Heron Island, Great Barrier Reef, Australia

Thursday 30 April 2009


Infections naturally transmissible between vertebrate animal hosts and humans

Monday 27 April 2009


I left a visit to the Orangerie till my last morning, since I knew it not only opened on Monday mornings, but also opened early. Cycling there (I've done all my trips on Vélib this weekend), I noticed an elderly man whose morning exercise appeared to be to trot slowly clockwise round the gilded statue of Joan of Arc in the middle of the rue des Pyramides opposite the Louvre.

The Orangerie has been closed for rebuilding throughout my most recent visits to Paris; it now contains a collection of late 19th and 20th century art (some gloopily sentimental Renoir portraits, but I like the Derains), but above all Monet's gigantic Nymphéas, two elliptical rooms, with massive panels based on the reflections of clouds, sky, light and nature in the pool at his home in Giverny, to create a sense of infinity. These he offered to the French nation as a celebration of peace at the end of World War I:

What to do on a grey and chilly Sunday in Paris..

Definitely a museum day, but what to see? Apart from the well-known permanent collections, current temporary exhibitions that I'd seen advertised included an in-depth study of the crinoline at the Fashion Museum (I think not), art deco jewellery at the Decorative Arts Museum (maybe), Blake or the treasures of Mount Athos at the Petit Palais (possibly the same exhibition on Blake I'd seen in London a couple of years ago, and I've just seen an exhibition on Byzantine art in London, so probably not), Warhol or graffiti at the Grand Palais (hmm, not that keen).

On the other hand, I've never seen the great nave of the Grand Palais, so I thought it might be worth a punt on La Force de l'Art, which turns out to be part of a large festival of modern art, the invited participants being shown in a series of white box spaces in the middle of this huge cast iron and glass cathedral of the old school of world exhibitions.

I'm hardly the most knowledgeable or appreciative viewer of a lot of modern art, but this had its moments.

As well as the houses sliced into bits, and empty carrier bags carefully arranged on the floor, there were the kind of casts of tree trunks and turned earth (by Didier Marcel) that looked like the kind of thing you might see in a corporate HQ. There was a room with an illuminated globe (spinning too fast to make out any detail) in front of a wall painted with stars extracted from national flags (Fayçal Baghriche); Wang Du had created a huge rotating International Kebab from poster-size portraits of people, from which we were invited to slice bits off as though it were indeed a huge doner; Véronique Aubouy offered a continuous screening of people reading two pages each of Proust, in a sequence which she expects to keep her busy till 2050 (the interest for the spectator being not so much in the Proust or the reading, as in the readers' expressions in the seconds of uncertainty before and after their reading). There was also a claustrophobically high-walled space with repeated groups of photographs of the same few individuals gazing out, which makes the spectator feel the subject - but of what? The expressions on the faces mean only what the spectator takes them to mean: and it made me feel very uncomfortable, quite quickly.

I liked Alain Bublex's Passamaquoddy Bay, a huge, grey, bleak Canadian landscape, with a hidden sound recording of a solemn voice reciting legend in a Native American (or since it's Canada, should I say "First Nations"?) language, and Philippe Mayaux's Agitateurs (a line of machine-driven hands waving placards with assorted slogans).

What really seemed to get people's interest were "Le Triomphe de la Neige" by Le Gentil Garçon - white foam-rubber snowflakes forming a snowman within an igloo within a snowflake-shaped framework - and a reflecting ball called "Sans Titre, Silence is Sexy", which slowly inflated and deflated.

Well, it passed the time: and looking at the books on sale, I realised that I'd forgotten to mention in Saturday's post on 104 that the bookshop there had solved a minor mystery: the meaning of the odd little ceramic figures one sees around Paris. A large and expensive book, by someone calling himself* The Invader, charts and reports the "Space Invasion" of Paris, with maps and pseudo-official reports, listings and analyses of "sightings" - of what I suppose we must regard as "guerrilla tiling", if such a thing is possible.
*I think the obsessive detail suggests this isn't a woman, don't you?

Here's some more detail on the exhibits that moved:

Saturday 25 April 2009


My father made out - not entirely accurately - that he was the kind of man who couldn't abide foreigners, foreign food or foreign films: but he always made an exception for M. Hulot's Holiday, particularly this scene:

So when I saw Paris's new art venue, the converted warehouse 104, was housing a reconstruction of the so ultra-modern, efficient but essentially inhumane villa imagined for Tati's next film, Mon Oncle, I had to go and see it.

104 is mainly a base for artists' studios, offering occasional open workshops - but not first thing on a Saturday, so, apart from the size of the space, this display and the bookshop were about the only major attractions there.

In itself the display is mildly amusing, but of course entirely static, with none of the absurd machinery that makes the film. It only came to life when toddlers peering through the gaps in the gate unwittingly re-enacted one of the film's running gags.

This show is part of an ongoing celebration of Tati's work, a major part of which is an exhibition at the Cinémathèque at Bercy.

En route I passed one of those unexpected street scenes that might have given him plenty of ideas.

The exhibition is full of documents, props, film clips, guaranteed to bring a smile on such a damp and chilly day: and best of all, there was a showing of Mon Oncle.


Friday 24 April 2009

It's been glorious weather in Paris today - not museum weather at all (that's for tomorrow and Sunday, when rain is expected), and definitely a day for Vélib, with its opportunities to wander off down interesting side-streets.

After an initial trip around the Marché Aligre and the local Franprix to lay in a few supplies, a formule express lunch at a nearby café (chicken salad and a sort of banana and lemon purée - nicer than it sounds - for €9.80) set up me up for some happy wandering, around Boulevard Beaumarchais and the place des Vosges.

Beside a not particularly inviting shopfront on the Bvd Beaumarchais is this courtyard entrance to Merci, an almost painfully chic "concept store", dealing mostly with interiors and housewares. Here, a warehouse-style interior allows for some inventive display of selected and carefully laid-out items, with two café areas and a large collection of secondhand books for sale. You can, if your spirit so moves you, buy a chandelier, handmade from South African "earth pearls" (looks like moulded mud to me), for €5000 a pop. I couldn't help thinking of AbFab, and Edina's "shop full of beautiful things, darling".

The books, however, were better value. I found a novel by Boualem Sansal (an Algerian author I discovered by chance on my last trip) for €2 - and it looks to me as though it was signed and given to someone by the author. Even a cheap old paperback is delivered in the store's own special paper bag, sealed with a special sellotape printed with Merci. On the bag is this inspiring (?) message:

vos interrupteurs, votre sonnette de vélo,
VOTRE SOUTIEN, vos disques,
vos désirs, vos assiettes en bagasse,
vos aimants, vos livres, vos rubans...

Oh I can't be bothered to type it all out: suffice it to say that the words in capitals and italics are VOTRE SOUTIEN, VOTRE COEUR, VOTRE ATTENTION, VOS IDEES, VOTRE AIDE, VOTRE CONFIANCE, VOS ESPOIRS, VOTRE AMOUR, VOTRE AMITIE.

IKEA it is not.

More photogenic signs and shopfronts presented themselves for the camera, but this particularly caught my eye:

Monday 20 April 2009

On my way....

I'm packed, the flat's cleaner and tidier than it's ever been, and the alarm's set: off to Paris tomorrow. It's hardly the world's biggest adventure - it's only for the weekend, the third time I've been in a year, and I'm going back to the flat I first swopped with several years ago: but I still feel the occasion deserves an appropriate musical moment, even if St Pancras at 7am won't be quite like this:

Fangs Ain't What They Used Ter Be

I have been meaning to book an appointment with the dentist for quite some time now. I might even have left it so long they'll bump me off their NHS list.

Heaven knows why I keep forgetting: it's not as though anything more than the mild discomfort of a scrape and polish is likely. These days a trip to the dentist is nothing to make a song and dance about.....

Environmental adaptation

Sat plumb in the middle of a quiet street, a squirrel, nonchalantly tucking in to the abandoned remains of a parcel of fish and chips...

Sunday 19 April 2009


[Don't blame me, that's Radio 3's name]

Today is the 250th anniversary of the death of Handel, and as part of the celebrations of the great man's works, Radio 3 listeners have voted for their favourite piece. No, not the Hallelujah Chorus, not Zadok the Priest, not anything from the Music for the Royal Fireworks or the Arrival of the Queen of Sheba (that would be too much like Classic FM), but "As steals the morn" from L'Allegro, il Penseroso, ed il Moderato.

It's hardly a work that's been drummed into the popular imagination, but it is a beautiful piece, yet more proof of how humane a composer he was. But it's always possible the result might have had something to do with the fact that only recently there was a replay on BBC TV of a Prom concert performance where it was ravishingly sung by the even more ravishingly beautiful Kate Royal:

Friday 17 April 2009


Goodness, how time flies. How do people manage to find so much to write about, so often? Yes, I do know the answer: they lead interesting lives and think and write interestingly about them (it was a rhetorical question, all right?).

The other day, a chance remark at work brought to mind just how many old advertising jingles are stuck in the back of my mind. Some are even from before I was born, since my mother was the kind of person who would burst into all sorts of odd songs from time to time - "High o'er the fence leaps Sunny Jim, Force is the food that raises him", that sort of thing.

While contemplating the price of cleaning fluid for the carpet washer last weekend, I sadly recall that, once upon a time, "1001 cleans a big, big carpet for only half a crown". But that exception apart, the truly odd thing is that I still remember so many adverts for products that disappeared years ago.

I suppose I bought the odd packet of Murraymints ("Murraymints, the too good to hurry mints!") and a cooling draught of "Lovely Jubbly", but I don't think I would ever have followed up on "For a really professional finish, use Hadrian" (paint). Not so much brainwashing as brain-staining - like those irritating drips off the teacup that you don't notice till after they've firmly set on the front of a favourite shirt.

Still less was I then in the market for "Luxury you can afford - by Cyril Lord" (carpets) - but it wasn't too far to the back of the mental lumber-room when someone mentioned it in the office, especially since it featured in the Bonzo Dog Doodah Band's immortal "I'm Bored".

I say "immortal", but I can't find an online version I'd care to post here, so instead here's another of their jocular numbers. Enjoy.

Sunday 12 April 2009

Ah, Easter... the season of redemption and renewal, and in this secular age, of tinkering, pottering, DIY and home improvement - or, in my case, a bit of spring-cleaning. I'm about to do another home exchange with someone in Paris, and there's nothing like looking at your own home with a stranger's eye to spot all those things that one has left undone (so to speak).

Not, I suspect, that many actually would bother most exchange partners. I don't go round their places running a finger along for dust (though there can be the odd pleasurable moment of working out how I might have chosen to organise and decorate it if I lived there), and I would hope they would mostly be out and about rather than rootling through my drawers (so to speak). Though, to be fair, I did find on my return from Paris last August that what I had taken to be scratches in the enamel of my hob had been replaced by gleaming, pristine whiteness: and I was rather proud of having left their shower screen distinctly less limescaled than I found it.

Which is how I come to have spent most of this Saturday with a carpet-washing machine, and, seeing how the plants in my window-boxes were looking more than a bit browned off (indeed, mostly brown, being dead), this Sunday morning I found myself caught up in instant gardening madness at Columbia Road.

But before this feast of self-indulgence, I took advantage of a half-day off on Maundy Thursday to visit a local institution, the Ragged School Museum, a reminder of the charitable theme of the day.

A converted warehouse on the Regent's Canal, still with the original bars on the windows (the school never having had the funds to remove them), the interior walls simply painted over bare brick, school desks crammed together on bare floorboards, the building now serves to give mostly visiting school parties demonstrations of life in a Victorian schoolroom and kitchen. There are also a couple rooms of static display panels about the social history that necessitated the school in the first place.

It's perhaps bowdlerised for the children, a fairly gentle introduction to the joys of pounds, shillings and pence, Victorian games and dressing up. Some of what it shows is not unfamiliar to present-day oldies. My primary school still had pens with steel nibs and inkwells in the desk: I have distinct memories of occasional inky pellets of paper flicked from said nibs, and discovering that some bright spark had stuck a nib into the fish-oil capsules the London County Council used to issue in those days, making neat handwriting even less likely.

Some of the pictures on display tell a grimmer tale. Here are the children gathered to celebrate their benefactors, all outdoors in the street on a December day, some barefoot and many clearly underdressed for the weather; and as one of the enthusiastic volunteer guides was only too keen to tell me, many would have lived with the rest of their family in one room, possibly even with a dead child in one corner until they could raise the money to bury it. This was an industrial environment, with none of the parkland that surrounds the building now. The canal outside would have been crammed with boats serving the purposes of the modern lorries thundering along the main road: but now the only movement on the water was a wagtail dancing along the towpath edge.

Sunday 5 April 2009


I have succumbed to fashion, or at least a craze, and have bought one of these. Today the weather is fine enough to wear it, and the circumstances enough to justify it: something strange has happened to my phone line and therefore my internet connection, just when I actually needed my email for once (and, since you're no doubt dying to know, Musica Bella fell at the 12th fence, no it's no dibs on the sweepstake either). Much tearing hair, unplugging and replugging of all available devices, abandoned phone queueing for the engineers, and so forth (I suspect it's one of my cheapo phone handsets).

But Norman Tebbit would approve of me (in this as nothing else): I got on the bike and found an internet place open.

The story of the slogan is an interesting one, for although it sounds like the kind of stoicism my parents' generation prided themselves on for the whole of World War 2, this is an example of the approach in preparation for and in the early days of the war, some more famous examples of which were rather derided at the time.

Thursday 2 April 2009

Fingers crossed...

No, not just the G20 conferenciers (it'd be about as much use as anything else they might do, it would seem), but me: I've drawn a not very fancied horse in the office sweepstake for the Grand National.

Being a complete townie, I know next to nothing about horses or racing; and for me, life's too short to bother with betting. But the office sweepstake is all about the taking part anyway. And Musica Bella is the sort of name I might have plumped for anyway if I'd had a choice (though I Can't Buy Time has a certain gloomy suitability about it).

And if it were to win, well, maybe I'll celebrate with some "musica bella" like this (have I perchance retrieved Ms Scarlet's screen début from the archive?):