Paris is a complicating city. I arrived a week ago and to be down right honest, I hated it at first. I hated the rudeness, I hated the attitude, I hated the clichés, I hated the sound of French, the idea of French, and the taste of French. But now, after a week, after being treated to the lows but then also the highs of this city, I must admit that Paris is a beautiful place with some very beautiful people.
Below are some quick observations of this city:
Paris Internationale – This off site fair was rapidly organized in about three months by a consortium of Paris galleries, Crèvecoeur, High Art, Antoine Lévi, and Sultana, plus Gregor Staiger from Zurich, in a disused but not deprived 19th century townhouse in a posh Paris neighborhood, easily walkable from Palais de Tokyo, and it was probably the best of the sort I have ever seen. Usually off site fairs are tragic. They feel like little parasites sucking the blood (money), hype and physical mass of the main fair in town. They feel like miniature versions of the grander affair and its like watching a child act like a grown up but without the cuteness and with all the pity. Paris Internationale on the other hand felt like an entirely different thing. This invitation only fair had 41 of the coolest of the cool from around the globe exhibiting art in funky little tucked away spaces or casually intermingling with each other. They ranged from big hitters like Proyectos Montclova from Mexico City to smaller local spaces like Paris’ Shaynaynay. There was a range and variety but they all felt fresh and a touch funky but there was a sellability, a buy-it-now feeling that made it less like an alterna-project and more like finding art treasure. There was an overriding sense of ‘cool’ but not in the, your-not-invited way, but in the, come hang out and chill with us way. The space was essential to the charm, which was rough but airy, prestigious and unfussy. The greatest kudos has to go to the organizers and their selection of exhibitors and their placement of them within this grand maison. There is a feeling of curation that rings back to the origin of that word. The idea of things in a home, within a space, and the care, placement and arrangement of this. What could have been a messy jumble was instead a thoughtful interplay that hummed its own tune and created a zone that was curious, relaxing and fun to wander in.
Rudeness – There is no denying that Parisians are rude. I don’t mean rude in a way that you might be thinking, an eye roll, a smirk, a puff. No, this type of rudeness is a crafted form, like their wine or cheese, Parisians have mastered the ingredients and methods of what rude can be. Their type of rudeness is a projection, an ouvert assertion that you are not only annoying, daft, and dumb but that you are repulsive in those qualities as well. This is manifest in basically anything like holding (not holding) doors open, moving out of the way (even for baby strollers), cutting in line, and (not) answering any question you might ask in not perfect French. You can just forget about not speaking French (perfectly) in this city. Most despise you for not being able to do so and with dismissive venom will tell you to learn French, flick a hand in your face and walk away. At first this rudeness appalled me to a point of fury and at times near tears (there were some very cruel moments) but after a week of it I have come to a certain degree of understanding if not acceptance. The French don’t do small talk. They don’t do it much with each other and they surely don’t want to do it with outsiders. They speak directly, intensely and sincerely and that is quality I found rewarding when finally engaged in it. The impatience for casualness makes the chitter and confusion of outsiders pure annoyance. While it may be mean to be such a way, it is just the way they are. Once you accept it, don’t have any expectations and seek no consolations then it stops bothering you as much. Also, being able to say a few key words with a perfected Parisian accent will save you so much heartache and maybe even gain you some allies.
Fashion – When you think Paris you of course think fashion. It is the city of haute couture and when you think of it there is a sense of tradition, timelessness, and grace. I must admit Paris does have a certain something that London and New York lack. There is more sexy, there is more smoulder, there is more vavavoom. My men’s fashion observations might be lacking because of late all things male just seem to ping off me and I don’t really see or pay attention to most of them but here are a few things I did notice. Scarves (they all wear scarves), gelled hair or coiffed mini lion’s manes (think Cary Elwes in Princess Bride), sweaters over collard shirts, dress shoes or sneakers (not sporty but more casual, usually white), vague moustaches. Women on the other hand stood out for their fashion style. This includes; cropped, short, boy-like hair usually slightly gelled back (again, think Cary Elwes in Princess Bride), hats (flat, wide brims in solid, usually dark colors), large thick and long coats worn off the shoulder - cape like, red and dark lipsticks, smoky eyes, thick, dark, sculpted eyebrows, loafers or casual sneakers without socks, long strappy, usually small, shoulder bags. Parisians also seem to really like perfume, sunglasses and block coloring. The appreciation of glamour mixed with the sensible and well made make style seem effortless yet infinitely considered.
Food – Ah food, another thing that the French basically win at, and this is true. The food here is simple, fresh and delicious. They love food here. People literally walk around carrying baguettes under their arms and everywhere, at almost any time of day, you will see clusters of tables outside (regardless of weather) with people smoking (they make smoking look like the coolest thing in the world) drinking wine (all the wine is good and cheap) and nibbling on small plates of this or that. I had some amazing meals from the classic to more specialties and they were all delish. What is more significant to remark upon then the food itself is the culture of it. Here you take time with a meal. You don’t scarf it down or eat on the run. You sit, you wait, you eat, you chat, you digest, and you eat some more. There is a care and an attention to time in the making, consuming and sharing of it. This of course happens other places but here it seems like a true part of the daily. Taking a break for coffee or even to grab a sandwich at the nearest boulangerie and eating it on a park bench is treated as important and necessary. I have most definitely gained weight on this trip and each pound has been worth it.
City – Paris is probably one of the most gorgeous cities to walk in. It is not very large, it is very old and it maintains its past even with the demands and trends of the now. Little streets to meander on and these merge into large avenues that shoot straight towards one arch or another. The buildings are simply: so pretty. The window plants, flower patches and shrubs feel essential versus implanted. The fountains, the lights, the knob of a door, all these little and big things make this city an architectural sigh fest. This I found the most calming thing about being in Paris. After some incident of above mentioned rudeness or some minor drama of some sort I would huff and puff and take a directionless walk to let off steam and then I would find myself walking past and looking at the most amazing things entirely by accident, like oh weird, there’s Notre Dame, or damn, that is one amazing window frame. The city’s beauty exudes. It feels like an old garden that you can’t help but be stilled in when walking through it. Paris might have its flaws but there is an undeniable truth that it is a beautiful-beautiful city. If that produces some arrogance then maybe some of that has been earned.