Thursday, April 28, 2005

I'm Green!

Ok, so if I could vote apparently I should vote for the Green party.

Who Should You Vote For?

Who should I vote for? v2

Labour 25
Conservative -15
Liberal Democrat 28
UK Independence Party -4
Green 30

You should vote: Green

The Green Party, which is of course strong on environmental issues, takes a strong position on welfare issues, but was firmly against the war in Iraq. Other key concerns are cannabis, where the party takes a liberal line, and foxhunting, which unsurprisingly the Greens are firmly against.

Take the test at Who Should You Vote For


Although it was a visceral experience one of my first thoughts was "only in America". It seemed like a stylised Jerry Springer story, too exhibitionist and too much the product of a needy individual, a form of individualised therapy rather than Serious Art (tm).

But I usually know to trust my later recollections as much as my first reaction. Setting aside my prejudices the movie - an autobiographical documentary - has come back to me again and again. The images, and some of the feeling as well.

Jonathan Caouette started capturing his life on film while he was still a child. His own footage is shown against a backdrop of history that we see unfolding in all its horror between onscreen text and pictures from family archives. His mother, who was a beautiful child model, fell from an open window at a young age and became paralysed. Her parents (his grandparents - and you get to meet them) started suspecting the paralysis is psychological and on a neighbour's advice sent her for shock therapy. She recovered control of her limbs at some stage, although probably not thanks to the shock therapy, and continues her modelling career. Later she is (mis)diagnosed with schizophrenia. Evenually, according to the documentary, her personality was altered beyond recognition. Caouette blames over 200 shock treatments in just two years.

We also learn about Jonathan's early years, which were very traumatic. Jonathan's father leaves early on, and because his mother has her problems to deal with he is left in foster care, where he is abused. Later he is reconciled with his mother. She tries to run away (with him) to Chicago. This outing turns sour too when she is raped, with Jonathan a dumbstruck witness. It is too much for her and she returns to Houston where they live with her parents. Jonathan is barely 6 years old at this point.

Then there is drugs, and his homosexuality which he declares early on. We learn about his depersonalisation disorder, the dysfunctional family life, his attempts to get into a gay club at age 13 by dressing up as a goth girl, his attempts to commit suicide.

One of the most striking scenes is where he, as an 11-year old, dresses up and monologues abused women. It is done with what seems like a mature perception way beyond his years, but the emotional content of his own turmoil is clearly also channelled there in the obssessive gestures and repetitive sentences.

If the subject matter is disturbing, so is the delivery - and that really is why the film should be seen. Apparently it was edited and put together using iMovie (Apple Macintosh software). But it's the willful, operatic look at this sordid life, held together by the immense love he feels for his mother, whose condition worsens in front of our eyes, that makes this such a strong experience. There is a sequence where Renee's child model life is described how it happily continues when in the meantime she is receiving shock treatment on a regular basis. The visual overlays, repetition and distortion of images, and the sound compound to something horrifying.

Thematically the movie has numerous psychoanalytic overtones. In an interesting scene taking place later, just between him and the camera, Jonathan says that his mother lives inside him, and that she is behind his eyes. You get a sense that his persona replaces his mother's dysfunctional one and if you are of the opinion that his homosexuality is a strategy rather than a natural tendency, this will look like evidence. In this scene you may also have a fleeting glimpse of something that could make you suspect that his celluloid story is a very coloured view of everything. It is not an objection to the film.

At any rate, it is all these elements combined with the unconventional techniques used to present them that make this worth watching. It's an underground film whose time has come. But be prepared, it is not entertainment in any ordinary sense.

Sunday, April 24, 2005

The communist manifesto

After reading The Communist Manifesto by Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, I come away with nothing so much as the sense that it is interesting, still relevant, but clearly situated at a particular stage of European history. In actual fact the inclusion of several later prefaces, written by Engels, along with the manifesto suggests at once how the central idea may be summarised, and describes its relation to its time. I quote from the preface to the English edition of 1888:

“... in every historical epoch the prevailing mode of economic production and exchange, and the social organization necessarily following from it, form the basis upon which is built up, and from which alone can be explained, the political and intellectual history of that epoch; that consequently the whole history of mankind (since the dissolution of primitive tribal society, holding land in common ownership) has been a history of class struggles, contests between exploiting and exploited, ruling and oppressed classes; that the history of these class struggles forms a series of evolutions in which nowadays a stage has been reached where the exploited and oppressed class - the proletariat - cannot attain its emancipation from the sway of the exploiting and ruling class - the bourgeoisie - without, at the same time, and once and for all, emancipating society at large from all exploitation, oppression, class distinction and class struggles.” (p.65-6)

This is in line with Marx’s formulation in reaction to Hegel, that it is the material and social conditions of society that determines consciousness, and not the other way around:

“Does it require deep intuition to comprehend that man’s ideas, views and conceptions, in one word, man’s consciousness, changes with every change in the conditions of his material existence, in his social relations and in his social life?” (p. 30)

There is certainly evidence for the influence of social relations and the cultural and class milieu on our state in life and the ideas that we hold, and few theories about the nature of humans and human psychology would think of excluding the social environment these days. On the other hand there are also plenty of instances in which people have risen above their situation, and this does not fit neatly in Marx’s formulation. Aaron Swartz has a short but thought-provoking post on this topic.

Communism has the general proletariat’s interests – and only their interests – at heart, and aims to abolish all bourgeois property. Bourgeois property is seen as the condition that perpetuates oppression:

“The distinguishing feature of communism is not the abolition of property generally, but the abolition of bourgeois property … wage labour … creates capital, i.e. that kind of property which exploits wage labour, and which cannot increase except upon condition of begetting a new supply of wage labour for fresh exploitation” (p. 22-3)

Freud, incidentally, didn’t think much of Marx’s view of humanity. Marx sees humans as inherently good, but corrupted by society and so if the instruments of oppression can be done away with people would live naturally and at peace with one another. Freud’s view of human nature is considerably more complicated, but leans towards the view that people need to dominate because of the aggressive (Thanatos) drive which is the subject of Civilisation and its Discontents:

“With abolition of private property the human love of aggression is robbed of one of its tools … No change has been made in the disparities of power and influence that aggression exploits in pursuit of its ends … Aggression was not created by property; it prevailed with almost no restriction in primitive times” (p. 63)

And as regards the so-called struggle against inequalities:

“nature, by her highly unequal endowment of individuals with physical attributes and mental abilities, has introduced injustices that cannot be remedied” (p. 63)

These different views about the basic nature of humanity are reminiscent of the differences between Rousseau and Hobbes.

Thursday, April 21, 2005

One journey to find the value of art

Wednesday 20 April 2005

Sitting on the train at King's Cross, waiting for the train to pull away. A few noisy kids in the seats in front of me.

Six hours ago I was on the train from Hatfield. I had a funny thought then, how I should have missed the train because it leaves at 17:23, and I only entered the ticket office at 17:26. Since I had to be at the Tate Britain at 18:30 there was no way I'd be on time if I had to wait for the next one.

The temptation to attribute some meaning to my good fortune was considerable, and I did just that, thinking that it was meant to be, it was done for me. I liked that, it being a completely self-serving notion of course. Stopping short of contemplating just how that could have happened, such as a supernatural intelligence's plan for me, I indulged my New Age belief without trying to pinpoint it, and retraced it, observing to myself how, if I should enquire, I would probably find that the commuter train is on average quite often 7 minutes late and my meaning has a statistical incidence that makes its significance suspect.

And so, pleased at having it both ways almost at the same time I continued reading Kurt Vonnegut's Cat's Cradle on the way to meet C and attend a discussion at the Tate Britain to find an answer to the pressing question: "What is the value of art?".

They were a panel of three, and Robert Boyce facilitated. The original person couldn't make it so his slightly uninformed comments are understandable. He didn't give many. I have no idea what the official reason for the discussion was as C organised the outing, but there was certainly a promotional aspect to it - both Matthew Kieran and John Carey are recently published authors and their books were for sale afterwards.

They are introduced, and the first thing to notice is the difference in age: Matthew is in his thirties and has a trendy image, and forever leans to one side in his chair. He is lecturer in philosophy at Leeds University. John is a lot older - but mentally razor-sharp - and Merton professor of literature at Oxford university.

Each got a turn to give their view on the subject, and explain his book's thesis. Matthew, whose favourite phrases are "in a certain kind of way" and "as it were", talked about Vermeer and Gillian Waring's photos and Michelangelo's Mary, and tried to emphasise the continuity between traditional art and contemporary art. His main point may be summarised as there being better and worse reasons to value art, and that there are, as it were, objective values, in a certain kind of way. He is also interested in the originality of the masters. He talked about Holbein's Ambassadors, where a skull emerges when you look at the painting from one perspective, implying how changing one's perspective can change meaning, for instance revealing that death lurks in the midst of important people.

John Carey on the other hand takes a slightly more pessimistic view. He started by mentioning possible reasons people might value art: a feeling of superiority over others is one (after all, people depend on differences for their individual selfhood); or, following Boudier (?) it may simply be a matter of taste because in life "you choose everything"; or in the vein of D.L. Williams who wrote The Mind in the Cave, it's about separating oneself from other people. He reasoned that Homo Sapiens tried to differentiate itself from Neanderthals by eg. graphics and wearing certain accessories or clothes - and eventually subjugated them and killed them all. Or something like that.

Then there is the question of rapture or ecstacy - many people have done research on this in relation to artistic experience and concluded that it's certainly not unique to artistic experience. For instance Marghanita Laski in Ecstacy and Bill Buford in Among the Thugs. This already raises the question whether artistic experience can necessarily be a morally good thing, but he answers it more fully. In the 19th century the answer would have been yes, but these days few people seem to agree. The Kreitlers in Psychology of the Arts concluded that there is no reason to think that behaviour can be changed by art. For good measure John mentioned that Hitler was a great art patron who accumulated possibly the largest collection of art in history. Is art a sign of civilisation then? To some it seems like a monument to privilege and social inequality.

For John the question boils down to a matter of taste. He considers the alternatives - perhaps an external supernatural agent can evaluate it, God for instance. Or neuroscience can reveal its value as it maps experiences to brain areas. Finally interpersonal comparison - "my judgement is better than yours" - could account for it. But none of these reasons he finds convincing.

There were several questions from the floor (C asked one) after the initial bit of debate between them, but all in all I felt the discussion was too short. Afterwards a number of people I talked to thought that when it was stopped it was merely for intermission. But there was the book signing then and as we both were taken in by the evening I bought Matthew's Revealing art and C bought John's What good are the arts?. I tried to get mine signed but it took ages as there was such a swirl of girls constantly hovering around Matthew that I almost didn't get my gap.

And then the evening suddenly got good. What on earth made me think of turning down the offer of joining everyone at the pub?! Well I didn't abstain in the end, and it's all thanks to a newfound friend that C made who convinced me not to go off looking for a restaurant instead. Oh what a pleasure to meet people who enjoy talking about literature, philosophy! Many of the people seem somehow connected to Matthew, knowing him from somewhere. He is clearly highly intelligent, but this is another unique skill. I immediately saw that he is in fact a bit of a celebrity.

But what a lovely, surprising evening ... isn't it ever so tempting again to recall that I almost missed my train, almost non-started off the evening, and therefore it was meant to be? Like art this thought may be little more than self-indulgence - or it is simply beneficial for my well-being. A more logical investigation quickly reveals the quicksand under that satisfying belief.

I'm now going to stop here but not before stating that although I thought John's arguments were more congruent and concise than Matthew's (Matthew improvises very well, but not everybody followed his philosophy style arguments, and he didn't always bring them together) his is a very relativistic view that leaves open too much. It's the postmodernist view, and it's very vulnerable. Not wrong as such, but vulnerable. Matthew's reasonable values may or may not be better, he wasn't specific enough.

Tuesday, April 19, 2005

The truth about religion

I can't imagine why it wasn't obvious to me before: religion serves to control the minds of people and enslave them to society. Rousseau is right, and I have him to thank for this insight. That's the cloud that fogs your mind when you are born and raised into a community where the most radical questioning of religion still focuses on doctrine. Duh!

So I spent the latter half of my first 18 or 19 years kicking against the institution of religion, but it's taken me another 10 years to realise why religion exists at all.

It is worth noting, too, that Christian religion in particular has another deceptive method: the fear of God. Ever wondered about that expression, "putting the fear of God into someone"? Well that sort of mixes cause and effect into truth.

The principle is best illustrated with Pascal's famous wager. From the perspective of eternity our lives are but like a drop of water in the sea. Considering the consequences isn't it better to believe in God, just in case he exists? The argument seemed entirely reasonable to him, but from my understanding to concede the point admits to fear of God. That is to say, the vicious cycle of fear claims even the reasonable sceptic.

Having said that agnosticism remains in my view the only feasible logical position: it is impossible to either prove or disprove the existence of God scientifically. But I firmly believe in entertaining and accommodating numerous beliefs, including Christianity. Those are the fruits of many years, people, so eat, weep, and be happy.

Tuesday, April 12, 2005

more Taxi Driver

After looking at a few reviews of Taxi Driver I noticed two things - I missed a few facts, for instance that Travis was in Vietnam. That one means he is not a recent foreigner ... perhaps his parents were immigrants? Whatever, he's "alientated", same thing just about. More importantly, all the reviews talk about how "controversial" the movie is, failing to notice a simple fact: Travis is in a sense very conservative. He cares about Iris because what she does is no-good, and he wants to save her; the woman he is in love with is aligned with the would-be president and represents civility - even though he does not know that this is why he is in love with her rather than with someone from his own economic class.

These are the words that reveal his ambition: "All my life needed was a sense of direction, a sense of someplace to go. I do not believe one should devote his life to morbid self-attention, but should become a person like other people." That's it. And he goes through hell to achieve that. Although he ironically becomes a taxi driver, i.e. he becomes his job just like Wizard says everyone does, he actually realises his ambition through caring and real desires and wants, not through watered down ideas - or as seems to be the case with Wizard and the other cabbies, without having any ambition. At the end he has parts of his life both in heaven and hell.

Ultimately the question I find is: how would an alienated guy in that situation, with a disposition to rise and be more than he is but without any obvious connections or know-how in life, act and behave, on condition he maintains integrity? An honest answer is: by resorting to violence. I was in two minds whether his negative views of scum and women are at the root of this problem, but after remembering that he was going to kill Palantine as well I decided no, that's not it.

So the question shouldn't be "Is he psychotic?" (these days called "antisocial personlity disorder" - but undeterminable anyway if you want to go the clinical route, because there's too little information), but rather how do people manage not to behave this way? He has nowhere to pump his energy into, and as society turns his back on him his good intentions become aggression. Simple really.

Monday, April 11, 2005

Civilisation and its discontents

To my mind one of the wisest things Freud does in Civilisation and its Discontents is to question the famous (religious) precept: "Love thy neighbour as thyself", using the simple notion of the economy of the libido (it is not unlimited). He does it in such an accessible manner that, because it's not the point he drives at, its importance almost passes you by: your friends and family demand your love, by giving it to everyone equally you are diminishing its value. It is easy to understand - and reminds me of something else I read once, which was in fact a great help: "a friend to all is a friend to none."

A more difficult question to answer (and he does not do so in CAID, but I think he does elsewhere) is why some people's actions and thoughts should benefit humanity at large. Why is it possible for a Mother Theresa or a Gandhi or a Van Gogh to move and speak to people far, far removed from them?

Some may say that we are touched through symbolic thought, but that is a very partial explanation. I read something about mirror neurons the other day - apparently people who are themselves good dancers bring the parts of their brains that are active during dancing, into play when they watch other people dancing. These people like Jesus and Miro - who are special people, lest we forget - manage to communicate what most are aware of in themselves but find largely inexpressible. They thereby bring it into consciousness in a way akin to the static dancers' experience of watching others dancing.

I watched Taxi Driver yesterday - finally, for so many years I used to check out the VHS cover and determine that "I have to see this some time" - and it is just brilliant. It amplifies issues that just cannot be presented without the gifts of the people behind this movie - and I think Scorsese in particular.

At any rate, it's a very controversial movie as well, and I couldn't help wondering about Travis' aggression in the movie. You know, he is "authentic" with his instinctual tendencies (he takes Betsy to a soft porn movie for a date! :-), but when Betsy snubs him he suddenly shows this aggressive side that you think "Wow! this guy is a bit dangerous!", but then you also know exactly how he feels, and one of my favourite comic scenes is when another cabbie, whom he looks to for some fatherly advice, gives him some of the most useless advice known to man. And Travis has the good Grace to grin and say: "That's probably the dumbest thing I ever heard."

Thing is, I couldn't help thinking of Freud later - you know, since I read CAID recently - and thought: yeah, Travis' Eros drive was thwarted; now he has all this pent up energy and feels society has turned its back on him nevermind that he is doing what he can for the would-be president. Steps in the Thanatos drive, the theme of CAID, and rather than turning it inward (earlier in the movie he states his intention to be a good, normal person "like other people", and disapproves of what he calls "morbid self-attention") he starts turning it (his aggression) outward - and, of course, eventually towards the "scum" of New York that he so hates. The movie, really, seems like a coming-of-age story - but not in individualistic terms: it's not a boy's dream to become a man, but a foreigner's dream to become accepted in the society he has come to live in (new York, America), i.e. to become a citizen.

So the last sequence where he gives Betsy a lift for free is about the fact that they are now equal. What she represented to him at first (society, doing one's duty, being a citizen) he has now attained himself (ironically, he has "become his job", just like the other cabbie said, but he has also gained dignity).

PS: If that conclusion sounds slightly stale, bear in mind that this is New York, 1975. Oh, to be 26! and living in New York! in 1975 ..!

Sunday, April 10, 2005


q-oh kaylslowslide
slowslide at lowtideslowslide
slowslide at lowtide
tidemy name is Momo
q-oh kayl lowslowmoslide
q-oh wow slolo my name
my name is Momo laylow
every ball of fleece
an internal masterpiece
every ball of fleece
kayl kalaylow say so
so slowmo mono

Saturday, April 09, 2005

filotka, filotka

gravel on vinylrabid eyesblue blood tower tit
grey aural sibylreal sunrisefluent simplicit
zrfzrfzrf ftk
vee tayk gheray gherav gheral gheroul
a bird's eye view that's full
run with a line of sunshine to fall
a bird's eye view
Take my hand, my friend, my knife
take my life life life life life
l i f e
l i f e
l i f e
l i f e
l i
a peaceful screw
filotka, filotka

Thursday, April 07, 2005


Added a few photos to the two Paris posts, and fixed up yesterday's entry. It approaches what I wanted to say with it now.

Wednesday, April 06, 2005

Mourning and the death of freedom

The criteria by which society and the environment facilitate and guide our habits of survival, pleasure, and duty, places our free will within the confines of empowerment. "There is freedom within limits" the maxim goes.

This is a central problem of the concept of free will, because the expression of freedom may be maladaptive to life in society, bringing survival and freedom into direct conflict, and so the will is bent to another purpose, which we declare free ad hoc to maintain our dignity. We are speaking of civic freedom, for what we have subjectively experienced was already invested in an approved activity. Its enjoyment is little comfort, because of the suspicion that it was inadequate - and perhaps not even our own.

Suicide can seem like the last expression of freedom, an act of defiance that sacrifices the subject in order to escape subjugation. Camus asked "Why should we live?", declaring suicide the only serious philosophical queston. Life, he said, is essentially meaningless and absurd, we yearn and we long and the universe is indifferent. And yet to acknowledge the futility, to carry on knowing hopelessness and still transform each moment into a treasure is to exercise freedom and be victorious. To commit suicide, he would say, is to have the problem backwards.

But methinks that there is an all-important phase missing, because it is memory that enhances the moment. Conscious of the freedom we've lost (even as Sisyphus must have been) there must still be a mourning process for the loss, the death, that we cannot regain - for a passing moment - without dying. And considering the surprising but possible link between beauty and freedom, we may well agree with Poe: the death of a beautiful woman is the saddest thing in the whole of the universe. Especially in an indifferent one.

Tuesday, April 05, 2005

The perception of beauty

One may say that beauty fills a vacuum, in which it is like love (love being its most common expression). It is not love but precedes love, although it is not a necessary condition for it. In a sense it is the inverse of love (but not its opposite), in that it propels an unborn self into an unrealised and novel universe, attempting to embrace it.

To understand the beleaguered subject's experience is to fathom that s/he is entirely creating this universe into a context where the object of beauty is the only reliable cue. One can therefore say that it demands love and that it is a matter of survival. To perish is almost certain, but a residue of life may not be out of the question. One speaks of this as memory - often of the best kind.

An analytical understanding of this phenomenon puts one onto dangerous ground almost immediately. The solipsism of its perception is almost complete and one is practically forced to think of every beauty as a kind of original, self-enclosed: what s/he has in common with others is little more than a reification and generalised beautification or decoration. Beauty for the masses - pop art.

But that is going too far. If the subject is in the freest state to perceive, so too is the object (who becomes subject by thereby having its dignity restored) to behave, and it is the subject's misapprehension of beauty as responsiveness that results in transgression.

The perception of beauty is the experience of freedom.

Monday, April 04, 2005

Saturday and Sunday: Paris!

April 2 13:00

I am in Le Dauphin restaurant just near the Louvre. I saw this restaurant once before - on the internet, where for some reason I fixed on it - but had no idea I would stumble upon it. I walked down the street, determined to sit myself down at the first suitable restaurant and there it was. I think it's a sign. Of what? That I am living some sort of strangely accessed hyperreality - i.e., things are on track ...

I left the hotel this morning just before ten - walked around the area a bit looking for a bookshop: couldnt find even one. Lots of African people, both black and Arabic, in the area (must be a kind of 'African quarter') - strayed as far as Poisonniere metro before deciding I'm better off trying again nearer to where I want to be.

I got my French-English mini dictionnaire at Forums des Halles eventually [at a place called FNAC]. At the only two bookshops I stopped by there was, in both cases, a special section for psychoanalysis. Must be Lacan or something - the English are not so into Freud and friends.


The Louvre is enormous. I never realised how big it is - no other art museum I've been to even comes close. I didn't go inside, that would take too long.

Le Grand Louvre

I need to get some Lancome products for L, she asked me to look for them over here. I saw at least one in a duty free shop not far from here.

I'm debating whether to have a whiskey or a coffee after my delicious pate and bread lunch. Probably coffee, And then try to read a poem from the little Gerard de Nerval collection I bought.

The Parisian women are gorgeous.


I'm sitting in Le Bouledogue (The Bulldog), a little brasserie in Rue Rambuteau (I think) close to Centre Pompidou. CP is a funny-looking building - all pipes show on the outside. It's not exactly pretty but I guess it makes some sort of statement [it houses modern art - one of the largest exhibitions in Europe I believe]. It's warm, that's amazing, walking along the Seine from the Louvre I went down to the riverside where people roll up their trousers and take off their shirts to bask in the sun.

I've heard it said before that the French are more gender-integrated than their English counterparts (the English historically separated the sexes much more - there were gentlemen's clubs and all sorts of men-only group activities). Well, to my mind it is true. The French appear more at ease with their sexuality. Maybe the fact that they have separate sections for psychoanalysis in their bookshops should tell me that they take sexual liberation seriously! Then again, don't count out the effect of my imagination.

Paris at first struck me as not being nearly as busy as London, and certainly without quite that metropolitan feel to it. But certain areas are pretty congested all the same.


Haha, I've just miraculously (but unintentionally) managed to avoid talking to anyone interesting at this brasserie. I had two opportunities, the one a lady sitting at a bar with an empty seat next to her, and the waitress. I greeted the waitress as I came in (or she greeted me, first), went straight to the bar, bought a whiskey, and came and sat down at a table. Dang! When the waitress served the table next to me she started talking to me in French, from what I understood she means my actions don't make sense, I was at the bar and now I'm here? Indeed, they don't make sense. [I later figured out that this was probably a bigger social blunder than I'd realised - I figured it's normal to pay for your drink at the bar then sit down where you like, but she must have thought I'm a rude stingy foreigner, 'cause she expected to wait on me]

As I walked from the Eiffel tower down the Eiffel tower gardens path, and finally past the peace monument, a bunch of guys stopped me. One guy, dressed in shorts, funny shoes, an orange shirt and some sort of lingerie on his head, had to sing to me a song with his guitar, in English (he tried a broken version of The Beatles' Let It Be) because he is getting married in two weeks' time. Must be his stag party, but what a strange ritual. And I had to pay him a Euro afterwards. I have a picture as evidence of this strange encounter.

The Eiffel tower looks pretty much like you'd expect. Which is nice. And there are views from different sides.

Eiffel Tower from Pont d Iena

I was tempted to "do something" tonight, but I think I'm just going to loaf. Have a nice dinner, good coffee, watch the Eiffel tower lit up at night, then take the metro to Gare du Nord and have a nightcap somewhere near the hotel.

This is the life. If only I had company.

3 April 00:53

As I sat down to have dinner a guy at another table - an American from the West Coast - hears me speaking English and invites me to join him at his table. At first I don't but then chit-chat a bit and we start conversing a little and eventually I decide to join him. He's here on business but his wife couldn't join him.

We end up having a long, interesting conversation about all sorts of things. He tells me things about America I didn't know, for instance how Montana used to be a kind of agrarian society where freedom was possible in a major way - in large part due to the distances between farms and people. So people couldn't really be bothered with one another or what they did in their own places. We were talking about society and freedom and such, and he pointed out how population density has really complicated people's ability to do what they want - social freedoms vs social rights.

This is the second synchronous event this weekend (just after saying how I wouldn't mind having company) - Le Dauphin was the first (I mean, in all of Paris! I should "by accident" bump into it?? for lunch).


Brunch in Montparnasse. I'm looking out on Galeries Lafayette, from La Tour: Creperie - Cafe - Brasserie. I just love the way Parisian cafes always have seating facing the street - and it's warm enough that I can sit here. I opted for a quick metro tour of the city - if you take lines 1 and 6 you can circle the entire city centre and since it sometimes goes above ground you actually get to see something. Sadly though it's only partly satisfying so I got off here. Walking is much better.

I just saw the L'Open Tour bus go past - open air seating at the top. Bar walking that's probably the best for a crash course view of the city.


Gare du Nord entrance

The end of my Parisian adventure. I've decided that I like the French, and I like Paris. The French have something that I would like to rub off on me a little. As there is lots to see of Paris still that is a good reason to come again.

I made a last stop in the little Ile de la Cite (Island of the City) on the way to Gare du Nord, snatched a view of Notre Dame - majestic, but only saw it from the one side.

Now in the Eurostar I've got a windowseat (again) and in broad daylight this time I get to see something of the countryside. Lots of little French villages with visible churches - different architecture to the churches in England though. But so many churches! I've seen 5 or 6 in the last 5 minutes, each in a different village, practically walking distance from the other.

Paris feels really European. I didn't notice it in the first bit so much, but some time later yesterday it started filtering through - somewhere between seeing so many cyclists and rollerbladers, old world architecture, and civilised expressions. Oh that's another thing, the Parisian French are much better behaved than their British counterparts in London. You can usually tell with the kids - and the little Brit brats, oh man, nevermind.

[but I like the English anyway, kids and all :-) today as I was telling some of my colleagues about Paris, the one - an Englishman - jokingly said: "Paris is a lovely city, pity about the inhabitants though." He was joking and I managed to laugh, but you can tell there is some age-old rivalry and animosity in the stereotype.]

Sunday, April 03, 2005

Friday evening: On the Eurostar

1 April 2005 19:06

In the boarding lounge, lots of people waiting, some sleeping - especially in this section where a number of Asian people are. I hear lots of French. It sounds - nice. Different for a change.

My friendly flu virus is with me once more. Just in time to try and steal pleasure from my trip. I have no idea how I will get rid of it.

The train departs at 19:43. Where it says "On Time" on the screen it will soon say "Boarding". Eurostar, my first time on it. It is supposed to take around 2:35 to reach Gare du Nord (Station of the North) in Paris, but it will be 23:23 because of the 1 hour time difference.

There is Costa here. I'm tempted ... I'm having a coffee.


The train has pulled away and we are alternatively in tunnels and above ground. There's a hint of dusk left but it's already dark really. We're still in England. In my absentmindedness I forgot to put my French-English dictionary into my bag.


We've just exited the tunnel and are now in France. My mobile commented with a text buzz and a message from Orange. There are residences but not too many lights around, so I take it we're outside the immediate vicinity of any city.

Busy reading Freud's Civilisation and its Discontents. It reads very quickly.


I got halfway through CAID. Will rest a little now - I'm feverish and my mind is straining to concentrate. The idea of civilisation as a kind of diverted effort - its benefits assumed - a realisation of sublimation and redirected drives - is a clear one. What I am wondering about is Freud's contention that society disapproves of sex purely for pleasure. To me this is a central dilemma and the value of much hinges on the validity of the idea, and whether the sex drive really is so primary.

2 April 00:07

Arrived at gare du Nord and made my way, wide-eyed, from the train platform towards the exits. Suddenly revitalised and with that strange exhiliration associated with arrival. Some people were singing "Bon anniversaire" at the end of the train, to a guy beaming with a big smile on his face, he looks like he might have turned 21. This is France. Paris. I stand around and take a few pictures of the station, then go outside and take a few more.

Outside Gare du Nord - late at night

Taxi drivers standing around, I stop to talk to one and explain, in limited French, that I want to reach this address. Well! They joke by saying something to me in French that I obviously don't understand, but to my surprise do me a favour by telling me it will take me 2 minutes by foot, 10 by taxi. Most probably they just won't make much money - but I've heard so much about the French's rudeness towards English speakers that I'm ecouraged.

I find the right street but the numbers don't make sense - eventually asking at another hotel. They don't know but I eventually find my hotel - modest little place but perfectly adequate. I'll spend 2 nights here. I'm getting a wake-up call at 8 - try and sacrifice this virus during sleep. Take 2 aspirins and off to bed now.