Bopping with Niall JP O'Leary

Niall O'Leary insists on sharing his hare-brained notions and hysterical emotions. Personal obsessions with cinema, literature, food and alcohol feature regularly.

Monday, August 28, 2006

It is tempting to compare Paris to Amsterdam as each a flipside of the other; one had rain, the other has sun (but Amsterdam had sun as well and this morning in Paris it rains); one had good food (Amsterdam), the other, despite a reputation, hasn't (not so simple); one has museums that are closed, the other has ones that are open (but Pompidou had its fifth floor largely closed for renovations). There's no one to one comparison really so I'll give it as it's been.

The first night I checked the Rough Guide for a place to eat. Have you ever sought something online, found it, stared at it and believed you then knew it (mainly because it was found)? Well, I have, and particularly on this occasion. I discovered a restaurant on the Boulevard Richard-Lenoir (online) and headed out to find it in reality without taking note of exact address or even name(!); I deserved everything I got and what I got was a similar, but incorrect restaurant and a deeply disappointing meal. It's just as well I like vinegar, because that was the variety of Rosé I was served. Still I drank a half litre of the stuff. I went to bed vaguely dissatisfied.

The next day things would be better. I picked up a coffee and three pastries firstly. The thing about using French is that my opener is usually good; I know what I want and I ask appropriately. Unfortunately those darn French come back at me looking for details or explaining some problem and I just stand there staring blankly. Do they really have to answer back? On this occasion there were only two pains aux raisins, not three and would I like something else instead; but it might have been "You horrible Paddy, stop murdering our language". And there is a contrast with Amsterdam. In Amsterdam they thank you for coming, in Paris they correct your pronunciation.

The Musée Picasso is excellent. I've been to the one in Barcelona, which emphasises his early years; this covers a lot of his mature work, particularly his sculptures. I wandered very happily for a couple of hours before heading off for Pompidou.

I came out and felt I owed it to my body to get some vitamins and so bought and drank a loathsome fruit drink. Don't do this to yourself, just buy orange.

There was a bulldog swimming around the fountain at the George Pompidou Centre when I arrived. It would jump out and then back in again, paddling around like a clumsy, brown shark. Dogs, you see are everywhere, as is the dirt that goes with them. Altman tried to make a joke of this in his "Pret-a-porter", but there's nothing funny about stepping in crap. My observation for what it's worth is the ubiquity of burst water mains. Everywhere water's running along the gutters. Water is precious afterall, and Paris likes to show off its wealth.

Immediately outside the Center, some Mongolian musicians were fighting with a Hungarian harpist for change. The place was buzzing.

Last time I was in Paris the Pompidou Centre was closed for renovations. Although it was open today, renovations are still going on on the fifth floor, the home of the main collection. At least, they had a wonderful, non-commercial aircraft exhibition on, and one right down my alley; film in art. Everything from Man Ray to Len Lye to Stan Brakhage. It was excellent. A word of advice though for the museum goer. Never, never go into a large museum, no matter how full you feel without having had lunch. I had one last pain aux raisins in my pocket and kept tearing off little mouthfuls and trying to eat them without being noticed. There were a number of sofas with rugs draped over them for visitors use, each one blocking the view of the one behind, so I sat on the back seat and tried to eat for a while.

When I left I thought I'd give the Rough Guide recommendation another go. Before I had had trouble finding the Boulevard in question, despite the fact it is 70 feet away from my hotel. That's the thing about Paris maps etc., they leave out streets and mislead you on distances. And then a street will suddenly branch off at a 45 degree angle and you find yourself on some other road you never wanted. This time around, number 3 Boulevard Richard Lenoir was at the other end from which I started and it took me 20 minutes to get by 50 buildings (each one a block in itself). The restaurant at the end looked okay, but was closed for another half an hour. I waited.

Was it worth the wait? It looked impressive internally. I felt a little out of place in my t-shirt and jeans. The wine too, the house Bordeaux, was lovely. Then the starter of sardines was delicious. They brought out the aubergine stuffed with lamb mince. Delightful to look at, but the mince was cold. Aubergine hot on the outside, mince cold on the inside; microwaved. I was going to send it back, but just couldn't be bothered. And I had been enjoying it so much. I didn't have as much yen for the chocolate and orange gateau, though it was lovely. The contrast with the night before (for a meal of the same price) was as black to white, but they still had to ruin it.

According to the Rough Guide the Museum of Cinema near the Trocadero showed old classics all the time. I headed up there and was greeted with a magnificent view of the Eiffel Tower. As the gathered crowd watched the Tower suddenly erupted in flashing lights, like camera flashes. As well I was there then, though there Museum of Cinema was closed and there were no screenings going on. I wandered back to my room, disappointed. In a city of cinemas, I couldn't find one.

For that matter the movie I wanted to see Michel Gondry's,"The Science of Dreams", was in English and French which meant the French bits would stay that way while the only the English bits would be subtitled (normally an English language movie is shown in English with French subtitles). My second choice, "Paris, je t'aime", an anthology piece with directors such as the Coens and Wes Craven, also suffered from this split language problem. When I got back to my room, I did some more research online. Gilliam's new film, "Tideland", which some were calling his best since "Brazil" while others were ridiculing, and which had been passed over for distribution in Ireland, was on in the 6th arondissement (city zone) and so was near an Irish bar, Coolin's I felt like visiting. I made my plans to go there Sunday night.

Another disappointment was caused by a poster for a rock festival on the subway wall. Apparently that very day, probably at that very hour, Radiohead and Beck were headlining a gig in the city, "Rock en Seine". There I was in the right city, on the right day, missing two of my favourite acts.

I got up late on Sunday, but determined to go to the Musée D'Orsay. First though I had some wonderful Moules a la Mariniere in a Belgian family restaurant. The fish soup starter was bland, but those mussels in wine were wonderful.

I got a metro to Chatelet and began walking across the Ile de la Cité. There are some occasions that make you question the nature of the universe and this was one of them. Seven years back I met a South African friend of mine on the Greek island of Paros. I hadn't seen her in those seven years, but the day before I happened to wonder if she was still going to Greece (it was a tradition with her) and would she be there this year. This morning, however, she wasn't in Greece, because she was on a bridge in Paris taking pictures with friends. How does that happen? Unfortunately she was flying out the next day and was occupied that day, but we swapped addresses etc. and wondered at it all.

At 3.20 there was a large queue for the Musée D'Orsay outside, inside and everywhere. I still managed to get in in 15 minutes. Seeing as it was closed on Monday, this was my only chance to get in, even though I'd only have around two hours. It's a bit all over the place and Monet bores me a little, but it is a marvellous collection. There was a special series of exhibitions too, one on Rodin and Carriere (who gets repetitive with all his misty, out of focus paintings), another on a Danish artist called Willumsen. Despite some pretentiousness, the Willumsen was pretty spectacular. "After the Storm 1 and 2" were really powerful (one of which was on a cd I had of music by Nielsen, coincidentally his friend), and a painting of kids playing on a beach is fantastic. Anyhow, I ran around trying to get as much in as I could, but they were closing halls at 5.30 and try as I might they wouldn't let me loiter.

I hunted down the Irish bar, Coolin's. They had a stack of "Irish Independents" (strange, but reading Ronan Farren's review of Updike's latest reminded me of how much I hate that paper and the Ireland it represents) by the door and all the staff were Irish students. One guy, Ronan, was studying Journalism in DIT and was heading home the next day. He came in bearing bad news, Dublin had just been beaten by a point by Mayo. I am not Gaelic fan, but my heart dropped a little at the news. In contrast, a girl from Laois was fairly ecstatic. I hung around chatting, drinking, doing the crossword until I had to set off for my movie. Some of the staff were going to a new bar set up by some guy who had worked in Coolin's, a Corcoran, called The Lollipop. I got directions and determined to go there after the movie.

There's none of the problem of heads in the way at the French cinema I was at. The screen is up too high, everyone has to crane their neck. French democracy, I suppose. As it was there were only 5 others in the cinema, a man in his late forties with a girl in her early twenties, a woman in her mid forties with a guy in his mid twenties, and a woman in her mid forties who I should have hooked up with to make it all rosy.

The movie itself, though better than "The Brothers Grimm", is a strange one. I had wanted to attend a script workshop in Edinburgh hosted by Tony Grisoni the scriptwriter of this, but it had been booked out. I'm still unsure what to make of "Tideland", but it is too long and I think too monotonous in its style. Gilliam uses the familiar skewed camera a little too frequently and right from the outset. I believe he should have started more realistically, almost clinical and then let the madness build as Jeliza Rose's perspective builds (probably just before Jeff Bridges takes his 'trip to the ocean'). It's hard to really care when you're being bludgeoned with strangeness from the start. Memorable though.

At midnight I walked to The Lollipop and then past The Lollipop. There was no one there except a few of the staff from Coolin's, obviously well on. Tired as I was, I wasn't going to intrude and so I just got the last metro.


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