Tuesday, December 22, 2015

On the Streets of Paris From the LIPP to the Derriere, Bataclan to the Pompidou. - Paris Blog Three

In between actions and meetings during the COP21, I met with friends throughout Paris, walking the streets for long afternoons. There is no better city to walk than Paris on a rainy afternoon.  For a while there, it seemed like the whole world was there.  Friends dropped into town from Brooklyn, London, and Germany.  It seemed the world wanted something to happen in Paris.

That’s why we came to Paris, where I found myself thinking of Benjamin, just as I had to begin the story. Keenly aware of the of violence and contradictions of his era, Walter Benjamin remained fixated with the high and low culture of his Paris.  He is said to have wanted to leave the decadence and exploitation of the city and be converted, just not today (Berman 1982, 146).  The pulse of the city thrives in just such a jazz-like urban dialectic,  a contrast between the tragic and comic elements of life. Much of the politics of play takes place within just such a tragicomic stage.  Herein, play offers a useful intermediating space between what is real and what is fantasy, between liberation and repression, possibility and pain.

In his day, Benjamin lived through a different set of crises.  

In his, "Theses on the Philosophy of History", he suggested
The tradition of the oppressed teaches us that the "state of emergency" in which we live is not the exception but the rule. We must attain to a conception of history that is in keeping with this insight. Then we shall clearly realize that it is our task to bring about a real state of emergency.

In much the same way, activists in Paris were trying to highlight a few of these dynamics. This is the story of some of my experiences here. My previous Paris blogs considered the politics of the week, this last Paris blog considers the play, the strolls, the museums, the high and the low of what make the week to rich.

A couple of days before I arrived, I got an email from my friend Matteo.

Matteo and I have been buddies since 1986 when dropped in on our lives in Dallas Tx as an exchange student from Italy.

We met outside the Rodin Museum on Rue de Varenne. We’d been there the night before and the place was crawling with police and reporters, blocking access to everyone except those who lived on the street.

The prime minister apparently lives there.  And everyone wanted comments about the drubbing the socialists took to the Republicans and the far right, the National Front of Le Penn.  

Matteo and his lovely girlfriend and I ran around all day. She is the co founder of Creatives Against Poverty.  We hung out with the kids, strolled, and dropped by Brasserie LIPP on Boulevard Saint Germain for a lovely lunch.  Its one of my favorite neighborhoods in Paris.  I have always loved it.  It was the first neighborhood I explored here back in 1985 on my first trip here.

Finishing lunch, we visited the Elliot Erwitt show.  And took in the sites of streets teeming with people, art, sexy photos, culture, people, ideas, high, low, cafes, shops, hopes, conflicts, contradictions, and history shifting as we walked.

“Look at this book shop,” noted Matteo.  “This is what you get in Paris,” he noted, pointing to the antique travel books along our stroll.

“My Mondays are most people’s Saturdays.  This is what I’m good at,” noted my old friend. “I have not done much with my life.  But this is what I’m good at.”

And so we parted ways.  We planned to meet later at 9 PM.

Greg and I strolled to the Naomi Klein talk, stopping at the Bataclan on the way to dinner. Looking at the makeshift memorial from the attack, we were both in awe of how similar the memorial looked to the post 9/11 New York. But unlike Union Square, where a peace memorial was quickly erected, only to be taken down when it did not fit the narrative of our mayor who hoped to catapult/exploit the post tragedy crisis, into national political ambitions.  Recall Benjamin, the "state of emergency" in which we live is not the exception but the rule”; it  becomes perma war. But Paris felt different.   It recalled a different, openly remorseful, space where memory and grief intertwined with an anti war sentiment.  Within this tragic display, Paris felt abundant. 

Finishing our stroll, we wandered over to the Derriere, to meet Matteo and friends. The decorum of a living room, the meal was buoyant. Matteo’s friend explained why the far right would not win the next round of elections.  She was right.

We’d spend all week walking, flaneurs, taking in the city as a work of art.

After the general assembly Friday, I strolled into the Pompidou, taking in some of the messy aesthetics of this city lost and found  charged in history.  

I loved the center the first time I visited Paris in 1985 and still do.

The Wilfredo Lam retrospective reminded me why it is always worth a visit taking in the pulsing contours of this space where the very building is perhaps the most pulsing piece of art.

Later that night, Greg and Molly had a party. One of the visitors showed us a text warning visitors about the disruptions planned for the next day.

D12, thousands of us marched through history. Looking down the grand avenue, it felt like VE day.  

I’d leave town the next morning, after a final jog, zigging past the Hotel De Ville, past the Notre Dame, over the Seine and back past my beloved Pompidou and then back to New York City. 

Flying home from Paris, two of the people sitting by me were watching movies, one the Matrix, the other South Pacific.  Humans are a virus explains Agent Smith in the Matrix:

I'd like to share a revelation that I've had during my time here. It came to me when I tried to classify your species and I realized that you're not actually mammals. Every mammal on this planet instinctively develops a natural equilibrium with the surrounding environment but you humans do not. You move to an area and you multiply and multiply until every natural resource is consumed and the only way you can survive is to spread to another area. There is another organism on this planet that follows the same pattern. Do you know what it is? A virus. Human beings are a disease, a cancer of this planet. 

In the meantime, the women are singing “I’m Gonna Wash That Man Right out of My Hair” in South Pacific. Looking at both images, I thought of earth of Mother Nature scrubbing her head, full of gnats, drilling and poking, fighting, launching bombs, picking her hair. And started thinking maybe rising tides are like that shampoo in South Pacific, “Gonna Wash That Man Right Out of My Hair.”  Well, those humans. We’ve only been here for a short time yet, these aunts crawling on the planets face, only constitute a small bit of the planet’s history. Yet, we’ve created lots of trouble, in our cities full of stories.  

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