horz line

A Million Cafés

photo, service tour heure anytime

Nuit blanche, Anytime

Nuit Blanche

Paris:– Saturday, 2. October:– The sun goes down officially at 19:25, three minutes earlier than Friday. The sky is not clear but it is not threatening and the wind is next to nothing. The temperature is probably 17 or 18 degrees. The moon should be visible after 20:30. It seems like a perfect night for a 'Nuit Blanche.'

'Nuit Blanche' translates as 'sleepless in Paris.' Most of the time you do this in solitude and involuntarily, butphoto, arbrazing tent tonight the city has put up the equivalent of 1.3 million cups of café, to entertain us with contemporary art, happenings, music, dance, projections, illuminations, until dawn.

And all of this is not for a vulgar fête. It has been decided that we are deprived, that we have slight motivation to visit a museum, but we thirst after art nevertheless. It is all very serious, there are no shortcuts being taken, and if it doesn't please everybody, 'tant pis!'

Nuit Blanche info tent.

If I had read this before going out, I would have stayed tuned to Arte–TV's Saturday night archeology program. But I didn't so I was on the Avenue du Maine seeking Nuit Blanche, both official, and as it is every night of the year.

The little grocery stores are still open. Under the general hood of the somewhat orange street lighting the sidewalk displays of fruits and vegetables under their white lights stand out like artist's paintboxes in the surrounding dimness.

On the plaza near the Tour Montparnasse there is a white Arbrazing tent, where some 'ambassaseurs Nuit Blanche' are handing out info kits. These consist of the 76–page booklet and a mini transit map. They have photocopied programs too, but I can't say what interests me and go without.

Across the plaza, where the buses gather, there's a bus stop for night's 'Ligne Ouest.' These won't be running until 01:00. Until then full fares for buses and Métros are in force.

Overlooking the Rue de l'Arrivée the café here is illuminated like a theatre, with all the terrace seats empty. It's a big terrace with not much of a view. A green garbage truck goes by and stops for a pickup, and all the cars behind wait patiently.

Down the stairs to the Avenue du Maine, to number 21. It is the entry to the alley of ateliers and the Montparnassephoto, chemin montparnasse museum. There is a strip of red light going in and beyond, in the rear, a wall of illuminated gauze. Behind it there are some people drinking wine, and beside them, a white room containing some sculptures and other artworks.

Nuit Blanche in a Montparnasse alley.

The red strip leads back to the street. It looks like a line of hot lava leading to the yellow–brown Avenue du Maine. I go down to the short Rue d'Alençon, to get to the boulevard.

Saturday night in Montparnasse probably surpasses the Nuit Blanche. Most of the restaurants and cafés are full, there are lines waiting to get in, and crowds are cruising the sidewalks, going here or there.

The big place where Rue de Rennes starts, is ringed with neon, illuminated posters, traffic lights, headlights and street lights. It doesn't seem so big at night, and movement is not dense but constant.

The Métro's mouth in front of the cinema is pouring people on to the sidewalk. They mill around, taking in the lights, forming groups to discuss their next moves. More people push up from the Métro. There must be 20 cinema screens within 50 metres, and as many cafés and restaurants.

Past the corner, on the Boulevard du Montparnasse, after the Hippo and a Starbucks, there is more space – only to the next corner where popular cafés take up some of the sidewalk. The crêpe stand in the middle of the block looks like a permanent Nuit Blanche attraction.

The street is a bit more colorful than usual because of the green and gray barricades in the centre, signalling the construction of the new bus lanes, and some local discontent. Normally on weekends, the centre of the boulevard is occupied by dozens of visiting parked cars. It means all the traffic is using the bus lanes on either side.

Neons. La Coupole in red. Le Select in pink and green. The pharmacy sign with blinking green. La Rotonde in red, winking to backwards in white, with three letters missing. The tabac's carrotphoto, mirror apartment in red. Le Dôme in white, over black and gold trim. There's blue too. And Clement's neon 'Anytime' in red. Nuit Blanche anytime on the Boulevard du Montparnasse.

Over the Vavin intersection the outdoor shellfish counter of the Bar à Huitres is bathed in studio white light like a film stage. Diners are standing by the Raspail door, waiting for their turn to sit at white tablecloths, to drink white wines and crisp oyster seawater.

The house of Nuit Blanche and falling Parisians.

Beyond there is another grocery shop. People live here – someone might need a jar of mustard at midnight, or an apple to tide them over until La Coupole. The next restaurant along has its shades down and a sign in the entry saying, 'private soirée.'

The stretch to Port Royal is nearly deserted, but everybody is going the same way. In front of the Bal Bullier, an old gent on a scooter tells a young lady the way to the Observatoire. Here is a choice, keep straight on to the Hôpital Cochin, to see a video of Marisa Berenson doing Piaf, or see some more gauze.

Or turn south toward the Observatoire. Locations are inexact. This one is given as the 'avenue' and seeing others coming and going the same way suggests it is the right direction. But there is nothing in the avenue, but a big jumble of art fans is pressing against the grille outside the Observatoire.

Inside the grounds Leandro Erlich has laid a full–size reproduction of a Paris building front on the cobbles. Behind it there is a mirror leaning at a 45 degree angle, reflecting the building front.

Spectators are let on the building front on the ground, and are supposed to pretend they are hanging from the building. It looks like they are, and some are good actors too. One lady 'drops' her bag, and another catches it.

With this I'm glad I skipped Arte's archeology show. But then it's a long haul south on the Avenue Denfert–Rochereau to the place and down Leclerc to Saint–Pierre de Montrouge at Alésia.

This is what I don't hear or see at the church. A Polish choir of deaf mutes doing a fragment of Bach's 'Starbat Mater,' accompanied with an organ, on video, directed by Artur Zmijewski.

The cinemas at Alésia seem quiet and the avenue is quiet as if the cinemas are full, and I turn left at Rue Brézin and go over to the swimming pool. There are about 30 people waiting in the dark beside the place du marché, waiting to get in to see and hear Alice Lewis and 'Jungle Fever.'

Makers of ceramics are having a show in the annex of the nearby Mairie of the 14th and there's no line for it. I surprise the security guard with a 'bonne nuit' going in. There are about 40 exhibits of the hand–made works, and a reasonable number of the curious. i think this show continues until Sunday, 10. October.

Going out the security guard surprises me by saying goodbye. I wonder what he'll be saying at dawn. Probably the same as me – zzzzzz.

I'm skipping 'Cité Sonic' at the Cité Internationale Universitaire because I've walked far enough. There has been a few people around on rollers and many more on bikes. The city is loaning 1000 of them for the evening.

Plus there are two bike tours organized, one for the north and the other for the south. There's another tour for the roller people. And the city got the Batobus to operate until 02:30, for an all–night price of 5€.

For the those who never quit and the intrepid, the night goes on to dawn. After two experimental editions in 2002photo, expo in mairie annex and 2003, the goulash comes out right. Almost – there was a two– hour wait at the Maison Rouge at Bastille to see Anthony McCall's films of 'Solid Light.'

Ceramics in the annex of the Mairie of the 14th.

Or see Bruno Peinado's rotating Trojan Horse covered with mirrors in the courtyard of the Crédit Municipal. There was the 'Bal Perdu' under blue lights in the garden at Les Halles, with a band dressed in white, accompanied with a blizzard of fake snow. Solo, a young singer suspended in front of a blue Opéra, with music from a harp. Foucault for 24 demented hours at the Palais de Tokyo.

Something for everybody other than hard–core techno fans. In the logic of practice makes better, the Nuit Blanche audience is estimated to have been 1.3 million – the price of that many cafés plus a generous tip. For the hangover, Sunday's daylight weather stays good.

horz line
Send email concerning the
contents to: Ric Erickson, Editor.
Metropole Midi © 2014
– unless stated otherwise.
logo, metropole sml midi logo No matter how good it tastes,
there is no such thing
as a free lunch.
Waldo Bini