, I had this thick mushroomy-sweet sauce that I could slather over the chicken and eat.

I had bought this demi-bouteille of 1989 Saint-Émilion Bordeaux wine for 7€ the other day (“expensive” by French standards), so I cracked it open to have with the chicken. Nearly 20 years old, that wine was the smoothes, most buttery red wine I think I’ve ever had. Just amazing. It was maybe a bit too mild for fans of the Cahors or Côtes du Rhône, super-tannic wines, but it’s the kind of thing you could serve to almost anyone.

So, without further ado, another recipe:

Chicken à la LMGM (Quinces and Trumpets of Death!!1!)


  • 1 cuisse de poulet, which is like a quarter-chicken with the drumstick and thigh together.
  • A bit of olive oil
  • A pat of butter (2 tablespoons)
  • 1 large quince, peeled and cubed
  • 1-3 cloves of garlic
  • 3-4 big handfuls of black trumpet mushrooms (morels might be another substitute)
  • ¼-½-cup of water or chicken stock


  1. Rub the chicken with a bit of oil, then place in the already-hot pan or dutch oven. Fry for 3-5 minutes on both sides over medium heat, until brown.
  2. Remove chicken and leave on plate (note, it will leak juice, so don’t just put it on the counter!)
  3. Melt butter into the remaining chicken fat in the pan, add quince, salt lightly and stir.
  4. Once the quince has become glossy and a bit soft, add chopped garlic and mushrooms. Stir to coat.
  5. Reduce heat, return chicken to pan (and any drippings that leaked out onto the plate), cover and simmer on low heat.
  6. After 7-10 minutes, the mushrooms and quince should’ve released their liquid into the pan. Add water or chicken stock until there is about 1.5 cm of liquid in the pan (1/2”), stir, and then cover and continue simmering.
  7. After 30 minutes, grab the drumstick and give it a pull. If the meat falls from the bone or the joint comes apart, it’s ready. If it’s not ready, dilute the liquid as necessary, cover and cok for another 15 minutes.
  8. When ready, remove the chicken and reduce the sauce if necessary to desired thickness. If the sauce is too greasy for your liking (depends on how fatty the chicken was), add some bread crumbs or crushed saltines to absorb some of that and simmer for a few minutes while stirring.
  9. Pour sauce over chicken and serve.

Things I might do differently next time:

  • Add shallots with the garlic
  • Use an entire découpe de poulet (i.e., an entire chicken cut into pieces), so that the sauce could be eaten with the breast.
  • Maybe experiment with “sweet” spices like nutmeg or cloves or allspice.
  • Finish the sauce with a healthy dose of crème fraiche.
  • Try using cèpe/porcini mushrooms, for a more noticeable mushroom texture.
  • Try substituting the braising liquid with white wine or maybe a sauterne (sweet white wine).
  • Try using duck fat instead of butter, and replacing the chicken thigh with duck breast.

lundi, septembre 15, 2008

The merde hits the fan overseas

Meh, nothing very special went on today in my personal sphere, but shit certainly hit the fan in US news. Lehman Brothers declared bankruptcy and Merill Lynch was bought out by Bank of America both of which sent the stock markets into a free dive. Also Monday morning (although released during the weekend), the New York Times released a scathing investigative piece on Sarah Palin’s practices as mayor of Wasillia, AK, and governor of Alaska.

Otherwise, on the dissertation front, I finally got some newfound momentum on my proposal revisions. Every time I opened the version of my proposal that I had defended to start making revisions, I would hit the major revisions I had to make to the opening portions of the document, tweak one or two sentences half-heartedly, and give up. Today, instead, I opened a new “To Do” document and just scanned the proposal and created an itemized list of everything I needed to change: turn this paragraph into one sentence, re-word this phrase, add some references here.

To begin with, just skimming through the whole document like this helped me get a better idea of what I was going to change in the first (and more complicated) sections. But more importantly, this allowed me to see all of the changes that I needed to make on one page and break them down into manageable chunks. The plan for tomorrow is to start with some of the easier and smaller tasks. Yay! Productivity.

dimanche, septembre 14, 2008

Björk, Uganda-style

Well, today was pretty unexciting (although reading the rumor posts on MetaFilter about US Politics and the current financial meltdown were certainly interesting), so instead check out this musical link that I also found on MeFi.

Bitone – All Is Full Of Love (cover)

This is a cover of a Björk song from her Homogenic album, performed by a music group in Kampala, Uganda, that is both a music education program and a fundraising organization for disadvantaged children in the region. If you click on the link above, you’ll go to their MySpace page (sorry, I couldn’t find a better link). If the MySpace “jukebox” doesn’t start playing the cover right away, scroll along the list of songs until you come to “All Is Full Of Love.”

Considering that most of the other recordings on here are percussion-heavy mbira-style performances, I was expecting a radical reworking of the original Björk song. Instead, they actually managed to imitate the song almost flawlessly with the instruments they had available to them. It’s actually really, really impressive. The young boy/girl that sings the vocal has a really love vocal tone, and s/he uses slightly wide intervals at the upper end of the melodic lines (wide minor seconds, to be precise), which create this light tension with the instruments that I really enjoy.