Finally, a dispatch from Europa
Those who check this space won’t be shocked to learn that it’s been a dear while since I managed to throw some words up on to the cyberpage, so I’m going to forgo the usual pandering and just let it be known that after weeks of a no-computer policy, we have recently faced technological hurdles, which have been overcome. I shall, from this day forward until the end of the summer, do my best to keep the dispatches flowing. So, some catching up is in order. Below is Paris summarized. The next entry will be Portugal, then the first week in Bulgaria, and then, I shall be caught up and able to sleep with a clear conscience.
It’s been just over two weeks since we left Montreal for Europe. We’re now safely in the chaotic folds of Bulgaria’s capital city Sofia. We’ve been here for three days, getting our bearings, getting stuffed full of delicious Balkan cuisine by Svetla’s mom, and continuing our campaign, begun in Portugal, for total relaxation.
I’ve been delinquent in my blogging duties due to this campaign of rest and decompression. The last few weeks in Montreal were extremely stressful and hectic for us. We both had much to wrap up before leaving the country for such an extended period (two and a half months). Cinema Politica demanded multiple levels of closure and semi-closure that Svetla tackled with a haggard determination. The apartment had to be readied for a family to move into whom we have never met. Friends had to be seen, schoolwork had to be finished, other responsibilities met.
So by the time we arrived in Paris on June 16th we were completely exhausted. We checked into our overpriced hotel on St Andre and dragged our 55 kg of luggage up to the fifth floor, negotiating precariously narrow and ill-spaced stairs the whole way. We ricocheted between uneven walls along an even more uneven floor, down the absurdly narrow hallway to the end where we found our room. Upon entering and depositing our luggage, it was immediately apparent that it would be difficult for us to walk freely around the bed, between the suitcases and walls. But while tiny, it was charming (a charm that evaporates faster than ether when one pays the bill at the end of four nights). We had a sink and a window overlooking a courtyard about the size of a coffin, surrounded by other Parisian plastered walls from other buildings.
That first night we cleaned up and hit the Paris streets, wandering without aim in a city that has a million delightful paths and sights. Paris is a sprawling metropolis of 6 million, with architecture and cafe culture that is only rivalled by the tranquil serpentine Seine River that meanders through the centre. That first night we shuffled along the far banks of the river and stumbled upon a cultural scene that was so Parisian I thought for a moment that it might even have been set up for us tourists. Along the river the cobblestone and brick path and embankment had half-circle spaces sectioned off by concentric large steps, about five or so levels, rising up to the walkway. These large spaces—about eight of them in total—created small open-air theatre-like spaces where, in each half-circle along the riverside, large groups of Parisians had gathered to dance or watch the dancing. In each separate half-circle space was a different group of people, mostly amateurs but seemingly committed to the cultural activity by what we observed to be their talent and knowledge. In each section was a different type of dance. There was traditional French (with live music), Tango, Swing and more. It was a beautifully warm late afternoon with a breeze coming up off the river and scores of Parisians had settle along the banks to play music, drink wine, eat snacks, dance and talk. A fantastic welcome to the city for two wayward travellers.
The next night we met up with Svetla’s friends in Paris and went out for dinner and drinks. Before that we visited the Centre Georges Pompideau gallery and spent four hours viewing three shows: one on Kandinsky, one on an American sculpturist whose name escapes me at the moment, and the best of all, “Elle@Centre Pompideau” a multi-media exhibition on women and art. Elle was political, provocative, fascinating, shocking and entertaining.
Svetla has promised to write about it for Art Threat, and when and if that happens, I’ll link to it here. So we were still quite tired and even more tired after the exhibition, and headed out for drinks with the Paris-Bulgarian crew. After the meal and some wine we headed closer to our hotel and met up with Montreal friends Michael and Reisa who were at the end of a three week French vacation. That’s when I realized how tired we really were. They both noticed that Svetla and I were quite edgy, tense and possibly a little delirious. We were simultaneously decompressing from the overload of work in Montreal while suffering the West-East jet lag that was now setting in like a thick and opaque layer of muck.
But we all got drunk and that cured everything. Paris in the summer is so full of sidewalk places to eat and drink that you trip over them while walking. There are so many people sitting in these places at any given time, but especially in the late afternoon and evening, that one wonders how any work gets done in the rest of the city. These were wonderful experiences, sitting sipping, watching the beautiful and intriguing Parisians waft by in their various potent scents of perfume and cologne. But alas, this activity is not for the money-crunched, and the city of lights ate away at our travel budget like a ravenous beast. A mere coffee and croissant typically sets one back about 8 or 10 bucks Canadian.
Walking trips to the Arc de Triumph, Avenue des Champs-Élysées, the National Palace and a tiny Vietnamese restaurant run by a teeny old grandmother that seated about six were some highlights of our five days in Paris. There’s of course more, but I must leave room for our ten days in Portugal, which I shall recount in the next entry. Until then, I’m sitting here in the Turnin flat, trying to psychologically expand my stomach to accept another huge delicious meal, tantalizing close to arriving from across the hall, where Svetla’s mom performs impossible culinary feats in a challenging kitchen. A thunder storm has just split the sky outside, and it’s earth-rattling trembles have set off car alarms and sent children shrieking. It’s comforting that nature can still exercise some drama and force on a city so full of human made drama already…