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This blog documents my staying at home and writing (and the subsequent whatevers to that writing). It also serves as an online journal for friends and family. It is more-or-less guaranteed to be sans intérêt to most anyone else.

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2004 | July
thepowerfactory \a mark of quality
life in and around Paris, France

2004 Reading List

Being a list of books read during the current year.
Sourcery
Hogfather
Moving Pictures
Pyramids
Soul Music
Mort
Faust Eric
Small Gods
Carpe Jugulum
Jingo
Men At Arms
Feet of Clay
Maskerade
Lords and Ladies
Reaper Man
Witches Abroad
Guards! Guards!
Interesting Times
Equal Rites
The Last Continent
Wyrd Sisters
The Eighth Colour
The Light Fantastic
Dark Side of The Sun
Strata
Only You Can Save Mankind
Johnny and The Dead
The Discworld Companion (with S.Briggs)
- Terry Pratchett
A Child Across The Sky
The Wooden Sea
The Land of Laughs
From the Teeth of Angels
A Marriage of Sticks
- Jonathan Carroll
Northern Lights
The Subtle Knife
The Amber Spyglass
I was a Rat!
Clockwork
Count Karlstein
The Ruby in the Smoke
The Shadow in the North
The Tiger in the Well
- Philip Pullman
Charmed Life
The Lives of Christopher Chant
Witch Week
Howl’s Moving Castle
The Magicians of Caprona
- Diana Wynne Jones
What a Carve Up!
The Rotter’s Club
A Touch of Love
The Dwarves of Death
The House of Sleep
- Jonathan Coe
The Empty Sleeve
Smith
The Sound of Coaches
Blewcoat Boy
- Leon Garfield
The River Styx Runs Upstream [Le styx coule à l’envers - Nouvelles]
Ilium
- Dan Simmons
The Black Book
Set In Darkness
The Hanging Garden
Hide And Seek
Black And Blue
Bleeding Hearts (Jack Harvey)
Witch Hunt (Jack Harvey)
- Ian Rankin
The Wish List
Artemis Fowl [2]
- Eoin Colfer
Smoke and Mirrors, Neil Gaiman
Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, J.K.Rowling
The Shining, Stephen King
Eastern Standard Tribe, Cory Doctorov
Free for All, Peter Wayner
Desolation Point, Dan Brown
Darwinia, Robert Charles Wilson

2003’s reads can be found here.
paris
§
open-air cinema

When summer comes, Paris is not a feast, it is a picnic. Even since the corsets were taken off the lawns in the public parks; ever since we could finally stroll barefoot in the grass, and actually approach the flowered borders and shadowy bowers, the picnic baskets have come out.

Probably the most outrageous picnic that I have seen was at the Champs de Mars, just in the shadow of the Eiffel Tower. The company had, not one, but two candelabras, white linen table cloth, crystal glasses, silver cutlery and hampers. They also had striped shirts and braces for the men, expensive smiles and designer clothes for the girls… Another world.

Probably the most pleasant picnics take place on the edges of the canals that criss-cross Paris. These tend to be cool and shady, and smell a little more inviting than those on the banks of the Seine.

But the place to picnic is the Parc de la Villette, at the open-air cinema.

In a not-to-distant past, Paris was deserted by its population in the summer months, leaving the city to the carloads of American and Japanese tourists who, once they had visited the museums—about the only places still open—wandered, lost and hapless, around the empty streets. However, in recent times, in order to give these tourists something to do, as well as to occupy the Parisians who stay around more and more, now that holidays have changed structure and the rigid old rule of everything-closed-in-August no longer applies; not forgetting the horrendous prices for accommodation that mean that hardly anyone has any surplus income anymore. There has been a subsequent development of summer activities; most of them free.

Like the open-air cinema.

Last year it was cancelled as the workers in the arts and entertainment industry, profoundly distressed at the changes being made to their unemployment regimen, were disrupting most of the summer activities; ironically enough, putting themselves out of work. Some summer festivals, like La Rochelle or Avignon, were cancelled outright. Others, like Les Vieilles Charrues in Brittany, only survived by having compulsory sessions and ‘debates’ organised by the strikers before and between the rock concerts.

Over about half the day, Ludivine had been finding out who was in Paris, who was available, and who wanted to meet up for the picnic. Finally, only a few of us were here, and willing. The film showing, “Three Kings”, was not the most important element of choice. Just the desire to meet up and picnic. Everything was arranged for half past eight.

We met up at the fountain in front of the Halle de la Villette, the splendidly restored old cattle markets that lives on in the logo of the area: a cow, photocopied and stretched-out [cut-up?] like an accordion. This logo was found on all the deck-chairs and blankets. Special note: while entrance is free, deck-chairs and blankets are available for hire. The rest of us sit out in the damp grass on sheets and blankets that we have brought, and shiver under pullovers and jackets.

When we arrived we set off for the compound. We had to go through metal detectors and a security guard asked if we were carrying any knifes or whatever before searching bags; even the small wallet that I carry, slung over my shoulder, was searched. I have ranted in the past about the uselessness of these searches, but was told that this wasn’t against terrorist activity, but to stop kids fighting. Even something so seemingly inoffensive as a crash helmet—in fact, a possibly useful weapon—had to be left at the lockers. Other stuff was treated case-by-case; adults with picnic baskets were allowed knives and corkscrews, kids were not.

There was no trouble. There was no threatening behaviour. There was not even any jostling or invasion of other people’s blankets. The whole thing was very jovial and good-natured, with—and I saw this at least twice—picnicking parties all round joining in with applause, cheers and song when birthday cakes, lit with candles, were plunked down in front of a surprised reveller.

In Paris, at the moment—I saw this on the back page of the paper that someone sitting opposite me in the Métro was reading—the sun sets at 9:40. The programmes indicate that the film will start at anytime after 10 o’clock. This time, things got going at about 10:25. This was stretching things as we had to grab the last Métro and allow for a change at République to get back home. In fact we left at 12:15, probably 10 minutes before the end of the film, and just managed to catch the last train on the ligne 9 to Montreuil.

As we nibbled and drank and chatted, the sun set and night arrived. The stars slowly popped out, and we could follow the UFOs in the sky; these were mostly planes, at least one was a helicopter, another was probably a satellite. And we saw a shooting star streak across the sky; a first for Paris where usually the ambient light is too strong. Ludivine made a wish and lent over and kissed me on the cheek. I guessed that she probably wished for me to shave so that my cheek didn’t prickle so.

Most appropriately for an outside cinema/picnic event, the sounds of what sounded a lot like Emir Kusturica’s No Smoking Orchestra’s excited central-european beats and discordant brass kept bursting over and through a separating row of trees, either from the nearby Zenith concert hall, or from an outside sound-system. This continued even through quiet passages in the film. At about 10:15 a voice came over the cinema’s PA system telling everyone that the film was about to start, that it lasted 1 hour and 55 minutes, and that it was preceded by a series of adverts that allowed the film to be shown for free. This last remark is becoming more and more necessary, as protesting of the now ubiquitous billboards and commercial advertising in, for example, the Métro takes on major proportions; people disfiguring the posters and ads are more and more frequently applauded by passers-by. At least in Paris, awareness of these anti-ad movements is very high. Ludivine told me that two years ago, the ads before the films were loudly booed by the public. Tonight’s lot was mostly institutional films—promoting condoms to prevent AIDS contamination; short clips for the French Public radio service [a sponsor]; a short clip condemning the upcoming Olympic Games in Pekin [strong applause], and boos for the one commercial ad.

And that was it. We watched the film—in English, if you please—the subtitles were pretty illegible. We hugged each other to keep warm, and a good time was had by all.

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home
§
The Sweet Smell of Paris

Tuesday, when I went back to work, I kept sniffing. Besides the usual exhaust fumes and mucky odours, I could smell sewage all over. And the smell of stale sweat, dirt, urine & so forth in the metro…

Ludivine reminded me that I probably smelt all of it (the Sweet Smell of Paris) everyday. Just that I didn’t notice it anymore. With my nose unbunging itself after the short weekend cold, the smell of Paris came back momentarily.

This evening, coming back home… didn’t notice it at all.

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