On the importance of green spaces

 

In large cities where high-density apartment living is common, there needs to be enough green space for people to escape from their dwellings. This is especially the case in Paris when the weather gets hot, as most apartments do not have air-conditioning [mine included]. Paris has no shortage of greenspaces. Ones known to everyone living outside of Paris include the Tuileries, Jardin de Plantes & Jardin de Luxembourg, to name a few. These public gardens attract people all year round. In winter the trees may be bare, but this can highlight their pruned shapes – as the image below from the Jardin de Luxembourg shows.

JardinDeLuxumbourg

There are many smaller parks & gardens that dot each arrondisement. There is also a ‘greenway’ – a 4.5 km walking/running/cycling trail called La Coulée verte René Dumont based on an old railway line that was closed in 1969. The trail crosses the 12th arrondisement – from the environs of the Place de la Bastille to La Porte de Vincennes [for a map see https://www.francedigitale.com/randonnee/information/58 ]. The trail is really cool because it runs ~7 metres above street level, giving the observer a very different perspective to the streets & buildings of Paris. Different parts were opened at different times – from the 1980s to 1993 – as it was renovated & built up in different stages.

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There are lots of roses & other flowers in bloom right now – so it is a beautiful place to take a stroll & literally take some time to smell the flowers…

Poppy

The trail also crosses the Parc de Reuilly – a lovely public park with a public ‘fountain’ where people can drink & also fill containers of both still & sparkling water – something unique in the city. There are park benches where people can sit & read or contemplate life. The grass provides a comfortable spot as well.

From the Coulée verte some really whimsical buildings can be seen. This one [see images below] is the quirkiest one that I have seen in Paris so far. It was designed by Spanish-French architect/urbanist Manolo Nuñez-Yanowsky & channels Michaelangelo’s sculpture ‘The Slave‘. The human motif repeats 15 times across the top of this corner building! The building project was completed in 1988 & it actually a police station – believe it or not… [http://www.nunez-yanowsky.com/works/project/police_station].

Fortunately the Coulée verte does not look ugly from street level. Part of the reason for this is the Viaduc des arts – a stretch of 60 artists & artisans studios, that were renovated & established in the 1980s [see http://www.leviaducdesarts.com/].

The parks & greenways provide a wonderful way for Parisians to de-stress & relax, to keep fit & to spend quality time with their families in a beautiful outdoor setting. I have taken to going to the park closest to me & sitting for a while to read as well as well as taking strolls to look at the trees & flowers. I also have access to spring water: there is a source in our neighborhood that has been tapped down to ~ 600 metres! The water is cold & has a subtle taste – not as minerally as I expected. Rumor has it that a local boulangerie [winner of last year’s best baguette in Paris award] uses this water for its baguettes. The baker purportedly gets on his bicycle to fetch the water at some ungodly hour of the night. [Baguettes take ~5 hours to make from start to finish.]

Formal green spaces are a real form of art in France – historically formal gardens have been appreciated by nobles & kings for centuries. Places like the Tuileries in Paris were originally constructed so that members of the Royal Court could take a stroll when they got too cooped up in the palace. Similarly, the gardens of palaces such as Versailles and Fontainebleu were probably constructed for the same purpose. Woods or forests nearby were sometimes set aside for the exclusive use of the king for the pursuit of hunting activities, for example Le Bois du Roi near Fontainebleu. There are many others throughout France.

In the Loire valley some of the many Chateaux there also have beautiful gardens. Chenonceau is one of those, also with a neighboring forest. It is a very unusual chateau, in that it is built to straddle the river Cher.

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I was fortunate enough to visit friends last weekend who live in the area. We were able to enjoy those woods, which border the chateau & the river Cher. Remarkably, there were very few people walking along the river & in the woods that weekend. The place was quiet, but for the beautiful bird chorus that could be heard in the trees. Delightful!

The image below show a small little rivulet where the water is almost completely still – as evidenced by the almost perfect reflection of the forest canopy in the water…

Chenonceau_Loire_17

The woods also house the tomb of Madame Dupin [1706 – 1799] – a previous owner of the castle [https://fr.wikipedia.org/wiki/Madame_Dupin]. Her claim to fame? It is a long & convoluted story, but in a nutshell she was an illegitimate child who grew up in a very well-to-do household in Paris who married into money. This reported beauty supported the arts & the humanities – having had a salon in the chateau at Chenonceau. At the start  of the French revolution she left Paris for the chateau – moving there permanently in 1792. She chose her own burial place & it is located in a beautiful spot in the woods – to be reached via a side drawbridge [an entrance/exit that is no longer used].

There are so many chateaux in this region that it is impossible to see them all. I have previously been to this region many years ago now & have visited some of them. This visit we went to the Domaine Chaumont because every year it hosts a festival where artists of various disciplines – not just horiculturists – participate in a competition where the garden exhibits are open to the public for a large part of the year. One can catch glimpses of the chateau from these gardens:

This year’s exhibit theme was ‘Jardins de la Pensée’ [‘Gardens of Thought’], as shown in their promotional material below & on their website: [http://www.domaine-chaumont.fr/fr/festival-international-des-jardins/edition-2018-jardins-de-la-pensee] The exhibit is open from April to November.

JardinsDeLaPensee

The exhibits were very creative & interesting, as I hope that the images below show. Some of my favorites were ‘Le Jardin des Voyelles‘ [‘Garden of vowels’] where a poem was represented by the consonants only – the vowels consisted of plants. By June the plants are getting larger & are partly beginning to hide some of the consonants too – so reading it was becoming a challenge! The exhibit was the brainchild of a French group called OULIPO [OUvroir de LIttérature POtentielle] formed in 1960 to develop new literary forms by delving into mathematics & science among other things.

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There was the ‘Avantgarden‘ where a trees trunk & roots had been transmuted into a something like a set of blood vessels – presented in bright red, which provided an interesting contrast to the green vegetation around… A path of bright red mulch completed the picture & captured everyone’s attention. This Russian exhibit came from Olga Podolskaya [an industrial designer], Margarita Syrtsova [founder & director of the Arteco Casa agency] & Olga Cherdantseva [landscape architect & chief curator of the gardens of the Russian Museum].

A post-apocolyptic theme was evoked in ‘(R)évolution‘ – where vegetation prevails over the man-made stuff… with the misting devices making a surreal ambience. The designers of this French exhibit were Camille Lacroix [scenographer], Christine Monlezun [director] & Philippe Bertrand [landscaper & teacher].

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A striking minimalist exhibit was that of ‘La Possibilité d’une île‘ [‘The possibility of an island’] where German architect Ulli Heckmann asks the question: can a tree grow in a body of water? This is timely given the increase in extreme weather events & flooding in so many places in the world. In this exhibit a solitary Japanese maple sits in a pool of water surrounded by chips of shale. The photo I took does not do this exhibit justice…

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Finally, no garden art exhibit would be complete [in my opinion] without a work from Dale Chihuly, a Seattle-based glass artist. I have seen a lot of his work previously – one particularly memorable exhibit at the Phipps Conservatory in Pittsburgh comes to mind… This time it was a blue glass sculpture that is 3 metres high. Apparently this work was originally created for an exhibition for the Missouri Botanical Garden in 2006 & was also shown in Denver [2014] & New York [2017].

Chaumont_JardinsDeLaPensee_17

Overall, we had a wonderful afternoon looking at the almost 30 exhibits. The weather was threatening – there were some strong thunderstorms all around us & we could hear the thunder. By some incredible stroke of luck the storms missed us – we just got some rain instead. There was so much more to see in the gardens themselves, including a valley of mist [‘La Vallée de Brumes‘] where, if you are lucky, sunbeams will come through the mist… There are also lots of ponds of waterlilies in all sorts of colors…

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So do you have a favorite green space near where you live? I have to say that my overall favorite is my own garden – something that I have sorely missed while living here. That said, I have tried to make up for it by spending lots of time outside in the lovely green spaces that mean so much to French people.

Game, set & match!

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As an Aussie, I have always been a keen tennis fan. When I lived in Australia, I regularly went to watch the Australian Open – as a grand slam tournament it always attracted the world’s top players. I have been fortunate to see many of them play in Melbourne over the years. I tried to also play the game – albeit very badly. The move to the USA certainly made it harder to appreciate this sport. When I lived in Connecticut I discovered that tickets to the US Open were very expensive & the event was also very corporate. Over the years we ended up going to various lead up tournaments to the US Open instead. This was great in some ways – matches are played in a more intimate setting & you can really see the players up close [instead of sitting in the nosebleed section of a large stadium].  The Western & Southern Open in Cincinnati is a good example – we have been to this one on numerous occasions now. Here are some pics [as is out of the camera] of Roger Federer – one of my fave players of all time – from 2014 when I lugged my camera gear with me to Cincy:

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This year, of course, it is ‘when in Rome, do as Romans do’ ! In a mad moment of spontaneity I decided to get tickets to the French Open – as a surprise belated birthday present for my other half, who was coming over again to visit. Cost me an arm & a leg, but I figured this was a once in a lifetime opportunity. This time I experimented taking pictures with my iPhone & a small, portable Nikon Coolpix camera – both of which do not compare to a camera with decent lenses when it comes to sports photography.

This is a very special year at the French Open, held regularly at the Roland Garros tennis facility. Roland Garros was a pioneer in French aviation, who was the first to fly across the Mediterranean [between Saint-Raphaël & Tunis] in 1913. This was an amazing achievement in its day! The then famous Garros signed up as a fighter pilot for the First World War & his plane was shot down in October 1918 – on the eve of his 30th birthday. So exactly a 100 years have passed now in 2018. [For more info, see https://www.rolandgarros.com/en-us/video/who-is-roland-garros] When France needed a place to play the USA in Davis Cup finals in 1928, a new stadium was built at Porte D’Auteuil – the site of the present day Roland Garros tennis facility which today houses 17 courts & 3 stadium size courts.

In 1928 the new stadium was named after Roland Garros, because of of lobbying by his friend Émile Lesieur. [Lesieur was also a fighter pilot during the war & was a fellow student with Garros at the famous Paris business school [HEC]. Lesieur himself was a celebrated rugby player & was President of the Stade français – an organization formed in 1883 devoted to the promotion of athletics & sports in schools & at the elite level.] The tournament this year commemorates the 100th anniversary of Garros’s death – but actually it is a celebration of his life.

The tennis complex is very nicely laid out & is next to a botanical garden, some of which is gradually being absorbed by the tennis facility. One of the catering areas, called the Orangerie, abuts it & our tickets gave us access to it where we got a quick & light breakfast before heading to check out the matches.

Lunch was also served there – quite a fancy affair – white starched tablecloths & wine glasses arranged in the standard diagonal line. The priorities were well set – there were TV screens all around the place so you could not miss the tennis while you tucked into your nice 3 course lunch in a leisurely manner!

FrenchOpen_25_Restaurant

Our tennis tickets for the Round of 16 were for the main stadium court – named after Philippe Chatrier – a famous French tennis player & journalist. This court has ~15,000 seats – a great atmosphere for spectators because everyone is fairly close to the play. The image below is straight out of the iPhone – no zoom…

FrenchOpen_35_PhilippeChatrier

There has been criticism of the limited seating at the French Open & as I understand it plans are underway to expand the facility – moving it further into the botanical garden.

On this gorgeous Sunday on center court there were 4 scheduled singles matches – 2 women’s & 2 men’s – .

Madison Keys (images above) defeated her Rumanian opponent Mihaela Buszarnescu & Madison’s close friend Sloan Stephens defeated Estonian player Anett Kontaveit (images below).

This set Keys & Stephens up to meet in the semi-final – similar to last year’s US Open women’s final, where they met & Stephens won. [This time, Stephens won again & she is to play Simon Halep in the final on Sunday 10th of June.]

We also saw Austrian Dominic Thiem [images below] take out Japanese star Kei Nishikori – somewhat of a surprise. [Thiem himself went on to be beaten by Nadal in the quarter-final.]

FInally, Novak Djokovic defeated the Spaniard Fernando Verdasco in 3 sets [images below]. Sounds like an easy match, but it was not because many games went to deuce & were quite prolonged. Overall, Djokovic did not play well at all – he made lots of unforced errors – surprising for someone playing at that level. [He was subsequently bundled out of the Open in the semi-final in a shock defeat by the Italian player Marco Cecchinato – who made history by becoming the first Italian man make the French Open semi-final in 40 years!]

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Clay courts are a tough surface to maintain – the courts need to be ‘bagged’ regularly i.e. run over with a brush & hosed. I remember doing this at high-school as the chore that everyone hated to do. This was the last thing to do when finishing up for the day. As I watched them bag the courts at the Open I thought about those old days… But they really had the bagging down to a very fine art at the Open…

As I mentioned earlier, there are a lot of great spaces for spectators to hang out. One open area had deck chairs in front of a large screen – so that people can lounge around with a bit more comfort…

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Overall, we had a terrific day at the tennis! It was a day that I will never forget, both for the game itself as well as the wonderful lunch we were served. Getting there & back was super easy & quick with the Metro. That is one of the great things about living in a big city with an excellent public transport system. And that is something to really celebrate, isn’t it?

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The north comes south

It is funny how life is full of interesting coincidences. In the last 2 posts I described my experiences on various trips to northeast Europe – to Finland – as seen through the eyes of someone whose own family comes from the Baltic region. On arriving back in Paris, I visited the Musée d’Orsay again [which I have posted on previously…] to see a new temporary exhibition that I was particularly excited about. It was called Âmes sauvages: Le symbolisme dans les pays baltes. Translated this corresponds to Wild Souls: Symbolism in the Baltic countries [http://m.musee-orsay.fr/fr/expositions/article/ames-sauvages-46485.html]. So here I found myself in back in Paris, revisiting some of the very same themes I ran into when I was checking out the art in Finland a few weeks ago! The exhibit’s advertising material depicts a striking painting by a celebrated Latvian artist, Johann Walter [1862-1932] entitled Jeune Paysanne, which was painted in 1904.

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The art exhibit has been organized to celebrate & commemorate the 100th anniversary of the declarations of independence of the 3 Baltic republics – Estonia, Latvia & Lithuania – in 1918. This period of freedom was shortlived – the 3 Republics were annexed by the Soviet Union during its imperialistic expansion. Fortunately, today the 3 countries have their independence once more.

As I already mentioned, the artworks featured in the Paris exhibit had themes common to those that I described in the Helsinki Art Museum exhibit of Finnish Art from around the same period in an earlier post. In the late 19th century, there was a cultural revival & a focus on ethnography & national identity in Europe, so many nations there were experiencing similar bursts of cultural activity. In images from the Baltic countries – including Finland – there is always the presence of the supernatural, including death in quite a few works. In one of the works from the Paris exhibit shown below, the moment that Death comes to visit & take an infant from it’s mother is depicted.

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This is a striking image on multiple levels. First, Death is depicted in white & as a woman – but her identity is unmistakable as she carries a sickle – a definitive cutting tool. Second, the look on the Mother’s face is depicted with incredible skill. I stood in front of this image for a long, long time contemplating it. There is the Mother’s look of incredulity as she looks directly upon Death & seems to not know how to deal with the situation. Yet, paradoxically at the same time there is an amazing gentleness to the scene. Death herself appears to be a compassionate being – the face depicts a calm, gentle demeanor & the white clothing does not have the negative association that typical images of the Grim Reaper dressed in black & traditionally carrying a scythe elicit. This is a classic painting created by the Latvian painter, Janis Rozentāls [1866-1916].

The exhibit depicts paintings & drawings showing scenes from real life, as well as from myths & legends – hence the symbolism label in the exhibit’s name. Here we come into contact with heros from epic poems, such as the Estonian Kalvipoeg.

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The above image by Estonian artist Välko Tuul [1894-1918] depicts him in a battle [Kalevipoeg et Les Guerriers] & was painted between 1915-17. Despite being a hero, he does die [unlike heros in other epic sagas of other countries] – with the event being depicted by Estonian artist Kristjan Raud [1865-1943], entitled La Mort de Kalevipoeg . He suffers an awful death from having both feet cut off by his own sword in a strange twist of fate. The image below depicts the hero with a distorted & emaciated torso & of course, sans pieds – a very dramatic image to say the least.

MuseeDOrsay_Raud_LaMortDeKalevipoeg

There is a certain simplicity to the images & this makes them so much more impactful. For example, this painting from 1935 by Kristjan Raud entitled Sacrifice embodies this simplicity. From my interpretation, the image depicts a pagan ritual & the bowed heads, positions of the hands & poses struck by the bodies depict a respectful act of worship.

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The images can also capture a dynamic instant in time, such as the moment an archer lets an arrow fly on a breezy day in a painting by Rozentāls entitled L’Archer.

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As in the Finnish art exhibit I described in the previous post, the images in the Baltic countries exhibit in Paris also explored nature & landscapes. One of my favorites was an early spring landscape by Latvian artist Vilhelms Purvītis [1872-1945] entitled Les Eaux printanières, which was painted around 1910. It is a beautiful & gentle scene – in some ways minimalistically rendered – the verticalness of the birch & fir trees is a nice contrast to the horizontalness of the water with it’s melting ice & the surrounding land with retreating snow.

MuseeDOrsay_Purvitis_LesEauxPrintanieres

In another part of the museum there was a temporary exhibit of Estonian photography depicting scenes from life on the Estonian island of Kihnu – located in the Baltic Sea not far from the Estonian coast. I was able to enjoy those images as well on my visit.

Fortunately for me, these temporary exhibits did not seem to attract the tourists. They were busy on the museum’s upper floors checking out the impressionist classics that the Musée d’Orsay is so famous for (as the photos below indicate). Glad to say that I have spent considerable time in these permanent collections on previous trips to Paris, when there did not seem to be as many tourists… Tourist season is definitely here in Paris now that it is May. Note to self: I need to whip around to some other sites that will gets lots of tourist traffic before they get too crowded…

Despite my recent posts lauding late 19th century art, my favorite period & styles of art actually are early 20th century expressionism, futurism & surrealism.  The Centre Pompidou here in Paris has a permanent collection where you can check out some works from this period & the D’Orsay has some works as well.

What period of art & style do you feel most passionate about?

 

In search of street art

 

 

I am fortunate to be living & working in the 13th arrondisement of Paris – an epicenter for street art in the city. Why is this the case? I was told that the mayor of our district is a fan of street art. [Each of the 20 Paris arrondisements have a mayor, associated town hall  & services etc., as well as having a mayor & town hall for Paris overall.] Indeed, there is a formal initiative for street art in the 13th where major works in the form of murals have been commissioned from 22 very well-known street artists [see http://www.streetart13.fr/], including Shepard Fairey.  Fairey actually has 3 works here. [I know his Cincinnatti street art & also saw a retrospective exhibition of his work at the Contemporary Art Center (CAC) in Cincinnati a few years ago. [http://www.contemporaryartscenter.org/]

Street art in the 13th is larger than life – huge murals on the sides of apartment buildings are typical. I was particularly struck by one work & that started my odyssey of actively searching out the various works in our district. We were at a Japanese restaurant with a nice outdoor terrace on a beautiful sunny day & I had a really good view of this one particular mural. My gaze kept returning to it many times, because it elicited an overwhelming feeling of familiarity – but I had no idea why. After I got back to work I looked it up & discovered it was a work by Fairey! What a lovely surprise. The image at left below is the work & at right is another Fairey’s other artistic offerings in the 13th.

 

So ever since that afternoon I have been dashing around the arrondisement either on weekends or on the walk home from work to find the various works. Indeed, there is even a work on the grounds of our Pitié-Salpêtrière Hospital!

Most of the works tend to be on the eastern side of the district – this is typically where the new apartment buildings are. There are also some in the south part – again where newer apartment blocks are. [The part of the district I live in has older buildings, that typically have elaborate decorations. These do not provide the blank canvases that these larger than life murals need.] It is really nice to be looking at these works of street art now: trees are blossoming & complement the works very nicely.

 

Some of the works are more subtle than others & are nestled in in locations where they might not be seen at first glance. You have to hunt for them & that is part of the fun.

 

The themes are varied & many. They can include natural subjects & whimsical, if not somewhat twisted, views on human relationships…

 

Another interesting thing about this arts project is that there is also a permanent gallery space that features temporary exhibitions of these artists’ work. It is entitled Galerie Itinerrance [http://itinerrance.fr/]. Currently, the work of D*Face is featured in the gallery & I have to say that I find his work somewhat unsettling. But that is the power of art – it can make us react & think…

The presence of these large pieces of art have encouraged others to try their hand at street art – albeit on a smaller scale. As I understand it, these works are non-commissioned. There are some pretty talented people around, to be sure… here are a few nice examples.

 

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The cool part about the alley wall in the above photo is that new images are added to it from time to time, so I keep checking it every now and again. Someone recently added an artwork on the opposite wall of the alley. It is right across from the other images. I like the whimsy here.

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As I already mentioned, artists aim to get a reaction out of their viewers. Well I certainly reacted to the one below as I walked past it. I just saw it out of the corner of my eye & automatically crossed to the other side of the footpath without knowing why! Then I took a closer look…

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…clearly my Aussie Huntsman spider template is pretty much still intact even after not living there for many years. 🙂

So which are my favorite pieces of street art? There are 50 commissioned works in total, so I may well change my mind when I see more of them. But here are my 2 faves so far. I really like how the image on the left has taken total ownership of the building. I also find the color pallette appealing & this is also why I like the image on the right as well. The image at right is on a smaller building & I like that it brings the art closer to the viewer. The detail on the black & white geometric patterns is also great [although you don’t see it so well in this photo].

 

Do you have street art in your neighborhood? Chances are that you do. Sometimes it can be tricky to spot…

When the cup of emotions runneth over…

In an earlier post I mentioned Antonio Damasio’s latest book – The Strange Order of Things. I have nearly finished reading it. During these months it has stimulated me to contemplate the nature of feelings & emotions & their importance for human primates. Recently, coincidentally, I have also found myself in a few situations where I have had to watch the emotions of others spilling out with potentially unsavory consequences:

  1. A lover’s tiff that spills out into the street.
  2. A man throwing out his ex & her belongings from his apartment in our building.
  3. A protest march where riot police are at the ready.

In the case of the first two situations, these were private affairs between individuals that unfortunately played out in a public space. When emotions run this high usually there is not much thought about the impact of one’s actions on others. In the third case, the collective emotions of a crowd were displayed, united by one cause. In all cases the situation has an element of unpredictability . How it ultimately plays out can also be influenced by the [in]actions of bystanders.

1. Anger exploding to boiling point: One Saturday afternoon my other half & I were having lunch in my favorite brasserie (image below) in the Butte-Aux-Cailles neighborhood.

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As we were finishing our coffees we noticed two men emerge from one of the businesses across the street, with the larger one starting to shove & punch the other one. The scuffle continued as they made their way into an apartment building next door. Then we saw a pair of legs on the ground through the glass door of the apartment building’s front door. At that same time one of the waiters from a restaurant next to ours rushed across the street to help out. What to do? As my other half went to pay for the meal, I stood & watched to see if the situation would escalate – and if I should call the Police. Thankfully, it looked like things had settled down – the big burly guy emerged from the apartment building. He saw me standing & watching inside. He made a very aggressive gesture at me – basically the equivalent of “what the hell do you think you are looking at”? The head & body went forward with eyes bulging, the arms went out to the sides in a ballistic manner. He was still clearly angry & wanted to take it out on someone/something… What to do? I made a non-confrontational gesture back – in slow motion & in a non-aggressive manner.  I spread my arms out, pointed my palms to him, put my head to one side & arched my body back a bit – to non-verbally say “whaaaaaat are you doing?”. Then I turned my back & walked over to the counter to the servers hoping that this had defused the situation. Sure enough. Nothing further happened. That said though, I figured that the servers would literally have my back – they would see if he was coming across the street to harm me. I told them what I had seen happen. They did not look particularly perturbed & actually rolled their eyes – it seems like this guy is a bit of a hot head, so there clear is a history to this. Apparently, he owns the business across the road. Note to self: do not go & spend any money there & aid his business…

I pity any customer who went to order food there that afternoon…

2. The bitter end to a relationship: One morning before work I realized that I had no bread: necessitating a quick dash to the boulangerie across the road! As I walked down the stairs I could hear a very loud & angry conversation in one of the corridors. I could hear it on the 5th floor already. Turns out it was all on in the ground floor corridor – the main corridor leading out of the building.

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A fellow was having an argument with his ex. Why ex, you ask? Because her clothing & belongings were strewn all over the floor in the corridor – the corridor that all of us have to walk through everyday. I did not say anything as I had to step over her stuff & also had to literally walk between them – there was nowhere else to go. Made me feel pretty uncomfortable, but they continued their argument unfazed. As I walked out of the building I was pinned down by the Gardienne who told me not to worry because the Police had been called. Yikes!

When I came back from the bakery, they & the belongings were no longer there. As I ate my croissant upstairs though, I could hear shouting in the street as the argument started up again. Then later as I went to work, I was dreading having to go thru that corridor again, but there was no-one there this time. Outside the building her belongings etc. had been neatly stacked next to the front door.  I wondered about her all day & whether she find somewhere else to go. The belongings were gone at the end of the day…

3. Emotional contagion & crowds: When we are in group or crowds we can be spurred on by others & our positive or negative emotions can be magnified those around us. Sporting events & protest marches are good examples where this can happen – where one ‘in-group’ confronts another – symbolically in sport, but literally in a protest march.

I was walking home from work one night I was struck by the number of people in the street. They were carrying signs & clearly were either going to (I thought), or coming from a protest march. As I walked further along the Boulevard de L’H’hôpital I realized that there was actually no traffic on that street – only loads of police vans with police with riot gear etc. That said, they did not look particularly perturbed  – they were just chilling out near their vans with their colleagues. I walked on to the large roundabout at Place D’Italie – a major roundabout where 7 streets come together. The traffic is always chaotic there at any time of day: cars, buses & scooters taking seemingly random lanes, yet somehow always making it through the intersection safely. The same can be said for pedestrians – I negotiate this roundabout twice a day because I live on one of it’s feeder streets. I am making sure I will not get mowed down as I listen to a podcasts. The image below does not really show the chaos, but hopefully you get an idea of the scale of it.

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That day, however, the roundabout was completely clear of traffic! All the streets to the roundabout had been blocked off. Even though the protest was over, there were a large number of people still milling around in the roundabout with their signs, flags & other symbols of protest – even deckchairs! When I got to my street I was surprised to see that it was being used as a staging area by the Police. But again, no-one looked particularly perturbed, they were just hanging out chatting with each other.

Where was I during all of this? I asked someone about what was going on & was told that the march was definitely over. So I decided get some sushi at my favorite Japanese restaurant – a stone’s throw [pun intended] from the roundabout. So, here I am tucking into a nice sushi dinner watching Paris’s finest when I notice they start suiting up into their riot gear… uh oh…

…& then they all marched off towards the roundabout with their hard hats, batons & shields!

There was a lot of whistling & yelling for a bit by the detritus of the march. That said, motorists, motor cyclists & bus drivers were not impressed either – looked like they had been stuck waiting to pass through the roundabout for some time – it was peak hour traffic time around 7:30 pm or so. There was also a convoy of buses in our street going nowhere… The Police went over to open the roundabout up to allow traffic to circulate again. And it did.

In the end I had to wonder about how much role-playing/ritual was also going on that day. I say that partly because of conversations I have had with locals. Perhaps I am also cynical – but I did not get an overwhelming sense of really negative energy from the crowd: they had been able to have their protest & make their point. Indeed before long the Police came back to their vans & they did not particularly stressed & perturbed either.

In fact, after they took off their riot gear they hung out & chilled – some on cell phones smoking cigarettes, others vaping. Then they packed up & drove off. And at that point I had finished my sushi & also went home with now normal traffic in our street.

Even though the remnants of the crowd had made a lot of noise, it seemed to me that they did not really want an encounter with police in riot gear. Similarly, the police also had no interest in a confrontation either. Why? Might be because they are literally neighbors. The 13th arr. headquarters of the C.F.G. – the amalgamated set of unions who organized the protest in response to some of Macron’s reforms – is literally across the road from the 13th arr. Hotel de Police [headquarters]!

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So what did I learn from these three recent situations ? A couple of things: A. You realize that you are potentially quite vulnerable when you are not totally fluent in the local language when things like this happen. Happily, I have enough command of the language to ask someone what is going on… B. A situation where a person, or people, is/are very upset can turn on a dime – it can do so because of what others do or how they react. In the case of the first situation I was able to defuse it with a non-verbal gesture & in the second case, the best thing to do was to remain silent & go past & let it be. In the third case, the Police as a group had to show emotional intelligence & disperse a group of remaining protesters in a way which would not escalate the situation. This is a very difficult thing to do.

So how do we read the collective emotions of groups & crowds? We don’t really know. I thought a lot about my experience & how I gleaned information from the crowd. Somewhat ironically, this is a new area of research in my lab…

Postscript: We have also had student blockades of a number of universities in France in response to reforms announced by Emmanuel Macron. This also includes an institution of higher learning just near me [site du Tolbiac de l’université Panthéon-Sorbonne], where students had barricaded themselves in a building for 3 weeks & prior to that had been rioting & throwing projectiles at Police. Apparently, the Police stormed the building one morning at 5 am & took control of it by 6 am. Funny thing was, I heard none of this, despite the windows in my apartment being wide open since we are in the middle of a heat wave… Go figure.

There is never a dull moment here. I had forgotten what it is like to live in a big city again…

Postscript 02 MAY 2018: One of yesterday’s May Day marches here in Paris turned very ugly – with hundreds of people being arrested. There was a confrontation with riot police on the Pont Austerlitz & a McDonald’s restaurant was completely destroyed & cars were damaged [within a [cobblestone’s throw from our hospital]. From the reports on the nightly news & the newspaper stories this time it appears that a certain faction of the crowd were out for violence – marring the day for all of those people who wished to march peacefully. [http://www.lemonde.fr/societe/article/2018/05/01/1er-mai-le-defile-parisien-perturbe-par-une-serie-de-violences-200-black-blocs-interpelles_5293042_3224.html]

Where were we during all of this? Fortunately, we were not at work – May 1st is a public holiday in France.

 

On gizmos & gadgets & devices

Throughout the history of humankind, humans have always tried to make their lives easier & more interesting by inventing different tools & devices. Nowhere is this more apparent than at the Musée des arts et métiers [http://www.arts-et-metiers.net/], which is located in the 3rd arr. in Paris. This repository of inventions was originally created in 1794 as a Conservatoire national des arts et métiers by L’abbé [Abbott] Henri Grégoire. Grégoire was a very interesting man & was quite unusual by clergyman standards [https://fr.wikipedia.org/wiki/Henri_Gr%C3%A9goire]. The museum has a number of very interesting collections – arranged according to 7 themes which are: scientific instruments [my personal favorite!], materials, energy, mechanics communication, construction & transport.

The collections are housed in L’église de Saint-Martin-des-Champs – a church that has been converted into an exhibition space, and an adjacent building which contains the bulk of the museum’s collection. The church exhibition space showcases various larger examples of transportation & engines – large pieces that do not fit in the main museum space in the building next to the church.

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A prominent feature of the main museum are the various laboratory artifacts from Antoine-Laurent de Lavoisier (1743-1794), a pioneer of chemistry.

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The exhibit also includes a couple of his protective face masks – see the image of one of them below. He did dangerous work & I wonder if he ever had to evacuate his lab because he concocted something toxic or explosive?

MuseeDArts&Metiers_19

There is something for everyone in this museum – some tool or device will tickle your fancy to be sure. Which ones were the most fascinating to me? 1. It was interesting to see things such as early slide rules [yes, I hate to admit it, but I am old enough to have used one in high school]…

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… 2. a cyclotron, or particle accelerator, from the College of France from 1937 [they were invented in 1930 by E.O Lawrence in the USA]…

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… 3. a Cray-2 supercomputer from 1985! It looks so dinky [compared to when I think about our parallel computing facility at IU today]…

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… 4. an early camera owned by Louis Jacques Mandé Daguerre (below left) – inventor of the daguerreotype, a method that allowed images to be created on silvered copper plates. Other precision cameras e.g. from Zeiss are also featured (below right)…

… 5. Volta’s original ‘pile’ cell & an example of a commercially available battery made in Paris in the 1930s… … 6. a Remington typewriter from 1875 & a portable Corona version from 1920!

What was the highlight of the collection for me? It was surely Foucault’s Pendulum, which is housed in the church. The pendulum was first installed for a short period in the Panthéon in Paris in 1851, as an experiment conceived by French physicist Léon Foucault to demonstrate the Earth’s rotation [he originally got the experiment working elsewhere but needed a larger space to demonstrate the effects of the earth’s rotation convincingly].

The original brass-coated pendulum bob was housed here at the Conservatoire national des arts et métiers for most of it’s life. Apparently, one day the pendulum’s cable snapped & the 28-kg lead bob crashed to the floor – damaging not only the floor, but the bob itself. The one on the pendulum today is an exact copy of the original. You can see the action of the pendulum in the video below – should work if you click on it.

There are a number of versions of Foucault’s Pendulum around the world [https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Foucault_pendulum], but this one is special because this was the original one [well at least before the bob was damaged & the cable snapped].

I decided that I would have to make a return visit to check out some of the other curiosities in more detail another time. There is so much to see in each of the 7 categories of exhibit. If you are visiting Paris, do stop in there and check it out. Some of the exhibits are quite whimsical…

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One last cool thing to check out is the associated Metro station – ‘Arts et Métiers’. Of the two Metro lines that service it, line #11 (the most superficial subway of the two) has been redecorated to channel the contents of the museum. It is a really handsome station. There is a lot of attention to detail – there is even a set of large cogs running down the center of the roof of the station. Very arty… … right down to the rubbish bins!

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On the subjects of mysterious red spots, visas & other paperwork (the sequel)

When one is granted a long-stay visa for France [see an earlier post for initial steps & requirements], the process is not fully completed until one actually reaches the country. There is an additional procedure where the visa holder needs to send off additional paperwork with details about one’s residence in France to the Office for Immigration & Integration (or OFII for short). OFII is the organization that processes the applications of long-stay visitors to France like myself, as well as those immigrating to France.

OFII

Once OFII has received your local paperwork you have to wait for an appointment, where you will be interviewed & a stamp/sticker will be placed in your passport – next to your visa. The additional stamp/sticker will cost you another 250 Euros – which was a surprise to me because I thought I had taken care of all the processing fees…

You need to provide evidence of your place of residence. This was tricky for me – since I do not have bank accounts in France and do not directly pay utilities bills [my landladies deal with that aspect of things, so that works beautifully]. This means that I have no receipts/bills linking my name to my current domicile in Paris. What to do? I had to get a stamped & signed letter from the apartment rental company confirming that I am currently living in my Paris apartment [a copy of the rental contract is not enough apparently]. So early this week I took myself off to the apartment rental folks to pick up said letter, so that I would have all the necessary paperwork. That said, I cannot thank the good people in the foreign scholars office at my research institute enough – they have shepherded me through the process & told me what paperwork is, and is not, acceptable.

Why is this paperwork so important? Without the stamp/sticker in your passport etc. you cannot actually leave the country during the duration of your visa. If you try to do so, you risk invalidating your visa… I had to travel back to the USA for work [as 2 of my PhD students were defending] before I had finished this process. In order to do so, I had to get a special letter from OFII stating that all my paperwork is in good standing & that due administrative issues they had a delay in processing my application. Thank goodness we were able to do that.

So this week I had my appointment with the OFII folks, so of course I was checking my paperwork over & over again to make sure I had everything I needed (& more!). OFII is located in central Paris – on the northeastern side of the Place de la Bastille. Very lively area – full of ethnic restaurants & lots of bars/cafes. Fortunately for me, not yet full with tourists – I think they are going to come soon though…

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The Place de la Bastille is in of itself interesting for a number of reasons. First, the location of today’s square is where the originally prison of La Bastille stood. Second, the square is at the intersection between three Paris arrondisements – the 4th, 11th & 12th. Third, in the center of the square is a magnificent column (Colonne de Juillet; The July Column) that commemorates the commemorates the events of the July Revolution (1830).

With respect to completing the processing of my French long-stay visa things did end happily – I now have a beautiful new sticker with stamp in addition to my French visa in my passport & I am good to go! [OHBM 2018 in Singapore here I come!!!] They also tried to convince me to stay for longer & were going to give me the paperwork for that, but I demurred – tempting as it was… …otherwise I may not have a job to go back to!

What a crazy week it was overall for me though. I woke up Monday morning covered in mysterious red spots – almost like a case of Measles [which I had as a kid many, many years ago. I still remember the discomfort & itchiness because I also had Chicken Pox at the same time & it was summer. I caught Chicken Pox when my Mother took me to see the doctor for my Measles. There was a kid there with the Pox & I caught it from him. Hmm, Boys!  Some of you might be wondering why my parents did not vaccinate me? We did not have the vaccines back then, so all parents hoped their kids got all the childhood diseases earlier rather than later. Going thru these kiddie diseases  – Mumps included – was really not fun & there were always risks related to complications. Why do parents today not vaccinate their kids? – I would not wish the agony of catching these diseases on anyone. Actually, I think I know why: the parents have never known how bad it was, because their own parents vaccinated them! For me not vaccinating your kid in this day & age is tantamount to child abuse. There, now it is said, out in the open.]

Sorry that I digressed for that little rant. What was the cause of the red spots for me this week, I hear you all cry? It was cough medicine. The active ingredient is a miracle substance named Carbocisteine [https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Carbocisteine].

Carbocisteine

It is used widely in Europe, but not in the USA or Australia from what I can gather. It works beautifully, but there are side effects & one of those is an allergic reaction in the form of a rash. I used it for 3 days with no issues & it worked a treat on budging a nagging cough. I ended up going back to the pharmacist who gave me an antihistamine [with it’s own risk of a rash as a side effect!] & this really minimized the discomfort. I was very grateful for that, because sleeping was really difficult for a night or two. Times like this really do test your language skills though – all my very helpful local merchants do not speak English, so the onus is on me to make myself understood. So when there is a medical problem like this, a lot of information needs to be provided – mainly from my side. I realized that my French skills have really improved – something that I do not think about that often.

The ironic thing about all of this is that of all weeks that something like this had to happen was this week when I was going to OFII. I kept wondering whether they would drag me off to La Bastille & quarantine me, because I think I would have forgiven people for thinking I was infectious…

After my OFII appointment, I emerged into the gorgeous sunshine of a sunny, warm afternoon. I found a great bookshop nearby that had not only great books but lots of amusing cards as well. I bought this one, which made me laugh long & hard.

Cartoon
Voutch. Extrait de l’album “Le grand tourbillon de la vie” (le cherche midi) voutch.com

So this last week is not one I would like to repeat any time soon. But you have weeks like that don’t you? And if you did not, how would you appreciate the really good ones???