Wednesday, February 17, 2010

World War Me

It was 06:00 hours, Paris, France. The air was chilly and the sun was far from rising, still sleeping in the east. Having barely woken up myself, I still had sleep in my eyes as I stepped into the transport vehicle. My lady's kiss still fresh on my lips, I started worrying about what I had gotten myself into. I'd never been to war before, and quite frankly, wasn't sure if I was gonna be coming back to my girl on the "right" side of a body bag.

Sitting in the truck, there we were, the six of us sitting face to face, three in a row. Nobody making eye contact, we looked like a rag-tag group of kids never seen the face of war before. There was Jimi, the quiet one, Bob, the joker, Jeremy, the nervous kid, Wheaton, the all-American good-guy, Thomas, the Asian, and then there was me, contemplating my future or maybe lack thereof. Everybody was quiet, too early for talking, and to scared to care, until Bob, broke the silence cracking a joke about who he was going to thank first when he got his award. We all forced a laugh out, except for Jimi, he pretended like he was asleep, but I knew he heard, no one in their right mind would'a been able to sleep at time like that. We were on our way to war, we were going to a place sane men don't come back with their heads on right, that's right, we were on our way to be extras in a movie.

That's right folks! My first job in Paris! I was going to be the Radio Operator of a B17 Bomber in a movie about World War II!!! Who knew that CraigsList was finally gonna pull thru for me!? And I must admit, I was pretty surprised when I got an email saying the director of the movie wanted to see a "street" shot of me. What!!!? The DIRECTOR wants to see a "street" shot of MOI!!! Oh my gawd!!! The director of a big Hollywood film wanted to see a "street" shot of me! ME!!! Not some other dweeb who's broke and looking for work in Paris just so he can buy his next baguette, but ME.

So without any further ado, I did 30 (15) push-ups, slicked my hair back (I wore a hat) and struck the fanciest Hollywood pose I could think of, to take a photo that would force this Hollywood Director (he was from Ottawa) to look no further than me to fill the big part of the Radio Operator (background actor #6). The next day I received an email from the assistant director asking if I was alright with shaving my beard off. Alright!!? Am I alright with that!? I would have cut my left nut off for this part! So, razor in hand I wrote them back telling them it wouldn't be a problem. Finally, my destiny of moving to Paris and becoming a big star was actually gonna play out (as a an extra). All my dreams had come true.

Arriving on set, I noticed very quickly that there weren't any trailers for us and it was well below freezing. I guess they wanted us to feel like real soldiers. Perfect, the Stanislavski Method Acting, the only way I've been trained. No trailers no fuss, where's my wardrobe? Ah, there we go, a military jumper so tight I could hear my anus twinge; it was the definition of a self-wedgie but I wasn't complaining. Did Daniel Day Lewis complain about not having a warmer jacket on the set of Gangs of New York and getting pneumonia because he didn't want to compromise the authenticity of the time period? Exactly. Then neither would I. Ok, suited up, off to hair and make-up. What? No hair and make-up? Right! Gritty! I love it.

Like true soldiers, we waited. And waited. And waited some more. Our enemy (Ah! NOW I know why that Asian dude was hanging with us!) was apparently not the Japanese, but was the damn lighting crew that obviously had never once been artists in their bleak miserable lives and therefore didn't respect our valuable time that they were wasting. If it weren't for those hot paws I tell you, I was probably going to lose a limb, but I didn't say a word. Uh-uh. Not me. I am a professional. And being a professional I knew how it was in Hollywood (having been there once on a layover); the director needed things to be perfect! No detail could be spared for the Silver Screen (on the History Channel). So for the purposes of perfection, we waited some more, snacking on the delights that the catering crew had so graciously set out for us: the actors, knowing what we had been thru (having not gone thru anything yet).

Then it happened. We were called upon to fulfill our duties. To sacrifice our mind, body and soul's if only for the entertainment of others. We put ourselves on the line for an audience that would never understand what we had to go thru in order to make their petty lives seem worth living. So they could live another day to switch another channel. God! We were brave! -Wait! What? Why is the camera back there!!? Surely there must be some sort of mistake! Does the director know the camera is back there!? Renny -I knew the directors name- Renny! Does Renny know that only my back is visible to the camera! I think not! -Oh wait, he's right there, beside the cameraman. Stay calm soldier. STAY CALM. The trenches of acting can be a scary place, but an actor's duty is to remain calm in the face of adversity. Surely this is just an establishing shot, and they'll be moving on to my close-up soon enough. Just a few more takes from this angle and then the focus will be all on me, the Radio Operator....and CUT! Perfect, here we go, my time to shine....huh? What!? What did Renny just say!? Lunch!? Why are we breaking for lunch? That seems like an odd choice? We're all set-up! Let's do the shot! I’m ready to shoot Renny! It's video! Let's just keep shooting! Where's the producer? She would lose her mind knowing that we're ready to roll but were breaking for lunch!! This is crazy! This is insanity! This is ludicrous. This is my big scene!

Sadly, my big scene never came that day. In fact, after lunch, like the IDIOT that I am, I MISSED my BIG scene because I thought that the Stealth Bomber that was STUPIDLY flying around outside was SOOOoooo much more important to see that I missed my opportunity to have a scene all to myself. That's right, quiet Jimi, barely making a peep all day, was all of sudden actor of the year. Hooray! For Jimi! You did it! You stole another man's part. A true soldier would never have done that. A REAL actor stays true to his kind. Not this one tho. Not today. Today I let my enemies in a little too close, and I lost. I lost my chance at being the next big hero, the next Hollywood star like Ben Affleck in Pearl Harbor. Now the best I could hope for was maybe being an extra in the remaking of *M*A*S*H* the movie, and to be honest, I don't even know if I'd have the guts.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Seasick on the Love Boat

Can you think of a better way to spend Valentine's Day then taking a cruise down the Seine River, passing all the sights hosted by this city of love, whilst enjoying the delights of French cuisine? Well, my girlfriend couldn't either, and thats why "we" decided it would be our way of telling the world "WE'RE IN LOVE!!!! WE'RE ON A BOAT! DEAL WITH IT"!!!

At first glance (usually from atop one of the bridges crossing the river), these luncheon cruises look like a "must-do" in Paris. But before you become a tourist attraction yourself (say Cheese!), you shall heed my warning, a disclaimer that oddly enough I can't seem to find anywhere on the pamphlet.

As we arrived at the Marina de Paris, directly in front of the Musee d'Orsay, the cruise-boat was closing its doors (Ah! We were a moment too soon!) and was preparing to set sail (um, float?) down the Seine. Opening their doors, the crew half-smiling half-smirking -its the French way, let us on. Immediately I noticed that all the good tables were taken, all of them, except for.. the one at the very front of the boat!! Somehow, above all the other tourists, (a weird collection of couples), we were getting the royal treatment and were seated at the front with an unobstructed view of the scenic tour...but sadly, it was all down-water from there.

Now, on any other day, the shining sun would have been a blessing, but oddly enough it was a curse on this one. The boat is entirely encased in windows, so trying to see the Notre-Dame Cathedral while the sun is staring you right in the eyes, was more difficult then you would think, and never-mind trying to look/squint at my girlfriend in the eyes during this uber-romantic date. And although she could see me, Anna was having her back slowly baked by the sunshine. Champagne done it's time for lunch!

The entree was a couple of slabs of foie gras with some -not enough, toasty crackers. Definitely tasty, but there was enough to feed a table of six...I became concerned that they were perhaps trying to make foie gras out of us. However we were determined to eat it all, that duck didn't gorge for nothing. Entree done, we were ready for the main dish...and a nap.

The mains arrived promptly after the entrees were cleared (they run a tight ship) and we were served what looked like to be airplane-food (boat-food?). The fish (straight out of the Seine itself!) was served on top of a creamy, excuse me, curdled, sauce on a bed of what looked to be the remnants of last weeks asparagus, all held delicately together within a plastic wrapping (I didn't realize the French were known for their microwave cooking). As good as this sounds, it wasn't.

Now, I don't normally get seasick, but I was hoping Gravel was going to be served on the side with desert, which incidentally was the cherry on top as far as disgusting food goes. Without going into too much detail, this heart-shaped (very cute guys) raspberry pistachio mousse was essentially unedible. No really, I think it was made with the same plastic that the fish was wrapped in.

Of course it wasn't all bad (the food was), it was indeed the most romantic date anyone could imagine to go on, on Valentine's Day with the girl he loves...the guy beside us seemed very interested in Anna as well. So, what did it all cost you -the Don Juan of finance- ask?
Taking the metro to the Seine: 3.2 Euros.
Eating a bag of BBQ Lays to stave off hunger: 1.1 Euros.
Lunch for two on a cruise down the Seine: 106 Euros*.
Being there with the love of his life: Priceless

*Anna paid for the lunch.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

La Grand Panier des Personnes

If you thought you had a big load of laundry, think again. Christian Boltanski's new installation: Personnes, hosted by the Grand Palais in Paris, is quite simply, of monumental proportions. Fitting in size as it is the third installation of the Ministry of Culture and Communication's new MONUMENTA annual event. This must-see piece is a powerful physical and psychological experience. Without giving away too much of what this installation is (I'll let my photos do that), the piece is set in the massive Grand Palais, which in itself is an experience to be taken in (think greenhouse the size of a football stadium), where 69 rectangles of clothing, methodically placed, line the entire floor, each lit by a fluorescent tube. Emanating from the rectangles is the sound of heartbeats, each beating to their own rhythm, creating a sensational experience as you walk thru the aisles of clothes (kind of like a super-sale at Value Village!)

The culmination of these rectangles is a massive (MASSIVE) mound of clothes that at just the sight of, would make any washer and dryer tremble -next to my dirties that is. Above this awesome pile of garments looms a menacing claw, towering over, hoisted up by a crane. Every so often, the claw descends upon the heap and seizes an unlucky few (some managing to escape it's grip before being raised up)- clutched up only to be released at the apex of the Palais to fall back onto the pile, gracefully dancing thru the sky at the sound of an ever-ominous droning of a heartbeat.

But what does this all mean? I'm not going to try an answer that, partially because I don't think I'm qualified to, and partially because I believe, as cliché as it may be, that art is to be interpreted by the viewer themselves; it is the relationship between the subject and the object which is the defining aspect. However, I will leave you with a quote by Boltanski himself, as to what he was trying to communicate with Personnes (incidentally literally meaning both "people" and "nobodies":

"(...) from a certain age you have the sense of permanently crossing a mine field, you see others dying around you, whereas, for no good reason, you remain, up to the moment where you get blown up in your own turn. Such is the subject of Personnes".

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Living it Up at the Père Lachaise Cemetery

If you've ever lived in Paris, your apartment was most -likely little more than the size of a shoe-box, which is why I highly recommend faking your death and "dying" here instead to be buried at the Père Lachaise Cemetery. The rent is cheap (cause you ain't paying) but the places are huge. Some of the tombs you'll find here are literally three stories high (see photo left) and would be a sick pad to bring your buddies to. Not to mention you're neighbours will never bother you (unless you believe in ghosts), and you can walk around without any clothes on without anyone saying a word (...more on that later)

Being the largest cemetery in the city of Paris, it is "home" to over 300, 000 bodies. The cemetery was established by Napoleon I in 1804. Created out of necessity on the grounds that the Cimetière des Innocents was becoming over(under?)-populated with dead people (dying was very fashionable at the time) and was presenting a health hazard as it was located on the fringe of Les Halles food market (incidentally this same health hazard led to the creation of the Parisian catacombs which I've yet to vist but fully intend to -stay tuned).

You'll find some very famous and interesting (albeit dead) people here: Oscar Wilde, Gertrude Stein, Moliere, Édith Piaf and the list goes on and on (especially if you know a lot about French culture (which I don't). Most famously tho, if you know little else other than American Pop Culture (i.e. Moi) James Douglas Morrison (AKA Jim Morrison, Wild Child, The Lizard King, The Breaker on Througher, and God of Rock). I must admit tho, visiting the grave site was not as exciting as I had hoped for. I imagined that as I strolled up to it, cigarette and beer in hand, I was going to be welcomed into some sort of psychedelic seance whereupon girls would be throwing their panties onto his tomb and joints laced with acid would be passed around until we all ended up dancing around with our clothes of in the name of Jim. Alas, this was not the case at all. Quite to the contrary, the grave was ambiguously situated amongst colossal tombs, who's beauty greatly overshadowed his tombstone (Merde!). Not to mention, it was blockaded off with fences as if a rock concert was going to breakout at any minute (which is exactly what I was hoping for!!), and the only people paying tribute to him were a teenaged couple, pretending to be sad (did you even know who he was!!!?) and a couple of kids that were far more concerned with the dirt that they were playing with (brats!) then the LEGEND that lay resting a la "Rock n' Roll" right in front of them.

The tombstone itself was pretty bland, and had a latin inscription on it: ΚΑΤΑ ΤΟΝ ΔΑΙΜΟΝΑ ΕΑΥΤΟΥ, literally meaning "according to his own daimōn", and the bust of Morrison, placed in 1981 by Croation sculptor Mladen Mikulin was long gone, stolen by vandals (If you're reading this, PLEASE contact me).

All in all the Père Lachaise Cemetery is a must-see at least once (twice and counting in my case), especially If you need some down time as it is the perfect escape from the very lively city that Paris is. The tombs having a magnificently calming effect on the soul. Shrouded in moss and guarded by crows, it's likely the only specimen you'll encounter is a few sly cats prowling the graves for mice. Speaking of specimen, I almost forgot!!! Remember the part about walking around the cemetery nude? (See above and read MORE carefully if you did forget). Well, last but not least, my catch of the day, getting flashed (First time!! Booya!!). The gentle-man (my nickname for him), seeing that I was fit, not only fully exposed himself to me, but took to pleasuring himself as well! (I hadn't felt that attractive in years!) Needless to say, I too took the opportunity to pleasure myself, as is French custom when one encounters such a situation...Or is that when in Rome? Either way, wonderful way to pay tribute to the dead.

I love you Jim.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Notre Dame It!

Ah, the Notre Dame Cathedral, the Lady of Paris. How beautiful she is...if only the staff were half as to them tho, it was here that I learnt (as did the other twelve hundred tourists -the acoustics in there are incroyable!!) that it is customary to say "merci" after the HunchBack of Notre Dame spits directions in your face. So before I go on, I must say a grande MERCI to that mustached woman who so eloquently (think Hippopotamus Ballet here) gave me (think pulling teeth here) directions to the upstairs of the Cathedral, which, incidentally, I did not end up going up to. NO, not because I had peed my pants a little* after being yelled at *(if you know me, you know I suffer from a weak bladder), but because a good boyfriend always keeps his promises, alas, Anna was in class and I told her I would wait to go to the top with her. That, and a midday change of clothes was a standard in Europe! Fashion is God here (even at Church).


In any case, if you can get over the annoying tourists (you aren't going to get a good picture with a flash stupid!!) and the hundreds of couples that feel the Cathedral is the perfect place (!!!) to start making out, the experience is humbling.  The sheer size and magnitude of the construction is impressive (which brings to mind that nice gentleman I met on Chat Roulette last night), and it was built without any modern-type cranes or even a power drill (was that his name?) for that matter.  The stained-glass windows are something to be marveled at (they put light-shows at any Rave in the 90's to shame -outside of a Daft Punk show of course) and their intricacies are flawless. The windows alone are a masterpiece. There's no wonder it took almost 200 years to build this beast from 1163-1345, (perhaps the Quebec government should look into hiring the same team to do our construction?) and only thru human spirit and ambition was it completed, that, and of course a very healthy dose of fearing God.

So, if you happen to be in Paris, and you've got nothing to do (really?), take a stroll down La Seine River and cross over one of its many bridges (37 within Paris alone) onto the Île de la Cité and you'll find one of mankind's greatest constructions (next to the CN Tower of course)...and if you happen to be on the same budget as I am (do they still take Francs?) I recommend entering thru the "Exit" door: you'll avoid the long line-up and get in at the low-low price of one Golden Goose-Egg (yes, they still accept those in France). Amen.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Louvre at First Sight

My first night here, my girlfriend,  Anna -yes, she has a name, and I decided we would go (of course) to the Eiffel Tower.  We took the metro, which although smelling of a fine mix between puke and piss (is that what Eau de Toilette means?) was a refreshingly -not in smell, efficient way to get around a big city.  It was here that I discovered (or rather was shown) Paris' respect and love for chiens (not chaud). I'm pretty sure there's no other city in the world where people are giving "the dog a bone" -or seat in this case, but in Paris it is the norm. Taking photographs of said dog however, definitely a faux paw (pun-intended) as this was also my first encounter with a pissed-off Frenchman....leave a dog alone.

Upon exiting the Metro at the Opera station, we encountered the Louvre in all its incredible glory. I cannot emphasize the words "incredible" or "glory" anymore.  At night, the Louvre is something of awe as it is lit up in a shower of golden lights. Unbelievable in its majesty and size, it's astonishing to think that this was someone's abode at one time (...ah, so that's why taxes were invented!) 

Walking around, you can't help but feel inspired (and retarded) by the history of both the edifice itself and the artifacts it has within its belly (side-note: it's been said that it would take 90 000 hours just to glance at everything in the museum...we'll save the insides for another blog or two...or 90 000). To boot, there was a man playing some melancholy Saxophone, adding a resonating soundtrack thru-out the fortress.

Needless to say, or maybe not, we never made it to the Eiffel Tower that night. To take another bite of amazingness would have been too much for our mental stomachs. However, to take a bite of a delicious crepe (they those in Paris?) adorned in a sultry chocolate syrup would do just fine. So we hopped over the Siene and stepped into a quint-essential French Bistro for some coffee & dessert (all for the low cost of about 40 bucks! No coupon necessary!)

Our minds and bellies full, Anna and I headed home for the night, but not without getting lost at least a half dozen times, routing our way thru the myriad of tiny streets which criss-cross thru the heart of Paris. Every missed turn became a photo opportunity tho, a relic, one could only assume was from the middle ages. Either that, or just another old Creperie.

Down and Out in Paris...

I must admit, I had (have) concerns about moving to Paris for 4 months.  Some of them legitimate: moving to one of the world's most expensive cities with my line of credit almost at 0 (= fail), moving here with no game plan whatsoever ("I'm just gonna take pictures the whole time, duh"!), and moving into an apartment (with my girlfriend) the size of what was my last apartment's walk-in closet.  The other concerns are based on generalizations and stereotypes told to me by people who've probably spent less time outside their own bathrooms than anywhere else in the world...but I digress: Those (their) concerns were that the French were rude and snobbish (sound familiar?), that Paris was a dangerous city (when they were piss-drunk walking home alone at 4am -go figure), and that French men were going to steal my girlfriend away with flowers and poems and cute berets -okay, that last one was one of my own.  

Upon arriving tho, those worries melted away (along with the snow and -25 temperature I was leaving behind in frigid Montreal) as I rode in my taxi to my new apartment in the 11th Arrondisement. The cab-driver, blowing warm air into his "freezing" hands (not knowing what real cold felt like) complimented me on my French and was anything but snobby as he explained the in's and outs of Paris and French culture.  He dropped me off, right in front of my new digs on Oberkampf (think busy little street with many bars, cafes and restos), without taking me "for a ride",  and thanked me for employing him.  It was then that I realized that snobbery breeds snobbery, just as a smile to a stranger begs one in return.  

Arriving in my apartment, though small in size, was a refreshing haven from the bustle of a big city with a population of over 10 million.  Having everything my girlfriend and I needed within arm's reach (if only we had a Coca-Cola vending machine in here!), I knew that our little abode would suffice and more.

As for my financial concerns (money orders are being accepted) and my "what the hell am I going to do here"? worries, I have managed to sleep those off as I recover from my jetlag...which incidentally is why I have started this blog (what else does one do at 5am while his girl is fast asleep?)....however, we will see how those problems manifest themselves and how I will deal with them along the way (stay tuned!) . And as for Paris being a DANGEROUS city, that too we will have to see how that plays out, but for now, a spider bite above my girlfriend's eye is the only assault we've encountered.