Parc_Monceau_20060812_35

Parks in Paris

On the shuttle back from Beauvais airport after my recent trip to Italy, I was listening to some American and Canadian tourists chatting about what to do in Paris. “So like, besides the Eiffel Tower, what’s there to do here?” said the American lady.

Hahaha. Well, in my opinion pretty much the best thing to do in Paris is have a picnic. Because (1) there are gadgjillions of excellent street markets all over the place where you can buy delicious picnic food (2) the city is full of romantic, idyllic places to consume said food (3) the open liquour laws are, though not quite non-existent, quite low-key.

Here are some pic-nic venues I like in Paris.

Parc Monceau
35 Boulevard de Courcelles,

Situated in the 8th, near two excellent museums of Aisiatic art, Musée Guimet and Musée Cernusci. It’s a small park filled with charming architerctural follies.

 

Buttes Chaumont
1 Rue Botzaris, 75019
Has a lake, a temple on a hill, a grotto and waterfalls!

 

Bois de Vincennes

My favorite place, maybe. Situated outside the southeastern side of Paris and reachable by the lovely Promenade Plantée. It also has a lake. With islands! On one of which is situated a temple! And canoe rental! And it’s really easy to get lost in, in a fun way. It’s called a “wood” but it’s not really woods, it’s a ginormous park with good biking paths. Grab a Velib and spend a day exploring.


the banks of the Seine

In some places, the cobbled banks of the Seine are not ideal for eating, due to the odor (piss). But if you go to the right place you’ll have a nice view. My favorite place to drink wine by the banks of the Seine is on the Rive Gauche just opposite and a little upstream of the Notre Dame, between the Pont au Double and the Pont de the Pont d’Archeveché. Go in the evening and enjoy the view of the cathedral, which in my opinion is most beautiful from the back.
notre dame

 

Parc de Bercy
128 Quai de Bercy 75012
Located in the 12th, across the river from the Bibliothèque Nationale, which can be reached over of the nicest yet lesser-frequented pedestrian bridges, the Passarelle Simone Beauvoir, which is cool and modern and shaped liked overlapping sinusoids. This park as a chill vibe. Sometimes I see people juggling or practicing poi there. And it has free wifi.

Luxembourg Gardins
6e Arrondissement

A classic but lovely. You can rent toy boats on certains afternoons to punt about in the pond… I used to do this when I lived in France as a child.

Jardins de Plantes 

The botanical gardens of Paris. Go to the Museum of Natural history! It has several buildings situated throughout the park, with seperate entrance fees; some are free for under 26 year olds. My favorite is the Gallery of Comparative Anatomy, because of all the skeletons. There are also a menagerie and several greenhouses.
skeletons!

pignetto 3

Street art and graffiti: London, Paris, Rome

I mentioned in my post on street art in Berlin that I had also done tours in London and Paris. Since then, I’ve also had a chance to see some cool work in the Pigneto district in Rome. Here’s a summary of what I saw in the three cities.

We took a tour of East London with Alternative London and our tour guide was himself a street artist named Josh Jeavons, whose work I looked at later – it’s cool, especially some things he’s done recently in Vitry just outside of Paris. East London is I guess one of the hottest spots in the world for street art. I didn’t take very many pictures because I’m an awful photographer, but here are a few: london street art 3 Zio Ziegler, a muralista style guy london street art1
Roa, a Belgian street artist

Jonesy – he does little brass figures and attaches them to the top of sign posts.

Jonesy – he does little brass figures and attaches them to the top of sign posts.

Jonesy – he does little brass figures and attaches them to the top of sign posts.

Of course there’s heaps to read about the London street art scene elsewhere on the web, written by people much better informed than I am, with better photographs, and invite you to search about it. I was overwhelmed by everything I saw, but I particularly like Jonesy’s pieces, in part because three dimensional street art attracts me (remember that cool sculpture of the slouching man in my Berlin post?), and because his installs his work so seamlessly in to the urban environment. After the tour was over, Emily and I spent the afternoon walking around the quarter find more pieces we liked. According to our guide this part of London is undergoing gentrification, developers buying up cheap property to install office and housing space for people who don’t value the art community already present in the area. This process happens everywhere, of course – I saw it in Berlin, with the now upscale Mitte district that now only has a little pocket of street art, and the trendiness of Belleville in Paris (I mean it’s been trendy probably for quite a while but it’s getting even more trendy I think), and I witnessed it again last week in Il Pignetto in Rome. It’s also kind of happening in my home town, Tucson, though in a different way. It makes me angry because it is inevitable, and because part of me knows I can’t be angry about it. Like, wealth is not exactly a dreadful thing. But the more I see of the world the more I suspect that the only good artists are poor artists. And I’m sad that ambiances, that vibes, that cultures, are so easily commodified.

I’m getting ahead of myself. First, I’ll share what I saw on the Paris street art tour. It was booked with Underground Paris, and went around Belleville. I recommend this tour! Unfortunately I didn’t take such great notes, so I may not be able to label my photos as well. paris street art 4 These two pieces are by an artist called Le MoDule De Zeer, who conducted a giant tic tac toe game of street art all across the city. Read about it and his other work here. paris street art 2 Vihls – we saw his work in London, too. paris street art 5 Graffuturism paris street art 6 If anyone can remember this artist’s name and remind me, I’d appreciate this. This wall is up in the Parc de Belleville.  [edit: it’s by an artist named Pez. Thanks, Emily!]paris street art 8

Julien “Seth” Malland There’s a lot more to learn about Paris’ street art scene here!

And finally, here are my pictures from Il Pigneto in Rome. We were not able to book an actual tour, but we spent a day walking around and looking.  Sorry I can’t label all the artists.

IMG_2669pignetto    These two were across the street from one another. pigetto5 pigetto10 pignetto 2 pignetto 3  pignetto4 pignetto5 pignetto6 pignetto7 pignetto8 There were more political messages written around Pignetto than in other places I’ve been. I wondered about whether this was just a difference in political atmosphere, or whether it had to do with the fact that Pignetto is perhaps earlier in its development as a venue for street art and grafitti. I wonder whether once a place becomes quite known for art, the politcal writing decreases? pignetto9 pignetto11 pignetto12 It has been interesting to get to know that within the world of grafitti writing and street art, as within an artistic setting, different media evoke strong opinions. Apignetto13 pignetto14 pignetto15 So. There. My adventures with street art and grafitti. After taking the three different guided tours, and the one self-guided one, I concluded that though I needed the tours guides to introduce me to street art and to teach me about its history, politics and current trends, in the end, street art and grafitti are best experienced when not sought after. It’s a bit paradoxical. I want to be places where it is going to be, but I don’t want to seek it.

Thoughts & tips on finding places to stay

I have already written a bit about couchsurfing in Glasgow, and about the boat hostel I fell in love with in Berlin. I stayed in two other hostels while in Berlin (yeah… long story, don’t ask) and comparing the three over a one-week period got me thinking about how lodging affects how you experience travel.

The first hostel I stayed in in Berlin was a very commercial one, Wombat Hostel. It was a last-minute booking, so I just went with what was obvious. It was a nice hostel, clean and friendly and it had a cheap bar on the top floor with a view, but I didn’t like it. I was drinking a beer on my first night there, looking over the city towards the TV tower and I heard this guy say in the bro-iest of SoCal drawls: “…yeah. Like, I was surprised at how much of Paris I was able to see in only one day.” I withered a little inside.  I’m sorry for being so judgmental, but I’ve spent a lot of time this year being a tourist and watching other tourists. I love to travel – I love to adventure – but sometimes you see people going about it, and you can’t help but wonder if they wouldn’t have had a better time, and been a better person, for just staying at home and being themselves. If you’re just going to do that: just hit highlights and drink beer… I mean you might as well just drink beer and surf the internet.

I think that it’s possible to travel without ever leaving yourself, and that where you stay when travel plays role in whether you’re able to. Your lodging is your temporary home, and it should be a place where you recreate yourself a little bit, not a place that feels like the same pair of jeans you wore yesterday.

The second hostel I stayed in was the magical boat hostel, Eastern Comfort. The third was East Seven Berlin, which was maybe a bit less magical but cozy and friendly and also a bit more convenient because it had a kitchen. Also I fell completely in love with the man at the front desk. I don’t know why. Maybe because when I arrived, for some reason there had been a mistake and the bed I had reserved wasn’t made up yet, so he made me a cup of tea while I waited. I guess when I’m feeling tired and vulnerable, my affection comes cheap?

I like cooking in kitchen hostels. You have to navigate the simultaneous projects that are taking place and cooperate with them and maybe make friends. There’s a weird and nice clamor in a room where a bunch of strangers are trying to make dinner at once.

But anyway, I do really recommend the East Seven if you’re in Berlin, it’s well located and has all the accommodations: a good kitchen, laundry service, cheap beer at happy hour, internet and computers, a nice courtyard, and a lot of information about things to do. And tour guides stop by the place to pick you up so you don’t need to find the meeting place. It’s located in Schoeneberg which is upscale and hipster, not as fascinating and gritty as the Kreuzberg / Freidrichshain neighborhood that Eastern Comfort is moored around, but nice, and located near all the central attractions.

Since the Berlin trip, I’ve discovered Airbnb which is a service that helps people rent their rooms out. This is what Emily and I used when we went to London. We stayed with a nice lady who lives in Brixton and is an actress.  We had a private room all to ourselves, instead of having to bunk with strangers who go bang in the night. And she had this sweet deck! Image

Brixton was great, I’m glad we stayed there. Brixton Market had tons of good cheap ethnic eats.

I’ll be Airbnbing again in Italy, and I’ll let you know how that goes.

IMG_2013

Street art and grafitti in Berlin

I knew next to nothing about street art and grafitti when I came to France, other than what I learned from having once watched the Banksy movie, Exit Through the Gift Shop, on a plane. I became more interested in it after exploring the concrete-lined arroyos around my neighborhood in Tucson, and later still after my visit the Tour Paris 13. I had heard that Berlin was a good city for street art, so I decided to book an alternative city tour when I visited. I’ve since decided that alternative tours (a term that usually designates a tour dedicated to street art and grafitti) are one the coolest things to do while being a tourist, and I will try to do them wherever I go now. So when my friend Emily came and visited me two weeks ago, we did a alternative Paris tour, and then another one in London on a weekend visit. In the following few posts will offer a recap and comparison between the three tours and maybe by the end of it I’ll even come up with something intelligent to say.

Alternative Tours Berlin offers a lot of fun-looking options… in addition to the street art tour, I went on their pub crawl, which was good too. I can’t recount our exact route, but we started at the TV Tower and made our way to the Hackescher Markt, and then took the U-bahn to Warschauer station, where we saw the artwork near some clubs in that neighborhood (Freidrichshain) and then crossed the lovely Oberbaum bridge and got a view of the famous Leviathan piece by Blu.
I took a lot of notes on the tour, but, cringe, I lost that notebook a few days later in a museum. (Fortunately there wasn’t much else of interest in it). So though I can assure that our tour guide conveyed a lot of interesting history about street art and graffiti in Berlin, I can’t relay it to you here with much precision. I can say that Berlin is rich in street art partially because it’s a poor city (so no money to clean it up) and because er, it had a big wall running through it for quite a while, up until somewhat recently. Here are some my favorites from the tour:

it's time to dance

the “it’s time to dance” is by SOBR and the crazy little girl is by El Bocho

IMG_1487

El Bocho does this series with a little girl who always kills her cat. Often the cat is located a block away from the girl, so you have to go find him. It’s a fun game.

big

Rallito-X in Freidrichshain

bridg

Leviathan, by Blu

knitting

In the Hackesher Markt – knit street art! brilliant!

: fish knittting passageway 2 passageway 3 passageway 4 passageway1 passageway4 passageway5 sculpture suicide city suicide city2

I later took some time to just wander and look at the local art myself, mostly in the Kreuzberg neighborhood. This is where you’ll kind the famous East Side Gallery, of course, but there’s a lot of cool stuff deeper in the neighborhood to be found if you explore. IMG_1789

Another place that had a lot of work going on was Mauerpark, where there’s a massive flea market on Saturdays, and where I saw Darth Vader walking around.IMG_1969 IMG_1971 IMG_1972 IMG_1973 IMG_1976 IMG_2019

Finally, these are some pieces I came across in … I think it was Shöneberg, but I can’t quite remember. This was on my last day in Berlin, and because I took the tour early on, I was able to use what I learned to identify some the art I saw.

SOON

SOON

More Rallito-X

More Rallito-X

IMG_2004 IMG_2005 IMG_2007 IMG_2013

This is why taking a street art and grafitti tour is a great idea when you’re going to go be a tourist. Once you learn about the artists whose work is present in the area, you can spend the rest of the trip looking out for it. It keeps you on your toes and encourages you to notice all the details about the city. Unlike going and seeing a single monument, a city’s street art follows you around. I really liked the work of SOBR (the “it’s time to dance” person), SOON, Rallito-X and El Bocho (the homicidal cat girl is morbid but pretty hilarious).

Because street art and grafitt are illegal (except when they are not), by learning about a city’s relationship to its street artists and grafitti writers (an important distinction I learned), you learn about its politics and its cultural values. The interaction between the state and the people is visible. I’m always interested in how constraints influence art. In the case of street art, I’ve learned that because paste-ups are often fined less than paint (spray or otherwise), paste-ups may be more common in heavily policed areas. We then get to see the development in the medium of the paste-up (of which I think the work of SOBR is a good example), but you could aslo see how that may lead to the perception of the paste-up as an “easy” and lesser art form (which in some ways it is, at least in terms of badassery).

All of this was an awesome way to provide contrast to my hard-core museum tripping.

Still catching up: The Pergamon Museum, Berlin

By the way, all of these posts about my April trip to Berlin are brought to you in part by a special grant from MY AWESOME UNCLE JOHN and a subsequent matching grant from my remarkably chill father, BILL. These men are just The Best and if you see them on the street you ought to shake their hand.
Right anyway so friends! I said I would write a post about the Pergamon museum in Berlin. This is important. The reason that it is important is the Pergamon is one of those guide-book Musts that I almost didn’t do. The time I initially planned to go, I ended up spending the whole day at the Alte Nationalgallerie instead. And then when I went again the line was 3 hours long. However on my last day I awoke bright and early (despite the Blokes from the North roudily entering in to the hostel room late at night smelling like all kinds of things) and was one of the first in line.
It was worth it!
The Pergamon has lots of enormous things in it. Enormous things are worth seeing in real life. There is the Ishtar Gate, the Pergamon Altar, and the Market gate of Miletus.
The Ishtar Gate was a gate into the inner city of Babylon, meaning it dates back to about 575 BC, having been ordered by King Nebuchadnezzer II. The Market Gate of Miletus is a marble gate that dating from the 2nd century AD that served as the entry to an agora (market) in Turkey. It was originally destroyed by an earthquake and excavated and rebuilt inside the museum in the early 1900s. The Pergamon Altar was built in, wow Pergamon (somewhere in Asia Minor), in the 2nd half of the 2nd century BC.
Another thing that delighted me in the Pergamon was the Aleppo room. It was a entrance room for a prosperous Christian broker from Aleppo dating back from the 17th century. Seeing this kind of beauty makes me sort of bubble and dissolve inside. Actually, everything in the Islamic section of the museum was like that.
But this is the sort of stuff that gets me about museums. How weird that all these fragments of ancient times ended up here, disconnected, disembodied, reconstructed and appropriated and enclosed, packaged up for hordes of people to pass through? One moment you’re facing the Ishtar Gate, that you are facing ancient Babylon, about 2 and half millennia ago and then you walk through the gate and you’re looking at the Miletus market gate, now about 1800 years ago. And then you walk in to another room and that’s the Altar, which is back around the time of the the Ishtar gate give or take 300 years. All within paces of eachother.
And somehow it all ended up here (and my “somehow”, I mean, colonialism). No, I don’t just mean it’s weird that history happens and then things change and move around. What I want to ask is why we have museums. I guess. Why this space and why exhibition. It’s delightful and exhilarating for me. I never tire of looking at things.
Image

A detail of the frieze around the Pergamon Altar.
Image
The Market gate.

Selfie series: Berlin!

I don’t usually do selfies, but when I do, I go to Berlin and snapshot exclusively one eyeball.

Memorial to Murdered Jews

Memorial to Murdered Jews

Eastern Comfort Hostel Boat

Eastern Comfort Hostel Boat

In the Neues Museum

In the Neues Museum

Market Gate of Miletus in the Pergamon

Market Gate of Miletus in the Pergamon

Koncerthaus

Koncerthaus

Also the hostel boat

Also the hostel boat

Soviet War Memorial

Soviet War Memorial

Also the Soviet War Memorial, in Treptower Park

Also the Soviet War Memorial, in Treptower Park

A graveyard in Kreuzberg

A graveyard in Kreuzberg

Potsdamer Platz

Potsdamer Platz

The Ishtar Gate

The Ishtar Gate

Pergamon Altar Frieze

Pergamon Altar Frieze

Eastside Gallery

Eastside Gallery

Caught in the rain near the Reichstag

Caught in the rain near the Reichstag

Berlin Cathedral

Berlin Cathedral

Prater beergarten

Prater beergarten

Arriving in Berlin Hauptbahhopf

Arriving in Berlin Hauptbahhopf

On tutoring

I have two jobs in Paris. One of them is babysitting, one is tutoring. The student I tutor is a high school senior who is preparing to taking the international version of the French Bac exam (this isn’t the same as the IB exam). Basically what that means is that she has to prepare for all the same subjects as for the regular French L bac, but does them in English instead. So her English is already quite good; teaching her the language is not my job. I was hired to help her prepare to do literary analysis in English.
Margaux is really smart.Today was my second to last session with her, and I was thinking, as I often do as I leave her place (which is outside of Paris and thus takes a bus ride and a train commute to get to, though it’s not so bad from where I live), how much I enjoy it. Part of it is that she does a lot of my job for me. I am lucky that this early teaching experience happens to be with such a bright student, as it makes me enthusiastic about teaching; but also I have to remember that it goes well because she makes up for my weaknesses with her own quickness. I imagine teaching a less apt students would be harder.It’s also great because it is one hour a week that I spend just talking about what I like best, namely literature. I do spend time on lesson preparation ahead of time. Mostly we analyze poems, though we do fiction and essay extracts as well. It is fun to go back and review what I have learned these past years and try to transmit it to her. I try to show her things she won’t get in school. I have the impression that the French system is quite structured – from what I saw in my university classes, they put massive emphasis on the method of argumentation to the possible detriment of originality of thought.So we read some Gerrard Manly Hopkins which may have been over her head, but she liked it any way and I had way too much fun with that.

I think this job may have been more useful to me than any of the courses I have taken this year. Becoming a private tutor was interesting, because I myself had a private French tutor growing up. My tutor knew me since I was two, because she also taught my older sisters, and taught me from age 9 to 18. In all those years I don’t think I thought about what her job was like. Unlike being a teacher, the tutor’s job is not to supply a primary lesson, but to fill gaps and enrich what is already there. To taylor the lesson to the student. I’m grateful I had that growing up.

Protip: I found the job through a posting in the classifieds on fusac.