Nonsense in Paradise

by Ric Erickson

Number 1.19 - Metropole Paris, Monday, 1. July 1996:- The first of the season's 'Grands Departs' has launched itself off to the freedom and liberty of the 'grands vacances,' with the SNCF scrambling to make space for all the travellers stranded by an Air Europe (ex-Air Inter) strike last Friday.

Luckily, this was not a 'really-stupendous' all-together-now type of 'Grand Depart.' In the Ile-de-France, school is not finished yet, so Friday's departures involved only a lucky few millions, and the evening TV-news brought us video clips of these happy few lounging on the strand at Arcachon, which has been made a direct-from-Paris TGV stop, on the coast just south and west of Bordeaux.

Other travellers were shown getting free massages at autoroute rest-stops while their kids played hopscotch on toadstools. I would get a free massage too, if the autoroutes ran right through my office here.

Sun or no sun in Paris, France is officially open for the 'grands vacances.' Welcome to paradise.

The Russians are Coming; the Russians are Here

My recent inspection of the place in front of Beaubourg turned interesting when I propped myself in the shade of one of those giant steamboat air-vent things, to observe the activity.

Elsewhere in this issue I have commented on the renovation noisily taking place here at the moment.

portraits.jpg (18k) From my shady spot, there were some fellows selling colorful beads to my left, visitors to the cultural centre were entering the place on my right, and a line of portrait artists were arrayed in a line before me, almost to the front doors.

It was a busy scene - except for the bead sellers - and there were many clients for portraits; some in the shade of parasols. The way they were spread out in this line was practical: it hindered no one, yet allowed all to clearly see the finished portraits on display. After holding up the air-vent for awhile, I did a tour of the artists and then returned to my watching place.

The artist-material setup right in front of me was now occupied by an artist and a customer. The artist finished and the customer approved the sketch, paid for it and left.

I took this opportunity to speak to the artist. He was very friendly even though I made it immediately clear that I was not a prospect and was only interested in how things were going. I was certainly surprised when he told me he was from St. Petersburg, fairly recently known as Leningrad.

With his wife, also a portrait artist, he was passing his second summer in Paris; staying with friends and earning money by doing the portraits. He said his ambition was to save enough to go to Italy one year - but that was probably remote as his pay at home was very little. He spoke French, Italian, a little English and a good deal of Russian; and seemed to be enjoying himself trying out his Italian on the large number of Spaniards that happened to be there.

When I went back on Friday to learn his decision about whether he would permit me to take a photo, the mood had changed considerably. Apparently the police had been by on Thursday and had swept away all the portrait artists.

There is supposedly a license one can get to paint outdoors at the place du Tertre on Montmartre, but the numbers are limited because of space - and these licenses are not granted for any other part of Paris - especially not at Notre Dame nor at the parvis at Trocadéro, where I recently read an inscription which said in part, "Parvis des Libertés et des Droites de l'Homme."

My good man was extremely perplexed. He did not like the idea that liberty that was so new in his country, could be so narrowly interpreted in the country that gave birth to liberty in the first place.

What could I tell him? It perplexes me too.

This fellow was not a beggar; he is an artist. A professor at the Beaux Arts in St. Petersburg no less. Out of his tiny salary, he paid his own way to the City of Light, to the 'home' of art - to find that the practice of it in public is forbidden.

So, here goes another warning: if you are not a state-approved artist with a proper up-to-date, stamped and signed permit, don't bother trying any arty business on the streets of Paris. To the cops you will just be another sort of undesirable riff-raff. If you are not an artist, welcome to paradise.

The usual couple of URLs :

I am going to save these for next week, as my usual source, the newspaper Libération; has stopped its Friday 'Multimedia' section until September. Another reason for not including the URLs this week is that they mainly point to the Web sites of French artists, and they may contain material of a dangerous nature.

Posters :

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