dispatches from paris and its squats

Feminism for Robots

This week’s Engadget video profile covers the work I’ve done to design a genderless AI personality, Kai, for Kasisto. Kerry Davis’s accompanying text lays out ways in which much AI design comes off sexist. Just as algorithms left to train on large data sets have come up with results that appear sexist, these AI personalities are blank slates that must be deliberately inscribed or risk reproducing the biases of the culture in which they arise. There’s no need to call AIs women simply because they’re assistants. Women aren’t objects. So, objects don’t have to be women. Currently, many AIs speaking with female voices also exhibit the deferential behaviors that too often are byproducts of surviving patriarchy, as I just told Technical.ly. I’ve riffed on feminism for robots at Real Life.

Futur Bouffe

HORIZON 2050, U.D.A.G. 1

(photo Bruno de Nazareth / future food le C. F. A.)

‘One must make one’s own sun and lug it with impunity below the shade-blanketed sky.’

–Solstice Alando, To Set Each Beard on Fire, 2022, p. 22…

The élite have at their disposal a range of resources that are broader, healthier, and more sophisticated than does the population as a whole. At the pinnacle of this hierarchy, certain practices now in large-scale development breach even the meagerest remaining levee of what once was called professional ethics. Please find this issue explored in detail under the heading ‘Privatization of food resources and human capital’ (p. 11)…

In times of drought Australian aboriginals drank from bladders of frogs discovered under two cold stones. They brought their lips to the outlets of orifices and gently pressed the bellies. Liquid left the frogs as from a juicy fruit.

— Jean-Roger Helmin, MANGER EN / NUTRITION IN 2050, Éditions C. F. A.

I translated the fictional journalist’s work for this bilingual edition, exhibited in Paris and Lille.

HORIZON 2050, U.D.A.G. 2

Little Differences

Some French friends asked me whether I find the French to be râleur.

“You know, grognon,” they said. I didn’t know that one, either. “Ronchon, bougon, grincheux.

They were asking whether I find that people here are never happy, and I carefully said I imagine that depends on the person, and whether or not he or she frequently grapples with the bureaucracies of his or her country. But as my friends rattled off synonyms for an adjective I have trouble translating — grumpy? — I began to reconsider.

Eskimos have many terms for snow and the Breton regional language has lots of words for rain. Rolling terrain that we call hilly is described by the French in terms of its valleys: vallonné. The French favor litotes. “C’est pas evident,” someone will say wryly, “It’s not obvious,” after royally butchering some maneuver. Ladies will criticize something by archly saying: “It’s not too normal.” I was walking in Brittany with a man who was barely audible under the hood of his parka, under February rain. “It’s not too hot,” he said.

When people say “pas normal,” they seem to mean it negatively. On the other hand, “original” is usually complimentary, if a touch condescending: “Oh, an American who is studying squatters? How original!” Meaner is “special.” Something truly out-there is “pas banal,” not banal.

I spent a long weekend in Brittany on a Fulbright travel grant, talking with a middle-school class in Dinan and exploring the coastline. More regional notes to come! I stayed with a family in Pléguien who served home-brewed apple cider and blackberry syrup, calling the cocktail a kir bréton. Normans also grow apples, making apple cider as well as pear cider, and call the same drink a kir normand. The Breton family finds this Norman pretension vaguely silly. Normans are always trying to compete with Bretons, they said, mentioning some conflict over Mont-Saint-Michel, the celebrated abbey on the coast in Normandy — but at the Norman-Breton border.

“Of course it is in Normandy,” said the innkeepers in Dinan, where I was their only guest. “Mais bon, it is very close to Brittany.”

I decided to ask some more about a Brittany-Normandy rivalry. The whole thing seemed very exciting and feudal. I had just heard that a few Bretons, like the Basques, want to separate from France. Some of these radicals exploded a bomb at a Dinan McDonald’s, which they consider a danger to the local culture. I was clutching a tisane and perching on an old and uncomfortable chair in the innkeepers’ living room, which was covered floor-to-ceiling in mirrors, deer heads, and dark portraits of severe-looking ladies in gilded frames.

The innkeepers looked startled. “You mean besides Mont-Saint-Michel?” they all asked.

Madame broke the silence. “No, no, no,” she said. “Not at all. The Normans make very good cheese and good cider. We also make cheese and cider.” She adjusted the dog on her lap. “My grandmother was from Normandy,” she said.


People talk about the beauty of this city’s rooftops, but not as often about its windows.

Every window in this apartment except the one in my bedroom opens onto the courtyard. The apartment grays as the days shorten. My window opens onto rue du Temple. Across the street is a jeweler’s. A short man in a long white coat makes jewelry in the window across from me. For a few days I thought he was writing or painting by candlelight, then I noticed his goggles (and the jeweler’s sign) and realized his craft used the flame.

My desk is by the window. I write at my desk and the man works at his desk and sometimes we happen to rotate toward the window at the same dull moment and are startled to lock eyes. I was unused to this intimacy, and took a few weeks to remember to close the blinds after a shower. I’m not so easily embarrassed, and I like natural light.

I saw an interesting exhibit on Saturday, “Hommage à Edward Hopper,” at the Mona Bismarck American Center for Art & Culture. (I went there for a concert by the two Fulbrighters who are musicians, Cathryn Gaylord and Katy LaFavre, who play bassoon and percussion, beautifully.)

The artists, a duo named Clark et Pougnaud, produce photographs after Edward Hopper’s paintings. (There is currently a well-advertised Hopper exhibit at the Grand Palais.) Pougnaud makes 1/12-sized sets that resemble the paintings. Clark photographs actors posed as Hopper’s people, and also photographs the sets.

I’m including some of the photos far below, taken from the artists’ online portfolio.

Of course Hopper is interested in windows. I became interested in Hopper a couple years ago, when I was directing a sparse, sweet play of Sarah Ruhl’s called “Dead Man’s Cell Phone.” Ruhl recommends Hopper in her notes to directors. I started to think about light in green and yellow shades, long beams, still and mournful light, and what it fails to illuminate when it smacks you in the face.

The homage to Hopper is not quite overly literal, even as it approaches the uncanny valley. It works because Hopper (like Ruhl) seems concerned with boundaries between real and imagined — you have to wonder what his people are dreaming about — and how one might transcend the bounded world. Clark’s deeply colored, hybrid photos transpose Hopper’s private, anxious figures into a storied loneliness.

I stepped out of the exhibit onto avenue de New York, on the Right Bank, and felt in my stomach how the Eiffel Tower looked at dusk.

I came home at night to find a crane stringing Christmas lights across the street and was awed (elves at work).

I was moved by the words to get rid of ripe mangoes at the Belleville market: “They are honey! They are amazing. They are not expensive! They are free! Three for two euros! Try them, my brother! Try them, my cousin! Try them, my beauty! Taste the honey! Taste the sunshine! Eat! Eat! Eat!”

This morning, there was some commotion outside. I went to the window and looked down to the street, where a knot of pedestrians argued with some cops. I looked up. The jeweler and his colleagues were standing at their window, too. They smiled. I smiled back. One jeweler waved. They laughed at me.

Squat Theory

The CELSA event last week was interesting particularly because François Allard-Huver, a media-studies PhD candidate at Sorbonne – CELSA, presented a critical analysis he’d prepared of my writing after the talk. He is allowing me to steal/excerpt from this English/French presentation below. He discussed Barthes on Abbé Pierre iconography in Mythologies, and how this myth resembles media portrayal of squatters or housing-rights activists such as Augustin Legrand, leader of the well-known red-tents protest along Canal St. Martin. He discussed squats as communicative objects and as graffiti-like signs within the city, requiring certain fantasies about the city to survive. He cited the Situationalist International movement, a group of thinkers that influenced the May 1968 student riots in Paris with ideas about participation in the city and fears of a “society of the spectacle” that reduces citizens to passive consumership, including of the spaces they inhabit.

From Barthes on l’Abbé Pierre:

I am only wondering about the enormous consumption of such signs by the public. I see it reassured by the spectacular identity of a morphology and a vocation, in no doubt about the latter because it knows about the former, no longer having access to the real experience of apostleship except through the bric-a-brac associated with it, and getting used to acquiring a clear conscience by merely looking at the shop-window of saintliness; and I get worried about a society which consumes with such avidity the display of charity that it forgets to ask itself questions about its consequences, its uses and its limits. And I then start to wonder whether the fine and touching iconography of the Abbé Pierre is not the alibi which a sizeable part of the nation uses in order, once more, to substitute with impunity the signs of charity for the reality of justice.

From François:

But the squat itself carries a message. It is a living organism and a communicating one…

In an interesting essay “Kool killer or the insurrection of signs”… Baudrillard described graffiti and other forms of street art in New York, and the social, cultural, and symbolic reality of urban space.

But tags and graffiti are also a way to affirm something, to affirm your liberty and to affirm your right to be a part of the city, so the wall of the squat becomes a medium for this message:

“[From Baudrillard]…Under these conditions, radical revolt effectively consists in saying, ‘I exist, I am so and so, I live on such and such street, I am alive here and now.’

“[Graffitists] do not confine themselves to the ghetto, they export the ghetto through all the arteries of the city, they invade the white city and reveal that it is the real ghetto of the Western world.

“A linguistic ghetto erupts into the city with graffiti, a kind of riot of signs…”

But the squat is also something more poetic; it is an attempt to enchant the city and to criticize the separation of life, art, living-together, a representation of the limits of the living-together (the polis) that is both fascinating and disturbing: as it expresses the legitimate right of a place to live and disturbs the legitimate process to access such a space. The squat is putting order in a social disorder that causes disorder in the social order. 

Finally, squats refer to a sort of violence and poetry of the city, the fantasy that the city is a monster, and as Balzac said: Ô Paris ! Qui n’a pas admiré tes sombres paysages, tes échappés de lumières, tes culs de sacs profonds et silencieux ; qui n’a pas entendu tes murmures, entre minuit et deux heures du matin, ne connait encore rien de ta vraie poésie, ni de tes bizarres et large contrastes. Il est un petit nombre d’amateurs, de gens qui ne marchent jamais en écervelés, qui dégustent leur Paris, qui en possèdent si bien la physionomie qu’ils y voient une verrue, un bouton, une rougeur. Pour les autres,  Paris est toujours cette monstrueuse merveille, étonnant assemblage de mouvements, de machines et de pensées, la ville aux cent-mille romans, la tête du monde. Mais pour ceux-là, Paris est triste ou gai, laid ou beau, vivant ou mort ; pour eux, Paris est une créature ; chaque homme, chaque fraction de maison est un lobe du tissu cellulaire de cette grande courtisane de laquelle ils connaissent parfaitement le cœur, la tête et les mœurs fantasques. Aussi ceux-là sont ils les amants de Paris.

Here, I think that not only the tradition of the Boheme or of May 1968 are inspiring squats and artist squatting, but also Situationism and the work of the International Situationist around intellectuals and artists like Guy Debord, especially with concepts such as “derive” and “psychogéographie.”

Dérive is : « Mode de comportement expérimental lié aux conditions de la société urbaine : technique du passage hâtif à travers des ambiances variées. »

[The mode of experimental behavior related to the conditions of the urban society: a technique of rapid passage through varying environments.]

Psychogeographie is : « Étude des effets précis du milieu géographique, consciemment aménagé ou non, agissant directement sur le comportement affectif des individus. »

[The study of the precise effects of the geographical environment, consciously organized or not, directly affecting the behavior of individuals.]

The squat can be seen as an attempt to criticize the social context and a representation of its inherent alienation. It is also a way to be against utilitarism in urbanism, to negate functionalism in a very dialogical way: one the one side, the squat is the affirmation of a need (a space to live, to sleep) and on the other side, it is the affirmation of the fact that the human needs more than a space to live.

Plaine Lumière

Last night, theater group Jolie Môme performed on the sidewalk at 26 – 28 avenue de La Métallurgie in Seine-Saint-Denis in solidarity with residents of two hotels, Plaine Lumière and Grand Stade, who face eviction this winter.

Samusocial de Paris, the municipal humanitarian organization that houses people in distress, has rented these hotel rooms for several years. The hotel rooms are intended as short-term solutions for those who need beds urgently but often become by default long-term residences.

Saint-Denis politicians have recently spoken against this practice of Samusocial, citing the drain on their resources and the effective closure of these hotels to tourists.

According to hotel residents and members of Jolie Môme, Boubekeur Khelfaoui, director of the hospitality group that owns Plaine Lumière and Grand Stade, has said he will no longer rent to Samusocial beginning December 31.

The hotel residents have formed an association to protest their eviction and demand permanent housing from the municipal government. Some of them have lived in these two hotels for over a decade, and others have been shuffled by Samusocial from hotel to hotel for years.

According to Le Parisien, there were four thousand people housed this way in fifty hotels in Saint-Denis in 2009, at a cost of 1 million euros to the city of Saint-Denis for the education of their children. Surely today there are more. (The city of Paris, responsible for depositing the people in Saint-Denis, pays their lodging; hotels in Saint-Denis, the suburb immediately north of Paris known for urban decay, are the cheapest for this purpose, according to the director of Samusocial.)

Droit Au Logement (DAL), the well-known housing-rights group that has used squats as a tool of political action, moving precarious families into buildings its members open illegally, has taken up the cause. Since Monday, demonstrators have gathered on the sidewalk each night, and they plan to continue.

I was impressed by Jolie Môme’s performance last night. The group played lively music — horns, clarinets, drums, two accordions — danced, and sang mildly subversive songs, while the hotel residents’ association provided snacks and watched.

Mady Sylla, who leads the residents’ association at Plaine Lumière, arrived in Paris from Senegal to find work in 2000 and brought his family here in 2003. Samusocial housed the Syllas — Mady’s wife, Fanta, and daughters, Miralou, 8, Tiguida, 6, and Fatoumata, 3 — in a series of hotels in the northern and eastern parts of Paris before placing them at Plaine Lumière in 2006.

The family occupies a forty-meters-squared room filled by a bunkbed, where the older girls sleep, and a double-sized bed where Mady, Fanta, and Fatoumata sleep. The room also contains a tiny counter sparsely outfitted as a kitchenette. Mady works in Paris as a cleaner, and Fanta, who speaks little French, does not work outside their home.

The residents of Plaine Lumière faced re-housing by Samusocial in 2009 and successfully protested to stay where their children were already enrolled in school rather than move to a different hotel. Now, they hope to receive permanent housing. There are almost two hundred families in Plaine Lumière and Grand Stade, most of them immigrants from Senegal and Mali; Tunisia, Algeria, and Morocco; or Bulgaria and Romania. Some of them are undocumented immigrants.

As the hotel proprietor moves toward eviction, according to Droit Au Logement, he has threatened some hotel residents and illegally blocked them from entering their rooms. On October 1, the residents of Plaine Lumière found themselves without access to their rooms from 2 p.m. until 1:30 the next morning, after the prefecture of Saint-Denis and Samusocial pressured the hotel.

Mady’s portion of the rent is 430 euros a month, more than he would pay in the tier of public housing for which his family qualifies. Mady wants his oldest daughter, Miralou, to have her own room, so she can do her homework in peace. Mady’s daughters are charming — they eagerly showed off drawings and toys — but they are energetic, too, and daily life is difficult when you are five in a small room.

“I came to work, and, voilà, to find happiness for my family, but now, I regret coming to France,” Mady told me.

“We are not stable.”

Le Carrosse

I have spent much of my time since I arrived in Paris finding the people who lived in a squat called Le Carrosse, which was evicted from 14 – 16 rue de Capitaine Marchal near Porte de Bagnolet March 28.

After leaving the squat, its residents scattered, to other squats, to a friend’s apartment in the suburbs, to a relative’s couch. Some miss Le Carrosse, others do not.

Thinking about the squat, I found some photos I took when I stayed there a week in January. Le Carrosse was cold in the winter, unheated except for a few space heaters that frequently zapped off because of the squat’s DIY wiring. Artists flowed daily through several workshops.

Nice Game

Now I teach English for Economics at the Université Panthéon-Assas. There is something poetic about the attention this draws to the precise messes of language. One day, I tried to explain “span,” “important,” and “widen,” using the same gesture for each. Another day, a student told me his friend liked to read “footballistic magazines.”

Some words are close in French and English, except for a subtext that is entirely cultural. My students use “interesting” as the French use “intéressant” to mean “attractive” or desirable,” and sound like shady salesman who cloak their propositions in euphemism. “Profiter de” is not as sinister as “take advantage of.” Neither is “se servir de.” My roommates and I were casting about for the big plastic cup in which we prepare smoothies, and the French one spotted some fragrant lilies that I had brought home. “Ah,” he said, “You have availed yourself of it as a vase.”

I quickly wised to the replacement of “good” with “not bad,” “pas mal.” I wanted to try the construction. I was eating pho near Porte de Choisy. It was warm and salty. “This is not terrible,” I said, “pas terrible.” One of my friends laughed wickedly. The other looked around to make sure the chef hadn’t heard. Whereas calling something “not bad” is the highest praise a Parisian can eke out, saying it’s “not terrible” is a grave insult.

I am inspired to dwell on my mishap by Rosecrans Baldwin’s memoir, “Paris, I Love You But You’re Bringing Me Down,” which includes beautifully observed passages:

I mimicked Pierre and Chloe, the way other young people around Paris went into kissing each other: regretfully, with a forced, resigned air, as if playing out an obsolete ritual. The procedure by which teenage athletes in America lined up to shake hands: nice game, kiss kiss, whatever.

Pride in Paris

Yesterday my story about Paris’s Pride march appeared at Guernica.

Last week a New Yorker blog post explained the worrisome rise of the far-right in France. Protesting gay marriage allowed some far-right groups to cohere around a cause. Some of these groups call themselves nationalist and are called fascist by others. A play-by-play of the Manif pour tous May 26, including alarming video of marchers attacking a police barricade, is available at Le Parisien. Here are some summaries of the anti-marriage movement’s co-optation by the far-right at French Huffington Post and at les Inrocks, and here’s a briefer one in English.

Here’s a link to SOS Homophobie’s latest report.

Michael Stambolis-Ruhstorfer, a doctoral candidate at UCLA in California and EHESS in Paris and a colleague of mine at the Fulbright program, helped me to understand the discourse around legalizing same-sex marriage and adoption by same-sex couples in France. When Hollande made the campaign promise to open marriage and adoption to gay couples, no one thought it would set off such protests. Here’s Michael’s recent blog post, which explains some transatlantic differences between gay-rights movements in France and in the States.

Marseille Reporting

My story, “Rap Stars in Marseille Say Policymakers are Out of Touch,” has appeared online at The Atlantic. Marseille is a beautiful and interesting city, and I was glad for the chance to learn more about it.

You can find Keny Arkana’s video for “Capitale de la Rupture” here as well as her documentary, which places Marseille-Provence 2013 in the context of the city’s renovation. Anyone interested in Marseille can read the work of several academics and writers who taught me about the city. Daniel Tödt, historian at Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin, has written the book on Marseillais rap. Fabien Pecot, PhD candidate in marketing at the University of Aix–Marseille, writes about the city’s efforts toward its brand. He told me, “We had the chance to do something really meaningful in stating that Marseille is the capital of rap in France, which is true, instead of trying to make it the capital of contemporary art, which it will never be.” Nicholas Maisetti, researcher at Sciences Po Aix, blogs about the internationalization of Marseille. About the new construction for Marseille-Provence 2013, he has written:

Le tournant, c’est l’effet Guggenheim dans les années 1980 qui donne l’illusion qu’en plaquant un musée magnifique, on pourrait changer l’image d’une ville et entrer dans le cercle des fameuses villes créatives. Mais à chaque fois, ces villes ont tourné le dos à leur histoire et à leur population, en important des outils et un vocabulaire standardisés (cosmopolitisme, ouverture, mobilité, modernité, etc.). La culture est vue comme un outil disciplinaire et social.

The result is the Guggenheim effect from the 1980s, which gives the illusion that in erecting a magnificent museum, you can change a city’s image, entering the circle of famous creative cities. But every time, these cities turn their backs on their history and their population, importing standardized tools and vocabulary (cosmopolitanism, open-ness, mobility, modernity, etc.). Culture is seen as a disciplinary social tool.

The center-left opposition candidate in next year’s mayoral race, Patrick Menucci, has spoken against the disparity in access to culture between the city’s North and South, advocating the hip-hop center that rap group IAM proposed.

Minna Sif is a novelist whose latest lovely book is “Massalia Blues,” about a homeless man in Marseille’s Porte d’Aix neighborhood. Her parents emigrated from Morocco to Corsica. Growing up in Corsica and Marseille, she spoke French, Arabic, Berber, and Corse. Now she says, “I am from three banks of the sea,” and her long hair resembles a weathervane when the wind comes off the water. “It can’t be people from the outside who come in and tell us, this is your culture,” she told me, discussing Marseille-Provence 2013. “The gap has widened to an almost unimaginable point,” she said. “We know that youth are the future of this country, and to exclude them from this event is violent.”

Springtime in Paris

Today was sunny and almost 80. I went to the Anne Frank garden, near the Pompidou and where I live. Others had the same idea: twenty-somethings balancing beers in the grass, teenagers exchanging back massages, a bum slumped over a chessboard table, little kids playing kickball, tiny kids audibly panting as they raced through the trellises.

I chose a vacant bench and sat between the ants and spots of bird shit. A breeze scattered petals across my sneakers. Dogwood blossoms were all-the-way unfurled.

A woman strode through the garden, dangling a cigarette in one hand and a child-sized scooter in the other. A small boy followed her, barely keeping pace. He struggled to fasten or remove a helmet on his head. (Read 26-3-12 Shouts & Murmurs, “Vive La France,” The New Yorker.)

Two toddlers chasing one another edged behind my bench. The trellises and slatted wood made shadows on their faces. Nearby a man in clown make-up ate potato chips and talked with a woman in a daisy-printed sundress. I looked at the sky above the weird tubes of the Pompidou; it was very blue.

A grey city bird flapped wildly, low in my line of sight. Last night, as I waited for the train, an identical bird flew the same way through the subway tunnel. That was grotesque: a bird without room to fly. Spring here entails an opening-up: the rest of the year, the sky is shellacked white, so that living below it is like living in an igloo.

I don’t know anything about the Anne Frank garden, but I imagine it figures in Alexandre Lacroix’s new book, “Voyage au centre de Paris,” a lovely if exhaustive addition to the flâneur tradition that includes even such unnoteworthy neighboring landmarks as rue Michel le Comte. (I walk down this street every day, and the only interesting thing about it is that pedestrians on its narrow sidewalks are not routinely creamed by the 29 bus.) I paged through the book yesterday at Le Genre Urbain, a terrific bookstore in Belleville.

They seem to have newly watered the fountains of the city. Maybe last week or the week before. The one at Hôtel de Ville is even better than the ice-skating rink, which was recently lifted. Across the street, at a metro entrance, a tired-looking woman sells bundles of daffodils. I bought daffodils from a similar woman at the Bastille market last week, and they wilted after a day and a half, but until then were pretty.

A woman carried a cake aflame toward girls who sat in the grass and sang. I made a note about the solemn, ceremonial, careful pace universal to deliveries of birthday cake.

Near a new planting, the passive-aggressive placard: “For your enjoyment, this massive arbusif [I don’t know that word] has been replanted. We thank you for respecting the work of the gardeners.”

I checked my email and read a quote from Brain Pickings: “You can never know anyone as completely as you want. But that’s okay, love is better.”

One kid swung his foot at a ball and, failing to connect, overbalanced, nearly falling backwards — but he caught himself. I heard another one in the game say, “Moi, j’existe,” but I was not sure I heard him correctly. My French is good after six months here, but not perfect.

SQEK Conference Wednesday

Dear readers in Paris, if you’re out there:

A group called Squatting Europe Kollective, which combines researchers on squats and related issues with housing-rights activists, meets this week in Paris. There will be lots of interesting presentations by researchers on unusual topics from across Europe and the United States. If you are interested in squats, you can attend an afternoon of presentations and a debate about the institutionalization of artists’ squats by city governments on Wednesday. I will present, and also simultaneously translate the debate, so fasten your seatbelts.

Sciences Po, 56 rue des Saints Peres, room Goguel

Wednesday, March 20, 2-7 p.m.

Gas-Fueled Café-Terrace Heaters

I wrote online at The Atlantic Cities about a January decision of the Paris Administrative Court to overturn a ban on gas-fueled terrace heaters. The “parasol” heaters are a battleground for restaurateurs who say the café culture the heaters help to preserve is inextricable from the city’s literary history and spirit — and for environmentalists who say these restaurateurs, catering to tourists, sacrifice the air residents breathe.

The Heated Terraces of Paris are Safe, For Now,” 26 February 2012

Café culture in Paris is storied, and in reporting I came across this exhaustive chapter about the history of the city’s coffeehouses in “All About Coffee,” an online book by William H. Ukers. Besides attracting writers and artists, Parisian cafés have inspired art, like Edward Hopper’s “Soir Bleu,” now on exhibit at the Grand Palais here, which depicts the artist as an American clown on the terrace of a café, surrounded by drinkers, smokers, and passerby.


From Grand Palais, http://www.grandpalais.fr

Olympiades Reporting

Olympiades in the 13th Arrondissement is a complex of skyscrapers built in the 1960s. At the time, President Georges Pompidou pushed quickly planned, retrospectively maligned projects to “modernize” Paris and accommodate population boom during the so-called Thirty Glorious Years after the Second World War.

On the occasion of a new exhibit at Pavillon de l’Arsenal, I wrote about Olympiades online at The Atlantic Cities:

The Man Who Tried to Change the Soul of Paris,” 20 February 2013

The towers’ inhabitants, when they are not complaining about the empty police station on the slab, sometimes say Olympiades is a village, where longtime residents know one another. Here is a link to the blog of the residents’ association, ENVOL (Envie de Vivre aux Olympiades).

Architect Michel Holley’s utopian vision for Olympiades involved naming the buildings after cities that hosted the Olympics. After a press tour of the exhibit, I heard curator Françoise Moiroux explain her theory as to why there is no Paris Tower.

“Because they had to make people dream,” she said. “Foreign cities always inspire more dreams than the city of Paris.”

Here are some nice photos of the Chinese New Year parade Sunday at the base of Olympiades, at the site of the city of Paris.

More on Brittany

Brest in Brittany is known for its chickens. The mayor of Pléguien trades his chickens’ eggs for my hosts’ tomatoes and leeks. They fed me bulots, a kind of snail. Shellfish are common in Brittany, near the sea. Bretons traditionally are fishers or farmers: cauliflower, white beans, buckwheat, apples. Today they worry about Europe-subsidized industrial farms, whose runoff causes an overabundance of green algae. This family knew someone who fed his chickens on red algae, and the yolks came out like tomatoes.

I stayed with a family in Pléguien, a village not far from the medieval town, Dinan, on a Fulbright travel grant. I was struck that flowers — mimosa, crocuses — fully bloom there in February.These photos I took near Paimpol and Plouha, on the beaches, and at Beauport Abbey. The hills sloping down to the beaches are red because they are covered in dead ferns. I included some photos of Dinan with the last entry.