Practising Sleeplessness

photo, blue fountain, place de la concorde The blues in the Place de la Concorde.

One of These Years We'll Get It Right

by Ric Erickson

Paris:– Saturday, 7. October:–  On the first weekend in October Paris puts on an event called Nuit Blanche which is supposed to be about being sleepless, being outside in the dark cruising around town consuming culture, cafés, wines, crêpes, standing in lines, seeing stuff you normally wouldn't watch for free on TV, and generally having a bang–up time meeting fellow Parisians who are likewise suckers for a free show."

That was pretty much how I started the promo for it last week and after Saturday night I don't know of any reason to change my words. According to today's very small account in Le Parisien there were a few more out for the fête this year – maybe 1.5 million, maybe counted – somehow – around 02:30.

photo, tossing silver scraps, grand palais Tossing scraps of silver, at the Grand Palais.

I started out on the avenue that separates the Petit Palais from the Grand Palais near the Champs–Elysées–Clemenceau métro stop. Clots of folks were admiring an illuminated rattan bag of something, beneath the sculpture on the roof that was blue. Down the block the porch of the Grand Palais had been filled with twisted scraps of silver and a mass of all sorts of people were occasionally tossing it around. I mean, it seemed like a lot of people were hesitating. "Why are we standing here? What is this stuff?"

Across the way dim lights were flickering in the windows of the Petit Palais as a line of the curious edged up its steps. Closer to, another line of the patient emerged from the gloom – the streetlights were not lit – and it trailed back to near the Champs–Elysées. How many were there and how long had they been waiting?

photo, entry, petit palais A few of thousands entering the Petit Palais.

Mobs of folks were emerging from the métro exit and making their choice between seeing what was at hand, or marching east to Concorde. Along the avenue the lamps were lit, the traffic was normal. At Concorde the Obélisque, the fountains and some statues were bathed in blue lights, and the moon hung over it all. Here again many of the regular lights were out and the traffic was rolling through.

Bright headlights, red and green traffic lights, the moon, and the blue projectors. You could be blinded facing the glare of a red light, then green – and hope that cars would stop while crossing against an advancing wall of shadow people. It was safe enough on the island in the middle, lightly flooded by moonlight and the two glowing fountains. How did they make the water blue too? Like neon. And the Hotel Crillon, glowing like a gateau d'or.


Entrepreneurs had set up their grilled sausage cart near the métro entry. This wasn't part of the free café. Neither was the métro free but at that time it wasn't overly crowded, and the trip to the Hôtel de Ville was quiet and swift. If there was a contemporary art exhibit at the city hall I didn't see it. There was a closed blood donation tent and a lot of young people milling around.

photo, obelisque, place de la concorde Moon and the Obelisk with the blues.

I would say that the Nuit Blanche is designed to attract the city's bobos but it really draws out the 15–30 age group. There are grannies, bobos with babies in strollers, families with younger kids, but the 15–30s are the majority. The ones who gave up a Saturday night of MTV. Why not? They've all got their iPods. And they've got their cellphones, live SMS. No kid without one. All with the built–in cameras and the blitzes. "Yo! We here at the Hôtel de Ville!"

Then it's dive into the Marais. A warren of narrow streets poorly lit in normal times, jammed on Saturday with the seekers of free thrills. A few cafés open, not a seat to be had, semi–dark and service somewhat breathless, under strain. I guess pretty much like any normal weekend only with an extra half–million underway.

A few cars with foolish drivers trying to get through, but the crowds mostly good–humored and giving way. A different situation up on Francs Bourgeois where a couple of crazies were on a roof and everybody – everybody – stopped down below, waiting for the show. It was like the make you look up trick. And then a light came on, showing these two red jumpsuits on the roof. Were they on a wire, stretched to the next building?

Rien à voir, circulez! But the rest of thy street was hardly better, hardly being able to tell the difference between a mob waiting to get in one of the hôtels and the other one walking in the street.

At the Rue Pavée I was ready to call it quits. It was like the world's longest rushhour, mostly in the dark. I drifted towards the Seine, to the Ile Saint–Louis and across it to the Left Bank and went west along it. The usual three thousand were probably standing around in front of Notre Dame, singing carols some of them.

Drunks and browsers were hanging around outside Shakespeare like any other Saturday night. It's Nuit Blanche, buy a used book! From there on all the cafés were full, right into the Rue de la Huchette, which is a 365– day affair. Coming out at Saint–Michel a big bunch of kids were watching some street act in the dark of an awning, and the island in the middle of the place seemed to be absolutely full. I looked, but did not see any art, contemporary or otherwise.

photo, in the marais, nuit blanche Rooftop dancers in the Marais.

A crowded métro took me back to Montparnasse. Maybe everybody was travelling to see the art show at Sainte–Anne, the psychiatric hospital in the 14th arrondissement. I think I went there once, or maybe it was for an open–doors patrimony thing.

The Rue Daguerre was deserted. Even the clochards were elsewhere. The Zango was more empty, the restaurants all half–deserted, only the owner in the Bistro 48 with one customer, the Penguins, dark. But somewhere in Paris, in the Goutte d'Or, Tolbiac, the Marais forever, Parisians out there in the dark on a Saturday night in October. Practising sleeplessness.

A bientôt à Paris
signature, regards, ric

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