Thursday, May 5, 2011

un vernissage

As people filtered in off the street, warm chatter rose above our heads like summer clouds. I was standing out of the way. Taking a break from pleasantries, I lost myself in one of the photography collections for a bit, feeling the flow of the carefully aligned pieces.
The place was all dressed down in white and sharp angles—the kind of gallery that makes you see the art and nothing else. True, the room was tightly packed, but from my angle I caught the whole series and it was really something.
“What do you think?” inquired a voice from behind my shoulder. I started a little and turned to find a man leaning against the corner. He had a dark gray coat that matched his dark and graying hair. His eyes were almost the same color, but stormier. I glanced back at the photographs.
“The colors are perfect,” I decided. Across the room, there was a soft chime of shattering crystal and rivulets of wine raced down the wall towards the flood. Silence fell, and then someone threw down a towel and murmur rose again gently.
“They are strong… really raw”, I said in conclusion. He listened, thought, and nodded curtly.
“You should meet the artist, have you met the artist?” He set down his glass and began casting around the crowed room.
“No!” I begged, trying to keep the panic out of my voice, “no, I really don’t need to”. This same situation had already played out several times. I had been dragged to meet one of the artists, who was promptly plucked away from their friends by my good-intentioned tormentor. I was introduced as “une fille avec des questions très interessantes au sujet de ton travail”—‘a girl with very interesting questions about your work’. The satisfied third party would then leave us standing there, two awkward cartoon characters with quivering speech bubbles that wouldn’t seen to fill.
Finally, I would come up with something unintelligent, like “je l’aime bien” or “c’est magnifique”. Someone else would cut in soon enough with probing inquiries about the photographer’s inspiration, the lighting in the works, notable people who attended a previous exposition. I would be free to slip off and recover with a toothpick full of olives tiled between mysteriously strong cheese cubes. I couldn’t bear it again though—French language and abstract thought refused to cozy up in my head tonight.
“No, I have already met them,” I assured him with finality, noticing that a small group of young people had gathered around us. They threw slim, black silhouettes on the walls and hummed with a certain intensity that I recognized but couldn’t place. One of the girls stared at me with unblinking eyes.
“What does she do?” she asked. The question hung in the air and a boy to her left let out a long gush of air. He was a cat-man—black pants, black boots, black fur around his spindly neck.
“She is a Swedish billionaire,” he declared, evaluating me through green cat-eyes, “she is here to buy our art. All of our art”. The others celebrated this idea raucously, chinking glasses and taking long, hearty swigs of champagne as if it were lemonade on a sweltering August day.
“I think she is a wine critic,” argued one of them with the flash of an eyebrow.
“A spy?”
“An orange tree farmer?” I raised my finger for silence and announced that I was all of these things. They signaled their approval with more chinking and dissolved into the crowd as fluidly as they had appeared. A elderly lady had taken their place and was arranging a small pile of peanuts in a triangle on her hand small, weathered hand. The gray man was also still there, quietly contemplating the photographs.
“What is it that you do?” I asked. A deep curiosity about the strange and fascinating lives of these people was welling up—melting the stark white walls and leaving only the morphing throng. The man snapped out of his reverie and looked at me like he was noticing my presence for the first time.
“I make movies”, he said, a look of pride flashing across his stony face.
“What type of movies?”
“Documentaries”. I swirled my champagne in its glass, waiting. It raced around the crystal rim like a golden tidal wave.
“Documentaries about fairies,” he explained after a moment, “it’s all about the supernatural around us. Fairies, elves, you know… invisible beings.” He waved a hand carelessly and I nodded in earnest.
As it turned out, he had traveled to Canada and Iceland to do research on the supernatural. After collecting interviews about first-hand encounters with said invisible beings, he finally compiled an entire full-length movie on the subject. Realizing he was serious about halfway though, I gracefully transformed my giggles into fake hiccups and excused myself to the ladies room after he finished explaining his project. There, I confronted myself in the mirror, ruminating on passions and peanuts and what gives things true meaning. 
That night, I left the gallery with a strange list of things to follow up on. The words were scrawled in varied, lovely penmanship. Spiky, creative words. Artist speak.
There was the name of a studio in Nice, a drawing workshop in the Marais, an up-and-coming documentary on elves and the supernatural. There were the e-mails of several photographers and the websites of several more. As I said my farewells and stepped out into the balmy, breezy evening, every inch of Isle St Louis was ablaze with the last rays of sunlight and gold hung thickly in the air--twenty-four carat smog. A wonderland? Absolutely. A fairyland? It just might have been. 

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

may day

As I stepped off the plane, a smiling lady sang « Bienvenue!», and pressed a small white lily into my hand. She had a whole basket of them tucked under her arm, and as I passed into the spidery maze of the Charles de Gaulle airport, I noticed that each woman who whisked by was holding her own lily. Perplexed but honored, I tucked the flower into my bag to free my hands, ready to blaze a trail out of the aeronautical maze.

Upon returning home, my host mother told me that the distribution of sprigs of lily of the valley is a May Day tradition in France. In 1561, King Charles received a lily of the valley as a lucky charm. On the May firsts that followed, he offered a sprig to each of the ladies of his court and apparently, it is also tradition that the lady receiving the lily gives a kiss in return. Luckily I was unaware of this earlier—I may have been caught in awkward hesitation between French tradition and personal space boundaries with strangers.

As usual, I am surprised to have made it out of that airport alive. I can see myself wandering the passageways for days, braving the tarmac, or curling up with my flower in a concrete corner to wilt away.

The place is a 1970s interpretation of a space station on Mars; it is composed of three, giant pods crouching amidst a network of roads and runways. Approaching the airport aboard a tram allows for a bizarre vantage point of the barren metropolis before the car lurches forward on its tracks and dives underground into a mess of passages and stairwells. Personally, I find the oddest feature of the airport to be a series of bouncy, moving (moon)walkways that wander up and down between the concourses, wiggling unsettlingly underfoot and drawing nervous giggles from travelers. The control tower in the shape of a giant mushroom, on the other hand, is inarguably a nice touch. 

In theory, Charles de Gaulle is impossible to navigate. It is way too weird. However, I always seem to move through the airport in a flash. According to the official count from 2010, fifty-eight million one hundred sixty-four thousand six hundred and twelve (whew) passengers passed through the terminal pods in just that single year. The only explanation of this efficiency is some sort of sci-fi magic at work.

Yes, this airport is wild. It is also pretty unsightly, but I suppose that first glimpse of the Seine sparkling under the morning sun warrants a layover in space. Break is over, which means that it is officially springtime in Paris.