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Monday, July 20, 2009

Week two begins

We are now fully involved in creating the mosaic. But I'll backtrack first to relate our Bastille Eve and Day adventures:

I need to find out more about the Firemen's Balls on the eve of the holiday; I just know that I love both the sound and the idea. Several years ago,when I was here taking French classes and living with a host family(where the host parents were younger than me) my Swiss roommate, Alex and I crashed a Fireman's Ball in the Marais, the old Jewish quarter which is now quite trendy.) It was in the neighborhood firehouse, and I'm not sure just how we got in, but it was fun. This time, our whole group went to the one in our neighborhood. It was definitely a neighborhood event, but there seemed to be lots of foreigners besides us too. There is a hostel nearby, so I expect that is part of the reason, it is certainly not a touristy neighborhood.

This party was along the Canal d'Ourq, not far from our house. There is indeed a firehouse there; but the stage was outdoors, and there was a live band. Crowds lined both sides of the canal. We'd brought beer and wine,or rather Gorka's special blend of wine and Coke, which he claims was invented in his city in Spain. Before long pretty much everyone in our group was dancing, and before much longer, a crowd had gathered to watch and others had begun to dance with us. Paul, one of our group leaders who lives in Paris, had warned that things could get pretty rowdy, which they didn't really near us. He also told us that there were groups of young guys that went around burning cars on Bastille Day eve, and that groups competed to burn the most. I never did get the details on the groups or whose cars they were, if it was random or what. There were cars burned just a block or two from where we were: But Paul said he would not go to watch because it just encouraged people, and so I chose not to go. He didn't say anything about it being dangerous; though, although he and Laurent had cautioned us about going out alone at night. One encourged us to go in groups; the other said to go with a guy. Ducha, one of the other leaders, who also lives in Paris, pretty much pooh-poohed that; and she and I walked home together that night.

I must say that I haven't felt the least bit worried or threatened walking around. This obviously isn't one of the tonier parts of the city; but it doesn't feel like a slum,either. The area is half housing projects like the ones we are working in, and half older buildings with more traditional Parisian architecture. The streets are lively with shops and cafes: And even in the project the buildings are nowhere as tall or barren as in comparable areas in Boston or New York. Yes, where we are working there is a lot of concrete and little grass. But it sure doesn't feel anywhere as dismal as American slums. The hallway in the building where we are working is clean and well maintained I know that there are tensions and antagonisms between groups of different heritages. And I don't want to overromanticize things. But I am impressed, more so than I expected, by the positive, especially by the melange of people in the streets and in the projects. It is an impressive mix; African women in gloriously colorful dresses and headdresses; Orthodox Jews, tiny kids clutching their mothers' hands, young Muslim men, Asians, mixed groups of teenage girls. And so, a mosaic seems an apt project to express peoples' visions and desires.

The other Bastille Days I have been here, four years ago and eight years ago, I went to the Champs Elysees to watch the parade and then strolled through the city. And the parade is a sight to see. I remember being startled by the military planes flying in formation at what seemed a frightening low altitude directly over the street. But twice was enough; plus I am not especially fond of the militaristic nature of the parade. This time I slept in. We all did. Some of us had partied longer and harder than I had the night before. Some continue to; and I am not sure how they manage to wake up to work.

On Bastille Day most of the group went of to the Buttes Chaumont for a picnic in the afternoon. I went off on my own, having arranged to meet them there later in the day. Laurent, who is French but from Amiens, not Paris, said it would be easy to locate them, and described where they would be. Wrong - the park is huge, and there are several entrances. I walked around for about 45 minutes, and was literally just about to give up when I miraculously came across them. I could have dealt with not finding them, but the plan was to go watch the fireworks over the Eiffel Tower at 11 pm. And no one was at the apartment, and I didn't have a key! But all worked out well, luckily:

To watch the fireworks, we went to the Parc de Belleville, which is on a hill, another place to to which I'd never been. When I'd seen them bofore I'd taken the metro to Trocadero, which is just across the river from the Tower. It had been crowded but provided a great view. Belleville is quite far from the fireworks, and was equally crowd. I was lucky to find a spot where I could see. Some of our group could; others weren't able to, and for some of them it was their first, perhaps their only time in Paris. I felt especially bad for the three Korean volunteers; they sounded so frustrated and forlorn. In fact, the display from our vantage point wasn't very impressive and they hadn't missed much, as I tried to tell them to console them. But I don't think I convinced them. Natalia, the Russian volunteer, said the fireworks were nothing compared to those on the national holiday in Moscow, where they are set off in a multitude of places along the river simultaneously:


This weekend, we went to the Musee d'Orsay and the Pompidou Center, two of my favorite museums, one on Saturday, the other on Sunday. The Orsay is in a converted train station, and is architecturally exquisite. It features 19th century works, so includes pieces by Degas, Gaughin; Renoir, Monet, etc; etc: Some very famous works, and others not as well known but equally wonderful. The Pompidou basically picks up where the Orsay leaves off; just as the Orsay picks up where the Louvre leaves off. The Pompidou building is one of those places you either love or hate: I love it. The concept is that all the structural stuff is on the outside; plumbing, heating, etc. and also painted in bright primary colors. Escalators on the outside take you to the top. Of course the art within, being modern, is also often controversial. But I don't think anyone would disagree that the view from the top is superb. And there is wonderful sculpture and water garden on the roof. I love the juxtapositions between the very modern sculptures and the views of all the landmarks beyond.

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