Monday, 31 January 2011

Paris Places ~ 'The Arrondissements Deciphered'

POSTED IN:  ~ PlacesHumour ~ Arrondissement

Arrondissements Deciphered

I've always been quite at home with the arrondissement numbering system, with its cute spiraling snail twirling out from the centre. But if you've never really been able to grasp it, or would prefer a rather more sociological take on things, then maybe this map will help you. I found it on the internet from who knows where. The way you do.

Paris If You Don't Please
 I'll try to decipher/translate it as best I know how, without recourse to any help whatsoever, I assure you (can't be bothered); I'll just give it to you straight. There is no judgement on my part (that comes later). This is basically what it says about the make up of each of the districts.

1st - Tourists and Dodgy guys from the suburbs
2nd - Clothes and stuff
Bobos? Peut-être...
3rd/11th/20th - one big amorphous blob of trendy young new moneyed casuals - the bourgeois bohemians
4th - Poofs
5th - Tourists
6th/7th - Show-off snobs
8th - Tourists and even dodgier suburban troublemakers
9th - No-man's land
10th/19th - Cut-throat land
12th - Nothing
13th - Chinese
14th/15th - Flats
16th - probably snobby, clothes obsessed toffee-noses
17th - Old people
18th - Whores and Tourists

Reste du Monde - Rest of the World
Pauvres - The Poor
Parents - Parents and Relatives
Ploucs - Country Bumpkins

That reminds me of those other maps that did the rounds a while ago - the ones slapping similar stereotypes onto whole countries and even the world and it had quite a bit of success if I remember rightly. In fact, it was: the world or bits of it as seen by each nationality, something like that. Here's a sample:

The World as seen by the USA

And just in case you want more, here's another sample. There's a whole calendar's-worth of the things if you have a rummage around... (click for bigger versions, friends). 

Europe seen by the British

Europe seen by the USA (left), and by the French (right)

Aren't you glad, like I am, that you don't succumb to such gross oversimplification and downright disrespect. Where do they get these things? Utter nonsense, the lot of it, don't you think ;-)
© 2011 Sab Will / Paris Set Me Free - Suggestions, questions, requests and commissions always welcome!

Tuesday, 25 January 2011

Paris Places ~ 'Walk Across The Rooftops'

POSTED IN:  ~ PlacesArchitecture ~ 19th

A Walk Across The Rooftops

With the eyes, that is. You might be wondering where this is, and well you might. It looks like it could be somewhere like the 'mountain' in the surprising Parc des Buttes Chaumont, doesn't it, with that interesting view of Sacré Coeur on the horizon off to the right? But it isn't.

In fact, I probably still wouldn't know about this place if it hadn't been for a private student I was with saying, hey, did you know that there's a great view of Paris from round the back of my place? And indeed there was.

It's very curious, because the front of her building, at around 7, rue Manin, actually looks onto the Parc des Buttes Chaumont. But the back is another story. Another few stories actually.

If you walk along a bit to number 17 you'll notice a very steep set of stairs going up between the buildings. This leads to a secret little set of streets which twist around and ultimately culminate in this surprising and very enjoyable panorama over the city, including Sacré Coeur and one other Very Famous Building. This picture is from the Paris Photo Quiz blog, and no-one has actually named this 'VFB' yet, so I'll leave you to work  it out for yourselves, but you can see it in this picture if you look. Hard.

Here's the story from Google Maps; this first pic above is the strange set of steps going up up and away between the buildings, and which no-one but locals would generally climb. It's funny how they make their arrow go smack bang into a wall instead of up the stairs, don't you think?

And here's a shot, on the left, also from Google, of where you emerge, in the aforementioned set of cute little streets.

And finally in this pic you can see one of the characterful buildings, and the start of the view (and the railings) over on the left.

In case you're interested, you can read about a spooky experience that happened to me as I was visiting my client, who, you will remember, lives in one of those strange apartment buildings which are fully open on the lower street side... and half buried on the hill side.

And what's more, the lift in her building is like something out of a horror movie from the 50s, and when it doesn't behave you way you would like it to, and starts going down instead of up... well, I'll let you discover the rest - just click on the little picture on the left... if you dare.

This item (the doorway) first appeared on my Paris Photo Quiz blog, where you can test your knowledge of Paris curiosities and maybe win some cool bookmarks. Check it out!

© 2011 Sab Will / Paris Set Me Free - Suggestions, questions, requests and commissions always welcome!

Monday, 24 January 2011

Book Review ~ "Miss.Tic - A la vie, à l'amor"

POSTED IN:  ~ PublicationsReviews ~ Books ~ Graffiti

A la vie, à l'amor
by Miss.Tic
Critères Editions 2010
ISBN 9782917829080

Book Review

Woven, no, sprayed into the fabric of Paris, certain street artists have left more than a fading, peeling testimonial to their passing. Certain street artists have created a modern legend, and in doing so affected, or at least touched in some way, the lives of tens of thousands. You can see where I'm going with this, I suppose. Miss.Tic is one of these Paris street artists, and one of the most influential of them all.

I arrived in 1993; Miss.Tic had alread been decorating the walls of the capital for several years. She has, therefore, accompanied me on my many perambulations, omnipresent, silent but screaming. 'Je veux que mes mots fassent du bruit dans les yeux,' (I want my words to make noise in people's eyes) she says in her latest collection, A La Vie, A L'Amor, and in my case my gaze has been deafened many times.

Street art may not be your thing, and you may even wonder exactly what qualifies for this vague and doubtful attribution. When we think of colours on walls it's difficult not just to picture the tag-covered crumbling structures we glimps from train windows on our way into the city, or the many unfortunate vans, white no more, covered in the insignia of some gang or other. 

But there is a real difference between such shallow excesses and the work of people like Miss.Tic. Having said that, she has struggled, not to shake off the mantle of 'just a street artist', but simply to be taken seriously as an artist, even now, after many years of 'serious' exhibitions in 'proper' art galleries.

The publication of A La Vie, A L'Amor coincides with a new exhibition at Galerie W on rue Lepic in the 18th, a fitting location, deep in the heart of bucolic Montmartre, for this artist among artists, and indeed woman amongst men.

Slipping comfortably into the publisher's Opus Délits collection, alongside many other street notables such as Jef Aérosol, Mosko et associés, Speedy Graphito, C215 and Ben, this pocket-sized volume presents some of Miss.Tic´s recent work along with a few written pieces.

These latter are not the clever aphorisms for which she is famous - these are to be found, as usual, on each of the pictures themselves. Click on any of the pictures from the book shown here, by the way, for much larger versions. Rather, she offers us some word portraits which are not quite poems, yet not quite prose either, seemingly half biographical and half universal, and which accompany the photos marvellously.

It should be said that Miss.Tic is something of a mystery, and I think she cultivates this image, although is far from being anonymous along the lines of a Banksy or a Space Invader. Her goal was never not to be famous, or at least successful, and not only has she attained the status she hoped for, but she has done so through developing her style and personal life-view in full public eye. It couldn't be otherwise.

As such, she has become an artist who is appreciated by many, including those not normally predisposed to enter an intimidating art gallery where if you have to ask how much something costs you shouldn't even be in there.

This fondness in the public eye comes from a combination of factors: the familiar black-clad and haired vamp assuming a vast variety of insolent or suggestive poses; the delicious jeux de mots (puns and double meanings) which are her trademark; her provocative and drole existentialist comments on the human condition, in particular that of la femme; and the fact that she is, when all's said and done, a woman in a male-dominated arena, and a rather dangerous one at that.

As an up-to-date peek into where the iconic Miss.Tic is at right now, A La Vie, A L'Amor is a very good place to start, although my latest rummage around Amazon suggests you would be best popping into a good bookshop, especially a large Parisian one, to get hold of a copy. Or just hit the streets... 

© 2010 Sab Will / Paris Set Me Free - Contact me directly with suggestions, questions and requests, thanks.

Friday, 21 January 2011

Paris Places ~ 'Art Nouveau on Avenue Rapp'

POSTED IN:  ~ PlacesArchitecture ~ 7th

You want ornamentation? You got it!
Art Nouveau on Avenue Rapp

It took me a long time to see just what was so surprising about this stunning doorway. But before getting to that, simply admire this most breathtaking of entrances, just around the corner from the good old Eiffel Tower.

It was created by the architect Jules Aimé Lavirotte, whose designs are flamboyant in the extreme, and the lascivious curves and sinues of the art nouveau movement are in full evidence here. Indeed, much more than that is available to you if you know how to look! Apparently there are nine examples of his work in and around the 7th arrondissement of Paris and by hook or by crook I'll track 'em all down for ya eventually!

The original Paris Photo Quiz pic
The building at 29 Avenue Rapp was done in 1901, at the time his contemporaries such as Hector Guimard were trying out equally vegetal designs on the other side of the river over in the 16th, which was something of virgin territory back in those days, and so more available for the unusual to sneak in without being spotted.

One of the things that made this building stand out was the large number of glazed tiles used to jolly things up and truly make it stand out from the crowd. Apparently the ceramicist, a Mr. Alexandre Bigot, got plenty of business thanks to his patronage from Lavirotte for this one edifice.

Another 'arty' shot from the Paris & I blog
The Wikipedia article's only reference to the actual door is when it says 'the building at 29 avenue Rapp also had a highly exotic door frame...' Which is a shame, because what they could also have said is that there is unmistakably an enormous downward-pointing phallus slap-bang in the middle of it and dominating the whole thing. This was very much in keeping with the sensual nature of the art nouveau movement, although it's true that Lavirotte took that particular aspect of it further than most.

Just around the corner from this oracular marvel is another example of his work, at 3 Square Rapp, which is less impressive but nevertheless interesting and well worth checking out.

So next time you're half way up the Champs de Mars, turn down this avenue towards the Seine and look out for one of the best examples of art nouveau in Paris. Remember, life in Paris can often seem like a bed of roses... but watch out for the... ;-)

P.S. There are all iPhone pics, so the quality's not that amazing, but the angles are all mine - click for bigger versions... much bigger!


This item (the doorway) first appeared on my Paris Photo Quiz blog, where you can test your knowledge of Paris curiosities and maybe win some cool bookmarks. Check it out! 
© 2010 Sab Will / Paris Set Me Free - Suggestions, questions, requests and commissions always welcome!

Friday, 14 January 2011

People ~ 'Marilyn Z. Tomlins' ~ Interview

POSTED IN:  ~ PeoplePublicationsBooksInterviews

Marilyn Z. Tomlins
Author, Die In Paris

Marilyn is the author of a book about the French capital unlike any other I have read. Die In Paris is the true story of a compulsive serial killer during the Nazi occupation of France. As someone who rarely reads 'novels' these days, I started reading it during a prolonged stay in London, and didn't stop until I had finished it. You can read my review of Die In Paris here.

I was delighted to meet Marilyn on a treacherously cold day where she lives just to the south of Paris and visiting the Kremlin Bicetre cemetery just across the road from her place (see the photos) was a personal highlight of our meeting. You'll find out why when you read the book. Here are her answers to some of my questions. Thank you for a memorable afternoon Marilyn, and I look forward to your future endeavours with pleasure.

PARIS IF YOU PLEASE: Does Paris please you?

MARILYN Z. TOMLINS: Sab, the American singer and actress Josephine Baker, who came to Paris in the 1920s and died here in France, sang the song J’ai deux amours. It goes, J’ai deux amours mon pays et Paris. And it continues, Mais quoi bon le nier ce qui m’ensorcelle c’est Paris, Paris tout entier.

I echo her words. But the mon pays bit I would have to change, because Paris is now mon pays. So yes Paris pleases me. I wish I could pick Paris up and hug it - or hug her because Paris is supposed to be female.

PIYP: Do you have a favourite part of the city?

MZT: Yes, the banks of the Seine, from the Eiffel Tower down (or is it up?) to Bercy. I walk that walk often. Why is it my favourite part of the city? For the river’s tranquillity and the peace of mind it gives me. It makes me feel great ... alive... and grateful to be alive.

PIYP: How did you first become aware of Docteur Marcel Petiot?

MZT: It is almost a pity having to speak of him right now because for a moment now it was a summer morning and I was back walking along the Seine.

One cold winter afternoon six years ago I was paging through a French book about the German occupation of France and the name Marcel Petiot caught my eye. How many words on a page – say 300? So it is 600 for a double spread, yet it was the name Marcel Petiot that caught my eye. About 15 years earlier someone had briefly told me about him but I had not then taken much notice and had completely forgotten about him. But six years ago I could not get his name out of my head and because I had to know more about him, I went in search of books about him at Paris bouquinistes, and I can say that a few pages into the first book that I found, he had got hold of me. The man fascinated me. I had to know everything about him. I was hooked.

PIYP: How have your feelings about the city changed or evolved having spent several years of your life researching and writing about Docteur Petiot?

MZT: I always did know that there was more to Paris than the gay Paree (old meaning of the word gay) that the tourist sees, but having gone so thoroughly into the Paris of the German occupation, I am much more aware now that there is a darker side to this city. I tried to make this dark side visible in my book to show that there is more to Paris than the Eiffel Tower, Place du Tertre and the Champs-Elysées.

For example, in the 18 months before the March 1944 night when cops and fire fighters discovered the bodies at Dr. Petiot’s Paris town house, 327 bodies had been fished from the Seine or had been found in Paris’ wartime blacked-out dark alleys and parks, and most of them were headless.  On that night, of those 327 bodies, 85, 35 of them female, were still lying in Paris' main morgue on Quay de la Rapée in the 12th arrondissement awaiting identification and burial. That is a Paris tourists do not know.

PIYP: You reported what was said during his famous trial pretty much verbatim, but you obviously had to invent private conversations with Petiot’s family and so on. How did you strike a balance between creating a character the reader could identify with and the more clinical approach of just letting the facts speak for themselves?

MZT: The genre is called either creative non-fiction or narrative true crime. The writer who had initiated this genre is Meyer Levin with his 1956 book ‘Compulsion’, the story of the two University of Chicago killers Leopold and Loeb. The most successful book of the genre is Truman Capote’s 1966 book ‘In Cold Blood’ about the murder of a Kansas farming family. I had to decide whether to write the Petiot story in fiction form, in other words change all the names and invent situations, or to write it as narrative true crime. I chose the latter.

Part of my research was studying about 50 books about Petiot as well as numerous media reports of the time. All but three of the books were in French. All the books and reports were written in agency copy style. In other words, the facts were reported but there was no colour; as you said, the authors let the facts speak for themselves. I did not want to write another book like that. I wanted to write a book that would be easy to read and one which would have something for the true crime buff but also for the reader of history.  An agent did in fact classify the book’s genre as ‘history’, and I’ve wondered since whether I should not have done so too.

Petiot’s words, and those of his family and friends and partners in crime, were reported. In French of course. I drew what was important from those reports and a professional translator worked with me for most of two years to translate rather archaic French conversation into modern English. Where no conversations had been reported, I have no dialogue in my book.

For example, it was not reported (and no one knows) what Dr Petiot and his wife Georgette said to one another after she had found out that he had been killing people.  It was also not reported what had been said in the days that the doctor and Georgette spent with the Petiot family in Auxerre in order for him to recover from his ten months of Gestapo incarceration in a Paris jail, and when the family already knew that there were dozens of bodies lying in the doctor’s Paris town house. In a novel I would have invented such conversations.

Where I did create dialogue was, for example, for the night of the discovery of the human remains at Dr Petiot’s Paris town house, when Massu, the Paris police chief, told his deputy, Battut, that they would investigate no further that night. It’s Page 34 in the book, and the conversation goes like this: "So, I’ll be off home," said Massu to Battut. "I’ll call it a day too. Or rather, I’ll call it a night," replied the DCI. How do I know that the two had discussed packing it in for the night? I know because Commissioner Massu wrote in his book about the Petiot case that he had told Battut that he was going home and that Battut had gone home too. I could therefore create the conversation the two had had.

But I can assure you that when Petiot was awakened on the morning of his execution, he did say, "You’re a pain in the arse," and his last words before the guillotine’s blade dropped, were indeed, "Don’t look, gentlemen: this won’t be pretty."

PIYP: You talk about Petiot almost with a certain fondness, if that’s the right word. You say you spent a lot of time 'with the doctor' by his grave during the writing of Die In Paris. Is this a fondness for the character you built up for your book, or a genuine sympathy or compassion for the real person, as you came to understand him?

MZT: When I started the actual writing of the book, an Australian friend, who is a true crime reader, told me that true crime writers have said that sooner or later the murderer they were writing about had visited them. That gave me a terrible fright. I emailed her that if I should walk into a dark room one night and there stands Petiot I will have a heart attack. She told me that that was not what she meant. She meant that sooner or later the writer will come to understand, to know, the murderer. The writer will 'get into the murderer's head'. And that sure happened with me too. In the beginning I kept on saying to myself, "What got into this guy?" Then, after a time, I understood. It was as if he himself had told me.

Did I become fond of him? Good heavens no. I became so scared of him I made sure to always think of him as 'Dr Petiot' in case he had really turned up when I could at least have defended myself by telling him that I had always been respectful towards him.

But seriously, I came to understand him. I could of course be wrong, but I believe that he was not a born killer, but had become one because of his very unhappy childhood.

I went to his grave yes. Why did I? I had to see where he lay buried to be able to describe it. That was the reason for my first visit. The other visits were to talk to him. And no, Sab, he did not reply – not in words he did not. I went to talk to him because I had become stuck – when I did not know what to write next – and going to the cemetery and sitting there and allowing the silence to clear my head, I could work out what to write next. I used to say to him, "Oh come on Dr Petiot, help me with this!"

PIYP: What was it about this story that fascinated you so - the character, the murders, the period (wartime France under the occupation) or a combination of all of these?

MZT: Bad people are interesting. I’ve been criticised for saying so, but I’ve just said so again. Take World War Two. How many bad people can you name from World War Two? Hitler, Mengele, Eichman, Heydrich, Bormann, Goebbels, Himmler. And that’s just to start with. Now, how many good people from World War Two can you name? Probably only Schindler and that will be because of the film ‘Schindler’s List’. And who had heard of Schindler before the film?

Therefore, because I write and because bad people are more interesting than good people, I began reporting true crime – murders. Then, discovering Petiot, I wanted to write a book about him, this man who was guillotined for the killing ... no, the slaughter of 26 people but who had, according to the police, killed many more, perhaps two hundred. And then what made this man even more interesting to me was that he murdered within the framework of the Nazi German occupation of France, a time of such great turmoil for the French.

PIYP: What are you working on at the moment?

MZT: I have a manuscript of a novel titled ‘Sitting on a Stick’ with a New York literary agent.  The novel is set in the Soviet Union of the 1930s and it is a love story, believe it or not. It is the story of the adulterous affair the Russian poet, writer and Nobel Prize in Literature laureate, Boris Pasternak, had with the journalist Olga Ivinskaya on whom he had modelled the Lara character in his epic novel ‘Dr Zhivago’. My novel is not however all sweetness and honey because in recounting their love story I also tell the story of Stalin’s rule of terror. So it is another book about death and destruction. And a bad man: Stalin.

PIYP: Do you, like I, feel that Paris has set you free in some way?

MZT: Yes. Yes. Yes, I do, Sab. You have no idea how Paris has set me free. I came to Paris with many prejudices in my rucksack. I won’t go into those, if you do not mind. Gradually, I took those prejudices out of my rucksack and I threw them away. If I am still today guilty of a prejudice or two it is because of recent injustices done me. On the whole though, I am patient, tolerant and broadminded. Paris has taught me to live and let live.

PIYP: And just to finish up, what's your philosophy on life, if you have one?

MZT: As I said in my reply to your previous question, I believe, and I hope that I apply, ‘to live and let live’ to my life. However, my philosophy on life is summed up in the title of my next book, ‘Sitting on a Stick’. Leo Tolstoy wrote in his diary on January 15, 1891, To think you can change your life by changing its outward conditions is just like thinking that by sitting on a stick and taking hold of it at both ends you could lift yourself up. Therefore, my philosophy on life is that one can’t run away from oneself. You can run, yes, but who and what you are will accompany you.

Note: I'd like to thank Marilyn for taking the time to meet and talk with me, be dragged around a genuinely freezing graveyard, and for getting a review copy of Die In Paris to me using means beyond the call of duty.
© 2010 Sab Will / Paris Set Me Free - Suggestions, questions, requests and offers always welcome!

"city-lit PARIS" - Competition WINNERS!

POSTED IN:  ~ PublicationsReviews ~ BooksPrizes

city-lit PARIS       


A big thank you to everyone who entered our city-lit Paris competition. Remember there were three copies of this excellent book up for grabs, just by leaving a comment on the posting - as easy as that!

You can still read the in-depth interview and read an interview with the editor, Heather Reyes, by clicking below.

But now, without further ado, here are the three lucky winners, chosen at random, from those of you who left a comment on the book review, names given as they identified themselves so they'll know who they are! You were asked to give your favourite piece of Paris inspired writing...

"c'est Jeff ici", who said:
My favorite is a novel: Le lit de la merveille by Robert Sabatier. It takes place in the neighborhoods and worlds I live in when in Paris. A young man grows old working in the world of books and publishing in the 5th and 6th arrondissements.
"Lynne Rees", who said:
In Casablanca, when Rick says to Ilsa, 'We'll always have Paris,' everyone who has ever been in Paris and in love with someone there, or with the city itself, believes him, because Paris never leaves you.
"pretemoiparis", who said:
I am right there with you Karin, A Moveable Feast is a beautiful intimate look into the expat artist/writer's life of early 20th century Paris, and defines a lot of that "romantic", bohemian aura that still lingers about today...

Please get in touch with me with your address if you won so that the publisher can send you your book. And look out for lots more interesting Paris stuff very soon.

On the way are book reviews of:

Mademoiselle London loves Paris (quelquefois) (sometimes)
The Paris Poems, by Suzanne Burns
Sur les traces des Enseintes de Paris

Interesting short articles on various lesser-known Paris corners and curios;

Interviews with Miss.Tic, the famous graffiti artist, Mademoiselle London and Marilyn Z. Tomlins, author of recently reviewed chilling real-life tale, Die In Paris.

And, dare I say, much much more. Thanks for doing Paris with me.
© 2010 Sab Will / Paris Set Me Free - Contact me directly with suggestions, questions and requests, thanks.
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