Sunday, December 31, 2017

Ringing in the New Year and Closing the Door on 2017...

Last few hours of the year 2017! Here is another work of the street artist Levalet, brightening an alleyway entrance with a trompe-l'œil piece. The large bell that is painted at the end of the wall surface reminded me of the poem of John Donne (1572 – 1631) - For Whom the Bell Tolls 

                       No man is an island,
                       Entire of itself.
                       Each is a piece of the continent,
                       A part of the main.
                       If a clod be washed away by the sea,
                       Europe is the less.
                       As well as if a promontory were.
                       As well as if a manor of thine own
                       Or of thine friend's were.
                       Each man's death diminishes me,
                       For I am involved in mankind.
                       Therefore, send not to know
                       For whom the bell tolls,
                       It tolls for thee.

End of the Year 2017...

Almost the end of the year... This view of the southern part of the transept of the cathedral of Reims  was taken just a few days ago - and those tranquil bright skies will soon be starkly contrasted by the grey, stormy weather that is forecast for the start of the new year. Mind you, such extremes seem to resume 2017, full of highs and lows. I just hope that the Sagittarius the Archer, taking aim at the courtyard of the Palais du Tau far below, will nevertheless be lit up by the new moon - the Wolf - that will usher in 2018.

Monday, December 25, 2017

A Child was born on Christmas Day...

Apart from the obvious child of the Nativity, another one was actually born in a rather more recent year, albeit some twenty-one winters ago today! Here he was, sleeping peacefully, oblivious to the world... yet fast forward to 2017, and we have a somewhat similar set-up, post-Christmas Eve party!

Happy Christmas; Peace on earth, Goodwill to all mankind.... And finally, let us respect and preserve this Planet we inhabit.

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Under Pressure...

Hospitalité - Levalet
It is pouring with rain, the work is mounting up and the pressure is rising, relatively speaking, of course. That didn't stop me tracking down the above, however; yet another Levalet piece of street art around Reims. Called Hospitalité, the individuals it presents in its paper forms seem intent on escaping the inhospitable streets, clambering up this scaling old garage door that is just around the corner from my old flat. This all reminded me of the lyrics of Queen's Under Pressure, giving me yet another great excuse to upload one more video of the Amnéville concert!

                                 Under Pressure

                  Pressure pushing down on me
                  Pressing down on you no man ask for
                  Under pressure that brings a building down
                  Splits a family in two
                  Puts people on streets
                  That's okay
                  It's the terror of knowing
                  What the world is about
                  Watching some good friends
                  Screaming 'Let me out'
                  Pray tomorrow gets me higher
                  Pressure on people people on streets
                  Chippin' around - kick my brains around the floor
                  These are the days it never rains but it pours

                  People on streets
                  People on streets 
                  It's the terror of knowing
                  What this world is about
                  Watching some good friends
                  Screaming 'Let me out'
                  Pray tomorrow - gets me higher higher high
                  Pressure on people people on streets
                  Turned away from it all like a blind man
                  Sat on a fence but it don't work
                  Keep coming up with love but it's so slashed and torn
                  Why - why - why?

                  Love love love love love
                  Insanity laughs under pressure we're breaking
                  Can't we give ourselves one more chance
                  Why can't we give love that one more chance
                  Why can't we give love give love give love give love
                  Give love give love give love give love give love
                 'Cause love's such an old fashioned word
                 And love dares you to care for
                 The people on the (People on streets) edge of the night
                 And loves (People on streets) dares you to change our way of
                 Caring about ourselves
                 This is our last dance
                 This is our last dance
                 This is ourselves
                 Under pressure
                 Under pressure

Friday, November 24, 2017

26 Years Ago...

Twenty-six years ago today, Freddie Mercury died. Whilst no one could ever take his crown, Queen is able to carry on, with Adam Lambert in place as frontman, giving a new twist to all those amazing songs that ran as a soundtrack to youth.

The show does indeed go on, and I went to the French concert two weeks ago, in Amnéville.
There was indeed much dancing and singing that night, but looking at the lyrics of many of the songs afterwards, I realised just how pensive some of these are.

      While the sun hangs in the sky and the desert has sand
      While the waves crash in the sea and meet the land
      While there's a wind and the stars and the rainbow
      Till the mountains crumble into the plain
      Oh yes we'll keep on tryin'
      Tread that fine line
      Oh we'll keep on tryin' yeah
      Just passing our time
      While we live according to race, color or creed
      While we rule by blind madness and pure greed
      Our lives dictated by tradition, superstition, false religion
      Through the eons, and on and on
      Oh yes we'll keep on tryin'
      We'll tread that fine line
      Oh we'll keep on tryin'
      Till the end of time
      Till the end of time

            Through the sorrow all through our splendor
            Don't take offence at my innuendo

      You can be anything you want to be
      Just turn yourself into anything you think that you could ever be
      Be free with your tempo, be free be free
      Surrender your ego - be free, be free to yourself

     Oooh, ooh -
     If there's a God or any kind of justice under the sky
     If there's a point, if there's a reason to live or die
     If there's an answer to the questions we feel bound to ask
     Show yourself - destroy our fears - release your mask
     Oh yes we'll keep on trying

     Hey tread that fine line
     Yeah we'll keep on smiling yeah
     And whatever will be - will be
     We'll just keep on trying
     We'll just keep on trying
     Till the end of time
     Till the end of time
     Till the end of time

I hadn't realised, either, that Freddie Mercury had been such a big cat fan...

Nothing could tarnish the appeal of Queen; my children grew up to a similar playlist as mine!

Monday, November 20, 2017

Like a Merry-go-round...

Another piece by the street artist - Charles Leval - 'Levalet' - right in the very centre of town, strategically placed next to the carousel. It must have been here for a while as it's peeling off. Nevertheless, it is still striking and quite thought-provoking too.

The apple held out in one hand, draws attention away from the knife in the other. Has the horse come to life, freed of its pole and never-ending circular existence, only be to be killed? After seeing this, I kept vaguely humming some ghost lyrics circulating in my head, driving me to distraction!

Eventually, I tracked those down to Invisible, by Alison Moyet....
               'Like the merry go round, I'm going up, I'm going down'.

Right, off to work - yet another merry-go-round! I will probably be humming away at Invisible as I go.

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Sunlight in the Cemetery...

On the eve of La Toussaint, my daughter and I walked through the local cemetery before the traditional sea of chrysanthemums is laid out on the graves of loved ones, now departed.

The bright sunlight, set against the shaded alleys and rows of tombs and monuments, the rambling greenery with trees and bushes and the calm of the surroundings all created a special atmosphere that was in no way morbid.

 In fact, I love cemeteries, with the understanding that 'the older, the better', and I could spend hours wandering around, looking at the art and inscriptions on each gravestone.

There seemed to be a number of symbolic hour-glasses, marking the passing of our time on Earth, watchful owls, peering out at us mortels, along with the more traditional forms.

Here in the champagne region, the grapes and vines may have an additional, more obvious significance other than that of the blood of Christ...

Some of the older, more imaginative tombs are just plain weird and seem rather at odds with 19th century morality, when 'modesty' was supposed to prevail.

An apparent lack of the usual religious allusions is occasionally paired up with an open sensuality that must have been pushing artistic licence to the limits. With its stumbling figure, and awkward angles, the above looks almost comic at a distance, yet in detail has its own beauty of expression.

It must certainly have titillated a considerable number of visitors when first set up on its sober tombstone!

Below is the form, of life-size dimensions, that would possibly fill me with fear if encountered on a dark night...

We were greeted by one of the feline guardians that prowl about the cemetery - a black cat, no less! Not bad for Halloween!

A Would-be Elusive Site in Paris...

Over the past few trips to Paris, I have been experimenting with a self-imposed 'no-purchase' policy. No, that does not mean that I've branched out into bouts of shop-lifting...

Instead of spending a large part of my time shuffling in and out of a random selection of shops and stores, I have been passing the hours wandering around the streets, sites and spaces that make up the city.

This rule of roaming has not, however, ruled out cafés. The bright autumn light this year seems to lend itself to this particular activity.

On one visit, whilst making my way through an oddly unattractive area in Bercy, I looked up a side street to see a weirdly incongruous sight that appeared to be a throw-back to the 19th century.

This place is in a strange part of the 12th arrondissement, near the majestic Gare de Lyon surrounded by a muddle of mismatched buildings that span almost two centuries.

Imposing Haussmann boulevards are dissected by construction work that seems to be constantly underway, with scaffolding, cranes and board fencing clogging the skyline and ground level alike.

I naively thought that I had made quite a discovery, amazed as I was to find a street, deserted of cars and crowds.

The inhabitants actually sit out on their door step, reading, smoking and watching the world go by.

A few cats even stroll by with great nonchalance, indifferent to the interest they incite, and whilst not camera-shy are not up for any photo call - with me at least!

Looking into its history, I realised that this street has a certain notoreity, especially over these last few years…

The atmosphere that reigns in this relatively small street is not simply down to the lack of cars...

The architecture itself, of modest 19th century construction, has been uniformly preserved.

The buildings stretch out without any visual instrusion of the 20th century, thus creating a certain harmony.

The paintwork of the façades, meanwhile, creates another effect again.

Here, delicate pastels are set next to more vibrant colours – all of which produces a vitality and warmth amongst the grey – la grisaille -  of the surroundings.

In addition to this, a few quirky mural features have been added. As painted magpies display stolen jewellery on one façade, a cat leaps from one window sill to another in pursuit of blue tits, lizards scurry across shutters, whilst in the background the branches and blooms of a wisteria vine gently droop down...

Not only have the residents paid attention to the aesthetics of their façades, they have also taken care to ‘dress’ the pavements accordingly...

Large potted scrubs, bushes and flowering plants run along the street. Instead of banal urban tarmac, the street has kept its jigsaw of paving stones.

Speaking to one gentlemen resident, I heard that part of the ‘deal’ set up with the council in 1993 was that the street would be pedestrian, on condition that the locals respected the character of the place. The CHRC (Comité des Habitants de la Rue Crémieux) have certainly done so. Created on the site of the ancient Arènes Impériales, this cité ouvrière was opened in 1865 by the Compagnie Générale Immobolière. 

It was built to house workers, and as such follows the design of other workers’quarters – thirty-five dwellings composed of six rooms, set over two floors. It reminded me a little of the fishermen’s quarter at  the seaside resort of Le Tréport.

One resident in the 19th century noted that ‘Chacun est maître chez lui’, which could be translated by 'Home, sweet home’, as it highlights the fact that the homes offered a life free of landladies, tenants and the dreaded concierges.

Little did he know, however, that one hundred and fifty years later, the street would be subject to another threat, poised, or rather posed, to wreck its peace and tranquility.

With the advent of the smartphone, social media and the selfie, this beautiful haven of pedestrian calm has become the backdrop of choice for hordes of young girls - fashion vloggeuses and bloggeuses for the most part.

Although early mornings on grey, overcast days seem to dampen enthusiasm, these visitors frequent the place in considerable numbers, eager to have 'leur look’ trendily ‘shooté’ in the street, ready to post online. This goes from scatterings of solitary girls, or sweet giggly pairs, who come along for a few innocent souvenir shots, to others prepared and fully equipped for a veritable marketing mission for the merchandise promotion of some magazine or other.

The most determined young ladies crowd the site, traipsing along the paving stones in their latest outfit, pouting, preening and prancing for the camera. In order to get ‘La' Photo, they readily squat doorsteps, drape themselves in front of window ledges and prop up against the potted bushes, even queuing up for the privilege of doing so! Apparently the residents have had enough of this teenage tsunami, literally treading on their toes. Aware of this second-time round, I did indeed feel guilty and hypocritical turning up again, even if I had absolutely no intention of taking any selfie shots and am fully conscious of the fact that I passed the ‘spring chicken’ sell-by date quite some time ago!

Aside this wave of 21st century follies and foibles, there are indicators that the street has been victim to other floods in its history. Indeed, it was largely submerged by the alarming waters of the River Seine in 1910 that reached an impressive height of 1m 75. By this time, it had already shed its intial name, Avenue Millaud, to take on that of a famous politician, journalist and lawyer…
Sssh - keep that name a secret !

Above all, this site shows how much can be achieved with relatively little; no need to revamp excessively, just ditch the vehicles and you are half-way there. Likewise, no need to seek fulfilment in shops, just get out and walk. A leap of faith!